He certainly was very handsome, and his taste was good. His wig was always suited to his complexion, and he rarely wore more than two colours, of which one was frequently black or white. Mr Welles was highly accomplished and highly fashionable; he played ombre and basset, the spinnet and the violin; he sang and danced well, composed anagrams and acrostics, was a good rider, hunted fearlessly and gamed high, interlarded his conversation with puns, and was a thorough adept at small talk. He was personally acquainted with every actor on the London stage, and by sight with every politician in the Cabinet. His manners were of the new school then just rising—which means, that they were very free and easy, removed from all the minute and often cumbersome ceremonies which had distinguished the old school. He generally rose about noon, dined at three p.m., spent the evening at the opera or theatre, and went to bed towards morning. Add to this, that he collected old china, took much snuff, combed his wig in public, and was unable to write legibly or spell correctly—and a finished portrait is presented of Mr Marcus Welles, and through him of a fashionable London gentleman of his day.
The impression made by Mr Welles on the ladies at the Abbey was of varied character. Madam commended him, but with that faint praise which is nearly akin to censure. He was well favoured, she allowed, and seemed to be a man of parts; but in her young days it was considered courteous to lead a lady to a chair before a gentleman seated himself; and it was not considered courteous to omit the Madam in addressing her. Rhoda said very little in her grandmother's presence, reserving her opinion for Phoebe's private ear. But as soon as they were alone, the girls stated their ideas explicitly.
"Isn't he a love of a dear?" cried Rhoda, in ecstasy.
"No, I don't think he is," responded Phoebe, in a tone of unmistakable disgust.
"Why, Phoebe! Are you not sensible of the merit of such a man as that?"
"No, I am sure I did not see any," said Phoebe, as before.
"Oh, Phoebe! Such taste as he has! And his discourse! I never saw so quick a wit. I am sure he is a man of great reach, and a man of figure too. I shall think the time long till I see him again."
"Dear me! I shan't!" exclaimed Phoebe. "Taste? Well, I suppose you may dress a doll with taste. His clothes are well enough, only they are too fine for anything but visiting."
"Well, wasn't he visiting, you silly Phoebe?"
"And he may be a man of figure—I don't know; but as to reach! I wonder what you saw in his discourse to admire; it seemed to me all about nothing."
"Why, that's just his parts!" said Rhoda. "Any man can talk about something; but to be able to talk in a clever, sprightly way about nothing—that takes a man of reach."
"Well! he may take his reach out of my reach," answered Phoebe, in a disgusted tone. "I shall think the time uncommonly short, I can promise you, till I see him again; for I never wish to do it."
"Phoebe, I do believe you haven't one bit of discernment!"
But Phoebe held her peace.
Madam called in due form on her new guest at the Maidens' Lodge, and Mrs Darcy returned the visit next day. She proved to be a short, stout, little woman, with a face which, while undeniably and excessively plain, was so beaming with good humour that it was difficult to remember her uncomeliness after the first coup d'oeil. Mr Welles accompanied her on the return visit. What had induced him to take up his quarters at the Bear, at Tewkesbury, was an enigma to the inhabitants of White-Ladies. Of course he could not live at the Maidens' Lodge, Madam being rigidly particular with respect to the intrusion of what Betty called "he creeturs" into that enchanted valley, and not tolerating the habitual presence even of a servant of the obnoxious sex. According to the representations of Mr Welles himself, he was fascinated by the converse and character of Madam, and was also completely devoted to his dear Aunt Eleanor. But Mr Welles had not favoured the Bear with very much of his attention before it dawned upon one person at least that neither Madam nor Mrs Eleanor had much to do with his frequent visits to Cressingham. Mrs Dorothy Jennings quickly noticed that Mr Welles was quite clever enough to discover what pleased different persons, and to adapt himself accordingly with surprising facility; and she soon perceived that the attraction was Rhoda, or rather Rhoda's prospects as the understood heiress of White-Ladies. Mr Welles accommodated himself skilfully to the prejudices of Madam; his manners assumed a graver and more courtly air, his conversation a calm and sensible tone; and Madam at length remarked to her grand-daughters, how very much that young man had improved since his first arrival at Cressingham.
With Rhoda, in the absence of her grandmother, he was an entirely different being. A great deal of apparent interest in herself, and deference to her opinions; a very little skilful flattery, too delicately administered for its hollowness to be perceived; a quick apprehension of what pleased and amused her, and a ready adaptation to her mood of the moment—these were Mr Welles' tactics with the heiress for whom he was angling. As to Phoebe, he simply let her alone. He soon saw that she was of no account in Rhoda's eyes, and was not her chosen confidante, but simply the person to whom she talked for want of any other listener. There was not, therefore, in his opinion, any reason why he should trouble himself to propitiate Phoebe.
Ever since the visit of the Delawarrs, Rhoda had seemed disinclined for another call on Mrs Dorothy Jennings. Now and then she went to see Mrs Clarissa, when the conversation usually turned on the fashions and cognate topics; sometimes she drank tea with Lady Betty, whose discourse was of rather a more sensible character. Rarely, she looked in on Mrs Marcella. Mrs Jane had thoroughly estranged her by persisting in her sarcastic nickname for Rhoda's chosen hero, and letting off little shafts against him, more smart than nattering. On Mrs Darcy she called perpetually, perhaps with a view to meet him at her house; but all Mr Welles' alleged devotion to his dear Aunt Eleanor scarcely ever seemed to result in his going to see her at the Maidens' Lodge. When Rhoda met him, which she very often did, it was either by his calling at the Abbey, or by an accidental rencontre—if accidental it were—in some secluded glade of the Park.
At length, one day, without any warning, a horse cantered up to the side door, and Molly Delawarr's voice in its loudest tones (and very loud they were) demanded where all those stupid creatures were who ought to be there to take her horse. Then Miss Molly, having been helped off, came marching in, and greeted her friends with a recitative—
"Lucy Locket lost her pocket; 'Kitty Fisher found it!'"
"My dear Mrs Molly, I am quite rejoiced to see you!"
"No! you aren't, are you?" facetiously responded Molly. "Rhoda—I vow, child, you're uglier than ever!—mother wants you for a while. There's that jade Betty going to come of age, and she means to make the biggest fuss over it ever was heard. She said she would send Wilson over, but I jumped on my tit, and came to tell you myself. You'll come, won't you, old hag?"
Rhoda looked at her grandmother.
"My dear, of course you will go!" responded Madam, "since my Lady Delawarr is so good. 'Tis so kind in Mrs Molly to take thus much trouble on herself."
"Fiddle-de-dee!" ejaculated Molly. "I'm no more kind than she's good. She wants a fuss, and a lot of folks to make it; and I wanted a ride, and some fun with Rhoda. Where's the goodness, eh?"
"Shall I take Phoebe?" asked Rhoda, doubtfully.
"You'd better," returned Molly, before Madam could speak. "You'll want somebody to curl your love-locks and stitch your fal-lals; and I'm not going to do it—don't you fancy so. Oh, I say, Rhoda! you may have Marcus Welles, if you want him. There's another fellow turned up, with a thousand a year more, that will suit me better."
"Indeed! I thank you!" said Rhoda, with a little toss of her head.
"My dear Mrs Molly, you are so diverting," smiled Madam.
"You don't say so!" rejoined that fascinating young person. "You'll put on your Sunday bombazine, Rhoda. We're all going to be as fine as fiddlers. As for you"—and Molly's bold eyes surveyed Phoebe, seeming to take in the whole at a glance—"it won't matter. You aren't an heiress, so you can come in rags."
Phoebe said nothing.
"I don't think," went on Molly, in a reflective tone, "that you can make a catch; but you can try. There is the chaplain—horrid old centipede! And there's old Walford"—Molly never favoured any man with a Mr to his name—"an ugly, spiteful old bear that nobody'll have: he's rich enough; and he might look your way if you play your cards well. Any way, you'll not have much chance else; so you'd better keep your eyes pretty well open. Now, Rhoda, come along, and we'll have some fun."
And away went Molly and Rhoda, with a smiling assent from Madam.
What a very repulsive, vulgar disagreeable girl this Molly Delawarr is! True, my gentle reader. And yet—does she do much more than say, in plain language, what a great number of Mollys are not ashamed to think?
Phoebe's sensations, in view of the coming visit to the Court, were far removed from pleasure. Must she go? She braced up her courage, and ventured to ask.
"If you please, Madam—"
"Well, child?" was the answer, in a sufficiently gracious tone to encourage Phoebe to proceed.
"Must I go with Mrs Rhoda to Delawarr Court, if you please, Madam?"
"Why, of course, child." Madam's tone expressed surprise, though not displeasure.
Phoebe swallowed her regret with a sigh, and tried to comfort herself with the thought of meeting Gatty, which was the only bright spot in the darkness. But would Gatty be there?
Rhoda and Molly came in to tea arm-in-arm.
"And how has my Lady Delawarr her health, Mrs Molly?" inquired Madam, as she poured out the refreshing fluid.
Molly had allowed no time for inquiries on her first appearance.
"Oh, she's well enough," said Molly, carelessly.
"And Mrs Betty is now fully recovered of her distemper?"
"She's come out of the small-pox, and tumbled into the vapours," said Molly.
"The vapours" was a most convenient term of that day. It covered everything which had no other name, from a pain in the toe to a pain in the temper, and was very frequently descriptive of the latter ailment. Betty's condition, therefore, as subject to this malady, excited little regret.
"And how goes it with Mrs Gatty? Is she now my Lady Polesworth?"
"My Lady Fiddlestrings!" responded Molly. "Not she—never will. Old Polesworth wanted a pretty face, and after Gatty's small-pox, why, you couldn't—"
"Small-pox!" cried Madam and Rhoda in concert.
"What, didn't you know?" answered Molly. "To be sure—took it the minute she got home. But that wasn't all, neither. Old Polesworth told Mum"—which meant Lady Delawarr—"that he might have stood small-pox, but he couldn't saintship; so Saint Gatty lost her chance, and much she'll ever see of such another. Dad and Mum were as mad as hornets. Dad said he'd have horsewhipped her if she'd been out of bed. Couldn't, in bed, you see—wouldn't have looked well."
"But, my dear, she could not help taking the small-pox?"
"Maybe not, but she might have helped taking the saint-pox," said Molly. "I believe she caught it from you," nodding at Phoebe. "But what vexed Mum most was that the grey goose actually made believe to be pleased when she lost her chance of the tinsel. Trust me, but Mum blew her up— a little! All leather and prunella, you know, of course. Pleased to be an old maid!—just think, what nonsense. She will be an old maid now, sure as eggs are eggs, unless she marries some conventicle preacher. That would be the best end of her, I should think."
Phoebe sat wondering why Molly paid so poor a compliment to her own denomination as to suppose that the natural gravitation of piety was towards Dissent. But Molly's volatile nature passed to a different subject the next moment.
"I say, old Roadside, bring a white gown. The Queen's coming to the Bath, and a lot of folks are trying to make her come on to Berkeley; and if she do, a whole parcel of young gentlewomen are to be there to courtesy to her, and give her a posy, and all that sort of flummery. And Mum says she'll send us down, if they do it."
"Who's to give the posy?" eagerly asked Rhoda.
"Don't know. Not you. You won't have a chance, old Fid-fad. No more shan't I. It'll be some thing of quality. I'll tread on her tail, though,—see if I don't."
"Whose?" whispered Rhoda; for Molly's last remark had been confidential. "You don't mean the Queen?"
"Of course I do,—who better? Her grandmother was a baronet's daughter; what else am I? I'll have a snip of her gown, if I can."
"O Molly!" exclaimed Rhoda in unfeigned horror.
"Why not? I've scissors in my pocket."
"Molly, you never could!"
"Don't you lay much on those odds, my red currant bush. I can do pretty near anything I've a mind—when I have a mind."
Rhoda was not pleased by Molly's last vocative, which she took as an uncomplimentary allusion to the faint shade of red in her hair,—a subject on which she was peculiarly sensitive. This bit of confidence had been exchanged out of the hearing of Madam, who had gone to a cabinet at the other end of the long room, but within that of Phoebe, who grew more uncomfortable every moment.
"Well, 'tis getting time to say ta-ta," said Molly, rising shortly after tea was over. "Where's that tit of mine?"
"My dear, I will send to fetch your horse round," said Madam, "Pray, make my compliments to my Lady Delawarr, and tell her that I cannot but be very sensible of her kindness in offering Rhoda so considerable a pleasure."
Madam was about to add more, but Molly broke in.
"Come now! Can't carry all that flummery. My horse would fall lame under the weight. I'll say you did the pretty thing. Ta-ta! See you on Monday, old gentlewoman." She turned to Rhoda; threw a nod, without words, to Phoebe, and five minutes afterwards was trotting across the Park on her way home to Delawarr Court.
"Le coeur humain a beaucoup de plis et de replis."
Madame de Motteville.
"And how goes it, my dear, with Madam and Mrs Rhoda?" inquired little Mrs Dorothy as she handed a cup to Phoebe.
"They are well, I thank you. Mrs Dolly, I have come to ask your counsel."
"Surely, dear child. Thou shalt have the best I can give. What is thy trouble?"
"I have two or three troubles," said Phoebe, sighing. "You know Rhoda is going to-morrow to Delawarr Court; and I am to go with her. I wish I need not!"
"Why, dear child?"
"Well, I am afraid it must sound silly," answered Phoebe, with a little laugh at herself; "but really, I can scarce tell why. Do you never feel thus unwilling to do a thing, Mrs Dorothy, almost without reason?"
"Ah, there is a reason," said the old lady: "and it comes either from your body or your mind, Phoebe. If 'tis from your body, let your mind govern it in any matter you must do. If it come from your mind, either you see a clear cause for it, or you do not."
"I do not, Mrs Dolly. I reckon 'tis but the spleen."
Everything we call nervous then fell under the head of spleen.
"There is an older name for that, Phoebe, without it arise from some disorder of the body."
"What, Mrs Dorothy?"
"Discontent, my child."
"But that is sin!" said Phoebe, looking up, as if startled.
"Ay. 'Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.'"
"Then should I be willing to go, Mrs Dolly?"
"What hast thou asked, my dear? Should God's child be willing to do her Father's will?"
Phoebe's face became grave.
"Dear Phoebe, 'when the people murmured, it displeased the Lord.' Have a care!—Well, what is your next trouble?"
"I have had a letter from mother," said Phoebe, colouring and looking uncomfortable.
"Is that a trouble, child?"
"No,—not that. Oh no! But—"
"But a trouble sticks to it. Well,—what?"
"She says I ought to—to get married, Mrs Dorothy; and she looks for me to do it while I tarry at White-Ladies, for she reckons that will be the best chance."
Mrs Dorothy was silent. If her thoughts were not complimentary to Mrs Latrobe, she gave no hint of it to Phoebe.
"I don't think I should like it, please, Mrs Dorothy," said Phoebe uneasily. "And ought I?"
"I suppose somebody had better ask you first," was Mrs Dorothy's dry answer.
"I would rather live with Mother," continued Phoebe. And suddenly a cry broke out which had been repressed till then. "I wish—oh, I wish Mother loved me! She never seemed to do it but once, when I was ill of the fever. I do so wish Mother could love me!"
Mrs Dorothy busied herself for a moment in putting the cups together on her little tea-tray. Then she came over to Phoebe.
"Little maid!" she said, lovingly, "there are some of us women for whom no love is safe, saving the love of Him that died for us. If we have it otherwise, we go wrong and set up idols in our hearts. Art thou one of those, Phoebe?"
"I don't know!" sobbed Phoebe. "How can I know?"
"Dear child, He knows. Canst thou not trust Him? 'Dieu est ton Berger.' The Shepherd takes more care of the sheep, Phoebe, than the sheep take care of themselves. Poor, blundering creatures that we are! always apt to think, in the depth of our hearts, that God would rather not save us, and that we shall have to take a great deal of trouble to persuade Him to do it. Nay! it is the Shepherd that longs to have the lamb safe folded, and the poor silly lamb that is always straying away. Phoebe, 'the Father Himself loveth thee.'"
"Oh, I know! But I can't see Him, Mrs Dorothy."
"I suppose He knows that, too," answered her old friend, softly. "He knows how much easier it would be to believe if we could see and feel. Maybe 'tis therefore He hath pronounced so special a blessing upon such as have not seen, and yet have believed."
"Mrs Dorothy,"—and Phoebe looked up earnestly,—"don't you think living is hard work?"
"I did once, my maid. But I am beyond the burden and the heat of the day now. My tools are gathered together and put away, and I am waiting for the Master to call me in home to my rest. Thou too wilt come to that, child, if thy life be long enough. And to some, even here,—to all, afterward,—it is given to see where the turns were taken in the path, and whereto the road should have led that we took not. Ah, child, one day thy heaviest cause of thankfulness may be that in this or that matter—perchance in the matter that most closely engaged thee in this life—thy Father did not give thee the desire of thine heart."
"Yet that is promised as a blessing?" said Phoebe, interrogatively, looking up.
"As a blessing, dear child, when thy will is God's will. Can it be any blessing, when thy will and His run contrary the one to the other?"
"Then you think I should not wish to be loved!" said Phoebe, with a heavy sigh.
"I think God's child will do well to leave the choice of all things to her Father."
"I must leave it. He will have it."
"He will have it," repeated Mrs Dorothy solemnly; "but, Phoebe, you can leave it in loving submission, or you can have it wrenched from you in judgment. Though it may be that you must loose your hold on a gem, yet you please yourself whether you yield it as a gift, or wait to have it torn away."
"I see," said Phoebe.
"Was there any further trouble, my dear?"
"Only that," replied Phoebe. "Life seems hard. I get so tired!"
"Thou art young to know that, child," said Mrs Dorothy, with a rather sad smile.
"Well, I don't know," answered Phoebe, doubtfully. "I think I have always been tired. And don't you know some people rest you, and some people don't? When there is nobody that rests one— Father used— but—"
Mrs Dorothy thought there was not much difficulty in reading the story hidden behind Phoebe's broken sentences.
"So life is hard?" she echoed. "Poor child! Dear, it was harder to Him that sat on the well at Sychar, wearied with His journey. He has not forgotten it, Phoebe. Couldst thou not go and remind Him of it, and ask Him to bless and rest thee?"
"Mrs Dolly, do you feel tired like that?"
A little amused laugh was Mrs Dolly's answer.
"Thou hast not all the sorrows of life in thine own portion, little Phoebe. I have felt it. I do not often now. The journey is too near at an end to fret much over the hard fare or the rough road. When there be only a few days to pass ere you leave school, your mind is more set on the coming holidays than on the length or hardness of the lessons that lie betwixt."
"I wish I hadn't to go to Delawarr Court!" sighed Phoebe. "There will be a great parcel of people, and not one I know but Rhoda, and Mrs Gatty, and Mrs Molly; and Rhoda always snubs me when Mrs Molly's there."
"Molly is trying," admitted the old lady. "But I think, dear child, you might make a friend of Gatty."
"Perhaps," said Phoebe.
"And, Phoebe, strive against discontent," said Mrs Dorothy; adding, with a smile, "and call it discontent, and not vapours. There is a great deal in giving names to things. So long as you call your pride self-respect and high spirit, you will reckon yourself much better than you are; and so long as you call your discontent low spirits or vapours, you will reckon yourself worse used than you are. Don't split on that rock, Phoebe. The worst thing you can do with wounds is to keep pulling off the bandage to see how they are getting on; and the worst thing you can do with griefs and wrongs is to nurse them and brood over them. Carry them to the Lord and show them to Him, and ask His help to bear them or right them, as He chooses; and then forget all about them as fast as you can. Dear old Scots Davie gave me that counsel, and through fifty years I have proved how good it was."
"You never finished your story, Mrs Dolly," suggested Phoebe.
"I did not, my dear. Yet there was little to finish. I did but tarry at Court till the great plague-time, when all was broke up, and I went home to nurse my mother, who took the plague and died of it. After that I continued to dwell with my father. For a while after my mother's death, he was very low and melancholical, saying that God had now met with him and was visiting his old sins upon him. And then, the very next year, came the fire, and we were burned out and left homeless. Then he was worse than ever. 'Twas like the curse pronounced on David, said he, that the sword should never depart from his house: he could never look to know rest nor peace any more; God hated him, and pursued him to the death. No word of mine, though I strove to find many from the Word of God, seemed to bring him any comfort at all. They were not for him, he said, but for them toward whom God had purposes of mercy, and there was none for him. He had sinned against light and knowledge; and God would none of him any more.
"One morning, about a week after the fire, as I was coming back from my marketing to the little mean lodging where we had took shelter, and was just going in at the door, I was sorely started to feel a great warm hand on my shoulder, and a loud, cheery voice saith, 'Dolly Jennings, whither away so fast thou canst not see an old friend?' I looked up, and there was dear old Farmer Ingham, in his thick boots and country homespun; but I declare to you, child, that in my trouble his face was to me as that of an angel of God. I brake down, and sobbed aloud. 'Come, come, now!' saith he, comfortably; 'not so bad as that, is it? I've been seeking thee these four days, Dolly, child. I knew I could find thee if I came myself, though the Missis said I never should; and I've asked at one, and asked at another, and looked up streets and down streets, till this morning I saw a young maid, with her back to me, a-going down an alley; and says I, right out loud, "That's Dolly's back, or else I'm a Dutchman!" So I ran after thee, and only just catched thee up. I'm not so lissome as thou; nay, nor so lissome as I was at thy years. However, here I am, and here thou art; so that's all right. And there's a good bed and a warm welcome for everyone of you at Ingle Nook'—that was the name of his farm, my dear—'and I've brought up a cart and the old tit to drag it, and we'll see if we can't make thee laugh and be rosy again.' Dear old man! no nay would he take, nor suffer so much as a word from father about our being any cost and trouble to him. 'Stuff and nonsense!' said he; 'I've got money saved, and the farm's doing well, and only my two bits of maids to leave it to; and who should I desire to help in this big trouble, if not my own foster-child, and hers?' So father yielded, and we went down to Ingle Nook.
"Farmer Ingham very soon found what was wrong with father. 'Eh, poor soul!' said he to me, 'he's the hundredth sheep that's got lost out on the moor, and he reckons the Shepherd'll bide warm in the fold with the ninety and nine, and never give a thought to him, poor, starved, straying thing! Dear, dear!—and as if I'd do such a thing, sinner that I am!—as if I could eat a crust in peace till I'd been after my sheep, poor wretch!—and to think the good Lord'd do it!—and the poor thing a-bleating out there, and wanting to get home! Dear, dear! how we poor sinners do wrong the good Lord!' I said, 'Won't you say a word to him, daddy?' That was what I had always called him, my dear, since I was a little child. 'Eh, child!' says he, 'what canst thou be thinking on? The like of me to preach to a parson, all regular done up, bands and cassock and shovel hat and all! But I'll tell thee what—there's Dr Bates a-coming to bide with me a night this next week, on his way from the North into Sussex, and I'll ask him to edge in a word. He's a grand man, Dolly! "Silver-tongued Bates." Thou'lt hear.'
"Well, I knew, for I had heard talk of it at the time, that Dr Bates was one of them that gave up their livings when the Act of Uniformity came in, so that he was regarded as no better than a conventicler; and I wondered how father should like to be spoke to by Dr Bates any more than by Farmer Ingham, because to him they would both be laymen alike. But at that time I was learning to tarry the Lord's leisure—ah! that's a grand word, Phoebe! For His leisure runs side by side with our profit, and He'll be at leisure to attend to you the minute that you really need attending to. So I waited quietly to see what would come. Dr Bates came, and he proved to be no common hedge-preacher, but a learned man that had been to the University, and had Greek and Hebrew pat at his tongue's end. I could see that it was pleasant to father to talk with such a man; and maybe he took to him the rather because he had the look of one that had known sorrow. When a man is suffering, he will converse more readily with a fellow-sufferer than with a hale man. So they talked away of their young days, when they were at school and college, and father was much pleased, as I could see, to find that Dr Bates and he were of the same college, though not there at the same time: and a deal they had to say about this and that man, that both knew, but of course all strangers to me. I thought I had never seen Father seem to talk with the like interest and pleasure since my mother's death.
"But time went on, and their talk, and not a word from Dr Bates of the fashion I desired. I went to bed somewhat heavy. The next morning, however, as I was sat at my sewing by the parlour window—which was open, the weather being very sultry—came Dr Bates and father, and stood just beyond the window. The horse was then saddling for Dr Bates to be gone. All at once, they standing silent a moment, he laid his hand on father's shoulder, and saith very softly, '"I will hearken what the Lord God will say concerning me."' Father turns and stares at him, as started. But he goes on, and saith, '"For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid Me and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him; I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace to him that is far off"'—he said it twice—'"peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord, and I will heal him."' He did not add one word, but went and mounted his horse, and when he had bid farewell to all else, just as he was turning away from the door, he calls out, in a cheerful voice, 'Good morning, Brother Jennings.' Then, as it were, Father seemed to awake, and he runs after, and puts his hand in Dr Bates's, who drew bridle, and for a minute they were busy in earnest discourse. Then they clasped hands again, and father saith, 'God bless you!' and away rode Dr Bates. But after that Father was different. He said to me—it was some weeks later—'Dolly, if it please God, I shall never speak another word against the men that turned out in Sixty-Two. They may have made blunders, but some at least of them were holy men of God, for all that.'"
"I was always sorry for them," said Phoebe. "And Father said so too."
"True, my dear. Yet 'tis not well we should forget that the parsons were turned out the first, and the conventiclers afterward. There were faults on both sides."
"But, Mrs Dolly, why can't good men agree?"
"Ah, child! 'They shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.' No sooner. Thank God that He looketh on the heart. I believe there may be two men in arms against each other, bitter opposers of each other, and yet each of them acting with a single eye to the honour of their Lord. He knows it, and He only, now. But how sorry they will be for their hard thoughts and speeches when they come to understand each other in the clear light of Heaven!"
"It always seems to me," said Phoebe, diffidently, "that there are a great many things we shall be sorry for then. But can anybody be sorry in Heaven?"
Mrs Dorothy smiled. "We know very little about Heaven, my dear. Less than Madam's parrot or Mrs Clarissa's dog understands about anyone writing a letter."
"Dogs do understand a great deal," remarked Phoebe. "Our Flossie did."
"My dear, I have learned no end of lessons from dogs. I only wish we Christians minded the word of our Master half as well as they do theirs. I wish men would take pattern from them, instead of starving and kicking them, or tormenting them with a view to win knowledge. We may be the higher creatures, but we are far from being the better. You may take note, too, that your dog will often resist an unpleasant thing—a dose of medicine, say—just because he does not understand why you want to give it to him, and does not know the worse thing that would otherwise befall him. Didst thou never serve thy Master like that, dear?"
"I am afraid so," said Phoebe, softly.
"We don't trust Him enough, Phoebe. It does seem as if the hardest thing in all the world was for man to trust God. You would not think I paid you much of a compliment if you heard me say, 'I'll trust Phoebe Latrobe as far as I can see her.' Yet that is what we are always doing to God. The minute we lose sight of His footsteps, we begin to murmur and question where He is taking us. But, my dear, I must not let you tarry longer; 'tis nigh sundown."
"Oh, dear!" and Phoebe looked up and rose hurriedly. "I trust Madam will not be angry. 'Tis much later than I thought."
She found Madam too busy to notice what time she returned. Rhoda's wardrobe was being packed for her visit, under the supervision of her grandmother, by the careful hands of Betty. The musk-coloured damask, which she had coveted, was the first article provided, and a cherry-coloured velvet mantle, lined with squirrel-skins, was to be worn with it. A blue satin hood completed this rather showy costume. A wadded calico wrapper, for morning wear; a hoop petticoat wider than Rhoda had ever worn before; the white dress stipulated by Molly; small lace head-dresses, instead of the old-fashioned commode; aprons of various colours, silk and satin; muslin and lace ruffles; a blue camlet riding-habit, laced with silver (ladies rode at this time dressed exactly like gentlemen, with the addition of a long skirt); and an evening dress of cinnamon-colour, brocaded with large green leaves and silver stems, with a white and gold petticoat under it—were the chief items of Rhoda's wardrobe. A new set of body-linen was also added, made of striped muslin. Since our fair ancestresses made their night-dresses of "muslin," it would appear that they extended the term to some stouter material than the thin and flimsy manufacture to which we restrict it. Rhoda's boots were of white kid, goloshed with black velvet. There were also "jessamy" gloves—namely, kid gloves perfumed with jessamine; a black velvet mask; a superb painted fan; a box of patches, another of violet powder, another of rouge, and a fourth of pomatum; one of the India scarves before alluded to; a stomacher set with garnet, a pearl necklace, and a silver box full of cachou and can-away comfits, to be taken to church for amusement during long sermons. The enamelled picture on the lid Rhoda would have done well to lay to heart, as it represented Cupid fishing for human beings, with a golden guinea on his hook. Rhoda was determined to be the finest dressed girl at Delawarr Court, and Madam had allowed her to order very much what she pleased. Phoebe's quiet mourning, new though it was, looked very mean in comparison—in her cousin's eyes.
No definite time was fixed for Rhoda's return home. She was to stay as long as Lady Delawarr wished to keep her.
"Phoebe, my dear!" said Madam.
"Madam?" responded Phoebe, with a courtesy.
"Come into my chamber; I would have a few words with you."
Phoebe followed, her heart feeling as if it would jump into her mouth. Madam shut the door, and took her seat on the cushioned settle which stretched along the foot of her bed.
"Child," she said to Phoebe, who stood modestly before her, "I think myself obliged to tell you that I expect Rhoda to settle in life on the occasion of this visit. I apprehend that she will meet with divers young gentlemen, with any of whom she might make a good match; and she can then make selection of him that will be most agreeable to her."
Phoebe privately wondered how the gentleman whom Rhoda selected was to be induced to select Rhoda.
"Then," pursued Madam, "when she returns, she will tell me her design; and if on seeing the young man, and making inquiries of such as are acquainted with him, I approve of the match myself, I shall endeavour the favour of his friends, and doubt not to obtain it. Rhoda will have an excellent fortune, and she is of an agreeable turn enough. Now, my dear, at the same time, I wish you to look round you, and see if you can light on some decent man, fit for your station, that would not be disagreeable to you. I have apprised myself that Sir Richard's chaplain hath entered into no engagements, and if he were to your taste, I would do my best to settle you in that quarter, I cannot think he would prove uneasy to me, should I do him the honour; at the same time, if you find him unpleasant to you, I do not press the affair. But 'tis high time you should look out, for you have no fortune but yourself, and what I may choose to give with you: and if you order yourself after my wish, I engage myself to undertake for you—in reason, my dear, of course. The chaplain is very well paid, for Sir Richard finds him in board and a horse, and gives him beside thirty-five pound by the year, which is more than many have. He is, I learn, a good, easy man, that would not be likely to give his wife any trouble. Not very smart, but that can well be got over; and of good family, but indigent—otherwise it may well be reckoned he would not be a chaplain. So I bid you consider him well, my dear, and let me know your thoughts when you return hither."
Phoebe's thoughts just then were chasing each other in wild confusion: the principal one being that she was a victim led to the sacrifice with a rope round her neck.
"I ask your pardon, Madam; but—"
"Well, my dear, if you have something you wish to say, I am ready to listen to it," said Madam, with an air of extreme benignity.
Phoebe felt her position the more difficult because of her grandmother's graciousness. She so evidently thought herself conferring a favour on a portionless and unattractive girl, that it became hard to say an opposing word.
"If you please, Madam, and asking your pardon, must I be married?"
"Must you be married, child!" repeated Madam in astonished tones, "Why, of course you must. The woman is created for the man. You would not die a maid?"
"I would rather, if you would allow me, Madam," faltered Phoebe.
"But, my dear, I cannot allow it. I should not be doing my duty by you if I did. The woman is made for the man," repeated Madam, sententiously.
"But—was every woman made for some man, if you please, Madam?" asked poor Phoebe, struggling against destiny in the person of her grandmother.
"Of course, child—no doubt of it," said Madam.
"Then, if you please, Madam, might I not wait till I find the man I was made for?" entreated Phoebe with unconscious humour.
"When you marry a man, my dear, he is the man you were made for," oracularly replied Madam.
Phoebe was silenced, but not at all convinced, which is a very different thing. She could remember a good many husbands and wives with whom she had met who so far as she could judge, did not appear to have been created for the benefit of one another.
"And I trust you will find him at Delawarr Court. At all events, you will look out. As to waiting, my dear, at your age, and in your station, you cannot afford to wait. One or two years is no matter for Rhoda; but 'twill not serve for you. I was married before I was your age, Phoebe."
Phoebe sighed, but did not venture to speak. She felt more than ever as if she were being led to the slaughter. There was just this uncomfortable difference, that the sacrificed sheep or goat did not feel anything when once it was over, and the parallel would not hold good there. She felt utterly helpless. Phoebe knew her mother too well to venture on any appeal to her, even had she fondly imagined that representations from Mrs Latrobe would have weight with Madam. Mrs Latrobe would have been totally unable to comprehend her. So Phoebe did what was better,—carried her trial and perplexity to her Father in Heaven, and asked Him to undertake for her. Naturally shy and timid, it was a terrible idea to Phoebe that she was to be handed over bodily in this style to some stranger. Rhoda would not have cared; a change was always welcome to her, and she thought a great deal about the superior position of a matron. But in Phoebe's eyes the position presented superior responsibility, a thing she dreaded; and superior notoriety, a thing she detested. She was a violet, born to blush unseen, yet believing that perfume shed upon the desert air is not necessarily wasted.
"Here you are, old Rattle-trap!" cried Molly, from the head of the stairs, as Rhoda and Phoebe were mounting them. "Brought that white rag? We're going. Mum says so. Turn your toes out,—here's Betty."
Rhoda's hand was clasped, and her cheek kissed, by a pleasant-spoken, rather good-looking girl, very little scarred from her recent illness.
"Phoebe Latrobe?" said Betty, turning kindly to her. "I know your name, you see. I trust you will be happy here. Your chamber is this way, Rhoda."
It was a long, narrow room, with a low whitewashed ceiling, across which ran two beams. A pot-pourri stood on the little table in the centre, and there were two beds, one single and one double.
"Who's to be here beside me?" inquired Rhoda.
"Oh, Mother would have given you and Phoebe a chamber to yourselves," replied Betty, "but we are so full of company, she felt herself obliged to put in some one, so Gatty is coming to you."
"Can't it be Molly?" rather uncivilly suggested Rhoda.
Phoebe privately hoped it could not.
"Will, I think not," answered Betty, smiling. "Lady Diana Middleham wants Molly. She's in great request."
"Who is,—me?" demanded Molly, appearing as if by magic in the doorway. "Of course. I'm not going to sleep with you, Pug-nose. Not going to sleep at all. Spend the night in tickling the people I like, and running pins into those I don't. Fair warning!"
"I wonder whether it is better to be one you like, Molly, or one you don't like," said Rhoda, laughing.
"I hope you don't like me in that regard," said Betty, laughing too.
"Well, I don't particularly," was Molly's frank answer, "so you'll get the pins. Right about face! Stand—at—ease! Here comes Mum."
A very gorgeously dressed woman, all flounces and feathers as it seemed to Phoebe, sailed into the room, kissed Rhoda, told her that she was welcome, in a languishing voice, desired Betty to see her made comfortable, informed Molly that her hair was out of curl, took no notice of Phoebe, and sailed away again.
"I'm off!" Molly announced to the world. "There's Mr What-do-you-call-him downstairs. Go and have some fun with him." And Molly vanished accordingly.
Then Rhoda's unpacking had to be seen to by herself and Phoebe; that is to say, Phoebe did it, and Rhoda sat and watched her, Betty flitted about, talking to Rhoda, and helping Phoebe, till her name was called from below, and away she went to respond to it. Phoebe, at least, missed her, and thought her pleasant company. Whatever else she might be, she was good-natured. When the unpacking was finished to her satisfaction, Rhoda declared that she was perishing for hunger, and must have something before she could dress. Before she could make up her mind what to do, a rap came on the door, and a neat maid-servant entered with a tray.
"An't please you, Madam, Mrs Betty bade me bring you a dish of tea," said she; "for she said 'twas yet two good hours ere supper, and you should be the better of a snack after your journey. Here is both tea and chocolate, bread and butter, and shortcake." And setting down the tray, she left them to enjoy its contents.
"Long life to Betty!" said Rhoda. "Here, Phoebe! pour me a dish of chocolate. I never get any at home. Madam has a notion it makes people fat."
"But does she not like you to take it?" asked Phoebe, pausing, with the silver chocolatiere in her hand.
"Oh, pother! go on!" exclaimed Rhoda. "Give it me, if your tender conscience won't let you. I say, Phoebe, you'll be a regular prig and prude, if you don't mind."
"I don't know what those are," replied Phoebe, furtively engaged in rubbing her hand where Rhoda had pinched it as she seized the handle of the chocolate pot.
"Oh, don't you?" answered Rhoda. "I do, for I've got you to look at. A prig is a stuck-up silly creature, and a prude is always thinking everything wicked. And that's what you are."
Phoebe wisely made no reply. Tea finished, Rhoda condescended to be dressed and have her hair curled and powdered, gave Phoebe very few minutes for changing her own dress, and then, followed by her cousin and handmaid, she descended to the drawing-room. To Phoebe's consternation, it seemed full of young ladies and gentlemen, in fashionable array; and the consternation was not relieved by a glimpse of Mr Marcus Welles, radiant in blue and gold, through a vista of plumes, lace lappets, and fans. Betty was there, making herself generally useful and agreeable; and Molly, making herself the reverse of both. Phoebe scanned the brilliant crowd earnestly for Gatty. But Gatty was nowhere to be seen.
Rhoda went forward, and plunged into the crowd, kissing and courtesying to all the girls she recognised. She was soon the gayest of the gay among them. No one noticed Phoebe but Betty, and she gave her a kindly nod in passing, and said, "Pray divert yourself." Phoebe's diversion was to retire into a corner, and from her "loop-hole of retreat, to peep at such a world."
A very young world it was, whose oldest inhabitant at that moment was under twenty-five. But the boys and girls—for they were little more— put on the most courtier-like and grown-up airs. The ladies sat round the room, fluttering their fans, or laughing behind them: in some cases gliding about with long trains sweeping the waxed oak floor. The gentlemen stood before them, paying compliments, cracking jokes, and uttering airy nothings. Both parties took occasional pinches of snuff. For a few minutes the scene struck Phoebe as pretty and amusing; but this impression was quickly followed by a sensation of sadness. A number of rational and immortal beings were gathered together, and all they could find to do was to look pretty and be amusing. Why, a bird, a dog, or a monkey, could have done as much, and more.
And a few words came into Phoebe's mind, practically denied by the mass of mankind then as now, "Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are."
How apt man is to think that every creature and thing around him was created for his pleasure! or, at least, for his use and benefit. The natural result is, that he considers himself at liberty to use them just as he pleases, quite regardless of their feelings, especially when any particular advantage may be expected to accrue to himself.
But "the Lord hath made all things for Himself," and "He cometh to judge the earth."
RHODA IS TAKEN IN THE TRAP.
"That busy hive, the world, And all its thousand stings."
Phoebe sat still for a while in her corner, watching the various members of the party as they flitted in and out: for the scene was now becoming diversified by the addition of elder persons. Ere long, two gentlemen in evening costume, engaged in conversation, came and stood close by her. One of them, as she soon discovered, was Sir Richard Delawarr.
"'Tis really true, then," demanded the other—a round-faced man, with brilliant eyes, who was attired as a dignitary of the Church—"'tis really true, Sir, that the Queen did forbid the visit of the Elector?"
"I had it from an excellent hand, I assure you," returned Sir Richard. "Nor only that, but the Princess Sophia so laid it to heart, that 'twas the main cause of her sudden death."
"It really was so?"
"Upon honour, my Lord; my Lady Delawarr had it from Mrs Rosamond Harley."
"Ha! then 'tis like to be true. You heard, I doubt not, Sir, of D'Urfey's jest on the Princess Sophia?—ha, ha, ha!" and the Bishop laughed, as if the recollection amused him exceedingly.
"No, I scarce think I did, my Lord."
"Not? Ah, then, give me leave to tell it you. I hear it gave the Queen extreme diversion.
"'The crown is too weighty For shoulders of eighty— She could not sustain such a trophy: Her hand, too, already Has grown so unsteady, She can't hold a sceptre: So Providence kept her Away—poor old dowager Sophy!'"
Sir Richard threw his head back, and indulged in unfeigned merriment. Phoebe, in her corner, felt rather indignant. Why should the Princess Sophia, or any other woman, be laughed at solely for growing old?
"Capital good jest!" said the Baronet, his amusement over. "I heard from a friend that I met at the Bath, that the Queen is looking vastly well this summer—quite rid of her gout."
"So do I hear," returned the Bishop. "What think you of the price set on the Pretender's head?"
Sir Richard whistled.
"The Queen's own sole act, without any concurrence of her Ministers," continued the Bishop.
"Dear, dear!" exclaimed Sir Richard. "Five thousand, I was told?"
"Five thousand. An excellent notion, I take it."
"Well—I—don't—know!" slowly answered Sir Richard. "I cannot but feel very doubtful of the mischievous consequence that may ensue. A price on the head of the Prince of Wales! Sounds bad, my Lord—sounds bad! Though, indeed, he be not truly the Queen's brother, yet 'tis unnatural for his sister to set a price on his head."
By which remark it will be seen that Sir Richard's intellect was not of the first order. The intellect of Bishop Atterbury was: and a slightly contemptuous smile played on his lips for a moment.
"'The Prince of Wales!'" repeated he. "Surely, Sir, you have more wit than to credit that baseless tale? Why not set a price on the Pretender?"
Be it known to the reader, though it was not to Sir Richard, that on that very morning Bishop Atterbury had forwarded a long letter to the Palace of Saint Germain, in which he addressed the aforesaid Pretender as "your Majesty," and assured him of his entire devotion to his interests.
"Oh, come, I leave the whys and wherefores to yon gentlemen of the black robe!" answered Sir Richard, laughing. "By the way, talking of prices, have you heard the prodigious price Sir Nathaniel Fowler hath given for his seat in the Commons? Six thousand pounds, 'pon my honour!"
"Surely, Sir, you have been misinformed. Six thousand! 'Tis amazing."
"Your Lordship may well say so. Why, I gave but eight hundred for mine. By the way, there is another point I intended to acquaint you of, my Lord. Did you hear, ever, that there should be a little ill-humour with my Lord Oxford, on account of—you know?"
"On account? Oh!" and the Bishop's right hand was elevated to his lips, in the attitude of a person drinking. "Yes, yes. Well, I cannot say I am entirely ignorant of that affair. Sir Jeremy's lady assured me she knew, beyond contradiction, that my Lord Oxford once waited on her, somewhat foxed."
Of course, "she" was the Queen. But why a fox, usually as sober a beast as others, should have been compelled to lend its name to the vocabulary of intoxication, is not so apparent.
"Absolutely drunk, I heard," responded Sir Richard; "and she was prodigiously angered. Said to my Lady Masham, that if it were ever repeated, she would take his stick from him that moment. Odd, if the ministry were to fall for such a nothing as that."
"Well, 'twas not altogether reverential to the sovereign," said the Bishop; "and the Queen is extreme nice, you know."
The threat of taking the stick from a minister was less figurative in Queen Anne's days than now. The white wand of office was carried before every Cabinet Minister, not only in his public life, but even in private.
At this point a third gentleman joined the others, and they moved away, leaving Phoebe in her corner.
Phoebe sat meditating, for nobody had spoken to her, when she felt a soft gloved hand laid upon her arm. She turned, suddenly, to look up into a face which she thought at first was the face of a stranger. Then, in a moment, she knew Gatty Delawarr.
The small-pox had changed her terribly—far more than her sister. No one could think of setting her up for a beauty now. The soft, peach-like complexion, which had been Gatty's best point, was replaced by a sickly white, pitifully seamed with the scars of the dread disease.
"You did not know me at first," said Gatty, quietly, as if stating a fact, not making an inquiry.
"I do now," answered Phoebe, returning Gatty's smile.
"Well, you see the Lord made a way for me. But it is rather a rough one, Phoebe."
"I am afraid you must have suffered very much, Mrs Gatty."
"Won't you drop the Mistress? I would rather. Well, yes, I suffered, Phoebe; but it was worse since than just then."
Phoebe's face, not her tongue, said, "In what manner?"
"'Tis not very pleasant, Phoebe, to have everybody bewailing you, and telling all their neighbours how cruelly you are changed, but I could have stood that. Nor is it delightful to have Molly for ever at one's elbow, calling one Mrs Baboon, and my Lady Venus, and such like; but I could have stood that, though I don't like it. But 'tis hard to be told I have disappointed my mother's dearest hopes, and that she will never take any more pleasure in me; that she would to Heaven I had died in my cradle. That stings sometimes. Then, to know that if one makes the least slip, it will be directly, 'Oh, your saints are no better than other folks!' Phoebe, I wish sometimes that I had not recovered."
"Oh, but you must not do that, Mrs Gatty!—well, Gatty, then, as you are so kind. The Lord wanted you for something, I suppose."
"I wonder for what!" said Gatty.
"Well, we can't tell yet, you see," replied Phoebe, simply. "I suppose you will find out by and bye."
"I wish I could find out," said Gatty, sighing.
"I think He will show you, when He is ready," said Phoebe. "Father used to say that it took a good deal longer to make a fine microscope than it did to make a common chisel or hammer; and he thought it was the same with us. I mean, you know, that if the Lord intends us to do very nice work, He will be nice in getting us ready for it, and it may take a good while. And father used to say that we seldom know what God is doing with us while He does it, but only when He has finished."
"Nice," at that time, had not the sense of pleasant, but only that of delicately particular.
"I am glad you have told me that, Phoebe. I wish your father had been living now."
"Oh!" very deep-drawn, from Phoebe, echoed the wish.
"Phoebe, I want you to tell me where you get your patience?"
"My patience!" repeated astonished Phoebe.
"Yes; I think you are the most patient maid I know."
"I can't tell you, I am sure!" answered Phoebe, in a rather puzzled tone. "I didn't know I was patient. I don't think I have often asked for that, specially. Very often, I ask God to give me what He sees I need; and if that be as you say, I suppose He saw I wanted it, and gave it me."
The admiring look in Gatty's eyes was happily unintelligible to Phoebe.
"Now then!" said Molly's not particularly welcome voice, close by them. "Here's old Edmundson. Clasp your hands in ecstasy, Phoebe. Mum says you and he have got to fall in love and marry one another; so make haste about it. He's not an ill piece, only you'll find he won't get up before noon unless you squirt water in his face. Now then, fall to, and say some pretty things to one another!"
Of course Molly had taken the most effectual way possible to prevent any such occurrence. Phoebe did not dare to lift her eyes; and the chaplain was, if possible, the shyer of the two, and had been dragged there against his will by invincible Molly. Neither would have known what to do, if Gatty had not kindly come to the rescue.
"Pray sit down, Mr Edmundson," she said, in a quiet, natural way, as if nothing had happened. "I thought I had seen you riding forth, half an hour ago; I suppose it must have been some one else."
"I—ah—yes—no, I have not been riding to-day," stammered the perturbed divine.
"Twas a very pleasant morning for a ride," said mediating Gatty.
"Very pleasant, Madam," answered the chaplain.
"Have you quite lost your catarrh, Mr Edmundson?"
"Quite, I thank you, Madam."
"I believe my mother wishes to talk with you of Jack Flint, Mr Edmundson."
"The lad hath been well spoken of to her for the under-gardener's boy's place. I think she wished to have your opinion of him."
"Is the boy of a choleric disposition?"
"But what think you, Mr Edmundson?"
"Madam, I—ah—I cannot say, Madam."
"I think I see Mr Lamb beckoning to you," observed Gatty, wishful to relieve the poor gauche chaplain from his uncomfortable position.
"Madam, I thank you—ah—very much, Madam." And Mr Edmundson made a dive into the throng, and disappeared behind a quantity of silk brocade and Brussels lace. Phoebe ventured to steal a glance at him as he departed. She found that the person to whom she had been so unceremoniously handed over, alike by Madam, Lady Delawarr, and Molly, was a thickset man of fifty years, partially bald, with small, expressionless features. He was not more fascinating to look at than to talk to, and Phoebe could only entertain a faint hope that his preaching might be an improvement upon both looks and conversation.
A little later in the evening, as Phoebe sat alone in her corner, looking on, "I say!" came from behind her. Her heart fluttered, for the voice was Molly's.
"I say!" repeated Molly. "You look here. I'm not all bad, you know. I didn't want old Edmundson to have you. And I knew the way to keep him from it was to tell him he must. I think 'tis a burning shame to treat a maid like that. They were all set on it—the old woman, and Mum, and everybody. He's an old block of firewood. You're fit for something better. I tease folks, but I'm not quite a black witch. Ta-ta. He'll not tease you now."
And Molly disappeared as suddenly as she had appeared. There was no opportunity for Phoebe to edge in a word. But, for once in her life, she felt obliged to Molly.
The next invader of Phoebe's peace was Lady Delawarr herself. She sat down on an ottoman, fanned herself languidly, and hoped dear Mrs Rhoda was enjoying herself.
Phoebe innocently replied that she hoped so too.
"'Twill be a pretty sight, all the young maids in white, to meet the Queen at Berkeley," resumed Lady Delawarr. "There are fourteen going from this house. My three daughters, of course, and Lady Diana—she is to hand the nosegay—and Mrs Rhoda, and Mrs Kitty Mainwaring, and Mrs Sophia Rich, and several more. Those that do not go must have some little pleasure to engage them whilst the others are away. I thought they might drink a dish of chocolate in yon little ivy-covered tower in the park, and have the young gentlemen to wait on them and divert them. The four gentlemen of the best families and fortunes will wait on the gentlewomen to Berkeley: that is, Mr Otway, Mr Seymour, my nephew Mr George Merton, and Mr Welles. I shall charge Mr Derwent yonder to wait specially on you, Mrs Phoebe, while Mrs Rhoda is away."
Phoebe perceived that she was not one of the fourteen favoured ones. A little flutter of anxiety disturbed her anticipations. What would go on with Rhoda and Mr Welles?
Lady Delawarr sat for a few minutes, talking of nothing in particular, and then rose and sailed away. It was evident that the main object of her coming had been to give Phoebe a hint that she must not expect to join the expedition to Berkeley.
As Phoebe went upstairs that evening, feeling rather heavy-hearted, she saw something gleam and fall, and discovered, on investigation, that a tassel had dropped from Rhoda's purse, which that young lady had desired her to carry up for her. She set to work to hunt for it, but for some seconds in vain. She had almost given up the search in despair, when a strange voice said behind her, "Le voici, Mademoiselle."
Phoebe turned and faced her countrywoman—for so she considered her— with an exclamation of delight.
"Ah! you speak French, Mademoiselle?" said the girl. "It is a pleasure, a pleasure, to hear it!"
"I am French," responded Phoebe, warmly. "My father was a Frenchman. My name is Phoebe Latrobe: what is yours?"
"Louise Dupret. I am Lady Delawarr's woman. I have been here two long, long years; and nobody speaks French but Madame and Mesdemoiselles her daughters. And Mademoiselle Marie will not, though she can. She will talk to me in English, and laughs at me when I understand her not. Ah, it is dreadful!"
"From what part of France do you come?"
"From the mountains of the Cevennes. And you?"
"The same. Then you are of the religion?"
This was the Huguenot form of inquiry whether a stranger belonged to them. Louise's eyes lighted up.
"We are daughters of the Church of the Desert," she said. "And we are sisters in Jesus Christ."
From that hour Phoebe was not quite friendless at Delawarr Court. It was well for her: since the preparations for Berkeley absorbed Gatty, and of Rhoda she saw nothing except during the processes of dressing and undressing. Very elaborate processes they became, for Lady Delawarr kept a private hair-dresser, who came round every morning to curl, friz, puff, and powder each young lady in turn; and the unfortunate maiden who kept him waiting an instant was relegated to the last, and certain to be late for breakfast. Following in the footsteps of his superiors, he did not notice Phoebe, nor count her as one of the group; but after the meeting on the stairs, as soon as Lady Delawarr released her, Louise was at hand with a beaming face, entreating permission to arrange Mademoiselle, and she sent her downstairs looking very fresh and stylish, almost enough to provoke the envy of Rhoda.
"Ah, Mademoiselle!—if you were but a rich, rich lady, and I might be your maid!" sighed Louise. "This is a dreary world; and a dreary country, this England; and a dreary house, this Cour de la Warre! Madame is—is—ah, well, she is my mistress, and it is not right to chatter all one thinks. Still one cannot help thinking. Mademoiselle Betti—if she were in my country, we should call her Elise, which is pretty—it is ugly, Betti!—well, Mademoiselle Betti is very good-natured—very, indeed; and Mademoiselle Henriette—ah, this droll country! her name is Henriette, and they call her Gatti!—she is very good, very good and pleasant Mademoiselle Henriette. And since she had the small-pox she is nicer than before. It had spoiled her face to beautify her heart. Ah, that poor demoiselle, how she suffers! Perhaps, Mademoiselle, it is not right that I should tell you, even you; but she suffers so much, this good demoiselle, and she is so patient! But for Mademoiselle Marie—ah, there again the droll name, Molli!—does not Mademoiselle think this a strange, very strange, country?"
The great expedition was ready to set out at last. All the girls were dressed exactly alike, in white, and all the gentlemen in blue turned up with white. They were to travel in two coaches to Bristol, where all were to sleep at the house of Mrs Merton, sister-in-law to Lady Delawarr; the next day the bouquet was to be presented at Berkeley, and on the third day they were to return. By way of chaperone, the housekeeper at the Court was to travel with them to and from Bristol, out Mrs Merton herself undertook to conduct them to Berkeley.
Rhoda was in the highest spirits, and Phoebe saw her assisted into the coach by Mr Marcus Welles with no little misgiving. Molly, as she brushed past Phoebe, allowed the point of a steel scissors-sheath to peep from her pocket for an instant, accompanying it with the mysterious intimation—"You'll see!"
"What will she see, Molly?" asked Lady Diana, who was close beside her.
"How to use a pair of scissors," said Molly. "What's to be cut, Molly?" Sophia Rich wished to know.
"A dash!" said Molly, significantly. And away rolled the coaches towards Bristol. Phoebe turned back into the house with a rather desolate feeling. For three days everybody would be gone. Those who were left behind were all strangers to her except Mr Edmundson, and she wanted to get as far from him as she could. True, there was Louise; but Louise could hardly be a companion for her, even had her work for Lady Delawarr allowed it, for she was not her equal in education. The other girls were engaged, as usual, in idle chatter, and fluttering of fans. Lady Delawarr, passing through the room, saw Phoebe sitting rather disconsolately in a corner.
"Mrs Phoebe, my dear, come and help me to make things ready for to-morrow," she said, good-naturedly; and Phoebe followed her very willingly.
The picnic was a success. The weather was beautiful, and the young people in good temper—two important points. Lady Delawarr herself, in the absence of her housekeeper, superintended the packing of the light van which carried the provisions to the old tower. There was to be a gipsy fire to boil the kettle, with three poles tied together over it, from which the kettle was slung in the orthodox manner. Phoebe, who was trying to make herself useful, stretched out her hand for the kettle, when Lady Delawarr's voice said behind her, "My dear Mrs Phoebe, you may be relieved of that task. Mr Osmund Derwent—Mrs Phoebe Latrobe. Mrs Latrobe—Mr Derwent."
There was one advantage, now lost, in this double introduction; if the name were not distinctly heard in the first instance, it might be caught in the second.
Phoebe looked up, and saw a rather good-looking young man, whose good looks, however, lay more in a pleasant expression than in any special beauty of feature. A little shy, yet without being awkward; and a little grave and silent, but not at all morose, he was one with whom Phoebe felt readily at home. His shyness, which arose from diffidence, not pride, wore off when the first strangeness was over. It was evident that Lady Delawarr had given him, as she had said, a hint to wait on Phoebe.
The peculiarity of Lady Delawarr's conduct rather puzzled Phoebe. At times she was particularly gracious, whilst at others she utterly neglected her. Simple, unworldly Phoebe did not guess that while Rhoda Peveril and Phoebe Latrobe were of no consequence in the eyes of her hostess, the future possessor of White-Ladies was of very much. Lady Delawarr never felt quite certain who that was to be. She expected it to be Rhoda; yet at times the conviction smote her that, after all, there was no certainty that it might not be Phoebe. Madam was impulsive; she had already surprised people by taking up with Phoebe at all; and Rhoda might displease her. In consequence of these reflections, though Phoebe was generally left unnoticed, yet occasionally Lady Delawarr warmed into affability, and cultivated the girl who might, after all, come to be the heiress of Madam's untold wealth. For Lady Delawarr's mind was essentially of the earth, earthy; gold had for her a value far beyond goodness, and pleasantness of disposition or purity of mind were not for a moment to be set in comparison with a suite of pearls.
Mr Derwent took upon himself the responsibility of the kettle, and chatted pleasantly enough with Phoebe, to whom the other damsels were only too glad to leave all trouble. He walked home with her, insisting with playful persistence upon carrying her scarf and the little basket which she had brought for wild flowers; talked to her about his mother and sisters, his own future prospects as a younger son who must make his way in the world for himself, and took pains to make himself generally agreeable and interesting. Under his kindly notice Phoebe opened like a flower to the sun. It was something new to her to find a sensible, grown-up person who really seemed to take pleasure in talking with her— except Mrs Dorothy Jennings, and she and Phoebe were not on a level. In conversation with Mrs Dorothy she felt herself being taught and counselled; in conversation with Mr Derwent she was entertained and gratified.
Judging from his conduct, Mr Derwent was as much pleased with Phoebe as she was with him. During the whole time she remained at Delawarr Court, he constituted himself her cavalier. He was always at hand when she wanted anything, at times supplying the need even before she had discovered its existence. Phoebe tasted, for the first time in her life, the flattering ease of being waited on, instead of waiting on others; the delicate pleasure of being listened to, instead of snubbed and disregarded; the intellectual treat of finding one who was willing to exchange ideas with her, rather than only to impart ideas to her. Was it any wonder if Osmund Derwent began to form a nucleus in her thoughts, round which gathered a floating island of fair fancies and golden visions, all the more beautiful because they were vague?
And all the while, Phoebe never realised what was happening to her. She let herself drift onwards in a pleasant dream, and never thought of pausing to analyse her sensations.
The absentees returned home in the afternoon of the third day. And beyond the roll of the coaches, and the noise and bustle inseparable from the arrival of eighteen persons, the first intimation of it which was given in the drawing-room was caused by the entrance of Molly, who swept into the room with tragi-comic dignity, and mounting a chair, cleared her voice, and held forth, as if it had been a sceptre, a minute bow of black gauze ribbon.
"Ladies and gentlewomen!" said Molly with solemnity. "(The gentlemen don't count.) Ladies and gentlewomen! I engaged myself, before leaving the Court, to bring back to you in triumph a snip from the Queen's gown. Behold it! (Never mind how I got it,—here it is.) Upon honour, as sure as my name is Mary—('tisn't,—I was christened Maria)—but, as sure as there is one rent and two spots of mud on this white gown which decorates my charming person,—the places whereof are best known to myself,—this bow of gauze, on which all your eyes are fixed,—now there's a shame! Sophy Rich isn't looking a bit—this bow was on the gown of Her Majesty Queen Anne yesterday morning! Plaudite vobis!"
And down came Miss Molly.
"If I might be excused, Mrs Maria," hesitatingly began Mr Edmundson, who seemed almost afraid of the sound of his own voice, "vobis is, as I cannot but be sensible, not precisely the—ah—not quite the word— ah—"
"You shut up, old Bandbox," said Molly, dropping her heroics. "None of your business. Can't you but be sensible? First time you ever were!"
"I ask your pardon, Mrs Maria. I trust, indeed,—ah—I am not—ah— insensible, to the many—ah—many things which—"
The youthful company were convulsed with laughter. They were all aware that Molly was intentionally talking at cross purposes with her pastor; and that while he clung to the old signification of sensible, namely, to be aware of, or sensitive to, a thing, she was using it in the new, now universally accepted, sense of sagacious. The fun, of course, was enhanced by the fact that poor Mr Edmundson was totally unacquainted with the change of meaning.
"I don't believe she cut it off a bit!" whispered Kitty Mainwaring. "She gave a guinea to some orange-girl who was cousin to some other maid in the Queen's laundry,—some stuff of that sort. Cut it off!—how could she? Just tell me that."
Before the last word was well out of Kitty's lips, Molly's small, bright scissors were snapped within an inch of Kitty's nose.
"Perhaps you would have the goodness to say that again, Mrs Catherine Mainwaring!" observed that young person, in decidedly menacing tones.
"Thank you, no, I don't care to do," replied Kitty, laughing, but shrinking back from the scissors.
"When I say I will do a thing, I will do it, Madam!" retorted Molly.
"If you can, I suppose," said Kitty, defending herself from another threatening snap.
"Say I can't, at your peril!"
And Molly and her scissors marched away in dudgeon.
"You are very tired, I fear, Mrs Gatty," said Phoebe, when Gatty came up to the room they shared, for the night.
"Rather," answered Gatty, with a sad smile on her white face.
But she did not tell Phoebe what had tired her. It was not the journey, nor the ceremony, but her mother's greeting.
"Why, Betty, you are quite blooming!" Lady Delawarr had said. "It hath done you good, child. And Molly, too, as sprightly as ever! Child, did you get touched?"
"I did, Madam," answered Molly, with an extravagant courtesy.
"Ah!" said her mother, in a tone of great satisfaction. "Then we need apprehend no further trouble from the evil. I am extreme glad. O Gatty! you poor, scarred, wretched creature! Really, had it not been that the absence of one of my daughters would be remarked on, I vow I wish you had not gone! 'Tis such a sight to show, that dreadful face of yours. You will never give me any more comfort—that is certain."
"Pos.!" echoed Molly, exactly in the same tone.
"I would not mind, Gatty!" was Betty's kindly remark.
"Thank you," said Gatty, meekly. "I wish I did not!"
Gatty did not repeat this to Phoebe. But Phoebe saw there was something wrong.
Rhoda came rustling in before much more could be said. She was full of details of the journey. What the Queen looked like,—a tall, stout woman, with such blooming cheeks that Rhoda felt absolutely certain she wore rouge,—how she was dressed,—all in black, with a black calash, or high, loose hood, and adorned with diamonds—how she had been received,—with ringing cheers from the Tory part of the population, but ominous silence, or very faint applause, from such as were known to be Whigs: how Sophia Rich had told Rhoda that all the Whig ladies of mark had made up their minds to attend no drawing-rooms the next season: how it was beginning to be dimly suspected that Lord Mar was coquetting with the exiled members of the royal family, and more than suspected that the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough were no longer all powerful with Queen Anne, as they had once been: how the Queen always dined at three p.m., never drank French wine, held drawing-rooms on Sundays after service, would not allow any gentleman to enter her presence without a full-bottomed periwig: all these bits of information Rhoda dilated on, passing from one to another with little regard to method, and wound up with an account of the presentation of the bouquet, and how the Queen had received it from Lady Diana with a smile, and, "I thank you all, young gentlewomen," in that silver voice which was Anne's pre-eminent charm.
But half an hour later, when Gatty was asleep, Rhoda said to Phoebe,—
"I have made up my mind, Phoebe."
"Have you?" responded Phoebe. "What about?"
"I mean to marry Marcus Welles."
"Has he asked you?" said Phoebe, rather drily.
"Yes," was Rhoda's short answer.
Phoebe lay silent.
"Well?" said Rhoda, rather sharply.
"I think, Cousin, I had better be quiet," answered Phoebe; "for I am afraid I can't say what you want me."
"What I want you!" echoed Rhoda, more sharply than ever. "What do I want you to say, Mrs Prude, if you please?"
"Well, I suppose you would like me to say I was glad: and I am not: so I can't."
"I don't suppose it signifies to us whether you are glad or sorry," snapped Rhoda. "But why aren't you glad?—you never thought he'd marry you, surely?"
Phoebe said "No" with a little laugh, as she thought how very far she was from any such expectation, and how very much farther from any wish for it. But Rhoda was not satisfied.
"Well, then, what's the matter?" said she.
"Do you want me to say, Cousin?"
"Of course I do! Should I have asked you if I didn't?"
"I am afraid he does not love you."
Rhoda sat up on her elbow, with an ejaculation of amazement.
"If I ever heard such nonsense? What do you know about it, you poor little white-faced thing?"
"I dare say I don't know much about it," said Phoebe, calmly; "but I know that if a man really loves one woman with all his heart, he won't laugh and whisper and play with the fan of another, or else he is not worth anybody's love. And I am afraid what Mr Welles wants is just your money and not you. I beg your pardon, Cousin Rhoda."
It was time. Rhoda was in a towering passion. What could Phoebe mean, she demanded with terrible emphasis, by telling such lies as those? Did she suppose that Rhoda was going to believe them? Did Phoebe know what the Bible said about speaking ill of your neighbour? Wasn't she completely ashamed of herself?
"And I'll tell you what, Phoebe Latrobe," concluded Rhoda, "I don't believe it, and I won't! I'm not going to believe it,—not if you go down on your knees and swear it! 'Tis all silly, wicked, abominable nonsense!—and you know it!"
"Well, if you won't believe it, there's an end," said Phoebe, quietly. "And I think, if you please, Cousin, we had better go to sleep."
"Pugh! Sleep if you can, you false-hearted crocodile!" said Rhoda, poetically, in distant imitation of the flowers of rhetoric of her friend Molly. "I shan't sleep to-night. Not likely!"
Yet Rhoda was asleep the first.
SOMETHING ALTERS EVERYTHING.
"To-night we sit together here, To-morrow night shall come—ah, where?"
Robert Lord Lytton.
"There! Didn't I tell you, now?" ejaculated Mrs Jane Talbot.
"I am sure I don't know, Jane," responded her sister, in querulous tones. "You are always talking about something. I never can tell how you manage to keep continually talking, in the way you do. I could not bear it. I never was a talker; I haven't breath for it, with my poor chest,—such a perpetual rattle,—I don't know how you stand it, I'm sure. And to think what a beautiful singer I was once! Young Sir Samuel Dennis once said I entranced him, when he had heard my singing to Mrs Lucy's spinnet—positively entranced him! And Lord James Morehurst—"
"An unmitigated donkey!" slid in Mrs Jane.
"Jane, how you do talk! One can't get in a word for you. What was I saying, Clarissa?"
"You were speaking of Lord James Morehurst, dear Marcella. 'Tis all very well for Jane to run him down," said Mrs Vane in a languishing style, fanning herself as she spoke, "but I am sure he was the most charming black man I ever saw. He once paid me such a compliment on my fine eyes!"
"More jackanapes he!" came from Mrs Jane.
"Well, I don't believe he ever paid you such an one," said Mrs Clarissa, pettishly.
"He'd have got his ears boxed if he had," returned Mrs Jane. "The impudence of some of those fellows!"
"Poor dear Jane! she never had any taste," sighed Mrs Marcella. "I protest, Clarissa, I am quite pleased to hear this news. As much pleased, you know, as a poor suffering creature like me can be. But I think Mrs Rhoda has done extreme well. Mr Welles is of a good stock and an easy fortune, and he has the sweetest taste in dress."
"Birds of a feather!" muttered Mrs Jane. "Ay, I knew what Mark-Me-Well was after. Told you so from the first. I marked him, be sure."
"I suppose he has three thousand a year?" inquired Mrs Clarissa.
"Guineas—very like. Not brains—trust me!" said Mrs Jane.
"And an estate?" pursued Mrs Clarissa, with languid interest.
"Oh dear, yes!" chimed in the invalid; "I would have told you about it, if Jane could ever hold her tongue. Such a—"
"I've done," observed Mrs Jane, marching off.
"Oh, my dear Clarissa, you can have no conception of what I suffer!" resumed Mrs Marcella, sinking down to a confidential tone. "I love quiet above all things, and Jane's tongue is never still. Ah! if I could go to the wedding, as I used to do! I was at all the grand weddings in the county when I was a young maid. I couldn't tell you how many times I was bridesmaid. When Sir Samuel was married—and really, after all the fine things he had said, and the way he used to ogle me through his glass, I did think!—but, however, that's neither here nor there. The creature he married had plenty of money, but absolutely no complexion, and she painted—oh, how she did paint! and a turn-up nose,—the ugliest thing you ever saw. And with all that, the airs she used to give herself! It really was disgusting."
"O, my dear! I can't bear people that give themselves airs," observed Mrs Clarissa, with a toss of her head, and "grounding" her fan.
"No, nor I," echoed Mrs Marcella, quite as unconscious as her friend of the covert satire in her words. "I wonder what Mrs Rhoda will be married in. I always used to say I would be married in white and silver. And really, if my wretched health had not stood in the way, I might have been, my dear, ever so many times. I am sure it would have come to something, that evening when Lord James and I were sitting in the balcony, after I had been singing,—and there, that stupid Jane must needs come in the way! I always liked a pretty wedding. I should think it would be white and silver. And what do you suppose Madam will give her?"
"Oh, a set of pearls, I should say, if not diamonds," answered Mrs Clarissa.
"She will do something handsome, of course."
"Suppose you do something handsome, and swallow your medicine without a lozenge," suggested Mrs Jane, walking in and presenting a glass to her sister. "'Tis time."
"I am sure it can't be, Jane! You are always making me swallow some nasty stuff. And as to taking it without a lozenge, I couldn't do such a thing!"
"Stuff! You could, if you did," said Mrs Jane. "Come, then,—here it is. I shouldn't want one."
"Oh, you!—you have not my fine feelings!" responded Mrs Marcella, sitting with the glass in her hand, and looking askance at its reddish-brown contents.
"Come, sup it up, and get it over," said her sister. "O Jane!—you unfeeling creature!"
"'Twill be no better five minutes hence, I'm sure."
"You see what I suffer, Clarissa!" wailed Mrs Marcella, gulping down the medicine, and pulling a terrible face. "Jane has no feeling for me. She never had. I am a poor despised creature whom nobody cares for. Well, I suppose I must bear it. 'Tis my fate. But what I ever did to be afflicted in this way! Oh, the world's a hard place, and life's a very, very dreary thing. Oh dear, dear!"
Phoebe Latrobe, who had been sent by Madam to tell the news at the Maidens' Lodge, sat quietly listening in a corner. But when Mrs Marcella began thus to play her favourite tune, Phoebe rose and took her leave. She called on Lady Betty, who expressed her gratification in the style of measured propriety which characterised her. Lastly, with a slow and rather tired step, she entered the gate of Number One. She had left her friend Mrs Dorothy to the last.
"Just in time for a dish of tea, child!" said little Mrs Dorothy, with a beaming smile. "Sit you down, my dear, and take off your hood, and I will have the kettle boiling in another minute. Well, and how have you enjoyed your visit? You look tired, child."
"Yes, I feel tired," answered Phoebe. "I scarce know how I enjoyed the visit, Mrs Dorothy—there were things I liked, and there were things I didn't like."
"That is generally the case, my dear."
"Yes," said Phoebe, abstractedly. "Mrs Dorothy, did you know Mrs Marcella Talbot when she was young?"
"A little, my dear. Not so well as I know her now."
"Was she always as discontented as she is now?"
"That is a spirit that grows on us, Phoebe," said Mrs Dorothy, gravely.
Phoebe blushed. "I know you think I have it," she replied. "But I should not wish to be like Mrs Marcella."
"I think thy temptation lies that way, dear child. But thy disposition is not so light and frivolous as hers. However, we will not talk of our neighbours without we praise them."
"Mrs Dorothy, Rhoda has engaged herself to Mr Marcus Welles. Madam sent me down to tell all of you."
"She has, has she?" responded Mrs Dorothy, as if it were quite what she expected. "Well, I trust it may be for her good."
"Aren't you sorry, Mrs Dorothy?"
"Scarce, my dear. We hardly know what are the right things to grieve over. You and I might have thought it a very mournful thing when the prodigal son was sent into the field to feed swine: yet—speaking after the manner of men—if that had not happened, he would not have arisen and have gone to his father."
"Do you think Rhoda will have to go through trouble before she can find peace, Mrs Dorothy?"
"'Before she can—' I don't know, my dear. Before she will—I am afraid, yes."
"I am so sorry," said Phoebe.
"Dear child, the last thing the prodigal will do is to arise and go to the Father. He will try every sort of swine's husks first. He doth not value the delicates of the Father's house—he hath no taste for them. The husks are better, to his palate. What wonder, then, if he tarry yet in the far country?"
"But how are you to get him to change his taste, Mrs Dorothy?"
"Neither you nor he can do that, my dear. Most times, either the husks run short, or he gets cloyed with them. That is, if he ever go back to the Father. For some never do, Phoebe—they stay on in the far country, and find the husks sweet to the end."
"That must be saddest of all," said Phoebe, sorrowfully.
"It is saddest of all. Ah, child!—thank thy Father, if He have made thy husks taste bitter."
"But all things are not husks, Mrs Dorothy!"
"Certainly not, my dear. Delight in the Lord's works in nature, or in the pleasures of the intellect such things as these are right enough in their place, Phoebe. The danger is of putting them into God's place."
"Mrs Dolly," asked Phoebe, gravely, "do you think that when we care very much for a person or a thing, we put it into God's place?"
"If you care more for it than you do for Him. Not otherwise."
"How is one to know that?"
"Ask your own heart how you would feel if God demanded it from you."
"How ought I to feel?"
"Sorry, perhaps; but not resentful. Not as though the Lord had no right to ask this at your hands. Grief is allowed; 'tis murmuring that displeases Him."
When Mrs Dorothy said this, Phoebe felt conscious of a dim conviction, buried somewhere very deep down, that there was something which she hoped God would not demand from her. She did not know herself what it was. It was not exactly that she would refuse to give it up; but rather that she hoped she would never be called upon to do it—that if she were it would be a very hard thing to do.
Phoebe left the Maidens' Lodge, and walked slowly across the Park to White-Ladies. She was feeling for the unknown cause of this sentiment of vague soreness at her heart. She had not found it, when a voice broke in upon her meditations.
Phoebe came to a sudden stop, and with her heart heating wildly, looked up into the face of Osmund Derwent.
"I am too happy to have met with you," said he. "I was on my way to White-Ladies. May I presume to ask your good offices, Mrs Phoebe, to favour me so far as to present me to Madam Furnival!"
Phoebe courtesied her assent.
"Mrs Rhoda, I trust, is well?"
"She is very well, I thank you."
"I am rejoiced to hear it. You will not, I apprehend, Mrs Phoebe, suffer any surprise, if I tell you of my hopes with regard to Mrs Rhoda. You must, surely, have seen, when at Delawarr Court, what was my ambition. Think you there is any chance for me with Madam Furnival?"
It was well for Osmund Derwent that he had not the faintest idea of what was going on beneath the still, white face of the girl who walked beside him so quietly. She understood now. She knew, revealed as by a flash of lightning, what it was which it would be hard work to resign at God's call.
It was Rhoda for whom he cared—not Phoebe. Phoebe was interesting to him, simply as being in his mind associated with Rhoda. And Rhoda did not want him: and Phoebe had to tell him so.
So she told him. "I am sure Madam would receive you with a welcome," she said. "But as for Mrs Rhoda, 'tis best you should know she stands promised already."
Mr Derwent thought Phoebe particularly unsympathising. People often do think so of those whose "hands are clasped above a hidden pain," and who have to speak with forced calmness, as the only way in which they dare speak at all. He felt a little hurt; he had thought Phoebe so friendly at Delawarr Court.