In these intervals of idleness, Marian tried to persuade him several times to write to Edmund, who would be glad to have a report fresh from home. He always said he would soon set about a letter, but the time never came, though she more than once arranged pen, paper, and ink in readiness for him. He had recently received a letter from his cousin, but he had torn it up, and could not remember anything about the contents.
Something between bashfulness and pride produced conduct which could not but appear like arrant haughtiness to the villagers, who had looked forward eagerly to seeing their young landlord. If Marian tried to bring him to speak to some poor old man, his answer was, "Give him this half-crown, then, that will do just as well!" and he walked off out of reach, while she remained to present the gift, and hear in answer, "Thank you kindly, Miss; I should like to see the young gentleman himself, but I daresay he does not like poor people."
If this was the feeling where there was half-a-crown to sweeten the neglect, what was it where such a propitiatory offering was out of the question, and where the original connection had been closer, among the old servants, the dependants and tenants? His lofty acknowledgment of their bows,—his short, reluctant "Good morning," when forced to speak,—and his willingness to escape from their presence, contrasted ill with the cordial greetings with which his cousin Edmund had always hailed each Fern Torr person as a friend. Indeed, "that nice young gentleman, Master Edmund," began to be recollected with regrets, which, had the Manor been a kingdom, might have amounted to treason towards the young heir.
Marian grieved at this behaviour, and would have attempted to argue him out of it, but he gave her scarcely any opportunity of a serious conversation; and Mr. Wortley gave him more than one hint, which, though be took it with perfect courtesy, never mended matters. Yet with all this, he was so agreeable, so good-natured and gentlemanlike, so pleasant a guest, and so affectionate a brother, that Mr. and Mrs. Wortley could not help liking him very much; and if they saw anything amiss, they did not pain his sister by speaking of it. Her misgivings were too vague and undetermined for her to be willing to consult Mr. Wortley; if she thought at one time that she would, she grew so frightened and reluctant whenever an occasion came, that she let it pass by; and she was divided between blame to herself for doing nothing, when a few words might be the rescue of her brother, and self-reproach for doing him cruel injustice.
Nay, she even defended him more than once, when Agnes was shocked. She protected a shirt, illustrated by his own hand, in marking-ink, with cricketers, which caused infinite scandal to the washerwomen of Fern Torr. She defended slang words, which Agnes, from not understanding them, fancied worse than they really were; and she never failed to say he did not mean to be unkind, whenever he was neglectful of the poor people. She was displeased with herself afterwards for speaking in favour of these things, for she well knew them to be only parts of the whole system which grieved her; but still she could not help it.
These thoughts were suspended by the solemn time approaching. Her confirmation-day came, and she stood among the maidens of her own home and village, who had been baptized in the same font, and shared with her the same instructions. Simultaneously with them she pronounced her vow; and perhaps it was a repining thought which crossed her mind,—"Why am I not like these, to remain in this peaceful nest, not sent forth to be wearied and tried by that glittering world of unrest, which I thus renounce?"
She knelt to receive the blessing, which brought with it the trust that the peace of that moment might dwell with her, refresh her, and shield her "as oft as sin and sorrow tire." And when her eye fell on her brother, it was with more hope, for now she could better pray for him. Whatever might happen, it could never hurt the memory of that awful yet soothing hour, nor of that first Communion when she knelt near her parents' graves between Mrs. Wortley and Agnes; the whole air filled with the prayers of those on earth and in heaven who loved her best; nor of her walk in the garden afterwards with Mr. Wortley, when he plainly spoke to her of her life as one of peculiar trial and temptation, and warned her how to be in the world, and yet not of the world.
The nest event of the visit to Fern Torr was Saunders' wedding. Saunders did not love Oakworthy, still less Mrs. Lyddell, and least of all Mrs. Price, the ladies' maid; and when she found herself at Fern Torr again, and heard Mr. David Chapple renew his tender speeches, the return thither became more and more difficult; and one day, while plaiting her young lady's hair, she communicated to her with a great gush of tears, that, though she could not bear to think of leaving her, and would not on any account cause her any inconvenience, she began to think it was time to think about her marriage.
It was a stroke to Marian to hear of losing any old familiar face, and her look of dismay was a great satisfaction to Saunders; but she could bear it better than she could once have done, and there were reasons which made a change not so very much to be regretted even by her. The quarrels between Saunders and the rest of the household were not agreeable, and what she now felt to be a serious evil, was that habit of complaining to her, and telling her stories against the family, of which Edmund had warned her long ago. She had tried to discourage it, but, once begun, it had never been entirely discontinued; and Marian felt it to be wrong in every way.
She made up her mind, therefore, with greater philosophy than could have been expected, to the loss of Saunders; and was further consoled by finding it gave hey an opportunity of promoting a nice young Fern Torr damsel, too delicate for hard work, who had been taught dressmaking, and whom Saunders undertook to instruct in the mysteries of the hair, quite sufficiently to carry her on till they went to London, and she could take lessons from some grand frizeur.
Mrs. Lyndell was written to, and gave her consent to the hiring of Fanny, and Marian and Agnes were so delighted at the opening thus made for her, that Saunders would have been jealous if she had not been too happily engaged in her own preparations.
As to Gerald he made a dreadful face when he first heard of Saunders' intentions; but as her going made no difference to his comfort, he soon became resigned. David was an old acquaintance, whom he liked because he belonged to the genus groom; so he made no objection to his sister's attending the wedding. He presented the bride with a tea-set, splendid with gilding, and surprised every one by walking into Mr. Wortley's kitchen in the midst of the bridal entertainment, and proposing the health of the happy pair.
Marian was to return under Gerald's escort, at the end of the holidays. He was to go on to Eton, leaving her at the railway station, where she was to be met by the Lyddells' carriage. The last letter arrived, in which arrangements respecting time and train were to be finally confirmed. It was, as usual, from Caroline; and as she opened it, Marian gave a sudden start.
"Eh?" said Gerald, "whose mare's dead? Not Elliot's Queen Pomare, I hope!"
"No, but Miss Morley is going."
"O!" cried Gerald, "I hope she has been reading some more letters."
"Not quite," said Marian smiling.
"Well, but is it directly? I suppose you did not think she was to stay there for life? Has she been in any mischief, that you look so shocked?"
Marian really could not help discovering that she was not without tenderness of feeling for Miss Morley, and did not like to proclaim, in Caroline's strong and rather satirical language, across the breakfast table, that Mrs. Lyddell had discovered by accident that she and her pupil were in the habit of amusing themselves with novels which were far better unread. After reading quickly to the end of the letter, she answered, "O, she has been reading books with Clara that Mrs. Lyddell did not approve."
"A triumph! a triumph!" cried Agnes. "Now Marian will never attempt to defend Miss Morley again."
"What, not the poor unfortunate faithful? How can you think me so base?" returned Marian. "Besides, poor thing, she really is very kind-hearted, and has very little harm in her. I dare say it was more Clara's fault than hers,"
"Well done, Marian, striking right and left!" observed James Wortley.
"How long has Miss Morley been at Oakworthy?" asked Mrs. Wortley.
"She came about a year before we did," replied Marian.
"Her predecessor, Miss Cameron, must have been a very different person; Caroline and Walter always speak of her with such respect."
"Poor unfortunate!" broke out Gerald. "Well, if it had not been for Marian's letters, I should not have hated her so much. When one was making a row, she never did anything worse than say, 'Now Sir Gerald!'" which he gave with her peculiarly unauthoritative, piteous, imploring drawl.
"There was something in that title of 'poor unfortunate,' peculiarly appropriate," said Marian, laughing, "as I am afraid that it is now, poor thing. She is to leave Oakworthy immediately, and I do not know that she has any relation but an old aunt."
Mr. and Mrs. Wortley agreed with Marian that it was a melancholy case, but the others were too triumphant to be compassionate; and Gerald amused Agnes half the morning with ludicrous stories of her inefficiency.
Marian was thoughtful all day; and at last, when sitting alone with Mrs. Wortley and Agnes, exclaimed, "Poor Miss Morley! I really am very sorry for her; I did not know I liked her so well."
"Absence is the great charm with Marian," said Agnes, laughing; "we learn now what makes her so affectionate to us."
"No, but really, Agnes, when one has been living in constant intercourse for four years, and often receiving kindness from a person, is it possible to hear of her being sent away in disgrace and poverty without caring about it?"
"O yes; I know; after having lived in the same house with a kitchen poker for four years, you get so attached to it that it gives you a pang to part with it. No, but the comparison is no compliment to the poker; that is firm enough, at any rate,—a down cushion would be better."
"An attachment to a down cushion is nothing to be ashamed of, Agnes," said her mother.
"And Miss Morley did deserve some attachment, indeed," said Marian. "She was so ready to oblige, and she really did many and many a kind thing by the servants; and I believe she quite denied herself, for the sake of her old aunt. She was not fit for a governess, to be sure; but that was more her misfortune than her fault, poor thing."
"How do you make that out?" said Agnes.
"Why, she was obliged to got her own living; and what other way had she? She was educated for it, and had everything but the art of gaining authority."
"And high principle," said Mrs. Wortley.
"But," said Marian, growing eager in her defence, "she really did know right from wrong. She would remonstrate, and tell us things that were every word good and true, only she did it with so little force, that they were apt not to mind her; and then it was no wonder that she grew dispirited, and sunk into poor unfortunate."
"Yes," said Agnes, "I can understand it all; she was in a situation that she was not fit for, and failed."
"She would have been very different in another situation, most probably," said Mrs. Wortley, "where she and the children were not so much left to each other's mercy."
"Yes; Mrs. Lyddell never mended matters," said Marian. "She did not back up or strengthen her, but only frightened her, till she was quite as ready to conceal what was amiss as her pupils. And that intimacy with Clara was a very unlucky thing; it drew her down without drawing Clara up."
"I suppose that was the origin of the catastrophe," said Mrs. Wortley.
"I should think so; they have been more alone together lately, for I am sure this could never have happened when Caroline was in the schoolroom. And her making a friend of Clara was no wonder, so forlorn and solitary as she must have been." And Marian sighed with fellow-feeling for her.
"An intimate, not a friend," said Mrs. Wortley.
"And I could better fancy making a friend of Miss Lyddell," said Agnes. "I can't say my tete-a-tete with Miss Clara made me desire much more of her confidence."
"Clara is more caressing," said Marian. "I think I am most fond of her, though Caroline is—O! quite another thing. But what I wanted was to ask you, Mrs. Wortley, if you thought I might write to poor Miss Morley, and ask if there is anything I can do for her. I can't bear to think of her going away without wishing her good-bye, or showing any feeling for her in her distress."
"How very right and kind of you, Marian," exclaimed Agnes, "after all her injustice—"
"I do not think it would be advisable, my dear," said Mrs. Wortley; "it would seem like putting yourself in opposition to Mrs. Lyddell, and might be pledging yourself, in a manner, to recommend her, which, with your opinion of her, you could not well do."
"O, no, no, except in some particular case. Yes, I suppose you are right; but I don't feel happy to take no notice."
"Perhaps something may occur on your return, when you understand the matter more fully; or, at any rate, if you are writing to Oakworthy, you might send some message of farewell, kind remembrances, or love."
"Those are so unmeaning and conventional that I hate them," said Marian.
"Yes, but their want of meaning is their advantage here. They are merely kindly expressions of good will."
"And they will mean more from you," added Agnes, "as you never have the civility to use them on ordinary occasions."
"Well, I will take your advice," said Marian, "and thank you, Mrs. Wortley; I only wish—"
The wish ended in a sigh, as Marian sat down to commence—"My dear Caroline."
"But we are women when boys are but boys; Heav'n gives us grace to ripen and grow wise, Some six years earlier. I thank heav'n for it: We grow upon the sunny side of the wall."
It certainly was quite involuntary on Agnes Wortley's part, but when the time came for returning to Oakworthy, Marian was conscious of more kindly and affectionate feelings towards it and its inhabitants than she had ever expected to entertain for them. She did not love Fern Torr or the Wortleys less; she had resumed her confidence and sympathy with Agnes, and felt the value of Mrs. Wortley more than ever; and it quite made her heart ache to think how long it would be before she saw another purple hill or dancing streamlet, and that she should not be there to see her dear old myrtle's full pride of blossom. But, on the other hand, her room at Oakworthy, with its treasures, was a sort of home; and she looked forward to it gladly, when once she was out of sight of the moors.
The train had stopped and gone on again from the last station before that where they were to leave it for Oakworthy, when Gerald, coming across to the seat by her side, said, "Marian, I say, can you lend me a couple of pounds?"
"Why, Gerald, what can you want with them?"
"Never mind; only be a good girl, and let me have them."
"You had plenty of money when you came to Fern Torr. How could you have got rid of it all?"
"Come, come, Marian, don't be tiresome. Haven't I had to give to all the old women in the place?"
"But do you really mean that you have no money?"
"O yes, I have some, but not what I want. Come, I know you keep California in your pocket. What harm can it do you?"
After all Marian's presents at Fern Torr, it was not quite as convenient, as Gerald fancied, to part with two pounds; but that was not the best motive to put forward, nor was it her reason for hesitating.
"I don't know whether it is right; that is the thing, Gerald."
"Right! why where is the right or wrong in it?"
"I am afraid it may do you harm," said she, in a trembling, doubtful voice.
"Stuff! I'll take care of that!"
"If you would only tell me what you want it for?"
"I tell you, Marian, I can't do without it; I don't know what I shall do, if you won't give it to me."
"Debts! O Gerald, you have not got into debt?"
"Well, and what do you look so scared about? Do you think they will kill me?"
"O, Gerald, Gerald, this proves it all."
"It? what?" said Gerald. "Come, don't be so like a girl! I have not been doing any thing wrong, I tell you, and it is all your fault if I can't get clear."
"With such an allowance as you have, O Gerald, how could you? And how could you throw about money at home, when you knew you were in debt?"
"You talk as if I had been ruining my wife and ten small children," cried Gerald, impatiently. "A fine fuss about making a few pounds stand over till next half. But you women go headlong at it, never see the rights of a thing. So, you won't? Well, it is your doing now!"
"I can't see any end to it," said Marian, reflectingly. "If I thought you would make a resolution—but you will be without money at all, and how are you to get through this half? O, Gerald! better write to Mr. Lyddell at once, and he will set you straight, and you can begin fresh."
Gerald made a face of utter contempt. The steam whistle was heard; they were stopping. "There is an end of it, then" said he, angrily. "I did not think you had been so ill-natured; it is all your fault, I tell you. I thought you cared for me."
This was dreadful; Marian's purse was in her hand, and she began "O Gerald dear, anything but that!"—when they found themselves close in front of the station, and Lionel pulling at the door of their carriage, and calling fiercely to the porter to unlock them.
Caroline was standing on the platform, and there was a tumult of greetings and inquiries for luggage to be taken out and put in. Gerald ran to see that his goods were separated from his sister's; Lionel shook hands with Marian, and scolded her for staying away all the holidays; roared to the porter that his portmanteau was for Slough, then turned again to say, "You've heard of poor unfortunate, Marian?"
The bell rang; Gerald ran back; Marian knew she was weak, but could not help it,—she squeezed the two sovereigns into his hand, and was comforted for the moment by his affectionate farewell. Lionel and he threw themselves into their carriage, and were whisked off.
"There!" said Caroline. "Now come along. O, I am so glad you are come; I have so much to say."
Marian could not dwell on Gerald; she put her arm within Caroline's, looked back to see Fanny safe under the care of an Oakworthy footman, and soon was in the carriage.
"Well, Caroline; and how is every one?"
"Pretty well, considering the revulsion of ideas we have all undergone. Poor Miss Morley left plenty of farewells for you. You can't think haw pleased she was with your message."
"Poor thing! Where is she?"
"At her aunt's; she went on Monday. Mamma was impatient to have it over. You know her ways."
Marian knew that this intimated that Caroline thought her mother had not been kind; and she doubted whether to continue her inquiries; but Caroline was too eager to tell, to wait for questions, and proceeded:—"There had been dissatisfaction for a long time, as I believe you may have guessed; mamma thought Clara backward, and wanting in what Miss Morley calls 'the solid;' and at last, coming suddenly into the schoolroom at twelve o'clock one fine day, she found reason good, for they were very comfortably reading M. Eugene Sue."
"O, Caroline, impossible!"
"Too possible," said Caroline, "though I would not believe it at first. However, they did not know what it was when they began, and were afterwards too much bewitched with the story to leave off; and as they felt it was wrong, they read it the more constantly to get it over faster."
"But how in the world could they get such a book?"
"From the circulating library. It appears that they found the evenings rather dull in London this spring, when we were all out, and so began a little secret hiring, which was continued at Oakworthy, and with a worse choice of books."
"That she should be so little to be trusted!"
"Nay, Marian, who could live with her half-an-hour in the schoolroom, and think she could?"
"Certainly, she often puzzled me when first I came."
"And you never saw the worst. You always kept order, after you came."
"O, Caroline, what nonsense!"
"Yes, indeed you did. I do assure you that, scores of times, the knowledge that your great eyes were wondering at me has kept me from bullying Miss Morley into letting me do what I knew to be wrong. I could persuade her and deceive myself, but I could not persuade you; and then all the rest went for nothing, because you were sure to be right."
"It is very easy to see the right for other people," said Marian, with rather a sad smile.
"Yes, only other people don't mind that, unless you do the right for yourself; and that is the thing in you, Marian. If you had said anything, I should not have minded it half so much; but your 'I don't know,' cut me home."
"I am sorry—"
"No, don't be sorry, for I am glad. If you had not come before all the good of Miss Cameron had gone off from me, what should I have been? O, Marian, I am very glad you are come back; I did not know I liked you half so well till you were gone."
"I am sure I might say the same" almost whispered Marian, in a choked tone, under her bonnet. Caroline caught it up eagerly, and seizing her by both hands, exclaimed, stooping forward to peep at her face, "Marian, Marian, do you say so? And are you really not so very miserable at coming back to us?"
A tear, one of Marian's very reluctant tears, actually rushed from her eye, and with a hard struggle to speak, she said, "Miserable! how can you say so? You are so very kind to me."
"And do you not hate us?" said Caroline, with, an arch look of delight, then softened into something of mournfulness. "Nay, I did not mean that; but you can bear to be with us after your own Agnes,—after those good people,—after such a home as Fern Torr?"
"O, Caroline, this is very unlike my first coming to you!"
"Yes, I know we were not kind; we were not as we ought to have been to you."
"No, no, no; I was stiff and disagreeable; I would not be pleased," said Marian, forgetting all coldness but her own.
"No wonder. O, Marian," and Caroline's voice trembled, "no one knows better than I do how much there is to be lamented in our ways of going on,—how different our house is from Fern Torr." Marian could not say no. "You were too good for us; you are still, I would not see you like us; but if we could make you comfortable enough to think Oakworthy not an exile, but something like a home, how glad I should be!"
Marian laid her hand on Caroline's arm; and, with an effort that cost her a spasm in her throat, she said, "You have!" Not another word could she get out; but this was enough. Caroline kissed her for the first time in her life, except at the formal partings at bed-time, and there were tears on both their faces. After a time, Caroline broke into the flood of thoughts in her cousin's mind, by saying, playfully, "When folks are missed, then they are mourned, people say; and I am sure you deserve the compliment, for till you were gone, I never knew your value. How many silly fancies of Clara's have flourished, for want of your indifference to put them down! How stupid it has been not to have you to read with, or talk to! How lonely the drawing-room has been, and nothing but nonsense if I went to the schoolroom. And then the boys,—Lionel has been so unruly there was no bearing it, and grumbling for you every day; and Johnny,—O, Marian, do you know it is settled that Johnny goes to sea, after all?"
"Johnny! I know he wished it, but I thought Mrs. Lyddell never would make up her mind to it."
"Ah! there have been storms in the higher quarters," said Caroline, with would-be gaiety. "You are very lucky to have been away all this time, for it has been by no means a serene sky. You know," she proceeded with gravity, "they say the times are bad; well, in the midst of papa's vexation at the tenants asking for a reduction of rent, in came a whole lot of Elliot's long bills, which made papa lecture Walter and me one whole evening on economy, and caused him to be extremely annoyed with everything and everybody, and to say mamma must give up her opposition to Johnny's being a sailor; and I never saw mamma take anything so really to heart. It has been very uncomfortable; and in the midst came this business of poor Miss Morley, who had rather harder measure in consequence."
"Poor little woman! Well, she was very good-natured," said Marian, glad to turn the conversation from this account of family matters, not given in the pleasantest style, but rather as if Caroline was trying to conceal her real feelings by an air of satire.
"She was like a child in authority. You see, we, who know her well, never think of blaming her as if she had originated the mischief; while mamma, who never did know her, cannot be persuaded that she simply yielded to Clara."
"That is not exactly the object one desires in a governess," said Marian. "Well, poor thing! and how is Clara? is she very sorry?"
"I really can hardly tell. I have been vexed with Clara myself, to tell you the truth; for I thought she acted shabbily. The blame passed over her, and lighted on Miss Morley; and she did not stretch out a hand to help her. Now Clara knew that it was wrong to read those books, just as well as you or I; indeed, it was all her doing; and I could not bear to see, her thinking herself innocent, and led into the scrape by Miss Morley. She did cry excessively, and was very unhappy when she found Miss Morley was really going, and the parting was heart-rending; but then the very next day, in spite of their confidential friendship, she began to disclose the poor woman's follies one after another, till I am quite tired of hearing of them. They must have grown much worse than they were in our time. I never knew then that she was always fancying people were in love with her."
"T wonder what she will do!"
"She would not be a bad governess where the mother looked after the children. Well, I hope she will soon get another situation, poor thing!"
"Yes, indeed, for I am afraid she never saved anything."
"O, no, she frittered all her money away, and always was poor at quarter-day; and she has only that old aunt to take care of her."
"Poor thing, poor thing! If she would but have been firmer. And is Clara to have another governess?"
"No, mamma thinks her too old; but I am sure I hope she is to develope more. I do not think you or I were like her at fifteen."
"I think," said Marian, meditatively, "that Miss Morley and Clara helped what—was not wise in each other."
"Yes, that is my hope,—that when Clara is out of her influence, she may grow wiser. People's minds do grow at different times, you know. Poor little Clara! I want Walter to talk to her, but it is hard to bring about; for they seem to have no common subject. Ours is a very odd household; we all go our own ways in our own worlds. Papa and mamma each have their way; and Elliot his way. Walter stands alone too; then I am a sort of connecting-link between the schoolroom set and mamma,—yes, and with Walter too: while the three boys are a party by themselves. O, Marian, no wonder you did not like us."
"Say no more of that, pray, Caroline."
She made no answer, but after a pause, suddenly exclaimed, "Nothing would matter, if it was not for Elliot. He is the root of all that has gone wrong."
"Is he at home?"
"No; he went last week, and the storm lulled then. O, Marian, I am weary of it all! But it is one comfort that you are come."
Caroline certainly looked very much harassed, and her words showed that every one had been out of temper, and she had been obliged to bear it all. Marian was very sorry, and felt quite fond of her, as she answered, with a kind tone, "Thank you."
"Walter has been the only comfort; but then he has been very unhappy too. I am afraid he knows more and worse of Elliot than he chooses to tell me. And then he is so busy,—going up for his degree, you know, after the vacation, and so nervous about it, that I have not liked to talk to him about anything tiresome, because, poor fellow, he is quite worried enough already. Well, but now tell me about pleasanter things—your pretty Agnes, how is she? and Gerald?—I wanted to have seen more of him. Was not he in glory?"
"O, yes," said Marian, as a pang shot through her at this recall of her anxieties.
"And tell me the whole story of Saunders' wedding."
The two cousins had so much to say, that the long reaches of white chalk road and the bare downs had hardly time to pain Marian's eye; and she was surprised so soon to find herself in the well-known street of Oakworthy.
It was not a hopeful prospect with which to return, after so happy a summer as she had spent; and yet a degree of trouble gave Marian a kindlier feeling towards the Lyddells. If it had not been for Gerald, she would have arrived at Oakworthy in a bright temper. Even now the discontent had been expelled by the dispositions fostered by Mr. Wortley; and if there was a weight on her, it was not a burthen of selfish repining,—the worst burthen of all. That Caroline had really missed her,—that Caroline loved her,—was a discovery that warmed her heart, and inclined her more than all before to look kindly on Oakworthy, when she drove up to the door, and met Clara in the hall.
Clara hung upon her, and overwhelmed her with kisses; Mrs. Lyddell received her just as she had done before; and Walter shook hands cordially, as if he was very glad to see her again. The talk went on about visits and engagements, and each moment made Marian feel that her Sunday world had passed from her, and her workday world begun again.
Clara came to her room with her, partly to see her new maid, and partly to talk with her about Miss Morley; but Marian, not wishing to have Fanny immediately astonished by her random way of talking, gave a sort of stern look and sign, which silenced poor Clara on that subject. There were plenty more, however, and she talked on fast; indeed, Marian had not two minutes alone that whole evening, till, somewhere towards half-past eleven, her cousins bade her a final good-night.
She had time at last to think over that parting with Gerald, which had hung heavily on her all this time, without her being able to enter upon the subject with herself. What did it mean? Was it so very bad a sign? Did it really confirm all her fears? or was it not possible that he might have got into some chance difficulty? Might he not be careless and extravagant, without being seriously in fault? Yes; but this was but of a piece with other things which she had observed. Alone, it might not have been so alarming; but even apart from this, she could not be quite happy about him, after all she had observed. And had she been weak? had she done what was bad for him? O, for some one to consult!—some one under whose charge to put him! Was it her own fault that she had missed the opportunity with Mr. Wortley!
To pray for him was all that could be done, and it in some degree stilled that aching feeling in her heart. Yet, whenever she woke in the night, she seemed to hear Caroline saying, "If it was not for Elliot!" with a foreboding that "If it was not for Gerald!" might be on her tongue in the same manner, for the rest of her life.
Every time Gerald's name was mentioned, there was a pang; every time she thought of him in solitude, the fear and anxiety gained strength. Consciousness of ignorance added to its poignancy; and young as she was, it would be hard to describe how much suffering she underwent in secret, night after night, as she lay awake, in her perplexed musings on that one absorbing thought. Yet they were like those vague nightly terrors of wolves, darkness, or mysterious horrors, from which little children often suffer so much, without revealing them, and entirely shake off by day; for Marian awoke in the morning to cheerfulness and activity, with spirits undepressed, full of interest in things around; and only when reminded of her fears, secretly wincing at the sudden throb of pain.
Marian's days were more at her own disposal than formerly. She might do as she pleased all the morning,—sit in her own room, and choose her own occupation; and she was just beginning to think over two or three bright plans of usefulness. She would make a series of copies, from prints, of Scripture subjects, for the Fern Torr children; she would translate some stories for them, and she had devised many other things to be done; when Caroline one day said to her, "Marian, I don't know if it is asking a great deal, but if you could sit with us sometimes in the morning, it would be a great gain. Mamma wants me to read with Clara. Now, you know I have no authority; and doing it for a lesson, as if it was for Clara's good, will only make her hate it, and pay no attention at all. But if we read together, as if it was for our own benefit, she will join in, and think it a womanly thing."
Marian smiled at the ingenuity of the scheme, such as she would have been a great deal too awkward, as well as too straightforward ever to devise. It was a case where "no" could not have been said, but there were many ways of acting a no; and Marian was so sorry to give up the Scripture drawings, the idea of which had greatly delighted her when proposed by Agnes, that she had it in her heart to have backed out of it as often as she could. A little thought, however, convinced her, that to help Caroline's plans for her sister's good was the foremost duty, that to avoid it would be positive wrong and unkindness; so she resolved to lend herself to it with all her might, even though Agnes might be disappointed.
And pray, why should Agnes be disappointed? Why were the drawing and reading incompatible? Marian had taught herself to think it impossible to do anything for Fern Torr, in public, for fear of being laughed at, or observed upon; and these drawings, which were of sacred subjects, and further involved some alterations of her own, would, she thought, be worse than any. She mused a long time whether this was right feeling or foolish bashfulness, and decided at last that it was a little of the former trying to justify a great deal of the latter, and that Caroline and Clara were not the same thing as Miss Morley and all the boys; so with an effort, which, considering the occasion, was almost absurd in its magnitude, she brought her portfolio down, began to draw, and did not experience anything unpleasant in consequence. It was one of her first practical lessons in the fancifulness of her shyness. Her cousins took interest in what she was about, admired, and helped her to hunt up subjects to make her series complete; indeed the three girls were exceedingly comfortable together, and a pleasant, mutual good-feeling constantly grew between them. Clara was certainly becoming less childish and silly when no longer nominally under the authority of Miss Morley, and the confidante of all her follies, but the companion of two sensible girls, young and bright enough to enter into all the liveliness about her that was not silliness and a great deal that was, and to drive away some of her nonsense by laughing at it.
The mornings were thus pleasant and satisfactory, the afternoons were less certain to be agreeable. If there was a ride, it was delightful, if a walk, it was all very well; but there was a third contingency, to which Marian had become liable, of being carried forth with her green card-case on a morning visiting expedition by Mrs. Lyddell, and this was one which required all her powers of resignation, though the misfortune was much more imaginary than real.
There were three chances of the way of spending the evening too. The first, the family party alone, this was pretty well, and though not charming, was by far the best; Mrs. Lyddell's talk was agreeable, and to sit with Caroline, and perhaps with the addition of Walter, at the small table, working, reading, and talking, was as quiet and comfortable a way of passing the time as might be. A dinner party at home was next best, for she had her own quiet corners of conversation, and Walter would sometimes come and take shelter there too, and get into a talk, as well as if the room were empty of company, sometimes better, because his mother could not hear him, and he was never so backward in telling his real mind, as in her hearing. Worst of all was a party from home, where she knew few persons, and disliked all she knew.
Unhappily, this was generally her feeling towards all the neighbourhood; and though it may seem to be a strong expression, it is scarcely too much to say that in Marian's habitual frame she looked on every one that could be considered as company in the light of natural enemies, leagued to prevent her walks and rides, to tease her, and to spoil her evenings.
This was partly the result of her constitutional shyness, but it would have gone off, by this time, if she had not fostered it by imbibing Lady Marchmont's exclusiveness. Marian would have been shocked to realize how she despised and scorned her acquaintance—why? the answer would have been hard to find—because they were company—because they were the world—because they were Mrs. Lyddell's society—because she was superior? How or why? She disdained them all, without knowing it, and far less knowing why. She complied scrupulously with every rule of formal politeness, and had become a tolerable mistress, by rote, of such common-place small talk as served to fulfil her part, and make her not feel herself absurd, but this was all; she would not let herself be pleased or amused, she would not open her eyes to anything good or agreeable about the people, except a very few favoured ones, chiefly clergymen or their wives.
It was very wrong, it was Marian's one great fault at this period of her life, and it had the effect of making her almost disliked. Clara had scarcely said too much in telling Agnes that her pride was often remarked, for Mrs. Lyddell's neighbours were just the people to fancy pride where it was not, especially where the rank was superior to their own. Tall, handsome, and outwardly self-possessed, Miss Arundel did not gain credit, from superficial observers, for shyness, and was looked upon as a very haughty ungracious girl, while it was whispered that Mrs. Lyddell had had a great deal of trouble with her.
The autumn passed on in this manner, and towards its close, Elliot returned from shooting in Scotland, and announced that his friend, Mr. Faulkner, was coming to Oakworthy, to look at an estate, which was for sale in the neighbourhood.
Mrs. Lyddell was pleased, and questioned her son about Mr. Faulkner's thousands a-year; then turning to Marian, said,
"Surely, Marian, you know him; I heard of your meeting him and Lady Julia at Lady Marchmont's."
"Yes," said Marian, with her face of rigidity.
"Ah! yes, to be sure, he told me so," said Elliot.
"Any one but Marian would be impatient to know what he said of her," said Caroline.
"Do you want to know yourself, Caroline?" said Elliot; "shall I tell you?"
"Yes, do," said Caroline, in her curiosity, forgetting that Marian might be pained.
"Ah! you ought to be warned if you want to set your cap at him, for she has forestalled you. Let me see, what was it he said? O, that Lady Marchmont would scarcely be alone in her glory long, for, for such as liked the style of thing, her cousin was as perfect a piece of carving in white marble as he ever had seen."
White marble was certainly not the comparison for Marian's cheeks at that moment; it was pain and horror to her even to hear that she had been spoken of between Elliot and Mr. Faulkner, and to be told it in this manner, in public, was perfectly dreadful. She could neither sink under the table nor run away, so with crimson face and neck, she kept her post on the sofa, and every one saw she was intensely annoyed. Elliot, who had told it in a mischief-making spirit, fancying he should make his sister jealous, walked away, amusing himself with the notion that he had sown the dragon's teeth; Caroline was very sorry to have caused such painful blushes, yet was proud to hear of Marian's being admired; and Mrs. Lyddell said not a word, but worked on with a jerk at her thread, trying to persuade herself that she was not vexed that, as Elliot said, her daughter had been forestalled.
Marian did not recover herself sufficiently to say one word about Mr. Faulkner till she was in her own room, and then when Caroline came, to pity her for her blushes, and apologize for having occasioned them, she said, "O! how I wish he was not coming!"
"Why, don't you like him in return for his admiration?"
"He is a horrible man!" said Marian.
"Horrible, and why? What has he done to you? I am sure you are very ungrateful."
"Don't talk of it," said Marian, blushing furiously again, then recollecting that she might give rise to a suspicion that he had already said something to her, she added, "I don't—I don't mean anything about that nonsense."
"Well, but what do you mean? Is it really anything more than his being Elliot's friend, and having dared to—."
"No, but Caroline, don't say anything about it; it was what I heard about him at the Marchmonts."
"It does not seem fair to tell how they talked over their guests, so don't repeat it again, pray."
"You seem to find it like having a tooth drawn. Well! I am sworn to secrecy. I won't tell a living creature."
"I am sure I know hardly anything, only that Lord Marchmont thinks very badly of him, and was quite sorry he had been asked to dinner. And he spoke of his having taken up Germanism, and oh! Caroline, for a man's faith to be unsettled is the worst of all, for then there is nothing to fall back upon."
Caroline stood by Marian's fire, looking thoughtful for some moments. "Yes," she said, "you and Walter are in the same mind there, but it is not like what I was brought up to think. Miss Cameron used to teach us that the being in earnest in believing was the thing rather than the form of faith."
"O, Caroline, that cannot be right. We have been commanded to hold one form of faith, and it must be wrong to set up another and hold it."
"Yes, but if people are not clear that only one was given to every one, and that just as we say it is?"
"Then it is very bad of them!" said Marian indignantly, "for I am sure the Bible is quite clear—one faith—the form of sound words—the faith once delivered to the saints."
"I am quite clear about it," said Caroline.
"O, of course," said Marian, looking at her with a sort of alarm at her speaking of the possibility as regarded herself of not being clear.
"But if people are not clear, what are they to do?"
"I don't know," said Marian, quickly; "only I hope I shall never have anything to do with such people; I can't judge for them; I had rather not think about them; it is of no use."
"Of no use—what, not if you could do such a person good?"
"Only in this way," said Marian, taking up her Prayer Book, and turning to the Collect for Good Friday.
"Yes, but trying to convince?"
"I should be afraid."
"Afraid! Marian, I am sure nothing could hurt your faith."
"I would not try," said Marian, shaking her head sadly.
"But at that rate no one ever would be converted?"
"You forget that there are clergymen."
"Yes, but other people have done good."
"O yes, but not women by arguing. O no, no, Caroline, we never ought to put our weakness forward, as if it could guard the truth. You know the wrong side may find stronger arguments than we are able to do—mind I don't say than can be found—of course truth is the strongest of all, but we may be overpowered, though the truth is not. We women should not stand out to argue for the truth any more than we should stand out to fight as champions in the right cause."
"And is this the reason you never would argue?"
"I don't know—I mean no, it was only because I had nothing to say; I knew when a thing was right, but could not tell why, and the more you asked, the more I did not know."
"And do you know now?"
"Sometimes," said Marian, "not often, but Mr. Wortley taught me some things, and one grows up to others. But I could never explain even when I know."
"For instance—" said Caroline, laughing.
"O that came, I don't know how. Have I said so much?"
"A great deal that is very nice. Good night, Marian."
"She seemed some nymph in her sedan, Apparelled in exactest sort, And ready to be borne to court."
Mr. Faulkner came at the time appointed, and Caroline, who had kept Marian's counsel, according to promise, was very curious to see how they would behave towards each other. As to Marian, she was just what might be expected,—more cold, distant, and stately than she had ever been to the most vulgar of Mrs. Lyddell's acquaintance. She gave a chilling bend to repel his attempt at shaking hands, made replies of the shortest when he tried to talk to her, and would not look up, or put on the slightest air of interest, at all the entertaining stories he was telling at dinner.
The others were all extremely pleased with him. Elliot had never before brought home so agreeable a friend; a person who could talk of anything but hunting and racing was a new thing among his acquaintance, and every one was loud in his praise. Caroline, from having been prejudiced against him by Marian's history, was more surprised than the others: and scolded Marian, in the evening, for not having told them how very agreeable he was.
"I never can think any one agreeable when I know there is hollowness within," said Marian.
"I suppose Lord Marchmont knows," said Caroline, in a tone of annoyance and of a little doubt; and there the conversation ended.
Few people were ever more agreeable than Mr. Faulkner. He had read everything, travelled everywhere, and was full of conversation suited to every one. If Marain had not heard Lord Marchmont's account of him, she must have liked him; but knowing what she did, she could and would not: looking at him something as Madame Cottin's Matilde first looked at Malek Adel, and not suffering herself to lose any of her horror. For the first day or two her frigidity was something wonderful, as she found him inclined to make attempts to cultivate her acquaintance; but she thoroughly succeeded in repelling him. He left off trying to talk to her; and one day when they were obliged to go in to dinner together, only exchanged the fewest and most formal of words with her, and positively neglected her for his other neighbour.
After this, Marian did not quite so much overdo her stateliness. She could afford to be like herself with the others, even when he was in the room, though she never voluntarily took part in a conversation in which he was engaged, and her coldest air came over her whenever he approached. And it was well for her she could be so; for he stayed more than a fortnight, decided on buying the estate of High Down, and was asked to come again and make his head-quarters at Oakworthy, while superintending the alterations. All were sorry when he went; even the boys, whose first holiday week had been rendered very agreeable by his good nature. Johnny and Gerald vied with each other in his praise, heaping together a droll medley of schoolboy panegyrics; and Marian, not wishing to tell them of her objections, allowed that he had been very kind to them.
The Christmas holidays passed, and left no change in the impression on her mind regarding Gerald; only she heard no news of her two sovereigns, and he did not so much as give her the opportunity of speaking to him alone. The heartache was growing worse than ever, and she was beginning to have a sort of desperate feeling that she would—she would—do she knew not what—write to Mr. Wortley—write more strongly to Gerald than she had ever yet dared to do—when one morning, a foreign looking letter arrived, in handwriting she knew full well, though it had never before been addressed to herself. There was company staying in the house, and Marian was not sorry it was impossible to read it at the breakfast table. She did not know what she was eating or what she was saying, and ran away with it as soon as she could, to enjoy it in her own room. A letter from Edmund! Could it be possible, or could it—O disappointing thought!—be only some enclosure for her to forward. In alarm at the idea, she tore it open. A long letter, and quite certainly to herself; for there stood the three welcome words, "My dear Marian." She glanced hastily down the first page, to make sure that there was nothing the matter; but no, it was all right—he wrote in his own lively style. He began by saying it was so long since he had heard from England, that he was growing afraid he was forgotten, and felt very small when the post came in, and brought something for every one but him; and he was going to try a fresh person, since he was growing desperate, and had sent appeals in vain to all his correspondents. He asked many questions about home friends, and about Marian herself; and then told much to interest her about his own doings, his way of living, and his hunting expeditions, with all the strange wild beasts with which they had made him acquainted, and he concluded thus:—"I hope you will write soon, and that you will be able to give me a flourishing account of Gerald. His silence may mean nothing, but it may also mean so much, that to hear he is going on particularly well would be double satisfaction just at present. Therefore with a view to what passed in our last walk at Oakworthy, tell me if you are completely satisfied with regard to him."
It was a ray of light upon all Marian's perplexities; showing her what course to take, and filling her with hope. Her confidence in Edmund's power of setting everything right was still unchanged, and when Gerald's case was fully before him, he would know how to judge, and what to do; it would all be safe and off her mind. She felt sure that this had been the very reason of his writing; and full of gratitude, and infinitely relieved, she opened her desk, as if to answer was the easiest and most comfortable thing in the world.
She did not, however, get on quite as fast as she expected; she dreaded equally the saying too much, or too little,—the giving Edmund actually a bad impression of her poor Gerald, or letting him think that there was no cause for anxiety. Then she thought the best way would be merely to give the facts, and let him draw his own conclusions; but these facts were in themselves trifles light as air, and it seemed unkind to send them across half the world. She left off trying to write, and resolved to give herself time for consideration; but time only made her more perplexed. She waited a week, wrote at last, and as soon as her letter was fairly gone, thought of forty different ways of saying the thing better and more justly, dwelt again and again on each line that could convoy a false impression one way or the other, and reproached herself by turns for having spoken disadvantageously of her dear affectionate brother, and for not having let her cousin fairly see the full extent of the mischief. On the whole, however, she was much happier now that it was all in Edmund's hands; so much so, that when Mr. Faulkner came again, she could not be quite so stiff; and being entirely relieved from the fear of his taking notice of her, could do him the favour of laughing when he told anything amusing.
Winter and early spring came and went; the Easter holidays brought Gerald home, and she tried again in vain to get him to write to Edmund; but she could bear it better now that she had hopes.
They went to London, and Marian was carried into the midst of all the gaieties supposed to befit her age and situation. Mrs. Lyddell would have thought herself very far from "doing her justice," if she had not taken her to all the balls and parties in her way; and Marian was obliged to submit, and get into the carriage, when she had much rather have gone to bed.
She put off the expectation of much enjoyment till Lady Marchmont should come, and her arrival took place unusually late that season. She had not been well, and little Willie had been somewhat ailing; so that the bringing him into London air was put off as long as possible. It was not till the latter part of May that she came, as she had always promised to do, in time for Marian's presentation at court, on which both she and Mrs. Lyddell were bent; and Marian ready to endure it, by the help of a few romantic thoughts of loyalty. The day after Lady Marchmont arrived, she called at Mrs. Lyddell's and came in, as she generally did once in a year. After her visit was over, she asked Marian to come and take a drive, and no sooner where they in the carriage, than she exclaimed, "A nice looking girl, that Miss Lyddell! Is she the one who is to marry Mr. Faulkner?"
"O, Selina! how could you have heard such nonsense?"
"What, is it to be denied? It is not settled, then?"
"No, nor ever will be."
"Why, surely the man has been spending months at Oakworthy."
"Only weeks; besides, he was buying a house."
"A very proper preliminary to a wife."
"O, no, no it is impossible!"
"But why? Perhaps you know some good reason to the contrary; for I heard he admired you very much when he met you last year."
"Don't say such things, Selina. How could you fancy it possible, after all the horrid things Lord Marchmont said of him!"
"What is impossible, my dear? That he should think you very handsome?"
"Don't, Selina, pray don't! That any body good for any thing should ever marry him!"
"Any body good for any thing!" repeated Selina. "Well, granted,—and it is a considerable grant,—does that make the supposition out of the question?"
"Yes, as regards Caroline. O, Selina! you do not know Caroline, or you would not look so incredulous!"
"Time will show," said Lady Marchmont, gaily. "I reserve to myself the satisfaction of having known it beforehand."
"It never will be," said Marian. "And how is little Willie?"
"Very well, poor little man, if he would only grow, but he is so small, that I am fairly ashamed to show such a hop-o'-my-thumb. But he is coming out quite a genius; he reads as well as I do, and makes the wisest speeches."
And the history of his wise speeches occupied them for some time, with other matters, until just as their drive was nearly concluded, Selina exclaimed, "But all this time I have never asked you if you can throw any light on this extraordinary step of Edmund Arundel's?"
"What do you mean?" cried Marian.
"Have you not heard that he has exchanged, and is coming home? The most foolish thing,—just as he might have been sure of promotion. It is not likely to be health, for the climate agreed very well with him."
"Yes," assented Marian, wrapt in her own thoughts; "but did he write to you?"
"Not a word; we only saw it in the Gazette, and Lord Marchmont would hardly believe it could be he; but it was but too plain,—Lieutenant Edmund Gerald Arundel. It is very strange; he was not wont to do foolish things."
"No," said Marian, mechanically.
"And you know nothing about it? You know him better than we do. Ho seemed the very man for the Colonies, with no ties at home, unless—no, it is impossible—unless there could be a lady in the case."
"O, no!" replied Marian colouring so much at the secret consciousness of his motive, that Selina laughed, saying, "I could almost suspect you, in spite of your demureness, of being the very lady. However, I am glad you think there is no truth in my surmise, for he could not do a more absurd thing than marry. Only when a man gives up all his prospects in this way, there is nothing too preposterous to be expected to come next."
By this time they were at Mrs. Lyddell's door, and Marian gladly escaped, feeling stunned at the effect her letter had produced. How noble, how kind, how generous, how self-devoted Edmund was! this was the prominent thought. She knew him to be very fond and very proud of his regiment, to be much attached to several of his brother officers, and to have given them more of his affection than persons with home interests generally do; indeed, they had served him instead of home. All his success in life, and his hopes of promotion, given up too,—sacrifices which she could not estimate; and it was she who had caused them. She had thoughtlessly led him to do himself all this injury, out of his kindness and affection, and his sense of duty towards her and her brother. She was very unhappy when she thought of this; then came the bright ray of joy and relief in hope and confidence for Gerald,—Gerald saved, saved from corruption, ruin, from being like Elliot, from breaking her heart, made all that his father and mother would have made him, her pride, her delight, the glory and honour of Fern Torr,—O, joy, joy! And the mere seeing Edmund again,—joy, joy! Yes, the joy far predominated over the pain and regret; indeed, be the injury to himself what it might, who could be sorry that he had acted so nobly? Yes, Marian was happy; her eyes were bright, her smile frequent; she laughed with Clara, she romped with little Willie Marchmont, she was ungracious to none but Mr. Faulkner who came to the house so much, that she began to fear that Caroline might have the annoyance of an offer from him, more especially since he had made his mother and sister call on Mrs. Lyddell, and Miss Faulkner seemed to intend to be intimate.
The day of the drawing-room had come; Mrs. Lyddell and Caroline were going, and Marian was of course to go with Lady Marchmont. She had just been full dressed, and had come down stairs to wait for Lady Marchmont's carriage, when a step was heard approaching. She thought it was the servant, to announce it; it was the servant, but the announcement was not what she expected. It was "Mr. Arundel,"—and Edmund stood before her, browner, thinner, older, but still Edmund himself.
She could not have spoken; she only held out her hand, and returned his strong pressure with all the force her soft fingers were capable of. Mrs. Lyddell spoke, he answered, explanations were given and received, and still she stood as if she was dreaming, until he turned to her, and said, "Well, Marian, these are transformations indeed?"
"I can't help it," said Marian.
"Do you think I want you to help it? I suppose I need not ask if the Marchmonts are in town?"
"Lady Marchmont presents Marian," said Mrs. Lyddell; "we expect her carriage every minute."
And just then the announcement really came.
"Her carriage, not herself?" said Edmund. "Well, I think I might go with you to her house, Marian, if your feathers are not ashamed of such shabby company."
"O, pray come!"
"And you will return to dinner, I hope, Mr. Arundel," said Mrs. Lyddell, "at half-past seven? Mr. Lyddell will be so glad to see you."
Edmund accepted the invitation, and the two cousins went down stairs together. As soon as they were in the carriage, Edmund said, "A lucky moment to come in. It is something to have seen you in all your splendour. You have grown into something magnificent!"
"All this finery makes me look taller than I really am."
"Nevertheless, however you may try to conceal it, I am afraid you have turned into the full grown cat. I saw it in your letter."
"O, Edmund, I am so sorry I wrote that letter."
"Why? Are you happier about Gerald?"
"No, I don't know that I am," said Marian, sighing; "but—but I little thought it would make so much difference to you. I did not know what I was doing."
"I am glad of it, or you would not have written so freely; though after all you could not have helped being like a sensible straightforward person."
"O, it is untold relief that you are come; and yet I must be sorry—"
"I won't have you sorry. No one should regret having told the honest truth. The fact is, I ought never to have gone. And poor Gerald?"
"I have no more to say, only vague fears. But now you are come, it is all right."
"Don't trust too much to me, Marian. Remember, it will be a generous thing in Gerald if he attends to me at all. He is not obliged to do so."
"You will—you must do everything. Gerald is as fond of you as ever, I know he is, though he would not write. O, I am glad! You heard of our delightful going home, I hope?"
"Yes. All well there?" said Edmund, hurriedly.
"Very well. Agnes is grown so tall, and it is so very nice there. The old Manor house—"
"Well," he broke in suddenly; "and how do you get on with Selina Marchmont."
"She is very, very kind. But O! here we are in her street, and I shall have no more of you to-day."
"Not at dinner?"
"O; it is a great, horrid party, as Mrs. Lyddell should have warned you."
"Could not I take you in to dinner?"
"I am afraid not. Mrs. Lyddell will never treat me as if I was at home, and I am afraid there is an honourable man that I must be bestowed on."
They had reached Lady Marchmont's door, and going up stairs, found her looking like a princess in a fairy tale, in her white plumes and her diamonds; and Willie, the smallest, most delicate, and prettiest of little boys, admiring the splendours of his papa's yeomanry uniform.
In spite of being considerably provoked with Edmund for having come home, Lord and Lady Marchmont welcomed him with as much warmth as if it was the most prudent thing he could have done. They insisted on his coming to stay at their house, and as it was full time to set off, left him to see about his worldly goods being transported thither.
"Has he told you his reason, Marian?" asked Selina, as soon as the two ladies and their trains were safely disposed of, in the carriage.
"I know them," said Marian, her colour rising, "and most noble they are; but I had rather let him tell you himself."
"Marian's discretion again," said Lord Marchmont, smiling.
"Only set me at rest on one point," said Selina; "it is no love affair, I hope?"
"No, indeed," said Marian; "or do you think he would have told me?"
Probably there were few young ladies who played their part that day in the drawing-room, that last remnant of the ancient state and majesty of our courts, with happier minds, or less intent on their own appearance, than Marian Arundel. She was very glad when the bustle and crowd were over, and she could be alone to enjoy the certainty that Edmund was really at home again.
He came according to promise that evening, but she could not have much conversation with him, as he was placed at a distance from her, the greater part of the time. He was not sorry to be thus able to watch her, though he did not see her in the point of view in which she pleased him best. She looked better now, he thought, than in the court dress; for the broad, simple, antique braids of her dark hair, only adorned by two large pearl pins, suited better than the plumes and lappets, with the cast of her classical features. All that he had thought promised beauty, as a child, had fulfilled the promise, and the countenance, the expression, would have been fine, seen on a much plainer face, and as she eat there, her black, shady eyes cast down, her dark pencilled eyebrows contrasting with her colourless cheek, and her plain white drapery in full folds, flowing round her, she might have been some majestic lady in a mysterious picture, who had stepped from her frame into a scene belonging to another age. She looked as if she was acting a tableau; she moved, indeed, and smiled, and spoke occasionally; but the queen-like deportment of her neck did not relax; her lips resumed their statue-like expression; there was no smile about the eye, no interest in the air. She was among the company, but not of them; neither shy nor formal, but as if she belonged to some other sphere, and had only come there by mistake. Edmund could have counted the times, for they were few enough, when her head bent forward with eagerness, and there was animation in her face.
How different from Caroline! her brightly coloured, blooming face sparkling with life and light; flowers among her light, shining hair; her dress of well-chosen, tasteful, brilliant tints, ornament, lace and ribbon, all well assorted in kind and quantity, her alert, lively movements carrying her from one group to another, with something pleasant and appropriate to say to all, bringing smiles and animation with her wherever she went. Not that Edmund did not prefer his cousin's severe simplicity, and admire it as something grand; but that stern grandeur was not all that fitted the place; and though he thought her beautiful, he was not satisfied.
Edmund had some talk with Mrs. Lyddell, who spoke of Gerald with great warmth; more, he thought, than she showed in the mention of Marian. He stayed till the last, and saw the relaxation of her grand company-face, before he wished them good night.
"Well," said Mrs. Lyddell, as the door closed behind him, and she lighted her candle, "Africa has not robbed Mr. Arundel of all his good looks. How old is he?"
"Nearly twenty-eight," said Marian.
"I am always forgetting that he is so young," said Mrs. Lyddell. "Well, good night. I wonder what brought him home?"
"I do not wonder, for it is plain enough," said Caroline, as the girls turned up their own staircase.
"Marian tries to look innocent," said Clara, laughing violently.
"I am sure I don't understand," said Marian.
"Now I am sure that is on purpose to make us explain," said Clara. "It is too bad, Marian; when he came straight to you, instead of going to Lady Marchmont."
"And the tete-a-tete in the carriage," said Caroline.
"Don't be so ridiculous," said Marian; "but I believe you like such jokes so well, that you would make them out of anything."
"I don't make a joke of it at all. I always thought it was with that very view, he was made your guardian."
"You very absurd persons, good night!" said Marian, shutting her door, and laughing to herself at such a very ludicrous idea as such a scheme on the part of her father.
These kind of jokes, of which some people are still very fond, may be very hurtful, since a young girl's inexperience may found far more upon them than the laughers ever intended. Caroline and Clara were not acting a kind part, though they were far from any unkind meaning. Marian had great susceptibility and deep affections; and had her mind been less strong, her happiness might have been seriously injured. Even if their observations had no real meaning, and no effect on her heart, yet they could not fail to occasion her many moments of embarrassment, and might interfere with her full, free confidence in her best and earliest friend.
In some degree they had this result. Marian began to be aware that her situation with Edmund was not without awkwardness,—that he was still a young man, and that she was now a young woman; and whilst shocked at herself, and disliking the moment that had opened the door to the thought, was obliged to consider how far there might be truth in the suggestion.
She was quite sure that she had influenced him strongly, quite sure that he regarded her with warm affection; she wished she was equally sure it was with a brother's love. Yes, she wished, for to think otherwise would lower him in her estimation. He was her first cousin, and if first cousins had better not marry he would never think of it; besides, the merit of his sacrificing all for Gerald's good would be lost, and his return would have been an act of self-gratification instead of self-devotion. No, she would not, could not believe any such thing; she was certain Edmund never would be so weak as to wish to do anything only doubtfully right, and thus, strangely enough, her full trust in the dignity of his character, prevented her from imagining him in love with her.
Still she knew her cousins were watching her, and this prevented her from ever meeting him in thorough comfort at Mr. Lyddell's; and even when at Lord Marchmont's, her maidenly reserve had been so far awakened as to make her shrink back from the full freedom of their former intercourse. This, however, was more in her feeling than in her manners, which, if they differed at all from what they were formerly, only seemed to be what naturally arose from her growth in years.
She observed that he was not in good spirits. It was not what others, not even Selina, could perceive, but Edmund and Marian had known each other too well and too long, not to read each other's faces, and know the meaning of each other's tones. She did not expect him to be as merry as in olden days at home, nor did she desire it; but there was more depression about him than she thought comfortable, and she was sure that it was an effort to him to talk in the lively way that had once been natural to him. She was afraid he felt the separation from his friends in his old regiment very severely, or else that he was very anxious about Gerald, and yet she had found out that the tenderest point of all was Fern Torr, for he either would not or could not speak of that, but always contrived to turn the conversation as soon as it was touched upon. She grieved over his unhappiness a great deal, and yet would not enter on any questioning, from an innate feeling, that it would not be becoming. He was only to stay a very short time in London, before joining his regiment at Portsmouth, and he meant to go and spend a day at Eton to see Gerald, but Lady Marchmont suddenly proposed that they should all go together; she said she must inspect Eton before Master Willie was ready to go, and that it would be a charming scheme to take Marian and surprise Gerald. Marian had a few secret doubts whether this was exactly the most suitable way of fulfilling Edmund's intentions, but it was so delightful a treat that she laid aside her scruples, and Selina coaxed her husband into finding a day to accompany them.
So one fine June morning, the day before Edmund's departure, they set off, Selina's high spirits and Marian's happiness giving the party a very joyous aspect. Father Thames looked as stately and silvery as ever, the playing fields smiled in the sunshine, and Windsor Castle looked down on them majestically. Marian felt it a holiday to have escaped from London into so fair a scene, and even if she had come for nothing else, would have been happy in beholding some of the most honoured spots in the broad realm of England.
She had many questions to ask, but Lord Marchmont was taken up with showing his old haunts to his wife, and she was walking some distance in front, with Edmund, on whose face there was an expression of melancholy thought that she would not disturb. He was an Etonian, and how fall of remembrances must all be around him.
Presently two or three boys met them running, and were passing them, when Marion exclaimed, "There is Lionel!" "Lyddell!" called Edmund, and one of them stopped, so taken by surprise that Marian was for a moment horrified by thinking she had mistaken him; but the next glance re-assured her, for she knew Lionel's way of standing, and his hat pulled far over his forehead.
"Lionel," said she, "where is Gerald?"
"Hallo! You here!" said he, wheeling round so that the light might not be in his eyes, and shading them with one hand while he tried to make out Edmund, and gave his other hand to Marian.
"How did you come here? Are any of the people at home here?"
"No, this is my cousin Edmund. I am come with the Marchmonts."
"You have quite forgotten me," said Edmund, shaking hands.
"Not if I could see you," said Lionel, frowning at the light, as he looked up.
"O, Lionel, how bad your eyes are!" exclaimed Marion.
"I have just been reading, and there is such a hideous sunshine to-day," said Lionel.
"And where is Gerald?"
"I'll go and fetch him."
"Where is he?"
"I'll find him," and off he ran, with a fresh pull of his hat over his forehead to keep off the hideous sunshine. The Marchmonts came up at the moment, and were told who he was, and that he was gone to find Gerald. Edmund asked what was the matter with his eyes.
"They are never very good," said Marian. "Reading and strong light always hurt them."
"Has he had any advice?"
"The surgeon at Oakworthy looked at them last Christmas, when the snow dazzled them, but he did not think there was much amiss with them. It was always so. But where can Gerald be?"
In the space of about five minutes, Gerald and Lionel appeared, and the former came up to them alone, with a look which had more of shyness than of pleasure, and his greeting, while more courteous, was less open and cordial than Lionel's had been. They all went together to the house of the boys' tutor, who had also been Edmund's; there was a great maze of talking and introductions: Lady Marchmont made herself very charming to the mistress of the house: Edmund and the tutor disappeared together, and did not come back till the others had nearly finished a most hospitable luncheon; after which the visitors set out to see all that there was time to see, and Marian caused Gerald to fetch Lionel to accompany them.
Lionel walked with Edmund and Marian, but Gerald on the other hand attached himself to Lord and Lady Marchmont, talking to them freely and pleasantly, answering Selina's questions, much to her amusement and satisfaction, and Lord Marchmont comparing notes with him, as old Etonians delight to do with "the sprightly race, disporting" for the time being, on the "margen green" of Father Thames. A particularly lively, pleasant, entertaining, well-mannered boy was Gerald, but, all the time, Marian was feeling that he was holding aloof both from her and Edmund, never allowing either of them the opportunity of speaking to him alone, for even a minute; and his manner, whenever Edmund either spoke to him or looked at him, was such as to betray to her that he was ill at ease.
Thus it was while they viewed the chapel, the court, with what Selina was pleased to call "Henry's holy shade," the upper school, the hundred steps, the terrace, and beautiful S. George's, with its gorgeous banners and carved stalls, and blazoned shields, that glimpse into the Gothic world of chivalry and romance; and in the midst of it that simple flat stone, which thrills the heart with a deep feeling at once of love, sorrow and reverence; that stone which recalls the desolate night which, in darkness and ruin, amid torn banners, and scutcheons riven, saw the Martyr king go white to his grave. Marian entered into all these things, in spite of her anxiety, for her mind was free enough to be open to external objects, now that her brother was in Edmund's hands, and she was relieved of that burthen of responsibility which had so pressed on her.
Such was their Eton day, and with no more satisfaction from Gerald did they part at the Slough station. The Marchmonts were loud in his praise, Marian sought the real opinion in Edmund's eyes, but he was leaning back, looking meditative, and when first he roused himself to enter into conversation, it was of Lionel and not of Gerald that he spoke.
"Do you say that any one has looked at that boy's eyes?"
"Yes, Mr. Wells, the Oakworthy apothecary."
"Do you know what is thought of him?"
"I don't know," said Marian considering. "He attends a good many people, I believe he is thought well of; but no one ever is ill at home, so I have no experience of him. Yes, he was called in once when we all had the measles, and last winter about Lionel's eyes. I am sure I don't know whether he is what you would call a good doctor or not; all I know is, that he is not at all like Dr. Oldham."
Edmund smiled. "Has Mrs. Lyddell not been uneasy?"
"O no!" said Marian. "No one ever troubles their head about Lionel, besides it was always so."
"His eyes were always weak, and easily tired and dazzled, from the very first when I knew him. They don't look as if there was anything amiss with them, and so people don't suspect it."
"I think they do look very much amiss," said Edmund. "Do not you observe an indistinctness about the pupil, between it and the iris? Can you tell whether that was always the case?"
"I don't know, I see what you mean. I should say it had begun of late. Do you think it so bad a sign?" she asked anxiously.
"I am not sure; I only know if he belonged to me, I should not like it at all."
Marian pondered and feared, and considered if it would be possible to stir up Mrs. Lyddell; she herself was much startled, and rather indignant; but she doubted greatly whether poor Lionel was of sufficient importance in the family for any one to be very anxious on his account. In the meantime, she was extremely desirous of hearing what account Edmund had received from the tutor respecting her brother, but she had no opportunity till late in the evening, when he came and sat by her on the sofa, saying, "Now, Marian, I will answer your anxious eyes, though I am afraid I have nothing very satisfactory to tell you. I don't know that there is any positive harm—it is only the old story of a clever boy with too much money, and too much left to himself. Idleness and thoughtlessness."
"And what shall you do?"
"I don't know—I must think."
Whereupon they both sat silent.
"I shall see you again in the summer," said he.
"O yes—perhaps you will come in Gerald's holidays."
Another silence, then she said, "Do you think very badly of poor Lionel's eyes?"
"No, I don't say that, for I know nothing, only I wonder his family are not more anxious."
"I shall see if Mrs. Lyddell will believe there is cause for alarm."
The carriage was announced, she wished him good-bye again, thanked her cousins for her pleasant day, and departed, wondering to herself how it could have been a pleasant day, as after all it had been, in spite of doubt and anxiety and care.
She told Mrs. Lyddell when she came in, that she had seen Lionel.
"How were his eyes?" asked Caroline.
"I am afraid they were more dazzled than usual."
No one said anything, and after a pause she went on. "Edmund remarked a sort of indistinctness about the pupil, which he said was not a good sign."
"What was that?" said Mr. Lyddell looking up, and Marian, startled, yet glad to have attracted his notice, repeated what she had said. "Did not Wells look at his eyes last winter?" he said, turning to his wife.
"Yes, he said he could not see anything the matter with them—they must be spared—and he sent a mixture to bathe them. Lionel has been using it continually."
"How would it be to have him up here to see some one?" said Mr. Lyddell.
"Better wait for the holidays," answered his wife. "It would be the worst thing possible to set him thinking, about his eyes in the middle of the half-year. Little as he does now, it would soon be less, and his eyes have kept him back so much already that he really cannot afford to lose any more time."
There it ended, Mrs. Lyddell was not to be alarmed; she had been too long used to prosperity even to contemplate the possibility that harm should come nigh to her or to her dwelling. Mr. Lyddell, who left all family matters to her, forgot all about it, and though Marian talked Caroline into some fears on the subject, Caroline could do no more than she could herself.
"Benedict. What, my dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?"
"Beatrice. Is it possible Disdain should die while she has such meet food to feed her?"
Much Ado about Nothing.
The Lyddell family did not continue in London much longer; it had been a short season, and though the session of Parliament was not over, most of the ladies were taking flight into the country, before the end of June,—Mrs. Lyddell among the rest,—and her husband went backwards and forwards to London, as occasion called him.
The girls were glad to get into the country, but Marian soon found that she had not escaped either from gaieties, or from the objects of her aversion; for Mr. Faulkner brought his mother and sisters to High Down House, gave numerous parties there, and made a constant interchange of civilities with the family at Oakworthy. Archery was pretty much the fashion with the young ladies that year; it was a sport which Marian liked particularly, having often practised it with Edmund and Agnes, and her bow and arrows were always the first to be ready.
One day when Marian, Caroline, and Clara were shooting on the lawn at Oakworthy, Mr. and Miss Faulkner rode from High Down, came out on the lawn, and joined them. From that moment, any one could see the change that came over Marian. Instead of laughing and talking, teaching Clara, and paying only half attention to her own shooting, she now went on as if it was her sole object, and as if she had no other purpose in life. She fixed her arrows and twanged her string with a rigidity as if the target had been a deadly enemy, or her whole fate was concentrated in hitting the bull's eye; and when her arrows went straight to the mark, or at least much straighter than those of any one else, she never turned her head, or vouchsafed more than the briefest answer to the exclamations around.
The others were talking of archery in general and in particular,—just what, if it had not been Mr. Faulkner, would have delighted her; but she would not hear him. He might speak of the English long-bow, and the cloth yard-shaft, and the butts at which Elizabeth shot, and the dexterity required for hitting a deer, and of the long arrow of the Indian, and the Wourali reed of South America,—as long as he spoke it was nothing to her, let Caroline smile and answer, and appeal to her as much she would. Then came a talk about archery meetings and parties, in which at last they all grew so eager, that they stood still round the return target, and Marian could not shoot back again without perilling them; so she unstrung her bow, and stood apart with a stern face, which made her look a great deal more like Diana, than she by any means suspected or desired.
Two days after, there came a note from Miss Faulkner,—Julia, as she had requested to be called,—saying that her brother was so delighted with the archery schemes that had been discussed, that he could not give them up, and intended to give a grand fete at High Down,—archery in the morning, a ball in the evening, and all the ladies who liked, to be in costume. She ended by begging Caroline to come to luncheon that day, or the next, to enter into council on the subject. There was great delight; such an entertainment was quite a novelty in the neighbourhood, and the costume seemed to make it all the more charming in the eyes of Caroline, Clara, and their mother; all were talking at once, and wondering what it could or should be, while Marian went on reading imperturbably without one remark.
"It ought to be in Robin Hood's time, if only for the sake of Maid Marian," said Caroline. "She will be quite sure to win the prize."
"O yes, that she will," said Clara; "she shoots so much better than any one else."
"I shall not shoot in public," said Marian, looking up for a moment, and then going on with her book.
"You will do nothing to make yourself particular," said Mrs. Lyddell: "it will be very silly to set your face against this fete, when every one knows how fond you are of archery."
"We don't know anything yet about what is to be," said Caroline, quickly; and at that moment Elliot, coming in, offered to ride with her to High Down, whereupon she hastened to get ready. Such an obliging offer from her brother was certainly too uncommon a thing to be neglected, in spite of the unwonted graciousness and amiability which Elliot had for the last few weeks assumed towards her.
When she was gone, Marian and Clara resumed their ordinary occupations, and one of them at least troubled herself no more about the fete, until, shortly before dinner time, Elliot, Caroline, and Mr. Faulkner all rode up to the front door. Mr. Faulkner, it appeared, was come to dinner, and to carry on the consultation, since he was extremely eager about the scheme, and no time was to be lost in sending out the invitations. The Sherwood Forest plan had been talked over, and abandoned as too common-place. It was to be a Kenilworth fete; eight young ladies of Lady Julia's especial party were to appear in the morning in a pretty uniform dress, a little subdued from the days of the ruff and farthingale; and in the evening there was to be a regular Kenilworth quadrille, in which each lady or gentleman was to assume the dress of some character of Queen Elizabeth's court. In fact, as Mr. Faulkner said;—