"To whom?" he asked, almost angrily.
"Mr Marcus Welles."
"That painted fop!" cried Derwent.
Phoebe was silent.
"You really mean that? She is positively promised to him?"
"She is promised to him."
Phoebe spoke in a dull, low, dreamy tone. She felt as though she were in a dream: all these events which were passing around her never could be real. She heard Osmund Derwent's bitter comments, as though she heard them not. She was conscious of only one wish for the future—to be left alone with God.
Osmund Derwent was extremely disappointed in Phoebe. He had expected much more sympathy and consideration from her. He said to himself, in the moments which he could spare from the main subject, that Phoebe did not understand him, and did not feel for him in the least. She had never loved anybody—that was plain!
And meantime, simply to bear and wait, until he chose to leave her, taxed all Phoebe's powers to her uttermost.
She was left alone at last. But instead of going back to the house, where she had no certainty of privacy, Phoebe plunged into the shade of a clump of cedars and cypresses, and sat down at the foot of one of them.
It was a lovely, cloudless day. Through the bright feathery green of a Syrian cypress she looked up into the clear blue sky above. Her love for Osmund Derwent—for she gave it the right name now—was a hopeless thing. His heart was gone from her beyond recall.
"But Thou remainest!"
The words flashed on her, accompanied by the well-remembered tones of her father's voice. She recollected that they had formed the text of the last sermon he had preached. She heard him say again, as he had said to her on his death-bed, "Dear little Phoebe, remember always, there is no way out of any sin or sorrow except Christ." The tears came now. There was relief and healing in them.
"But Thou remainest!"
"Can I suffice for Heaven, and not for earth?"
Phoebe's face showed no sign, when she reached home, of the tempest which had swept over her heart.
"Phoebe, I desire you would wait a moment," said Madam that evening after prayers, when Phoebe, candle in hand, was about to follow Rhoda.
"Yes, Madam." Phoebe put down the candle, and stood waiting.
Madam did not continue till the last of the servants had left the room. Then she said, "Child, I have writ a letter to your mother."
"I thank you, Madam," replied Phoebe.
"And I have sent her ten guineas."
"I thank you very much, Madam."
"I will not disguise from you, my dear, that I cannot but be sensible of the propriety and discretion of your conduct since you came. I think myself obliged to tell you, child, that 'tis on your account I have done so much as this."
"I am sure, Madam, I am infinitely grateful to you."
"And now for another matter. Child, I wish to know your opinion of Mr Edmundson."
"If you please, Madam, I did not like him," said Phoebe, honestly; "nor I think he did not me."
"That would not much matter, my dear," observed Madam, referring to the last clause. "But 'tis a pity you do not like him, for while I would be sorry to force your inclinations, yet you cannot hope to do better."
"If you would allow me to say so, Madam," answered Phoebe, modestly, yet decidedly, "I cannot but think I should do better to be as I am."
Madam shook her head, but did not answer in words. She occupied herself for a little while in settling her mittens to her satisfaction, though she was just going to pull them off. Then she said, "'Tis pity. Well! go to bed, child; we must talk more of it to-morrow. Bid Betty come to me at once, as you pass; I am drowsy to-night."
"I say, Fib," said Rhoda, who had adopted (from Molly) this not very complimentary diminutive for her cousin's name, but only used it when she was in a good humour—"I say, Fib, what did Madam want of you?"
"To know what I thought of Mr Edmundson."
"What fun! Well, what did you?"
"Why, I hoped his sermons would be better than himself: and they weren't."
"Did you tell Madam that?" inquired Rhoda, convulsed with laughter.
"No, not exactly that; I said—"
"O Fib, I wish you had! She thinks it tip-top impertinence in any woman to presume to have an opinion about a sermon. My word! wouldn't you have caught it!"
"Well, I simply told her the truth," replied Phoebe; "that I didn't like him, and I didn't think he liked me."
Rhoda went off into another convulsion.
"O Fib, you are good—nobody better! What did she say to that?"
"She said his not fancying me wouldn't signify. But I think it would signify a good deal to me, if I had to be his wife."
"Well, she wouldn't think so, not a bit," said Rhoda, still laughing. "She'd just be thunderstruck if Mr Edmundson, or anybody else in his place, refused the honour of marrying anybody related to her. Shouldn't I like to see him do it! It would take her down a peg, I reckon."
This last elegant expression was caught from Molly.
"Well, I am sure I would rather be refused than taken unwillingly."
"Where did you get your notions. Fib? They are not the mode at all. You were born on the wrong side of fifty, I do think."
"Which is the wrong side of fifty?" suggestively asked Phoebe.
"I wish you wouldn't murder me with laughing," said Rhoda. "Look here now: what shall I be married in?"
"White and silver, Mrs Marcella said, this morning."
("This morning!" Phoebe's words came back no her. Was it only this morning?)
"Thank you! nothing so insipid for me. I think I'll have pink and dove-colour. What do you say?"
"I don't think I would have pink," said Phoebe, mentally comparing that colour with Rhoda's red and white complexion. "Blue would suit you better."
"Well, blue does become me," answered Rhoda, contemplating herself in the glass. "But then, would blue and dove-colour do? I think it should be blue and cold. Or blue and silver? What do you think, Phoebe? I say!"—and suddenly Rhoda turned round and faced Phoebe—"what does Madam mean by having Mr Dawson here? Betty says he was here twice while we were visiting, and he is coming again to-morrow. What can it mean? Is she altering her will, do you suppose?"
"I am sure I don't know, Cousin," said Phoebe.
"I shouldn't wonder if she is. I dare say she'll leave you one or two hundred pounds," said Rhoda, with extreme benignity. "Really, I wish she would. You're a good little thing, Fib, for all your whims."
"Thank you, Cousin," said Phoebe, meekly.
And the cousins went to sleep with amiable feelings towards each other.
The dawn was just creeping over the earth when something awoke Phoebe. Something like the faint tingle of a bell seemed to linger in her ears.
"Rhoda!—did you hear that?" she asked.
"Hear what?" demanded Rhoda, in a very sleepy voice.
"I fancied I heard a bell," said Phoebe, trying to listen.
"Oh, nonsense!" answered Rhoda, rather more awake. "Go to sleep. You've been dreaming."
And Phoebe, accepting the solution, took the advice. She was scarcely asleep again, as it seemed to her, when the door was softly opened, and Betty came in.
"Mrs Rhoda, my dear, you'd better get up."
"What time is it?" sleepily murmured Rhoda.
"You'd better get up," repeated Betty. "Never mind the time."
"Betty, is there something the matter?"
Betty ignored Phoebe's question.
"Come, my dear, jump up!" she said, still addressing Rhoda. "You'll be wanted by-and-bye."
"Who wants me?" inquired Rhoda, making no effort to rise.
"Well, Mr Dawson, the lawyer, is coming presently, and you'll have to see him."
"I!" Rhoda's eyes opened pretty wide. "Why should I see him? 'Tis Madam wants him, not me."
To the astonishment of both the girls, Betty burst out crying.
"Betty, I am sure something has happened," said Phoebe, springing up. "What is the matter?"
"O, my dear, Madam's gone!" sobbed Betty. "Poor dear gentlewoman! She'll never see anybody again. Mrs Rhoda, she's died in the night."
There was a moment of silent horror, as the eyes of the cousins met. Then Phoebe said under her breath—
"Yes, poor dear Madam, she rang her bell," said Betty; "but she could not speak when I got to her. I don't think she was above ten minutes after. I've sent off sharp for Dr Saunders, and Mr Dawson too; but 'tis too late—eh, poor dear gentlewoman!"
"Did you send for Mr Leighton?" asked Rhoda, in an awe-struck voice.
"Oh dear, yes, I sent for him too; but la! what can he do?" answered Betty, wiping her eyes.
They all came in due order: Dr Saunders to pronounce that Madam had been dead three hours—"of a cardial malady," said he, in a professionally mysterious manner; Mr Leighton, the Vicar of Tewkesbury, to murmur a few platitudes about the virtues and charity to the poor which had distinguished the deceased lady, and to express his firm conviction that so exalted a character would be at once enrolled among the angelic host, even though she had not been so happy as to receive the Holy Sacrament. Mr Dawson came last, and his concern appeared to be awakened rather for the living than the dead.
"Sad business this!" said he, as he entered the parlour, where the cousins sat, close together, drawn to one another by the fellowship of suffering, in a manner they had never been before. "Sad business! Was to have seen me to-day—important matter. Humph!"
The girls looked at him, but neither spoke.
"Do you know," he pursued, apparently addressing himself to both, "how your grandmother had arranged her affairs?"
"No," said Rhoda and Phoebe together.
"Humph! Pity! Been a good deal better for you, my dear young gentlewoman, if she had lived another four-and-twenty hours."
Neither said "Which?" for both thought they knew.
"Poor Phoebe!" said Rhoda, pressing her hand. "But never mind, dear; I'll give it you, just right, what she meant you to have. We'll see about it before I'm married. Oh dear!—that will have to be put off, I suppose."
"You are going to be married?" asked the lawyer.
"Yes," said Rhoda, bridling.
"Humph!—good thing for you."
Mr Dawson marched to the window, with his hands in his pockets, and stood there softly whistling for some seconds.
"Got any money?" he abruptly inquired.
"I? No," said Rhoda.
"No, no; your intended."
"Oh! Yes—three thousand a year."
"Humph!" Mr Dawson whistled again. Then, making as if he meant to leave the room, he suddenly brought up before Phoebe.
"Are you going to be married?"
"No, Sir," said Phoebe, blushing.
"Humph!" ejaculated the lawyer, once again.
Silence followed for a few seconds.
"Funeral on Sunday, I suppose? Read the will on Monday morning—eh?"
"Yes, if you please," said Rhoda, who was very much subdued.
"Good. Well!—good morning! Poor girl!" The last words were in an undertone.
"I am so sorry for it, Phoebe, dear," said Rhoda, who was always at her best under the pressure of trial. "But never you mind—you shall have it. I'll make it up to you."
Rhoda now naturally assumed the responsibility of mistress, and gave orders that no visitor should be admitted excepting the Vicar and Mr Welles. The evening brought the latter gentleman, who had apparently spent the interval in arraying himself in faultless mourning.
"I am so grieved, my charmer!" exclaimed Mr Marcus Welles, dropping on one knee, and lifting Rhoda's hand to his lips. "Words cannot paint my distress on hearing of your sorrow. Had I been a bird, I would have flown to offer you consolation. Pray do not dim your bright eyes, my fair. 'Tis but what happens to all, and specially in old age. Old folks must die, you know, dearest Madam; and, after all, did they not, young folks would find them very often troublesome. But you have now no one over you, and you see your slave at your feet."
And with a most unexceptionable bow, Mr Marcus gently possessed himself of Rhoda's fan, wherewith he began fanning her in the most approved manner. It occurred to Phoebe that if the gentleman's grief had been really genuine, it was doubtful whether his periods would have been quite so polished. Rhoda's sorrow, while it might prove evanescent, was honest while it lasted: and had been much increased by the extreme suddenness of the calamity.
"I thank you, Sir," she said quietly. "And I am sure you will be grieved to hear that my grandmother died just too soon to make that provision she intended for my cousin. So the lawyer has told us this morning. You will not, I cannot but think, oppose my wish to give her what it was meant that she should have."
"Dearest Madam!" and Mr Welles' hand went to his heart, "you cannot have so little confidence in me as to account it possible that I could oppose any wish of yours!"
Engaged persons did not, at that time, call each other by the Christian name. It would have been considered indecorous.
"I was sure, Sir, you would say no less," answered Rhoda.
MR. WELLES DOES IT BEAUTIFULLY.
"Thy virtues lost, thou would'st not look Me in thy chains to hold? Know, friend, thou verily hast lost Thy chiefest virtue—gold."
Nine o'clock on the Monday morning was the hour appointed for reading Madam's will. When Rhoda and Phoebe, in their deep mourning, entered the parlour, they were startled to find the number of persons already assembled. Not only all the household and outdoor servants, but all the inmates of the Maidens' Lodge, excepting Mrs Marcella, and several others, stood up to receive the young ladies as they passed on to the place reserved for them.
Mr Dawson handed the girls to their places, and then seated himself at the table, and proceeded to unfold a large parchment.
"It will be well that I should remark," said he, looking up over his spectacles, "that the late Madam Furnival had intended, at the time of her death, to execute a fresh will. I am sorry to say it was not signed. This, therefore, is her last will, as duly executed. It bears date the fourteenth of November, in the year 1691—"
An ejaculation of dismay, though under her breath, came from Rhoda, the lawyer went on:—
"—When Mrs Catherine Peveril, mother of Mrs Rhoda here, was just married, and before the marriage of Mrs Anne Furnival, mother to Mrs Phoebe Latrobe, who is also present. The intended will would have made provision for both of these young gentlewomen, grand-daughters to Madam Furnival. By the provisions of the present one, one of them is worsened, and the other bettered."
Rhoda's alarm was over. The last sentence reassured her.
Mr Dawson cleared his voice, and began to read. The will commenced with the preamble then usual, in which the testatrix declared her religious views as a member of the Church of England; and went on to state that she wished to be buried with her ancestors, in the family vault, in the nave of Tewkesbury Abbey. One hundred pounds was bequeathed to the Vicar of Tewkesbury, for the time being; twenty pounds and a suit of mourning to every servant who should have been in her employ for five years at the date of her death; six months' wages to those who should have been with her for a shorter time; a piece of black satin sufficient to make a gown, mantua, and hood, and forty pounds in money, to each inmate of the Maidens' Lodge. Mourning rings were left to the Maidens, the Vicar. Dr Saunders, Mr Dawson, and several friends mentioned by name, of whom Sir Richard Delawarr was one. Then the testatrix gave, devised, and bequeathed to her "dear daughter Catherine, wife of Francis Peveril, Esquire, with remainder to the heirs of her body, the sum of two thousand pounds of lawful money."
Rhoda's face grew eager, as she listened for the next sentence.
"Lastly, I give, devise, and bequeath the Abbey of Cressingham, commonly called White-Ladies, and all other my real and personal estate whatsoever, not hereinbefore excepted, to my dear daughter Anne Furnival, her heirs, assigns, administrators, and executors for ever."
The effect was crushing. That one sentence had changed everything. Not Rhoda, but Phoebe, was the heiress of White-Ladies.
Mr Dawson calmly finished reading the signatures and attestation clause, and then folded up the will, and once more looked over his spectacles.
"Mrs Phoebe, as your mother's representative, give me leave to wish you joy. Shall you wish to write to her? I must, of course. The letters could go together."
Phoebe looked up, half-bewildered.
"I scarcely understand," she said. "There is something left to Mother, is there not?"
"My dear young gentlewoman, there is everything left to her. She is the lady of the manor."
"Just what is there for Rhoda?" gasped Phoebe, apparently not at all elated by her change of position.
"A poor, beggarly two thousand pounds!" burst out Rhoda. "'Tis a shame! And I always thought I was to have White-Ladies! I shall just be nobody now! Nobody will respect me, and I can never cut any figure. Well! I'm glad I am engaged to be married. That's safe, at any rate."
The elevation of Mr Dawson's eyebrows, and the pursing of his lips, might have implied a query on that score.
"I'm so sorry, dear!" said Phoebe, gently. "For you, of course, I mean. I could not be sorry that there was something for Mother, because she is not well off; but I am very sorry you are disappointed."
"You can't help it!" was Rhoda's rather repelling answer. Still, through all her anger, she remembered to be just.
"Certainly not, my dear Mrs Phoebe," said the lawyer. "'Tis nobody's fault—not even Madam Furnival's, for the new will would have given White-Ladies to Mrs Rhoda, and five thousand pounds to Mrs Anne Latrobe. Undoubtedly she intended, Mrs Rhoda, you should have it."
"Then why can't I?" demanded Rhoda, fiercely.
Mr Dawson shook his head, with a pitying smile. "The law knows nothing of intentions," said he: "only of deeds fully performed. Still, it may be a comfort in your disappointment, to remember that this was meant for you."
"Thank you for your comfort!" said Rhoda, bitterly. "Why, it makes it all the worse."
"I wish—" but Phoebe stopped short.
"Oh, I don't blame you," said Rhoda, impetuously. "'Tis no fault of yours. If she'd done it now, lately, I might have thought so. But a will that was made before either you or me was born—" Rhoda's grammar always suffered from her excitement—"can't be your fault, nor anybody else's. But 'tis a shame, for all that. She'd no business to let me go on all these years, expecting to have everything, and knew all the while her will wasn't right made. 'Tis too bad! My Lady Betty!—Mrs Dorothy!—don't you think so?"
"My dear," said Lady Betty, "I am indeed grieved for your disappointment. But there is decorum, my dear Mrs Rhoda—there is decorum!"
"No, my dear," was Mrs Dorothy's answer. "I dare not call anything bad that the Lord doth. Had it been His will you should have White-Ladies, be sure you would have had it."
"Well, you know," said Rhoda, in a subdued tone, and folding one of her black gauze ribbons into minute plaits, "of course, one can't complain of God."
"Ah, child!" sighed Mrs Dorothy, "I wish one could not!"
"O my dear Mrs Rhoda, I feel for you so dreadfully!" accompanied the tragically clasped hands of Mrs Clarissa. "My feelings are so keen, and run away with me so—"
"Then let 'em!" said Mrs Jane Talbot's voice behind. "Mine won't. My dears, I'm sorry you've lost Madam. But as to the money and that, I'll wait ten years, and then I'll tell you which I'm sorry for."
"Well, I'm sorry for both of you," added Mrs Eleanor Darcy. "I don't think, Mrs Phoebe, my dear, you'll lie on roses."
No one was more certain of that than Phoebe herself.
She wrote a few lines to her mother, which went inside Mr Dawson's letter. Mrs Latrobe was in service near Reading. Her daughter felt sure that she would lose no time in taking possession. The event proved that she was right. The special messenger whom Mr Dawson sent with the letters returned with an answer to each. Phoebe's mother wrote to her thus:—
"Child,—Mr Dawson hath advertized me of the deth of Madam Furnivall, my mother. I would have you, on rect of this, to lett your cousen know that shee need not lieve the house afore I come, wich will be as soon as euer I can winde all upp and bee wth you. I would like to make aquaintance wth her ere anything be settled. I here from the layer [by which Mrs Latrobe meant lawyer] that she is to be maried, and it will be soe much ye better for you. I trust you may now make a good match yrself. But I shal see to all yt when I com.
"Yr mother, A. Latrobe."
Phoebe studied every word of this letter, and the more she studied it, the less she liked it. First, it looked as if Mrs Latrobe did mean Rhoda to leave the house, though she graciously intimated her intention of making acquaintance with her before she did so. Secondly, she was evidently in a hurry to come. Thirdly, she congratulated herself on Rhoda's approaching marriage, because it would get rid of her, and leave the way open for Phoebe. And lastly, she threatened Phoebe with "a good match." Phoebe thought, with a sigh, that "the time was out of joint," and heartily wished that the stars would go back into their courses.
Mrs Latrobe managed to wind all up in a surprisingly short time. She reached her early home in the cool of a summer evening, Rhoda having sent the family coach to meet her at Tewkesbury. Phoebe had said nothing to her cousin of any approaching change, which she thought it best to leave to her mother; so she contented herself by saying that Mrs Latrobe wished to make the acquaintance of her niece. Lady Betty kindly came up to help the inexperienced girls in making due preparation for the arrival of the lady of the manor. When the coach rolled up to the front door, Phoebe was standing on the steps, Lady Betty and Rhoda further back in the hall.
Mrs Latrobe was attired in new and stylish mourning.
"Ah, child, here you are!" was her first greeting to Phoebe. "The old place is grown greyer. Those trees come too near the windows; I shall cut some of them down. Where is your cousin?"
Rhoda heard the inquiry, and she stepped forward.
"Let us look at you, child," said Mrs Latrobe, turning to her. "Ah, you are like Kitty—not so good-looking, though."
"Mother," said Phoebe, gently, "this is my Lady Betty Morehurst. She was so kind as to help us in getting ready for you."
Mrs Latrobe appraised Lady Betty by means of one rapid glance. Then she thanked her with an amount of effulgence which betrayed either subservience or contempt. Lady Betty received her thanks with a quiet dignity which refused to be ruffled, kissed Rhoda and Phoebe, and took her leave, declining to remain even for the customary dish of tea. Mrs Latrobe drew off her gloves, sat down in Madam's cushioned chair, and desired Phoebe to give her some tea.
"Let me see, child!" she said, looking at Rhoda. "You are near one-and-twenty, I suppose?"
Rhoda admitted the fact.
"And what do you think of doing?"
Rhoda looked blankly first at her aunt, then at her cousin. Phoebe came hastily to the rescue.
"She is shortly to be married, Mother; did you forget?"
"Ah!" said Mrs Latrobe, still contemplating Rhoda. "Well—if it hold— you may as well be married from hence, I suppose. Is the day fixed?"
"No, Aunt Anne."
"I think, my dear," remarked Mrs Latrobe, sipping her tea, "'twould be better if you said Madam.—Why, Phoebe, what old-fashioned china! Sure it cannot have been new these forty years. I shall sweep away all that rubbish.—Whom are you going to marry? Is he well off?—Phoebe, those shoe-buckles of yours are quite shabby. I cannot have you wear such trumpery. You must remember what is due to you.—Well, my dear?"
Rhoda had much less practice in the school of patience than Phoebe, and she found the virtue difficult just then. But she restrained herself as well as she could.
"I am engaged in marriage with Mr Marcus Welles; and he has an estate, and spends three thousand pounds by the year."
"Welles! A Welles of Buckinghamshire?"
"His estate is in this shire," said Rhoda.
"Three thousand! That's not much. Could you have done no better? He expected you would have White-Ladies, I suppose?"
"I suppose so. I did," said Rhoda, shortly.
"My dear, you have some bad habits," said Mrs Latrobe, "which Phoebe should have broken you of before I came. 'Tis very rude to answer without giving a name."
"You told me not to give you one, Aunt Anne."
"You are slow at catching meanings, my dear," replied Mrs Latrobe, with that calm nonchalance so provoking to an angry person. "I desired you to call me Madam, as 'tis proper you should."
"Phoebe doesn't," burst from Rhoda.
"Then she ought," answered Mrs Latrobe, coolly examining the crest on a tea-spoon.
"Oh, I will, Rhoda, if Mother wishes it," put in Phoebe, anxious above all things to keep the peace.
Rhoda vouchsafed no reply to either.
"Well!" said the lady of the manor, rising, "you will carry me to my chamber, child," addressing Rhoda. "You can stay here, Phoebe. Your cousin will wait on me."
It was something new for Rhoda to wait on anyone. She swallowed her pride with the best grace she could, and turned to open the door.
"I suppose you have had the best room made ready for me?" inquired Mrs Latrobe, as she passed out.
"Madam's chamber," replied Rhoda.
"Oh, but—not the one in which she died?"
"Yes," answered Rhoda; adding, after a momentary struggle with herself, "Madam."
"Oh, but that will never do!" said Mrs Latrobe, hastily. "I couldn't sleep there! A room in which someone died scarce a month ago! Where is my woman? Call her. I must have that changed."
Rhoda summoned Betty, who came, courtesying. Her mistress was too much preoccupied in mind to notice the civility.
"Why, what could you all be thinking of, to put me in this chamber? I must have another. This is the best, I know; but I cannot think of sleeping here. Show me the next best—that long one in the south wing."
"That is the young gentlewomen's chamber, Madam," objected Betty.
"Well, what does that matter?" demanded Mrs Latrobe, sharply. "Can't they have another? I suppose I come first!"
"Yes, of course, Madam," said subdued Betty.
Rhoda looked dismayed, but kept silence. She was learning her lesson. Mrs Latrobe looked into the girls' room, rapidly decided on it, and ordered it to be got ready for her.
"Then which must the young gentlewomen have, Madam?" inquired Betty.
"Oh, any," said Mrs Latrobe, carelessly. "There are enough."
"Which would you like, Mrs Rhoda?" incautiously asked Betty.
Before Rhoda could reply, her aunt said quickly,—
"Ask Mrs Phoebe, if you please."
And Betty remembered that the cousins had changed places. It was a very bitter pill to Rhoda; and it was not like Rhoda to say—yet she said it, as soon as she had the opportunity—
"Phoebe, Aunt Anne means you to choose our room: please don't have a little stuffy one."
"Dear Rhoda, which would you like?" responded Phoebe at once.
A little sob escaped Rhoda.
"Oh, Phoebe, you are going to be the only one who is good to me! I should like that other long one in the north wing, that matches ours; but don't choose it if you don't like it."
"We will have that," said Phoebe, reassuringly; "at least, if Mother leaves it to me."
Thus early it was made evident that the old nature in Anne Latrobe was scotched, not killed. Sorrow seemed to have laid merely a repressive hand upon her bad qualities, and to have uprooted none but good ones. The brilliance and playfulness of her early days were gone. The coeur leger had turned to careless self-love, the impetuosity had become peevish obstinacy.
"Old Madam never spoke to me in that way!" said Betty. "She liked to have her way, poor dear gentlewoman, as well as anybody; and she wouldn't take a bit of impudence like so much barley-sugar, I'll not say she would; but she was a gentlewoman, every inch of her, that she was. And that's more than you can say for some folks!"
The next morning, all the Maidens—the invalid, as usual, excepted—came trooping up one after another, to pay their respects to the new lady of the manor.
Lady Betty came first; then Mrs Dorothy and Mrs Eleanor, together; after a little while, Mrs Clarissa; and lastly, Mrs Jane.
"My dear Mrs Anne, I remember you well, though perhaps you can scarce recollect me," said Mrs Dorothy, "for you were but nine years old the last time that I saw you. May the Lord bless you, my dear, and make you a blessing!"
"Oh, I don't doubt I shall do my duty," was the response of Mrs Latrobe, which very much satisfied herself and greatly dissatisfied Mrs Dorothy.
"'Tis delightful to see you back, dear Madam Latrobe!" said Mrs Clarissa, gushingly. "How touching must it be to return to the home of your youth, after so many years of banishment!"
Mrs Latrobe had not felt in the least touched, and hardly knew how to reply. "Oh, to be sure!" she said. "Glad to see you," said Mrs Jane. "Great loss we've had in Madam. Hope you'll be as good as she was. My sister desired me to make her compliments. Can't stir off the sofa. Fine morning!"
When the Maidens left the Abbey—which they did together—they compared notes on the new reign.
Lady Betty's sense of decorum was very much shocked. Mrs Latrobe had not spoken a word of her late mother, and had hinted at changes in matters which had existed at White-Ladies from time immemorial.
Mrs Clarissa was charmed with the new lady's manners and mourning, both which she thought faultless.
Mrs Eleanor thought "she was a bit shy, poor thing! We must make allowances, my dear friends—we must make allowances!"
"Make fiddlestrings!" growled Mrs Jane. "She's Anne Furnival still, and she'll be Anne Furnival to the end of the chapter. As if I didn't know Nancy! Ever drive a jibbing horse?"
Mrs Clarissa, who was thus suddenly appealed to, declared in a shocked tone that she never drove a horse of any description since she was born.
"Ah, well! I have," resumed Mrs Jane, ignoring the scandalised tone of her sister Maiden: "and that's just Nancy Furnival. She's as sleek in the coat as ever a Barbary mare. But you'll not get her along the road to Tewkesbury, without you make her think you want to drive her to Gloucester. I heard plenty of folks pitying Madam when she bolted. My word!—but I pitied somebody else a vast deal more, and that was Charles Latrobe. I wouldn't have married her, if she'd been stuck all over with diamonds."
"I fancy she drove him," said Mrs Eleanor with a smile.
"Like enough, poor soul!" responded Mrs Jane. "Only chance he had of any peace. He was a decent fellow enough, too,—if only he had kept clear of Nancy."
"What made him marry her?" thoughtfully asked Mrs Eleanor.
"Deary me!" exclaimed Mrs Jane. "When did you ever see a man that could fathom a woman? Good, simple soul that he was!—she made him think black was white with holding up a finger. She glistened bravely, and he thought she was gold. Well!—we shan't have much peace now,— take my word for it. Eh, this world!—'tis a queer place as ever I saw."
"True, my dear," replied Mrs Dorothy: "let us therefore be thankful there is a better."
But her opinion of Mrs Latrobe was not given.
The same evening, as Phoebe sat in the parlour with her mother, Betty came in with a courtesy.
"Mr Marcus Welles, to speak with Madam."
"With Mrs Rhoda?" asked Phoebe, rising. "I will go seek her."
"No, if you please, Mrs Phoebe: Mr Welles said, Madam or yourself."
"Phoebe, my dear, do not be such a fid-fad!" entreated Mrs Latrobe. "If Rhoda is wanted, she can be sought.—Good evening, Sir! I am truly delighted to have the pleasure of seeing you, and I trust we shall be better acquainted."
Mr Welles bowed low over Mrs Latrobe's extended hand.
"Madam, the delight is mine, and the honour. Mrs Phoebe, your servant,—your most humble servant."
It was the first time that Mr Welles had ever addressed Phoebe with more than a careless "good evening."
"Ready to serve you, Sir," said she, courtesying. "Shall I seek my cousin? She has wanted your company, I think."
This was a very audacious speech for Phoebe: but she thought it so extraordinary that Mr Welles had not paid one visit to his betrothed since the funeral, that she took the liberty of reminding him of it.
"Madam," said Mr Welles, with a complacent smile, toying with his gold chatelaine, "I really could not have visited you sooner, under the circumstances in which I found myself."
"Phoebe! have you lost your senses?" inquired Mrs Latrobe, sharply.
"I am sure," resumed Mr Marcus Welles, with an extremely graceful wave of his hand towards Mrs Latrobe, "that Madam will fully enter into my much lacerated feelings, and see how very distressing 'twould have been both to myself and her, had I forced my company on Mrs Rhoda, as matters stand at present."
Phoebe sat listening with a face of utter bewilderment. By what means had Mr Welles' feelings been lacerated?—and why should it be more distressing for him to meet Rhoda now than before?—But she kept silence, and Mrs Latrobe said,—
"I think, Sir, I have the honour to understand you."
"Madam!" replied Mr Marcus Welles, with his courtliest bow, "I am sure that a gentlewoman of your parts and discretion can do no less, I cannot but be infinitely sensible of the severe and cruel loss I am about to sustain: still, to my small estate, any other dealing would be of such mischievous consequence, that I think myself obliged to resign the views I proposed to myself."
Phoebe tried to understand him, and found it impossible.
"This being the case," continued he, "you will understand, dear Madam, that I thought myself engaged to wait until I might be honoured by some discourse with you: and meanwhile to abstain from any commerce of discourse in other quarters, till I had permission to acquaint you of the affair. I have indeed been in pain until I was able to wait upon you. I shall now be something eased. You, I am certain, dearest Madam, will contrive the business far better than my disordered mind would allow me; and I doubt not 'twould be more agreeable to all parties to communicate by that canal."
"If you wish it, Sir, it shall certainly be so," answered Mrs Latrobe, who seemed to be under no doubt concerning Mr Welles' meaning. "I am yours to serve you in the matter."
"Dearest Madam, you are an angel of mercy! The sooner I retire, then, the better."
He kissed Mrs Latrobe's hand, and came round to Phoebe.
"Mr Welles, you have not seen Rhoda yet. I do not understand!" said Phoebe blankly, as he bowed iver her hand.
"Madam, I have but just now engaged myself—"
"Phoebe, don't be a goose!" burst from her mother. "You must be a baby if you do not understand. Cannot you see that Mr Welles, in a most honourable manner, which does him infinite credit, withdraws all pretensions to your cousin's hand, leaving her free to engage herself elsewhere? Really, I should have thought you had sense enough for that."
For a moment Phoebe looked, with a bewildered air, from her mother to Mr Welles. Then shyness, fear and reserve gave way before indignation. She did understand now.
"You mean to desert Rhoda, because she has lost the paltry money that you expected she would have?"
For once in his life, Mr Marcus Welles seemed startled and taken at a disadvantage.
"I was afraid you wanted her chiefly for her money, but I did not believe you capable of this! So you do not care for her at all? And you run away, afraid to face the pangs you have created, and to meet the eyes of the maid you have so foully wronged. Shame on you!"
"Phoebe, you must be mad!" exclaimed Mrs Latrobe, rising. "Don't listen to her, dear Mr Welles; 'tis a most distressing scene for you to bear. I am infinitely concerned my daughter should have so far forgotten herself as to address you with such vulgar abuse. I can only excuse her on the ground—"
"Dearest Madam, there is every excuse," said Mr Welles, with the sweetest magnanimity. "Sweet Mrs Phoebe is a woodland bird, untrammelled as yet by those fetters which we men and women of the world must needs bear. 'Tis truly delightful to see the charming generosity and the admirable fire with which she plays the knight-errant. Indeed, Madam, such disinterested warmth and fervour of heart are seen but too seldom in this worn old world. Suffer me to entreat you not to chide Mrs Phoebe for her charming simplicity and high spirit."
"Since Mr Welles condescends to intercede for you, Phoebe, notwithstanding your shocking behaviour, I am willing to overlook it this time; but I warn you I shall not prove thus easy another time."
"I am sure I hope there will never be another time!" cried Phoebe, her eyes flashing.
"Phoebe, go to your chamber, and don't let me hear one word more," said Mrs Latrobe, severely.
And Phoebe obeyed, rushing upstairs with feet that seemed to keep pace with the whirlwind in her heart.
"Phoebe, I wonder whether of these ribbons, the silk or the gauze, would go best with— Why, whatever in the world is the matter?" said Rhoda, breaking off.
"You may well ask, my dear," answered the voice of Mrs Latrobe, behind Phoebe. "Your cousin has been conducting herself in a most improper manner—offering gross insults to my guests in my house."
"Phoebe!" cried Rhoda, as if she could not believe her ears.
"Yes, Phoebe. She really has. I can only fear—indeed, I had almost said hope—that her wits are something impaired. What think you of her telling a gentleman who had acted in a most noble and honourable manner—exactly as a gentleman should do—that she could not have believed him capable of such baseness? and she cried shame on him!"
"Not Phoebe!" exclaimed Rhoda again, looking from one to the other very much as Phoebe had done. "Why, Phoebe, what does all this mean?"
"Oh, Rhoda, I can't tell you!" said Phoebe, sobbing, for the reaction had come. "Mother, you will have to tell her. I can't."
"Of course I shall tell her," calmly answered Mrs Latrobe. "I came for that very thing. Rhoda, my dear, I am sure you are a maid of sense and discretion."
"I hope so, Madam."
"So do I, child: and therefore you will hear me calmly, and not fly into passions like that silly maid yonder. My dear, you must have remembered, I am certain, that when you promised yourself to Mr Welles, you were in a very different situation from now."
Rhoda only bowed. Perhaps, on that subject, she was afraid to trust her voice.
"And, of course, it has also occurred to you, my dear, that this being the case, you could not in honour hold Mr Welles bound to you any longer, if he wished to be free?"
"But we don't wish to be free," said Rhoda, in a puzzled tone.
"You are mistaken, my dear, so far as one of you is concerned. Perhaps it had been yet more graceful had you been the one to loose the bond: yet Mr Welles has done it with so infinite a grace and spirit that I can scarce regret your omission. My dear, you are now entirely free. He sets you completely at liberty, and has retired from all pretension to you."
"But what, Aunt Anne—I do not understand you!" exclaimed Rhoda, in accents of bewildered amazement, which had a ring of agony beneath, as though she was struggling against the comprehension of a grief she was reluctant to face.
"Surely, my dear, you must have understood me," said Mrs Latrobe. "Mr Welles resigns his suit to you."
"He has given me up?" bursts from Rhoda's lips.
"He has entirely given you up. You cannot have really expected anything else?"
"I thought he was true!" said Rhoda through her set teeth. "Are you sure you understood him? Phoebe, you tell me,—did he mean that?"
"O Rhoda! poor Rhoda! I am afraid he did!" said Phoebe, as distinctly as tears would let her.
"But, my dear," interposed Mrs Latrobe, remonstratingly, "surely you cannot be surprised? When Mr Welles engaged himself to you, it was (as he thought) to the heiress of a large estate. You could not expect him to encumber himself with a wife who brought him less than one year's income of his own. 'Tis not reasonable, child. No man in his senses would do such a thing. We live in the world, my dear,—not in Utopia."
"We live in a hard, cold, wicked, miserable world, and the sooner we are out of it the better!" came in a constrained voice from Rhoda.
"I beg, my dear," answered Mrs Latrobe, "you will not make extravagant speeches. There might be not another man in the world, that you should go into such a frenzy. We shall yet find you a husband, never fear."
"Not one like him, I hope!" murmured Phoebe. "And I don't think Rhoda wants anybody else."
"Phoebe," said her mother, "I am extreme concerned at the coarseness of your speeches. I had hoped you were a gentlewoman."
"Well, Mother," said Phoebe, firing up again, "if Mr Welles be a gentleman, I almost hope not!"
"My dear," said Mrs Latrobe, "Mr Welles is a gentleman. The style in which he announced his desire to withdraw from his suit to your cousin, was perfect. A prince could not have done it better."
"I should hope a prince would not have done it at all!" was the blunt response from Phoebe.
"You are not a woman of the world, my dear, but a very foolish, ignorant child, that does not know properly what she is saying. 'Tis so near bed-time you need not descend again. You will get over your disappointment, Rhoda, when you have slept, and I shall talk with you presently. Good-night, my dears."
And Mrs Latrobe closed the door, and left the cousins together.
PHOEBE IN A NEW CHARACTER.
"We mend broken china, torn lace we repair; But we sell broken hearts cheap in Vanity Fair."
"Did she ever love anybody?" came in a low voice from Rhoda, when Mrs Latrobe had withdrawn, "Oh, I don't know!" sobbed Phoebe, who was crying violently, and might have seemed to a surface observer the more unhappy of the two.
"Don't weep so," said Rhoda. "I'm sure you don't need. Aunt Anne will never be angry long—she does not care enough about anything to keep it up."
"Oh, it is not for myself, Rhoda—poor Rhoda!"
"For me? Surely not, Phoebe. I have never been so good to you as to warrant that."
"I don't know whether you have been good to me or you have not, Cousin; but I am so sorry for you!"
Phoebe was kneeling beside the bed. Rhoda came over to her, and kissed her forehead, and said—what was very much for Rhoda to say—"I scarce think I deserve you should weep for me, Phoebe."
"But I can't help it!" said Phoebe.
"Well! I reckon I should have known it," said Rhoda, in a rather hard tone. "I suppose that is what all men are like. But I did think he was true—I did!"
"I never did," responded Phoebe.
"Well!" sighed Rhoda again. "Let it pass. Perhaps Mrs Dorothy is right—'tis best to trust none of them."
"I don't think Mrs Dorothy said that," replied Phoebe, heaving a long sigh, as she sat up and pushed back her ruffled hair. "I do hope I wasn't rude to Mother."
"Nothing she'll care about," said Rhoda. "I wondered he did not come, Phoebe."
"So did I, and I told him as much. But—Rhoda, I think perhaps we shall forgive him sooner if we don't talk about it."
"Ah! I have not come to forgiving yet," was Rhoda's answer. "Perhaps I shall some time. Well! I shall be an old maid now, Phoebe, like Mrs Dorothy, I suppose you'll be the one to marry."
"Thank you, I'd rather not!" said Phoebe, quickly. "I am not sure I should like it at all; and I am quite sure I don't want to be married for my money, or for what people expect me to have."
"Oh, there's nothing else in this world!" answered Rhoda, with an air of immense experience. "Don't you expect it. Every man you come across is an avaricious, designing creature. Oh dear! 'tis a weary weary world, and 'tis no good living!"
"Yes, Rhoda dear, there is one good in living, and 'tis always left to us, whatever we may lose," said Phoebe, earnestly. "Don't you remember what the Lord Jesus said to His disciples—'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me?' There is always that, Rhoda."
"Ah, that is something I don't know anything about," said Rhoda, wearily. "And I always think 'tis right down shabby of people to turn religious, just because they have lost the world, and are disappointed and tired. And I was never cut out for a saint, Phoebe—'tis no use!"
"Rhoda, dear, when people give all their days to Satan, and then turn religious, as you say, just at last, when they are going to die, or think they are—don't you think that right down shabby? The longer you keep away from God, the less you have to give Him when you come. And as—"
"I thought you Puritans always said we hadn't anything to give to God, but He gave everything to us," objected Rhoda, pettishly.
Phoebe passed the tone by, and answered the words, "I think there are two things we can give to God, Cousin: our sins, that He may cast them into the depths of the sea; and ourselves, that He may save and train us. And the longer you stay away, the more sin you will have to bring; and the less time there will be for loving and serving Him. You will be sorry, when you do come, that you were not sooner."
"How do you know I shall? I tell you, I wasn't cut out for a saint."
"I think you will, Cousin, because I have asked Him to bring you," said Phoebe, simply; "and it must be His will to hear that; because He willeth not the death of a sinner."
"So you count me a sinner! I am sure I'm very much obliged to you!" said Rhoda, more in her old style than before.
"Yes, dear Cousin, I count you a sinner; and so do I myself, and every body else," said Phoebe, gently.
"Oh, well, I suppose we are all sinners," admitted Rhoda. "Don't I keep telling you I am not made for a saint?"
"But you were, Rhoda; God made you for Himself," said Phoebe.
"Oh, well 'tis no use talking!" and Rhoda got up, and began to pull down her elaborately-dressed hair, with hasty, uncareful fingers. "We'd better go to bed."
"Perhaps it isn't much use talking," said Phoebe, as she rose to help her. "But it is sure to be some praying, so I shall go on."
It was a few days later, and Phoebe was crossing the Park on her way to the Maidens' Lodge, carrying a basket of fruit sent by Mrs Latrobe to Lady Betty. From all the Maidens, except Lady Betty, Mrs Latrobe held aloof. Mrs Jane was too sharp for her, Mrs Marcella too querulous, and Mrs Dorothy too dull. Mrs Clarissa she denounced as "poor vain flirt that could not see her time was passed," and Mrs Eleanor, she declared, gave her the horrors only to look at. But Lady Betty she diligently cultivated. How much of her regard was due to her Ladyship's title, Mrs Latrobe did not explain.
Phoebe was nearing the Maidens' Lodge, and had just entered the last glade on her way thither, when—very much to her disapprobation and dismay—from a belt of trees on her left hand, Mr Marcus Welles stepped out and stood before her.
"Your most humble servant, Mrs Phoebe! I was very desirous to have the honour of waiting on you this fine morning; and thinking that I saw you at a little distance, I took the great liberty of accosting you."
If Phoebe had said just what she thought, she would have informed Mr Welles that he had taken a wholly unwarrantable liberty in so doing; for while she sagely counselled Rhoda to forgive the offender, she had by no means forgiven him herself. But being mindful of conventionalities, Phoebe courtesied stiffly, and left Mr Welles to explain himself at his leisure. Now, Mr Welles had come to that glade in the Park for the special purpose of making a communication, which he felt rather an awkward one to make with that amount of grace which beseemed him: nevertheless, being a very adroit young man, and much given to turning corners in a rapid and elegant manner, he determined to go through with the matter. If it had only been anyone but Phoebe!
"Mrs Phoebe," he began, "I cannot but flatter myself that you are not wholly ignorant of the high esteem I have long had for your deep merit."
"Cannot you, Sir?" responded Phoebe, by no means in a promising manner.
Mr Welles felt the manner. He thought his web was scarcely fine-spun enough. He must begin again.
"I trust that Madam is in good health, Mrs Phoebe?"
"My mother is very well, I thank you, Sir."
"You are yourself in good health, I venture to hope, Madam?"
"I am, Sir, I thank you."
The task which Mr Welles had set himself, as he perceived with chagrin, was proving harder than he had anticipated. Phoebe evidently intended to waste no more time on him than she could help.
"The state of affairs at White-Ladies is of infinite concern to me, Madam."
"Is it, Sir?"
"Undoubtedly, Madam. Your health and happiness—all of you—are extreme dear to me."
"Especially yours, Madam."
Phoebe made no answer to this. Her silence encouraged Mr Welles to proceed. He thought his tactics had succeeded, and the creature was coming round by degrees. The only point now requiring care was not to startle her away again.
"Allow me to assure you, Madam, that your welfare is in my eyes a matter of infinite concern."
"So you said, Sir," was Phoebe's cool reply, Mr Welles was very uncomfortable. Had he made any mistake? Was it possible that, after all, the creature was not coming round in an orthodox manner?
"Madam, give me leave to assure you, moreover, that I am infinitely attached to you, and desire no higher happiness than to be permitted to offer you my service."
It was an instant before Phoebe recognised that Mr Marcus Welles was actually making her an offer. When she did, her answer was immediate and unmistakable.
"Don't you, Mr Welles?" said Phoebe. "Then I do!"
"Madam, have you misapprehended me?" demanded her suitor, to whom the idea of any woman refusing him was an impossibility not to be entertained for a moment.
"I should be glad if I had," said Phoebe.
"You must be labouring under some mistake, Madam. I have an estate which brings me in three thousand a year, and I am my own master. 'Tis not an opportunity a maid can look to meet with every day, nor is it every gentlewoman that I would ask to be my wife."
"No—only a golden one!" said Phoebe.
Phoebe turned, and their eyes met.
"Mr Welles, give me leave to tell you the truth: you do not hear it often. You do not wish to marry me. You wish to obtain White-Ladies. 'Tis of no consequence to you whether the woman that must needs come with it be Phoebe Latrobe or Rhoda Peveril. My cousin would please you better than I; but you really care not a straw for either of us. You only want the estate. Allow me in my turn to assure you that, so far as I am concerned, you will not get it. The man who could use my cousin as you have done may keep away from endeavouring my favour. I wish you a very good morning, Mr Welles."
"I beg, Madam, that you will permit me to explain—" stammered Mr Welles, whose grace and tactics alike forsook him under the treatment to which he was subjected by Phoebe.
"Sir, there is nothing to explain."
And with a courtesy which could be construed into nothing but final dismissal, Phoebe left her astonished suitor to stand and look after her with the air of a beaten general, while she turned the corner of the Maidens' Lodge, and made her way to Lady Betty's door.
Lady Betty was at that moment giving an "at home" on the very minute scale permitted by the diminutive appointments of the Maidens' Lodge. Mrs Jane Talbot and Mrs Dorothy Jennings were seated at her little tea-table.
"Why, my dear Mrs Phoebe! what an unlooked-for pleasure!" exclaimed Lady Betty, coming forward cordially.
If her cordiality had been a shade more distinct since Phoebe became heiress of Cressingham—well, she was only human. The other ladies present had sustained no such change.
"The Lord bless thee, dear child!" was the warm greeting of Mrs Dolly; but it had been quite as warm long before.
"Evening!" said Mrs Jane, with a sarcastic grin. "Got it over, has he? Saw you through the side window. Bless you, child, I know all about it—I expected that all along. Hope you let him catch it—the jackanapes!"
"I did not let him catch me, Mrs Jane," answered Phoebe, with some dignity.
"That's right!" said Mrs Jane, decidedly. "That bundle of velvet and braid would never have made any way with me, when I was your age, my dear. Why, any mantua-maker could cut him out of snips, and have some stuff left over."
"He is of very good family, my dear Mrs Jane," observed Lady Betty; "at least, if I take you rightly in supposing you allude to Mr Welles."
"More pity for the family!" answered Mrs Jane. "Glad I'm not his mother. Ruin me to keep, him in order. Cost a fortune in whip-leather. How's Mrs Rhoda?"
"She is very well, I thank you, Madam."
"Is she crying out her eyes over that piece of fiddle-faddle?"
"I think she has finished for the present," replied Phoebe, rather drily.
"Just you tell her he's been making up to you. Best thing you can do. Cure her sooner than anything else."
"Mrs Phoebe, my dear, may I beg of you to do me the favour to let Madam know that my niece, my Lady Delawarr, is much disordered in her health?"
"Certainly, my Lady Betty; I am grieved to hear it."
"Very much so, as 'tis feared; and Sir Richard hath asked me thither to visit her, and see after matters a little while she is laid by. I purpose to go thither this next week, but I would not do so without paying my respects to Madam, for which honour I trust to wait on her to-morrow. Indeed, my dear—and if you will mention it to Madam, you will do me a service—Sir Richard's letter is not without some importunity that should my niece be laid aside for any time, as her physician fears, I would remove altogether, and make my home with them."
"Indeed, Madam, I will tell my mother all about it."
"I thank you, my dear; 'twill be a kindness. Of course, I would not like to leave without Madam's concurrence."
"That you will have," quietly said Mrs Dorothy.
"Indeed, so I hope," returned Lady Betty. "I dare say Mrs Phoebe here at least does not know that when my nephew Sir Richard was young, after his mother died—my poor sister Penelope—he was bred up wholly in my care, so that he looks on me rather as his mother than his aunt, and 'tis but natural that his thoughts should turn to me in this trouble."
"You must have been a young aunt, my Lady Betty," remarked Mrs Dorothy.
"Truly, but twelve years elder than my nephew," said Lady Betty, with a smile.
"Clarissa would have told us that, without waiting to be asked," laughed Mrs Jane. "How are the girls, my Lady Betty?"
"Very well, as I hear. You know, I guess, that Betty is engaged in marriage?"
"So we heard. To Sir Charles Rich, is it not?"
"The same. But maybe you have not heard of Molly's conquest?" asked Lady Betty, with an amused little laugh.
"What, is Mrs Molly in any body's chains?"
"Indeed, I guess not, Mrs Jane," replied Lady Betty, still laughing. "I expect my friend Mr Thomas Mainwaring is in Molly's chains, if chains there be."
"Eh, she'll lead him a weary life!" said Mrs Jane.
"Let us hope she will sober down," answered Lady Betty. "I am not unwilling to allow there hath of late been room for improvement. Yet is there some good in Molly, as I think."
Phoebe remembered Molly's assistance in the matter of Mr Edmundson, and thought it might be so.
"Well, and what of Mrs Gatty?"
"Ah, poor maid! She, at least, can scarce hope to be happy, her disfigurement is so unfortunate."
"I must needs ask your pardon, my Lady Betty, but I trust that is not the case," said Mrs Dorothy, with a gentle smile. "Sure, happiness doth not depend on face nor figure?"
"The world mostly reckons so, I believe," answered Lady Betty, with a responsive smile. "Maybe, we pick up such words, and use them, in something too heedless a manner."
"I am mightily mistaken if Mrs Gatty do not prove the happiest of the three," was Mrs Dorothy's reply.
Mrs Dorothy rose to go home, and Phoebe took leave at the same time. She felt tired and harassed, and longed for the rest of a little quiet talk with her old friend.
"And how doth Mrs Rhoda take this, my dear?" was the old lady's first question, when Phoebe had poured out her story.
"She seemed very much troubled at first, and angry; but I fancy she is getting over it now."
"Which most?—troubled or angry?"
"I think—after a few minutes, at least—more angry."
"Then she will quickly recover. I do not think she loved him, Phoebe. She liked him, I have no doubt: and she flattered herself that he loved her; but if she be more angry than hurt, that shows that her pride suffers rather than her love. At least," said Mrs Dorothy, correcting herself, "I mean it looks so. Who am I, that I should judge her?"
"I wanted it to do her some good, Mrs Dolly. It seems hard to have the suffering, and not get the good."
"'Tis not easy for men to tell what does good, and when. We cannot as concerns ourselves; how then shall we judge for others?"
"I wonder what Rhoda will do now?" suggested Phoebe, after a minute's silence.
She looked up, and saw an expression, which was the mixture of pity and amusement, on Mrs Dorothy's lips. The amusement died away, but the pity remained and grew deeper.
"Can you guess, Mrs Dolly?"
"'Lord, and what shall this man do?' You know the answer, Phoebe."
"Yes, I know: but— Mrs Dorothy, would you not like to know the future?"
"Certainly not, dear child. I am very thankful for the mist which my Father hath cast as a veil over my eyes."
"But if you could see what would come, is it not very likely that there would not be some things which you would be glad and relieved to find absent?"
"Very likely. The things of which we stand especially in fear often fail to come at all. But there would be other things, which I should be very sorry to find, and much astonished too."
"I wonder sometimes, what will be in my life," said Phoebe, dreamily.
"That which thou needest," was the quiet answer.
"What do I need?" asked Phoebe.
"To have thy will moulded after God's will."
"Do you think I don't wish God's will to be done, Mrs Dorothy?"
Mrs Dorothy smiled. "I quite believe, dear child, thou art willing He should have His way with respect to all the things thou dost not care about."
"My dear, that is what most folks call being resigned to the will of God."
"Mrs Dolly, why do people always talk as though God's will must be something dreadful? If somebody die, or if some accident happen, they say, 'Ah, 'tis God's will, and we must submit.' But when something pleasant comes, they never say it then. Don't you think the pleasant things are God's will, as well as the disagreeable ones?"
"More so, Phoebe. 'In all our affliction, He is afflicted.' 'He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.' Pleasant things are what He loves to give us; bitter things, what He needs must."
"Then why do people talk so?" repeated Phoebe.
"Ah, why do they?" said Mrs Dorothy. "Man is always wronging God. Not one of us all is so cruelly misunderstood of his fellows as all of us misunderstand Him."
"Yet He forgives," said Phoebe softly: "and sometimes we don't."
"He is always forgiving, Phoebe. The inscription is graven not less over the throne in Heaven than over the cross on earth,—'This Man receiveth sinners.'"
There was a pause of some minutes; and as Phoebe rose to go, Mrs Dorothy said,—
"I will tell you one thing I have noted, child, as I have gone through life. Very often there has been something looming, as it were, before me that I had to do, or thought I should have to bear,—and in the distance and the darkness it took a dread shape, and I looked forward to it with terror. And when it has come at last, it has often—I say not always, but often—proved to be at times a light and easy cross, even at times an absolute pleasure. Again, there hath often been something in the future that I have looked forward to as a great good and delight, which on its coming hath turned out a positive pain and evil. 'Tis better we should not know the future, dear Phoebe. Our Father knows every step of the way: is not that enough? Our Elder Brother hath trodden every step, and will go with us through the wilderness. Perfect wisdom and perfect love have prepared all things. Ah, child, thy fathers were wise men to sing as they sang—
"'Mon sort n'est pas a plaindre, Il est a desirer; Je n'ai plus rien a craindre, Car Dieu est mon Berger.'"
"But, Mrs Dolly— I suppose it can't be so, yet—it does seem as if there were some things in life which the Lord Jesus did not go through."
"What things, my dear?"
"Well, we never read of His having any kind of sickness for one thing."
"Are you sure of that? 'Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses,' looks very like the opposite. You and I have no idea, Phoebe, how He spent thirty out of thirty-three years of His mortal life. He may—mind, I don't say it was so, for I don't know—but He may have spent much of them in a sick chamber. He was 'in all points tempted like as we are.' My father used to tell me that the word there rendered 'tempted' signifies not only temptations of Satan, but trials sent of God."
"But—He was never a woman, Mrs Dolly."
"And therefore cannot feel for a woman as though He had been,—is that thy meaning, dear? Nay, Phoebe, I believe He was the only creature that ever dwelt on earth in whom were the essential elements both of man and woman. He took His flesh of the woman only. The best part of each was in Him,—the strength and intelligence of the man, the love and tenderness of the woman. 'Tis modish to say women are tender, Phoebe; more modish than true. Many are soft, but few are tender. But He was tenderness itself."
"I don't think women always are tender," said Phoebe.
"My dear," said Mrs Dorothy, "you may laugh at me, but I am very much out of conceit with my own sex. A good woman is a very precious thing, Phoebe; the rather since 'tis so rare. But an empty, foolish, frivolous woman is a sad, sad sight to see. Methinks I could scarce bear with such, but for four words that I see, as it were, graven on their brows,—'For whom Christ died.'"
"Very good!" said Mrs Latrobe. "I will not conceal from you, Phoebe, that I am extreme gratified with this decision of Lady Betty. I trust she will carry it out."
Phoebe felt a good deal surprised. Lady Betty had been the only inmate of the Lodge whose society her mother had apparently cared to cultivate, and yet she expressed herself much pleased to hear of her probable departure. She remembered, too, that Mrs Dorothy had expected Mrs Latrobe's assent. To herself it was a mystery.
Mrs Latrobe gave no explanation at the time. She went at once to another part of the subject, informing Phoebe that she had asked Betty and Molly Delawarr on a visit. Gatty had been invited also, but had declined to leave her mother in her present condition. Phoebe received this news with some trepidation. Had it been Betty alone, she would not have minded; for she thought her very good-natured, and could not understand Rhoda's expressed dislike to her. But Molly!—Phoebe tried to remember that Molly had done one kind action, and hoped she would be on her best behaviour at White-Ladies. Mrs Latrobe went on to say that she wished Phoebe to share her room with Betty, and would put Rhoda and Molly in another. But when Phoebe ventured to ask if Rhoda might not retain the room which she knew her to prefer, and Phoebe herself be the one to change, Mrs Latrobe refused to entertain the proposition.
"No, my dear, certainly not. You forget your station, Phoebe. You are the daughter of this house, not your cousin. You must not be thinking of how things were. They have changed. I could not think of allowing Rhoda to have the best chamber. Besides, she has got to come down, and she had best know it at once."
"What do you mean, Madam, if you please?"
"What do I mean? Why, surely you have some sense of what is proper. You don't fancy she could continue to live here, do you? If she had married Mr Welles, I should have said nothing against her staying here till her marriage—of course, if it were a reasonable time; but now that is all over. She must go."
"Go!" gasped Phoebe. "Go whither, Madam?"
"I shall offer her the choice of two things, my clear. She can either go to service, in which case I will not refuse to take the trouble to look out a service for her—I am wishful to let her down gently, and be very good to her; or, if she prefer that, she may have my Lady Betty's house as soon as she is gone. Have you any idea which she will choose?"
"Service! The Maidens' Lodge! Rhoda!"
"My dear Phoebe, how very absurd you are. What do you mean by such foolish ejaculations? Rhoda will be uncommonly well off. You forget she has the interest of her money, and she has some good jewellery; she may make a decent match yet, if she is wise. But in the meantime, she must live somehow. Of course I could not keep her here—it would spoil your prospects, simpleton! She has a better figure than you, and she has more to say for herself. You must not expect any body to look at you while she is here."
"Oh, never mind that!" came from the depth of Phoebe's heart.
"But, my dear, I do mind it. I must mind it. You do not understand these things, Phoebe. Why, I do believe, with a very little encouragement—which I mean him to have—Mr Welles himself would offer for you."
"That is over, Madam."
"What is over? Phoebe! what do you mean? Has Mr Welles really spoken to you?"
"When, my dear?" asked Mrs Latrobe, in a tone of deep interest.
"This afternoon, Madam!"
"That is right! I am so pleased. I was afraid he would want a good deal of management. And you've no more notion how to manage a man than that parrot. I should have to do it all myself."
"I beg your pardon, Madam," said Phoebe, with some dignity; "I gave him an answer."
"Of course, you did, my dear. I am only afraid—sometimes, my dear Phoebe, you let your shyness get the better of you till you seem quite silly—I am afraid, I say, that you would hardly speak with becoming warmth. Still—"
"I think, Madam, I was as warm as you would have wished me," said Phoebe, drily.
"Oh, of course, there is a limit, my dear," said Mrs Latrobe, bridling. "Well, I am so glad that it is settled. 'Tis just what I was wishing for you."
"I fear, Madam, you misconceive me," said Phoebe, looking up, "and 'tis settled the other way from what you wished."
"Child, what can you mean?" asked Mrs Latrobe, with sudden sharpness. "You never can have refused such an excellent offer? What did you say to Mr Welles?"
"I sent him away, and told him never to come near me again." Phoebe spoke with warmth enough now.
"Phoebe, you must be a lunatic!" burst from her mother. "I could not have believed you would be guilty of such supreme, unpardonable folly!"
"Sure," said Phoebe, looking up, "you would never have had me marry a man whom I despised in my heart?"
"Despised! I protest, Phoebe, you are worse and worse. What do you mean by saying you despise Mr Welles? A man of excellent manners and faultless taste, of good family, with an estate of three thousand a year, and admirable prospects when his old uncle dies, who is nearly seventy now—why, Phoebe, you must be a perfect fool! I am amazed at you beyond words."
There was a light in Phoebe's eyes which was beyond Mrs Latrobe's comprehension.
"Mother!" came from the girl's lips, with a soft intonation—"Father would not have asked me to do that!"
"Really, my dear, if you expect that I am to rule myself by your father's notions, you expect a great deal too much. He was not a man of the world at all—"
"He was not!"
"Not in the least!—and he had not the faintest idea what would be required of you when you came to your present position. Don't quote him, I beg of you!—Well, really, Phoebe—I don't know what to do now. I wish I had known of it! Still I don't see, if he were determined to speak to you, how I could have prevented you from making such a goose of yourself. I do wish he had asked me! I should have accepted him at once for you, and not given you the chance to refuse. What did you say to him? Is it quite hopeless to try and win him back?"
"Quite," said Phoebe, shortly.
"But I want to know exactly what you said."
"I told him I believed he wanted the estate, and not me; and that after behaving to my cousin as he did, he did not need to expect to get either it or me."
"Phoebe! what preposterous folly!" said Mrs Latrobe. "Well, child, you are a fool—that's as plain as a pikestaff; but—"
"You're a fool!" came in a screech from the parrot's cage, followed by a burst of laughter.
"But 'tis no use crying over spilt milk. If we have lost Mr Welles, we have lost him; and we must try for some one else. Oh dear, how hot it is! Phoebe, I wonder when you will have any sense. I do beseech you, my dear, never to play the same game with anyone else."
"I hope, Mother," said Phoebe, gravely, "that I shall never have occasion."
"What a lot of geese!" said the parrot.
ENDS IN THE MAIDENS' LODGE.
"Mother, Mother, up in Heaven, Stand up on the jasper sea, And be witness I have given All the gifts required of me."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
"Before these young gentlewomen come, Rhoda, I want a word with you."
"I am sure, my dear, that you have too much wit to object to what I am about to say."
Rhoda had learned to dread this beginning, as it was generally the prelude to something disagreeable. But she was learning, also, to submit to disagreeable things. She only said, meekly, "Yes, Madam."
"I suppose, my dear, you will have felt, like a maid of some parts and spirit as you are, that your dwelling any longer with me and Phoebe in this house would not be proper."
"Not be proper!" Rhoda's cheek blanched. She had never recognised anything of the kind. Was she not only to lose her fortune, but to be turned out of her home? When would her calamities come to an end? "Not proper, Aunt Anne!—why not?"
This was not altogether an easy question to answer with any reason but the real one, which last must not be told to Rhoda. Mrs Latrobe put on an air of injured astonishment.
"My dear!—sure, you would not have me tell you that? No, no!—your own good parts, I am certain, must have assured you. Now, Rhoda, I wish, so far as is possible, to spare you all mortification. If you consider that it would be easier to you to support your altered fortunes elsewhere, I am very willing to put myself to some trouble to obtain for you a suitable service; or if, on the other hand, you have not this sensibility, then my Lady Betty's cottage is at your disposal when she leaves it. The time that these young gentlewomen are here will be enough to think over the matter. When they go, I shall expect your answer."
Had Phoebe wished to tell out to Rhoda a recompense of distress equivalent to every annoyance which she had ever received from her, she could have wished for no revenge superior to that of this moment. For her, who had all her life, until lately, looked forward to dispensing her favours as the Queen of Cressingham, to be offered apartments in the Maidens' Lodge as an indigent gentlewoman, was in her eyes about the last insult and degradation which could be inflicted on her. She went white and red by turns; she took up the hem of her apron, and began to plait it in folds, with as much diligence as though it had been a matter of serious importance that there should be a given number of plaits to an inch, and all of the same width to a thread. Still she did not speak.
Mrs Latrobe required no words to inform her of what was passing in Rhoda's mind. But she forestalled any words which might have come, by an affectation of misunderstanding her.
"You see, my dear Rhoda," she said, in a would-be affectionate tone, "I am bound to do all I can for my only sister's only child. I would not do you so much injury as to suppose you insensible to the kindness I have shown you. Indeed, if you had been something younger, and had wished to learn any trade, I would willingly have paid the premium with you. And 'tis no slight matter, I can assure you. Eighty pounds would have been the least for which I could have put you with a milliner or mantua-maker, to learn her trade. But, however, 'tis no good talking of that, for you are a good nine years too old. So there is nothing before you but service, without you marry, or to take my Lady Betty's house. Now, my dear, you may go and divert yourself; we will not talk of this matter again till the young gentlewomen have ended their visit."
And with a nod of dismissal, Mrs Latrobe rose and passed out of the room, evidently considering her duties exceeded by her merits, and leaving Rhoda too stunned for words.
Trade, indeed! If there could be a deeper depth than the Maidens' Lodge, it was trade, in Rhoda's eyes. Domestic service was incomparably more respectable and honourable. As to matrimony, which her aunt had, as it were, flung into the scales as she passed, Rhoda's heart was still too sore to think of it.
An hour later brought Betty and Molly.
"How do you, Rhoda, dear?" inquired the former, kindly.
"Well!—got over it, Red Currants?" interrogated Molly.
"Over what, I beg?" said Rhoda, rather haughtily.
Molly sang her answer:—
"'I lost my looks, I lost my health, I lost my wit—my love kept true; But one fine day I lost my wealth, And, presto! off my lover flew.'
"Isn't that about it, old Tadpole?"
"Your's hasn't," retorted Rhoda, carrying the attack into the enemy's country.
"No; I haven't lost my wealth yet," said Molly, gravely for her.
"Who told you?" whispered Phoebe.
"O Gemini! isn't that a good jest?" responded Molly, not at all in a whisper. "'Who told me?'—just as if three hundred and sixty-five people hadn't told me. Told me more jokes than one, too, Mrs Phoebe Latrobe; told me how you sent off Master Marcus with all the starch washed out of him. Got-up Marcus in the rough dry—O Gemini!" and Molly almost shrieked with laughter. "Poor wretch! Hasn't had the heart to powder himself since. And she told him to his face he wanted the guineas.—Oh how jolly! Wouldn't I have given a pretty penny to see his face! Phoebe, you're tip-top."
"What on earth are you talking about?" asked Rhoda, with something of her old sharp manner.
"Talking about your true and constant lover, my charmer," said Molly. "His heart was broken to bits by losing—your money; so he picked up the pieces, and pasted them together, and offered the pretty little thing to your cousin, as the nearest person to you. But she, O cruel creature! instead of giving him an etiquet of admission to her heart, what does she but come down on the wretch's corns with a blunderbuss, and crush his poor pasted heart into dust. Really—"
"Molly, my dear!" said Betty, laughing. "Does a man's heart lie in his corns?"
"If you wish to know, Mrs Betty Delawarr, the conclusions to which I have come on that subject," replied Molly, in her gravest mock manner, "they are these. Most men haven't any hearts. They have pretty little ornaments, made of French paste, which do instead. They get smashed about once in six months, then they are pasted up, and nobody ever knows the difference. There isn't much, when 'tis nicely done."
"Pray, Molly, how many women have hearts?"
"Not one among 'em, present company excepted."
"Oh, Molly, Molly!" said Betty, still laughing. "I thank you, in the name of present company," added Rhoda; but there was a glitter in her eyes which was not mirth.
"Now, Red Gooseberries (rather sour just now), you listen to me," said Molly. "If you have got a heart (leave that to you!) don't you let it waste away for that piece of flummery. There's Osmund Derwent breaking his for you, and I believe he has one. Take him—you'll never do better; and if I tell you lies for the rest of my life, I've spoken truth this time.—Now, Fib, aren't you going to show such distinguished visitors into the parlour?"
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" exclaimed Phoebe; "I was listening to you."
"Madam, I thank you for the compliment," and, with a low courtesy, Molly gave her sister a push before her into the presence of Mrs Latrobe.
"Phoebe, come here!" cried Rhoda, in a hoarse whisper, drawing her cousin aside into one of the deep recessed windows of the old hall, once the refectory of the Abbey. "Tell me, did Marcus Welles offer to you?"
"Yes," said Phoebe, and said no more. "And you refused him?"
"Why, Rhoda, dear! Yes, of course."
"Not for my sake, I hope. Phoebe, I would not marry him now, if he came with his hat full of diamonds."
"Make your mind easy, dear. I never would have done."
"Do you know, Phoebe, Aunt Anne has offered to put me in the Maidens' Lodge?"
"She talked of it," said Phoebe, pitifully.
"I am not going there," responded Rhoda, in a decisive tone. "I'll go to service first. Perhaps, I can come down so much, away from here; but to do it here, where I thought to be mistress!—no, I could not stand that, Phoebe."
"I am sorry you have to stand any of it, dear Rhoda."
"You are a good little thing, Fib; I could not bear you to pity me if you were not. If Aunt Anne had but half your—"
"Phoebe, where are you? Really, my dear, I am quite shocked at your negligence! Carry the young gentlewomen up to their chambers, and let Rhoda wait on them. I take it extreme ill you should have left them so long. Do, my dear, remember your position!"
Remember her position! Phoebe was beginning to wish heartily that she might now and then be permitted to forget it.
The four girls went upstairs together.
"I say, Fib, did you ever shoot a waterfall in a coble?" inquired Molly.
Phoebe felt safe in a negative.
"Because I've heard folks say who have, that 'tis infinitely pleasant, when you come alive out of it; but then, you see, there's a little doubt about that."
"I don't understand you, Mrs Molly."
"No, my dear, very like you don't. Well, you'll find out when you've shot 'em. You're only a passenger; no blame to you if you don't come out alive."
"Who's rowing, Molly?" asked Rhoda.
"Somebody that isn't used to handling the oars," said Molly. "And if she don't get a hole stove in—Glad 'tis no concern of mine!"
"How does Gatty now?" asked Rhoda.
"O she is very well, I thank you," replied Betty.
"Is she promised yet?"
"Dear, no," said Betty, in a pitying tone.
"Rank cruelty, only to think on it," said Molly. "She'll just come in, as pat as vinegar to lettuce, to keep you company in the Maidens' Lodge, my beloved Rhoda."
Rhoda's lip trembled slightly, but she asked, quietly enough—
"Which is the vinegar?"
Molly stood for a moment with her head on one side, contemplating Rhoda.
"Been putting sugar to it, Fib, haven't you? Well, 'tis mighty good stuff to cure a cough."
"Phoebe," said her mother that evening, when prayers were over, "I wish to speak with you in my chamber before you go to yours."
Phoebe obeyed the order with a mixture of wonder and trepidation.
"My dear, I have good news for you. I have chosen your husband."
"Pray, why not, my dear? 'Tis an ingenious young man, reasonable handsome, and very suitable for age and conditions. I have not yet broke the matter to him, but I cannot doubt of a favourable answer, for he hath no fortune to speak of, and is like to be the more manageable, seeing all the money will come from you. You met with him, I believe, at Delawarr Court. His name is Derwent. I shall not write to him while these young gentlewomen are here, but directly they are gone: yet I wish to give you time to become used to it, and I name it thus early."
Phoebe felt any reply impossible.
"Good-night, my dear. I am sure you will like Mr Dement."
Phoebe went back along the gallery like one walking in a dream. How was this tangled skein ever to be unravelled? Had she any right to speak? had she any to keep silence? And a cry of "Teach me to do Thy will!" went up beyond the stars. "I don't know what is right," said Phoebe, plaintively, to her own heart. "Lord, Thou knowest! Make Thy way plain before my face," It seemed to her that, knowing what she did, there would be one thing more terrible than a refusal from Mr Derwent, and that would be acceptance. It seemed impossible to pray for either. She could only put the case into God's hands, with the entreaty of Hezekiah: "O Lord, I am oppressed: undertake for me."
It did not make the matter any easier that, a few days later, Rhoda said suddenly, when she and Phoebe were alone, "Do you remember that Mr Derwent who was at Delawarr Court?"
"Yes," said Phoebe, and said no more.
"Betty tells me she thought he had a liking for me."
Phoebe was silent. Would the actual question come?
"I wonder if it was true," said Rhoda.
Still Phoebe went on knitting in silence, with downcast eyes.
"I almost begin, Phoebe, to wish it had been, do you know? I liked him very well. And—I want somebody to care for me."
"Yes, poor dear," said Phoebe, rising hurriedly. "Excuse me, I must fetch more wool."
And she did not seem to hear Rhoda call after her—
"Why, Phoebe, here's your wool—a whole ball!"
"Pretty kettle of fish!" screamed the parrot.
Betty and Molly had gone home. Mr Onslow had read prayers, the servants were filing out of the room, and Rhoda was lighting the candles.
"Well, my dear," asked Mrs Latrobe, looking up rather suddenly, "is your decision taken?"
"It is, Madam," readily answered her niece.
"So much the better. What is it, my dear?"
"I should prefer to go to service, if you please, Madam."
"You would!" Mrs Latrobe's tone showed surprise. "Very well: I promised you your choice. As lady's woman, I suppose?"
"If you please, Madam."
"Certainly, my dear. It shall be as you wish. Then to-morrow I will begin to look out for you. I should think I shall hear of a place in a week or two."
Rhoda made no answer, but took up her candle, and departed with merely, "Good-night, Madam."
But as Phoebe went upstairs behind her, she noted Rhoda's bowed head, her hand tightly grasping the banisters, her drowning, farewell look at the family portraits, as she passed them on her way up the corridor. At length she paused before three which hung together.
In the midst stood their grandmother, a handsome, haughty figure, taken at about the age of thirty; and on either side a daughter, at about eighteen years of age. Rhoda lifted her light first to Madam's face. She said nothing to indicate her thoughts there, but passed on, and paused for another minute before the pretty, sparkling face of Anne Latrobe. Then she came back, and raised the light, for a longer time than either, to the pale, regular, unexpressive features of Catherine Peveril. Phoebe waited for her to speak. It came at last.
"I never knew her," said Rhoda, in a choked voice. "I wonder if they know what is happening on earth."
"I should not think so," answered Phoebe, softly.
"Well,—I hope not!"
The hand which held the lifted light came down, and Rhoda passed into her own room, and at once knelt down to her prayers. Phoebe stood irresolute, her heart beating like a hammer. An idea had occurred to her which, if it could be carried into effect, would help Rhoda out of all her trouble. But in order to be so, it was necessary that she herself must commit—in her own eyes—an act of unparalleled audacity. Could she do it? The minute seemed an hour. Phoebe heard her mother go upstairs, and shut her door. A rapid prayer went to God for wisdom. Her resolution grew stronger. She took up her candle, stole softly downstairs, found the silver inkstand and the box of perfumed letter-paper. There were only a few words written when Phoebe had done.
"Sir,—If you were now to come hither. I thinke you wou'd win my cosen. A verie few dayes may be too late. Forgive the liberty I take.
"Yours to serve you, Phoebe Latrobe."
The letter was folded and directed to "Mr. Osmund Derwent, Esquire." And then, for one minute, human nature had its way, and Phoebe's head was bowed over the folded note. There was no one to see her, and she let her heart relieve itself in tears. Ay, there was One, who took note of the self-abnegation which had been learned from Him. Phoebe knew that Osmund Derwent did not love her. Yet was it the less hard on that account to resign him to Rhoda? For time and circumstances might have shown him the comparatively alloyed metal of the one, and the pure gold of the other. He might have loved Phoebe, even yet, as matters stood now. But Phoebe's love was true. She was ready to secure his happiness at the cost of her own. It was not of that false, selfish kind which seeks merely its own happiness in the beloved one, and will give him leave to be happy only in its own way. Yet, after all, Phoebe was human; and some very sorrowful tears were shed, for a few minutes, over that gift laid on the altar. Though the drops were salt, they would not tarnish the gold.
It was but for a few minutes that Phoebe dared to remain there. She wiped her eyes and forced back her tears. Then she went upstairs and tapped at Betty's door.
"There's that worriting Sue," she heard Betty say inside; and then the door was opened. "Mrs Phoebe, my dear, I ask twenty pardons; I thought 'twas that Sukey,—she always comes a-worriting. What can I do for you, my dear?"
"I want you to get that letter off first thing in the morning, Betty."
Betty turned the letter all ways, scanned the address, and inspected the seal.
"Mrs Phoebe, you'll not bear me malice, I hope. You know you're only young, my dear. Are you quite certain you'll never be sorry for this here letter?"
"'Tis not what you think, Betty," said Phoebe with a smile on her pale lips which had a good deal of sadness in it. "You are sorry for my cousin, I know. 'Twill be a kind act towards her, Betty, if you will send that letter."
Betty looked into Phoebe's face so earnestly that she dropped her eyes.
"I see," said Mrs Latrobe's maid. "I'm not quiet a blind bat, Mrs Phoebe. The letter shall go, my dear. Make your mind easy."
Yet Betty did not see all there was to be seen.
"Why, Phoebe!" exclaimed Rhoda, when she got back to the bedroom, "where have you been?"
"What had you to go down for? You forgot something, I suppose. But what is the matter with your eyes?"
"They burn a little to-night, dear," said Phoebe, quietly.
The days went on, and there was no reply to Phoebe's audacious note, and there was a reply to Mrs Latrobe's situation-hunting. She announced to Rhoda on the ninth morning at breakfast that she had heard of an excellent place for her. Lady Kitty Mainwaring the mother of Molly Delawarr's future husband, was on the look-out for a "woman." She had three daughters, the eldest of whom was the Kitty who had been at Delawarr Court. Rhoda would have to wait on these young ladies, as well as their mother. It was a most eligible situation. Mrs Latrobe, on Rhoda's behalf, had accepted it at once.
Rhoda sat playing with her tea-spoon, and making careful efforts to balance it on the edge of her cup.
"Do they know who wants it?" she asked, in a husky voice.
"Of course, my dear! You did not look I should make any secret of it, sure?"
Rhoda's colour grew deeper. It was evident that she was engaged in a most severe struggle with herself. She looked up at last.
"Very good, Aunt Anne. I will go to Lady Kitty," she said.
"My dear, I accepted the place. Of course you will go," returned Mrs Latrobe, in a voice of some astonishment.
Rhoda got out of the room at the earliest opportunity, and Phoebe followed her as soon as she could. But she found her kneeling by her bed, and stole away again. Was chastening working the peaceable fruit of righteousness in Rhoda Peveril?
Phoebe wandered out into the park, and bent her steps towards the ruins of the old church. She sat down at the foot of Saint Ursula's image, and tried to disentangle her bewildered thoughts. Had she made a mistake in sending that letter, and did the Lord intend Rhoda to go to Lady Kitty Mainwaring? Phoebe had been trying to lift her cousin out of trouble. Was it God's plan to plunge Rhoda more deeply into it, in order that she might learn her lesson the more thoroughly, and be the more truly happy afterwards? If so, Phoebe had made a stupid blunder. When would she learn that God did not need her bungling help? Yet, poor Rhoda! How miserable she was likely to be! Phoebe buried her face in her hands, and did not see that some one had come in by a ruined window, and was standing close beside her on the grass.
"Mrs Phoebe, I owe you thanks unutterable," said a voice that Phoebe knew only too well.
Phoebe sprang up. "Have you seen her, Mr Derwent?"
"I have seen no one but you," said he, gravely.
They walked up to the house together, but there Phoebe left him and sought refuge in her bed-chamber.
"Phoebe, my dear, are you here?" said Mrs Latrobe, entering the room half an hour later. "Child, did you not hear me call? I could not think where you were, and I wished to have you come down. Why, only think!—all is changed about Rhoda, and she will not go to Lady Kitty. I am a little chagrined, I confess, on your account, my dear; however, it may be all for the best. 'Tis that same Mr Derwent I had heard of, and thought to obtain for you. Well! I am very pleased for Rhoda; 'tis quite as good, or better, than any thing she could expect; and I shall easily meet with something else for you. So now, my dear Phoebe, when she is married, and all settled—for of course, now, I shall let her stay till she marries—then, child, the coast will be clear for you. By the way, you did not care any thing for him, I suppose?—and if you had, you would soon have got over it—all good girls do. Fetch me my knotting, Phoebe—'tis above in my chamber; or, if you meet Rhoda, send her."
It was a subject of congratulation to Phoebe that one of Mrs Latrobe's peculiarities was to ask questions, and assume, without waiting for it, that the answer was according to her wishes. So she escaped a reply.
But there was one thing yet for Phoebe to bear, even worse than this.
"Phoebe, dear, dear Phoebe! I am so happy!" and Rhoda twined her arms round her cousin, and hid her bright face on Phoebe's shoulder. "He says he has loved me ever since we were at Delawarr. And I think I must have loved him, just a little bit, without knowing it, or I could not love him so much all at once now. I was trying very hard to make up my mind to Lady Kitty's service—that seemed to be what God had ordered for me; and I did ask Him, Phoebe, to give me patience, and make me willing to do His will. And only think—all the while He was preparing this for me! And I don't think, Phoebe, I should have cared for that—you know what I mean—but for you—the patient, loving way you bore with me; and I haven't been kind to you, Fib—you know I haven't. Then I dare say the troubles I've had helped a little. And Mr Derwent says he should not have dared to come but for a little letter that you writ him. I owe you all my happiness—my dear, good little Fib!"