Yet all these consolations could not prevent poor Marian from being very miserable, under the dread that Caroline thought her unkind, and felt herself deserted, after being involved in all this suffering. And O, should she fail! Walter must go on Saturday, and then she would be left to fight her battle alone.
On the Friday the whole house knew what was going on. Mr. Lyddell himself had a conversation with Caroline, but nothing of it transpired. It only was evident that she still continued in the same mind, and she looked more wretched than ever. Marian was anxious to show her affection and sympathy in her manner, but her anxiety only made her cold, and dry, and awkward. Clara was excited and puzzled, Walter was hardly spoken to by father or mother; and when at breakfast on Saturday he spoke of his departure, the silence that he encountered seemed to express that he had much better not have come home at all.
Marian felt fierce with indignation, and Lionel, perhaps by way of effusion of the same feeling, dashed his chair away from the table, and called out, "Mind you come back again as soon as ever you can."
But the dead silence that followed was more painful and marked than it had been before.
"The flowers do fade, and wanton fields, To wayward winter reckoning yields, A honey tongue, a heart of gall Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall."
SIR W. RALEIGH.
The Sunday after Walter's departure was a very uncomfortable and melancholy day. It was very sad to see poor Caroline looking wan and suffering, and turning now and then a wistful appealing glance at Marian, as if intreating for the help which must not be afforded to her; and then at each meeting and parting, Marian was dissatisfied with herself for having been rendered stiff and dry instead of tender and consoling, by the very wish to be affectionate, which prevented her from being at ease. She heard from Clara that Caroline's great desire was to be allowed to write to Mr. Faulkner on the subject before she saw him again, whilst he was still in London, and that it was this which her parents so strongly opposed, convinced that a meeting with him would renew all her feelings of attachment. Marian dreaded the same, for she could not think Caroline's resolution sufficient to hold out in sight of his affection, and of his prepossessing qualities, and at the same time, every day that the engagement continued made it more difficult to break it off.
One comfort was, however, that Lionel's anxiety and interest in Caroline's affairs, were drawing his attention from his own trouble, and he was much less irritable and unhappy than before. Perhaps this might have been in part owing to his conversations with Walter, who could venture on giving him more lessons on the right principle of endurance than Marian had ever dared to put before him. She was more pleased than she had been for a long time, when as they were walking together in the plantations, after evening service, he said with some abruptness and yet with some hesitation, "Marian, didn't you once read something with Gerald in the morning?"
"Yes," said Marian, sure of what the something meant.
"Do you do it still by yourself?"
"Then I wish——. Would you mind reading to me?"
"The Psalms and Lessons? O, Lionel, I should be so glad I Only could you get up in time? for I don't know when to do it except before breakfast."
"To be sure I could get up in time. I only lie in bed because there is nothing to do, and nobody to speak to."
"Well then, will you meet me in the schoolroom at eight o'clock in the morning?"
No more was said, but Lionel kept his appointment. It was, as Marian guessed a recommendation of his brother's. Walter had asked him to get one of his sisters to read to him, and Lionel had made the request to Marian, as his real sister, though he had never told Walter whether he meant to take his advice.
The next Sunday, Marian, on coming down after dressing for dinner, was surprised to find Elliot standing by the fire. He just inclined his bead, and moved his lips by way of greeting.
"When did you come home?" said she drily.
The answer was brief and with no encouragement to say more. She thought he looked dark and moody, and, taking up a book, was silent. The next time the door opened, it was Lionel who entered. He frowned and gazed up, perceiving the figure but not able to make it out. "Ha, Lionel! How d'ye do?" said Elliot in a short, gruff, indifferent voice; without moving or attempting to shake hands, without any token that he thought of Lionel's misfortune.
Lionel's equally indifferent tone, "How d'ye do?" was sign enough to Marian that he was hurt. He came and sat by her, talked fast and low, and laughed several times in the constrained manner he used to put on by way of bravado; Elliot all the time taking no notice. The others soon made their appearance. Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell had seen him before, and to his sisters his greeting was much in the same style, hardly vouchsafing any recognition of Caroline at all.
The cloud was thicker and darker than ever all dinner time. Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell tried in vain to talk, he answered them in a short snappish way which he was apt to assume whenever his father made any attempt to check his extravagance.
The ladies and Lionel were glad to get into the drawing-room, and leave him and his father to themselves. Tea came and they did not appear, ten o'clock struck, half-past, and they came not. The ladies were putting away their books, and thinking of wishing good night when suddenly the door was thrown open, and in tramped Mr. Lyddell, red with passion, while behind him came Elliot, with less of violence, but with a dark scowl of resentment on his downcast and always unpleasant face.
"Caroline!" began Mr. Lyddell, in a voice of thunder, and great was the alarm of all, for her sake, as she turned pale and trembled. "Caroline! You have my full consent to do as you please. You may break with Faulkner to-morrow, if you like!"
Some discovery! thought Marian, transfixed with wonder and hope; Caroline sat still but for her trembling, her face bent down, and her hands nervously clasped together.
"Now, sir," proceeded Mr. Lyddell, turning round on Elliot, "you see if I am the tyrant you would make me. You see if I am going to force my daughter into a marriage against her wish—sacrifice my whole family because I have an ill-conditioned scamp of a good-for-nothing son. You see."
"I do see, sir," muttered Elliot; "and you'll see whether you like the consequences."
Marian thought she had better be out of this family scene, and had her hand on the door, but Mr. Lyddell called out "Stay here! Marian! I don't care if all the world heard me. He thinks he can threaten me into tyranny over her inclinations, and I tell him she is as free as air! I vow——."
"Mr. Lyddell! do consider, do think," expostulated his wife; "I daresay Elliot was a little too vehement a partizan for his friend——."
"Friend! Pshaw! He care for his friend!" said Mr. Lyddell scornfully. "'Tis for himself he is a partizan, I tell you. Nothing else does he care a straw for. 'Tis for nothing but the saving of her fortune that he would have me persecute his sister into this marriage! Aye! he has the face to tell me so! and what more do you think he comes and says to me! Why! that Lionel will be nothing but a burthen for ever! A pretty pass things are come to when he speaks after that fashion of his own brother! He cared for his friend, indeed!"
"No one ever thought of compelling Caroline," pleaded Mrs. Lyddell.
"But I tell you he did," interrupted her husband. "I told him I was very sorry, but I could not help it; if she would have her own way, I could not make her marry the man against her will, and he answers in his sneering way that it is all nonsense, he would be bound to make her give up in no time—any man could bring a girl to reason. As if I was to persecute my daughter to force her into what she tells me is against her conscience. Better too much conscience than none at all, I tell you, Master Elliot."
"We had better bring this scene to an end, sir," said Elliot sullenly. "We understand each other."
So saying, he took up his candle and flung out of the room. The girls were but too glad to escape, and Lionel followed them, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell to themselves.
Caroline and Clara both were trembling like aspen leaves, each threw an arm round Marian's waist, and leant against her as soon as they were out of the room. She had been startled and trembling before, but their fright seemed to give her firmness; and it was well, for Caroline's knees shook so much, and she was so nervous that she could hardly have reached her room without support. Clara began to exclaim, but Marian stopped her, made her fetch some camphor julep, helped Caroline to undress, and put her to bed. Caroline hardly spoke all the time, but as Marian bent over her to kiss her, and wish her good night, she whispered, "I may soon be able to have you again, dear Marian!"
Marian went to bed, wondering at all that had passed, indignant with Elliot, pleased with Mr. Lyddell, hopeful for Caroline, and cheered by finding that she had not been thought unkind.
She heard doors opened and shut, and the trampling of feet the next morning, and when Lionel met her in the schoolroom for their reading, he told her that be had been overtaken by Elliot running down stairs at full speed; and had only just time to clear out of his way. "And hark! is not there something at the front door? Look out, Marian."
Marian looked from the window. "Yes! It is his dog-cart. Can he be going away, Lionel?"
"Going off in a rage!" said Lionel, looking grave; "I thought there was mischief in his voice last night."
"Yes, there is his portmanteau," said Marian, in a tone of consternation; for little as she liked Elliot, it was too shocking to see a son thus leave his father's roof.
"It is a pretty piece of work," said Lionel. "He has been coming it a little too strong for my father, it seems! Well, poor Caroline will be let alone, that is one good thing; but I am afraid he will go and get into some tremendous scrape, if it is only for the sake of spiting my father."
"It is very dreadful!" said Marian, sighing.
"I am very glad my father was so angry, though!" said Lionel. "Wanting him to drive poor Caroline into it by unkindness! That was a little too bad!"
"Yes, indeed," said Marian. "But O! here he comes out of the door with his cigar. He is getting in! There he goes! O, Lionel!"
They both were silent for some little time. Then Marian took up the prayer-book, and began the Psalm, and when she heard Lionel's voice join in the Doxology, a thrill came home to her, making her feel that blindness might yet be indeed the blessing to him that faith taught her to know it must be. How much better to be thus than like his brother.
When they met the others at breakfast, it proved that they alone knew of the departure; Mr. Lyddell interrogated Elliot's servant, and heard from him that he had orders to follow his master to Paris as soon as he had packed up his goods. This was all that could be learnt, and all that Marian could make out as to what had passed, was that he had been strongly averse to Caroline's engagement being broken off, that he had tried to induce his father to insist upon it, and to drive her to overcome her reluctance by what could be only understood as domestic persecution, and that in short he had allowed his unfeeling selfishness to appear to such a degree, that it had positively revolted his father, whose displeasure had long been excited by the extravagance that had been causing serious inconvenience, and who instantly, while under the influence of his first indignation, resolved to show that he would not be domineered over, nor sacrifice the rest of the family to the extravagance which he had already too freely supplied.
Mr. Lyddell had given his consent while angry, and he could not retract it when he was cool. Caroline therefore might write her letter as soon as she pleased. She had nothing to dread from him; indeed, as if out of opposition to Elliot, he was kinder to her than he had ever been before, called her "my dear" more than once, and observed on her pale looks. Her mother spoke little to her, and that little was cold and unkind, while she looked so vexed and unhappy that even Marian had some feeling for her, and what must it have been for her own daughter? However, all open opposition was withdrawn, and Caroline had only herself to struggle with. There was no reason why she should not once more seek comfort from Marian, yet all that day she kept at a distance, and it was not till the next evening that she came into Marian's room, and sinking into a chair, murmured, "I have done it."
"Written your letter?"
"O, I am so glad!"
"Yes, but you will be glad when it is over."
"O!" sighed Caroline, incredulously. "You know nothing about it. Marian."
"Every one must be glad to have done right," said Marian, firmly.
"O what a week it has been! And I have sown dissension in the family! And no one can tell what may be the consequence with Elliot! And he will be unhappy! O! Marian—I wish—I wish you had let me go on my own way and be miserable alone," added she with a kind of anger.
"It was your own doing," said Marian gently; "you felt it to be right. Only worse misery could come of your going on, for that would have been positive wrong; now it must and will get better."
"I don't know," sighed Caroline. "I never knew till now how much I cared for him! O, Marian!" and she burst into a hearty fit of crying.
Marian was perplexed, as she always was when any one cried, and stood without a word till Caroline had relieved herself by tears, and began to speak again. It was very sad and melancholy, and it was very difficult to find anything to answer; Marian could see no consolation but that "it was right," and that did not seem to have much effect on Caroline; while, added to the former trouble of renouncing the man who loved her, and of grieving her parents, there was the dread of what Elliot might do in his anger.
However, the being able to pour everything out to so true a friend was more of a comfort than anything that, could have been said to her. She told Marian that she had gone through the conversations with her father and mother better than she could have thought possible. She could not desert poor Walter, that was one thing that helped her, she must stand by him, and papa was not half so angry as she expected. It seemed as if her strength had grown with each occasion for it. The first effort of writing to Walter had cost her most of all, then the allowing him to break the matter to her father had been dreadful; but after all, the conferences with her parents, singly and together, had not been as bad as the fear of them, and Marian tried to persuade her that it would be the same when she saw Mr. Faulkner, but poor Caroline shook her head, and said Marian knew nothing about it. And Marian was much of the same opinion, and held her peace, but before the end of the conversation she had the great pleasure of hearing Caroline say, "The thought of being able to have you again has been the one great help to me through all!"
Two days after this, as Marian and Lionel were going out riding together, Marian exclaimed, "I do believe that is Mr. Faulkner!"
"Riding on the Salisbury road," said Marian; "I am sure it is his horse."
"Don't let us meet him! can't we get out of the way?" said Lionel. "Aren't we somewhere near the thorny lane?"
"No, but we might ride off on the Down. Only take care, Lionel; you had better keep close to me," said Marian, much more unwilling to meet Mr. Faulkner than to conduct Lionel through the ups and downs of the green, chalky common.
She watched and guided his pony up the bank and upon the Down, and on they trotted fast, for Marian was actuated by a very undignified fit of terror lest she should meet Mr. Faulkner, towards whom she felt positively guilty, nor did she wish to be seen fleeing from him.
"We must be out of sight of the road by this time, aren't we?" said Lionel.
"I don't know," Marian turned her head to see. At that moment Lionel's pony stepped into a hole, stumbled, and when she looked back again, there was Lionel on the ground. Her head swam with fear, but the next moment Lionel was on his feet and laughing.
"Not hurt, Lionel! are you sure?"
"Not a bit! Is that Sorrel?"
Sorrel was rushing off with his bridle loose, and Marian began to dread having Mr. Faulkner's assistance in catching him. "Stand still, Lionel!" she called, and then riding between Sorrel and the road, she managed to turn him towards a long hedge that crossed the Down, saw him stop to eat a tuft of grass, made a grasp at his bridle, but failed, while he dashed off across the Down, happily not towards the road.
She called to Lionel, told him of her ill success, and begged him not to move, while she again pursued the runaway, and a long dance he led her, far out of sight of Lionel. Once she had considerable hopes, when she came in sight of a shepherd boy, who stood in amaze at the lady in chase of the runaway steed, then came up with a run to cut off its course, but so awkwardly that the pony was still more frightened, and galloped off in another direction faster than ever! Poor Marian! However after full half an hour, she succeeded in hunting him into a narrow place between two fields, ending in a gate, caught safely hold of the rein, kept it fast, and at length led Sorrel back in triumph to the spot where poor Lionel stood still patiently. She called out to him as soon as she came near enough to make her voice heard, and he answered, and walked forward to meet the dark shapes, which were all that he could see.
Marian feared that he would be very much mortified at having been obliged to remain thus helpless, while a girl was doing what he would have so much enjoyed, and she looked anxiously at his face, alas! she could look there now without his knowing it. It was disconsolate, but the look was not bitter. She held Sorrel while he mounted, and she then apologized for having been so long, and said she feared he had thought she had forgotten him. He made not much reply, did not even ask how she had managed to catch the pony. Marian conducted him safely into the road before she would speak again. He did, however, congratulate himself on not having been obliged to be beholden to Mr. Faulkner for catching the pony, as well as on Sorrel's not having gone home to tell the tale himself.
"Yes, indeed, they would have been terribly frightened," said Marian.
"Ay, and if they once knew of my tumble, they would never let us go out riding again."
"But, Lionel, we must tell," said Marian.
"Just like a girl!" grumbled Lionel. "Then there's an end of all our rides, and all the comfort that I have in life."
"I don't know," said Marian. "At any rate I can't ride with you, I should not think it right, unless Mr. Lyddell knew of this fall. It is my concern and not yours, for it was all through my carelessness."
"You go on just as if you were a child still," said Lionel, still cross.
"Well, Lionel, I believe the only way is to manage ourselves as if we were children still."
"All very fine," was Lionel's surly answer, and they rode on, while Marian was very unhappy. She blamed herself for having given way to a foolish fit of nervous bashfulness, which had led to what might have been a serious accident to her especial charge. It had further made a very unpleasant confession needful, and Lionel's vexation and irritation seemed to have overcome all his late improvement. The thought of what poor Caroline was going through was enough to stifle everything else, and Marian wondered at herself, as for a sort of unkindness, in having been so fully occupied as to have had no time for anxiety.
Both had been very silent ever since Lionel's reply, until Marian asked him to strike his repeater. It was half-past five, and they turned homewards, taking a bye road so as to avoid meeting Mr. Faulkner. And now Lionel began to talk of Caroline, and wonder how she had sped. He seemed to throw off his own private troubles as he talked of hers, and his fit of petulance was melting fast away. At last he made up his mind to inquire how she had caught Sorrel, and was positively interested in the narration, laughing at the idea of the scrape they would have been in if Sorrel had made his way to the road, and Mr. Faulkner had caught him.
He said no more about the confession, but it was evident that he had conquered his annoyance sooner than he had ever done before. Marian had not theorized on the matter, but if she had she could not have judged better, for Lionel was far better dealt with by being bold and uncompromising. It was very strange to have this concern of their own so much on their minds when Caroline's fate was at its crisis, yet perhaps it was good for Marian to be thus occupied, since she was apt to suffer very much from anxiety, as persons of her calm and reserved demeanour often do. A sickening, throbbing, trembling feeling came over her, making her temples beat and her hands cold, as she came into the house, expecting to hear whether Caroline had endured and been true to herself, and it was well she had not had longer to suffer from it.
No one was in the drawing-room, and she ran as fast as her trembling knees would allow to Caroline's room, knocked, received no answer, opened the door, and saw Caroline stretched out on her bed, in a state best described by the French word aneantissement, for it was not fainting, but the sort of prostration consequent on the completion of an effort for which she had wound herself up. She was very pale, her eyes were shut, and her breath came short. Marian stood watching her in alarm, wondering whether to speak, and how. At last Caroline looked up, held out her hand, and drew Marian down on her knees till her face was level with hers, then put her arm round her neck.
"Dear Caroline!" said Marian, though it was not easy to say anything, "you will be happier now."
A more caressing person would have been much more at ease herself and given more comfort to Caroline, that must be confessed, but as there was no one else to be had, Marian was obliged to do her best, and this was to kiss Caroline timidly and say, "I am so glad you have done right."
But Caroline only hid her face at the word glad and murmured, "You never did him justice! You never did!"
"If it had not been for the want of that one thing he would have been all right," said Marian.
"O, he is very noble! he has such a mind! such—such—O, he loved me so much," and Caroline fell into a paroxysm of silent misery. Marian began to dread lest the parting had not been final, and though doubtful whether she ought to ask, could not help saying, "But is it over?"
"Yes, yes; you have your wish, Marian. It is done! He is angry with me now! It is over, and I am wretched for life!"
"Not so wretched as if you had done wrong." said Marian. Caroline did not turn away this time, and Marian gathered courage to say, "You have persevered, and now there will be comfort. There will always be comfort in knowing you have tried to do right. Walter will be so glad, and so will Lionel."
"Lionel," repeated Caroline.
"Yes, he has been very anxious about you."
"Poor boy!" sighed Caroline. "Well, Marian, there is one thing still to be done. Only one, and it is all that I shall live for. I shall devote myself to him, if I can but do anything to please him, and make him care for me when you are gone. It will be my one object."
"Yes," said Marian, "it will be very good for you both."
They were interrupted by Clara, who came in, dressed for dinner, pitying Caroline, and telling Marian it was very late. Caroline sat up, but she had a violent nervous headache, and they both persuaded her to lie down again.
Marian ran off to dress, and though the dinner-bell rang in the midst of her hurried toilette, came back to look at Caroline, beg her to keep quiet, and promise to come up as soon as dinner was over. As she went down, the other trouble of having to confess their adventure came over her, but she was resolute, in spite of the want of favour with which she knew she was regarded.
Want of favour, evident from the scrupulous formality with which she was treated; for if she had been like a daughter of the house, as she ought to have been, would they have waited dinner for her, and let her find them all looking uncomfortable and expectant in the drawing-room? They went into the dining-room; there was a silent, formal dinner, nothing like a family party. As soon as the servants had left the room. Marian quailing secretly, not from fear of Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell, but lest Lionel should lose his rides, began, "I have a confession to make, Mr. Lyddell," and told the story of the accident, explaining how it was entirely caused by her carelessness.
Exclamations and inquiries arose, and Mrs. Lyddell certified herself by several questions that Lionel had not been hurt, but not one of them was addressed to Marian. It was as if this was only one among many injuries, too frequent for a reproach more or less to be needed. Mr. Lyddell did not take it half so much to heart, and no prohibition against future rides was issued, for the truth was that no one liked to mortify Lionel. It was exactly one of the cases in which the whole danger is not conquered, because it melts at the very aspect of moral courage.
It was not comfortable to have to walk away to Caroline, knowing how much she had displeased Mrs. Lyddell; but it must be done, and it was, at least, agreeable to leave these cold looks. She found Caroline better, and able to tell her something of what had passed. At first Mr. Faulkner would not believe her to be in earnest, and had imagined this was a way of showing her displeasure at his long absence, or some trifling "lovers' quarrel;" but when he found that she really meant what she said, and her tears and stifled whispers alike announced her adherence to what she had expressed in her letter, he became extremely angry, thought himself, (as indeed he might with some justice) very ill-used, and though he had retained his gentlemanlike manner and language, had pretty plainly expressed that Miss Lyddell should have known her own mind. Poor Caroline wept bitterly, beseeching that they might not part in anger, but he disavowed all irritation, and took a cold, courteous leave, which wounded her more than all.
Marian could not easily sympathise with regrets for such a lover, but she liked to magnify the sacrifice in order to admire it more, and greatly rejoiced in being able to give full admiration to one whom she had learnt to love so heartily as Caroline. Such a triumph over natural timidity and feebleness of character was indeed a great and gallant thing, and Marian used to muse and wonder at it in her solitary hours. There was still much to suffer externally as well as internally; there was the return of letters and presents, with all their associations; there was the feeling of the pain and offence given to Lady Julia and her daughters; there was the perception of the opinions of the world, and the certainty that all the gossips of the neighbourhood were busy with their conjectures; there was the continued anxiety about Elliot, and the marked vexation and displeasure of Mrs. Lyddell, who treated Caroline as one who had disappointed all her best hopes.
Under all this there was only Marian to sustain Caroline, and their friendship was an additional offence. Marian knew that Mrs. Lyddell regarded her as the head of a hostile party, and a sower of dissension in the family, by no means an agreeable footing on which to stand; but the only way, was to appear completely unconscious, and behave as far as possible as usual. She was grateful to them for making it no worse, and still more for not having objected to her continuing her rides with Lionel, from whom, it may well be believed, she scarcely ever took her eyes, from the time his foot was in the stirrup.
Lionel was triumphant at the dismissal of "Julian the apostate," but he was disappointed to find that Caroline did not recover her spirits "now she had had her own way, and got rid of the man." He did not like to have her presence announced by a sigh, and to hear the subdued, dejected tone of her voice, and he used to wonder over it with Marian, who laughed at him for fancying it was such an easy matter to part with a lover, yet agreed that it was hard to understand how there could be love where there was no esteem. Lionel used to consult her as to what was to be done to cheer his sister, since his mother would only make everything worse and he could not bear her continued melancholy.
"I do believe, Lionel," said Marian, "that you could do more for her than any body else. If you would but sometimes let her do things for you, ask her to help you, as—as you ask me."
Lionel would not take the suggestion as she wished. "I thought you liked to help me," said he, in a somewhat offended tone.
"O, don't I?" cried Marian, eagerly; "but so does every one, if you would only allow them."
Lionel flourished the little switch in his hand till it made an ill-tempered "swish!" and Marian knew that he thought her ungrateful for the exclusive preference with which he honoured her.
"She is your sister," she added.
"Very well," said Lionel, crossly shaking off her arm, "I shall know what to be at, if you are tired of helping me."
He could not see the tears in her eyes, and though she was extremely grieved, her voice did not betray how strong her feeling was. "Tired! O Lionel, how can you think it? But would it not be better to learn to depend less on me against I go away?"
"Ay, and glad enough you'll be to go."
"For all but your sake and poor Caroline's," said Marian. "Mrs. Lyddell does not like to have me here."
"It would not be fair to want to keep you," said Lionel, "but——"
"I should have much more comfort in going if I thought you and Caroline were helping each other," said Marian. "I know she wants to make you her first object."
Lionel made no answer nor any change in his ways for some days, yet sometimes it seemed, as if when he thought of it, he was more willing to allow Caroline to do him some of the small services which his fast increasing blindness rendered necessary. Caroline being more dexterous and neat-handed than Marian, did them well, and then Marian was vexed with herself for a few feelings like annoyance at not being equally necessary to Lionel, but she persevered, encouraged by seeing the comfort that each approach on his part seemed to give his sister. It was the hardest thing Marian had ever had to do, to give up the being first with him, as she must cease to be when the natural affection of the brother and sister was called into play. But it was right, and she would bear it. She thought it right as well as very pleasant to accept an invitation from the Wortleys to come and spend the Christmas holidays with them, joining her brother on the railroad, and meeting Edmund at Fern Torr. The repose would be beyond everything delightful, and no less so, the being in a house where her presence was welcome to every member of the family. Besides, she longed to see and to talk to Agnes, and the more she thought of her promised visit the more she enjoyed it.
Caroline and Lionel both were very sorry to part with her, and jointly and separately lamented her going; but Caroline blamed herself for selfishness in wishing to keep her, and perceived that it would be a good thing that her brother should begin to be weaned from his sole dependance upon her, while Lionel seemed half afraid to trust her to depart, lest she should never return, and insisted on half a dozen promises that she would come back at the end of Gerald's holidays.
"They made a famous procession My good little women and men; Such a sight was never seen before And never will again."
A division of a first-class carriage, occupied only by Gerald, received Marian at the station, and first she had to be shown the hat, cloak, and umbrella with which he had constructed an effigy, which, as he firmly believed, had frightened away all who had thought of taking a seat in it.
"Thinking you a mad monkey, and that your keeper," said Marian, looking proudly at the handsome face and dancing black eyes of her beautiful brother. "Why! how you are grown, Gerald! Do stand up, and let me see if you are not taller than I am."
"No, not quite so tall, unless it is your bonnet," said Gerald, after craning up his neck in vain.
"At any rate, you are taller than Lionel. He only comes up to my ear," said Marian.
"Poor Lionel! How are his eyes?"
"O Gerald, it is very sad. He has very little sight left. I believe he finds his way about quite by feeling now. It has grown worse so much faster in these last three weeks."
"Poor fellow! What can he do all day?"
A long description followed, and then Gerald wanted to hear all about Caroline, and what Marian thought fit to tell him, together with his comments, lasted till, in spite of his effigy, a lady made an entrance, and for some time Gerald was reduced to silence, and as he sat on the same side, to making horrible sidelong scowls at her, out of her sight, which sorely tried his sister's propriety of countenance.
The tongues of two such happy people could not long, however, continue tied, and presently Gerald rattled off into a history of his sporting adventures in Scotland, as if he would detail every shot. The narration was endless, and very tiresome it would have been to any woman but a sister, and a sister who had so much of the hunter spirit in her as Marian; but she listened and sympathised with all her heart and soul, and understood why such a shot was a good one, and why such another failed, and was absorbed in the interest of the attempt to recover a wounded bird when the retriever was stupid, long after the intruder had made her exit, and they might have returned to matters touching her more closely, though regarded by Gerald as hardly equal in importance to roe deer, salmon, and grouse.
They were on Devonshire ground before they ever began to rejoice over Edmund's engagement, and from thence to talk of Edmund himself. Gerald pronounced many an eulogium on him, in which praises of his excellence as a fisherman and sportsman were strangely mixed with a real genuine appreciation of his goodness and superiority.
"'Tis a capital thing that he is come home to stay," said Gerald, heartily.
"I like him specially," said Gerald. "Do you know he showed me some of my father's letters."
"Did he indeed?"
"That he did. It was before I was born, when he thought he was going to have Fern Torr and all, he had rather an idle fit, and these were what papa wrote to him."
"Was Edmund ever idle?" exclaimed Marian, falling into a reverie of wonder whether this did not make it more hopeful for Gerald.
"I am very glad he has got this money," proceeded Gerald. "I only wish it was more. One letter he showed me that was best of all. It was from my father when I was born. You can't think what a nice letter it was. There was something about its being a disappointment to him—to Edmund, I mean, but how papa cared for him as much as ever, and thought after all it might be better for him in the end. And then, Marian, papa said he could hardly expect to live till I was grown up, and he asked Edmund to be my godfather, and said he trusted to him to be like an elder brother to us."
"That he is!" murmured Marian.
"Edmund said he wished me to read it that I might not think him interfering."
"You never could have thought so!"
"I don't know. I could not have stood it from some people, but I could see the sense of what Edmund said."
Without entering into particulars, Gerald was now all freedom and openness, casting quite away the restraint that had so long grieved his sister. How happy she was!
Mr. Wortley himself met them at Exeter, and in spite of the early darkness of the winter day, Charles and James met them at the foot of Blackstone hill, and Edmund and Agnes were a little further on.
What a happy greeting it was! Marian and Gerald would jump out and walk home with them, the boys ran and called in the dark, the stars came out overhead, the tall hedges kept out all the glimmering light, splashes alone made them aware of the puddles; but on the happy party tramped, all talking an unmitigated flow of merry nonsense, laughing and enjoying it, all the more the darker and stranger it grew, and merrier than all, when they got home, at Mrs. Wortley's dismay at their having dragged Marian a mile and a half, in the dark and dirt, after her long journey. "Pretty guardians to have the care of her!"
All the evening again there was nothing but fun and joyousness, fun of the brightest, happiest kind, positively wild in the three boys, and Edmund not much less so, the girls weary with laughing, and contributing their share to the sport. A person must have lived like Marian, pent up by formalities and the certainty of being disliked, to know what was the enjoyment of the perfect liberty and absence from constraint, the thorough home-like feeling of every one loving and understanding each other, which existed at Fern Torr. How delightful it was to have no heart achings for Gerald, to see Edmund just like his old self, and the dear Agnes, so very lovely and bright! so very unlike her only former experience of betrothed lovers. It was no small happiness to the Fern Torr party to have one so prized and loved as Marian to rejoice with them, indeed, all this evening every one was too joyous to dwell on any of the causes of their felicity, it was nothing but high spirits, and unreflective mirth.
When they had bidden each other good night, and were gone up stairs, there was more of gravity and thought. Marian and Agnes could have sat up talking half the night, if Mrs. Wortley would have allowed them, but she said Marian must have time to rest, and ruthlessly condemned her to bed.
Never did Marian spend so happy a Christmas. There was plenty of depth and earnestness in her tete-a-tetes with Agnes, when they talked over the wonders that had happened to them both, and always ended by returning to recollections of happy old days before Marian left Fern Torr, when Edmund had been the prime mover of every delightful adventure. Marian was as good as a sister to each of the lovers, so heartily did she help each one to admire the other. Or when they were "lovering," as the boys chose to call their interminable wanderings in the manor gardens, Marian used to be extremely happy with Mrs. Wortley, talking over the history of the engagement, and settling how and when the love began. Mr. Wortley suggested that the first attraction had been Agnes' unmitigated horror of the Lyddells, which he declared had won Mr. Arundel's heart, though he never owned how much he participated in it. It needs not to be stated how Edmund's noble behaviour was appreciated, more especially after the new lights which Marian was able to throw upon it.
Then came the discussion of the plans for the house which Edmund was to build, on a farm, which had come into the market at the very nick of time, just on the other side of the hill, and in Fern Torr parish. Marian and Gerald were taken the first day to look and advise whether the new house should be on the old site, or under the shelter of a great old slate quarry, crested with a wood, a beautiful view spread before it, and capacities for making the loveliest garden that was ever seen.
Edmund sketched house and garden in every possible point of view, each prettier than the other, and all the young gave their voices eagerly for the quarry, while the old protested on the difficulty of getting so far up the hill, and suggested damp. But the young carried the day, and the plans were drawn and debated on a dozen times in twenty-four hours, always including the prettiest of little sitting-rooms for Marian, with a window opening into the garden, and a door into the drawing-room, and then came letters to architects and calculations with builders, and reckonings that the house should be habitable by next September, and Mr. Wortley laughing at their credulity for expecting it.
Marian was surprised to find how far away and secondary seemed the thoughts that had of late engrossed her entirely. She wondered to discover how little her mind had been occupied with Caroline and Lionel, fond as she was of them and very anxious about them. This was so very different a world! and she felt so much more as if she belonged to it. She obtained from Agnes some admiration for Caroline's conduct, though in somewhat of the "better late than never" style, and at the price of warm abuse of the parents, in which Marian was not indisposed to join.
Caroline wrote nearly every day, saying that she missed Marian dreadfully, and that her letters were the only comfort she had; she would not wish her back again, for that would be selfish, but it would be a joyful day when she returned. These constant letters, which Marian always kept to herself, rather surprised the Wortleys, but Edmund could better guess at her position. "Depend upon it," he said to Agnes, "it is she who has saved Miss Lyddell."
"O, Edmund! do you think so? I wanted to have thought so, but she says it was the brother."
"He took the steps which would not have become Marian, but Walter Lyddell could never have moved without his sister, and where could she have found the principle but in Marian? I see now that her perseverance in right is beginning to tell on those around her, in spite of all untoward circumstances."
"I don't know anything like Marian!" said Agnes. "How very fine her countenance is!"
"That steadfast brow and lip."
"I saw her yesterday standing on the edge of a rock looking out on the view, and she was like some statue of Fortitude."
"Yes, Marian is a grand creature," said Edmund; "so strong and firm, yet with such feminine, retiring strength. There are still prejudices and little roughnesses, but I doubt whether they have not been her safeguard, outworks to secure the building, and I think they are disappearing with the occasion."
"Ah! papa and mamma think her very much softened down."
"She has had a very hard part to act, and her shyness and rigidity have been great helps to her, but I am glad to see them wearing away, and especially pleasant it is to see her expand and show her true self here."
"And to know she may soon be free of them all for ever!" said Agnes.
The time when Marian was to be free of them for ever, as Agnes said, was to be the next summer. Edmund and Agnes were to be married in July, Marian would then come to Fern Torr, and comfort Mrs. Wortley for losing her daughter, till the holidays began, when Edmund and Agnes would return, and some undefined scheme of delight was to be settled on for Gerald's holidays, until the house should be ready. Gerald was in the meantime very agreeable and satisfactory on the whole. He was too busy drawing varieties of stables for Edmund, to talk about his own, and marvellous were the portraits of the inhabitants with which he would decorate Edmund's elevations, whenever he found them straying about the room. Very mischievous indeed was the young gentleman, and Marian considered him to have been "a great deal too bad" when on a neat, finished plan, just prepared to be sent to the builder, she found unmistakeable likenesses of the whole Wortley family, herself and Gerald, assembled round a great bowl of punch, large enough to drown them all, drinking to the health of Edmund and Agnes, who were riding in at the gate, pillion fashion, supposed to be returning after the honey moon, which in one corner of the picture was represented in a most waning state, but the man in the moon squinting down at them with a peculiarly benignant expression of countenance.
Marian was very angry, but Edmund and Agnes would do nothing but laugh, though the whole plan had to be drawn over again, and Edmund was kept at work with ruler, scale, and compasses the whole evening, Marian scolding Gerald all the time, and Edmund too, for spoiling him, thinking her cousin the most heroically good natured and good tempered man in the world to bear with such an idle monkey, and laugh at the waste of time and trouble; and getting at last a glimmering perception that these tricks, thus met, were the greatest proof of good understanding and friendship. It ended in Gerald's inking in the plan, of his own free will, and very neatly, and getting up at six, the next morning, to ride to Exeter, in the dark cold misty December twilight, to take it to the builder, that no time might be lost; indeed, as he boasted, it was there a quarter of an hour before it would have come by post, as it would have done had it gone yesterday.
Gerald's studies were not extensive, but Edmund, by some magic secret, unknown to Marian, made him read history to himself for a short space every morning. The sporting paper had disappeared, and nothing was heard of Elliot or of Queen Pomare, while though he could not yet go the length of talking to the poor people himself, he stood by very civilly while Edmund talked to them.
The first ten days of Marian's stay had thus passed, when Caroline one day mentioned in her letter that mamma had a regularly bad influenza cold, and was quite laid up. It was aggravated, Caroline said, by the distress they were all in about Elliot. "But you will hear enough of this when you come back," wrote she, "so I will not grieve you with it now; though it is an additional load upon my mind—an additional offence, I fear, in poor mamma's eyes, since all this would not have come to light had I persisted. But you must not think I am repenting, for I never was further from regretting what I have done. The different spirit in which I could come to this Christmas feast, is a blessing to be purchased at any price, even at such wretchedness as it has been this autumn; and most earnestly do I thank you, dearest Marian. I can thank you by letter, though we never can speak of such things. Yes, I thank you. I regret nothing but my previous folly and weakness, and bitterly do I suffer for them; though all is better now, and Christmas has brought me peace and calm. It is as if the storm was lulled at last, and nothing left but dreariness, and the longing to be at rest. How bright the world was before me not a year ago! and now how worn out it seems,—only three comforts left in it, you, and Walter, and poor Lionel. For Lionel is a comfort; he is very kind and considerate, and, I do believe, softens mamma towards me. I suppose it is best for us that our hearts should have no home but one above; and if I was sure it was not disgust and disappointment, I should hope I was seeking one there; for I know the only feeling of rest and refreshment is in turning thither, and surely that must come from the FATHER, Who is ready to receive me. But I must leave off, for mamma is too unwell to be long left.
"Your most affectionate
After this, the letters, hitherto constant, ceased entirely, and Marian grew very uneasy. Her mother had died of influenza, so that the name gave her a fatal impression; and she dreaded to hear that Mrs. Lyddell was very ill, or that Caroline was ill herself. Another week, and at length she heard from Clara, in answer to a letter of inquiry, and to fix the day of her return.
"Oakworthy, Jan. 7th.
"MY DEAR MARIAN,—Caroline desires me to write to tell you, with her love, that she has this horrid influenza, and has been in bed since Monday. She is very feverish, and her throat so sore that she can hardly speak or swallow. Sarah sat up with her last night, and I think she is a little better this morning. Mamma is better, but only gets up for a little while in the evening, and cannot leave her room. I wish you were at home, for I don't know what to do: I am running backwards and forwards between the two rooms all day, and poor Lionel is so forlorn and solitary down stairs, with only papa. There!—that great blot was a tear, for I am so worn out with fatigue and nursing, that I am almost overcome. This winter I was to have come out,—how very different! I forgot to tell you, after all, that the carriage shall meet you, as you mention, on the 15th. I wish it was directly; they will be all well by the time you come. But it is so very forlorn, and I am so nervous; so excuse this scrawl.
"Your affectionate cousin,
As soon as Marian read this letter, she gave it to Edmund, saying, "I think I had better go home."
"O, Marian, you must not cheat us!" cried Agnes.
"I think they would be very glad of you," said Edmund, and withal Marian's mind was made up, and she withstood all the persuasions of Gerald and Agnes that it was nothing—nonsense—only Clara's dismality—they would laugh at her for coming for nothing. No; Marian knew she was no nurse, but she could not bear to think of Lionel left to his blindness and helplessness, still less of Caroline, ill, and with no one to cheer her. She was sure she was wanted by those two at least, and she resolved that she would be at Oakworthy to-morrow evening, wrote notice of her intention to Clara, and prepared for her journey, giving up that precious last week, so prized because it was the last. She could go alone with her maid; there was no use in spoiling Gerald's holidays; so he would stay for all the delights that she gave up, ruining all by her absence, as every one declared.
Agnes grumbled and scolded her to her face, but made up for it out of hearing, by admiring her more than ever. Mr. and Mrs. Wortley gave her silent approval, and the boys would not wish her a pleasant journey. She was ready early the next morning, and once more left Fern Torr, bright with the promise that, when she was there next, it would be no more a guest.
She prosperously arrived at the station nearest Oakworthy, and soon saw the servant waiting for her. "Is Miss Lyddell better?"
"A little better than last night, ma'am. Mr. Lionel is in the carriage."
Marian had not at all expected any one to meet her, especially Lionel, coming all this distance in silence and darkness. She hastened to the carriage, and saw him leaning forward, listening for her. His face lighted up at her, "Well, Lionel," and he fairly hurt her, by the tightness of his grasp, when once he had met her hand. "So, you're come! What a time it has been since you went! Now you are come, I don't care."
"And how are you?" she asked anxiously.
"Bad enough to be going back to the oculist next week," he answered; "I can't even see the light."
A long silence; then, "How is Caroline?"
"Pretty much the same; it is a bad, feverish cold, and shocking throat. She breathes as if she was half stifled, and can hardly speak."
"I suppose she has Mr. Wells?"
"Yes, two or three times a day,"
"And Mrs. Lyddell is better?"
"Better, but not out of her room. It has been a tolerable state of things of late. Not a creature to speak to, except, now and then, Clara coming down to maunder and sigh over all she has to do, and my father, who has been thoroughly in a rage about Elliot. Do you know about all that, Marian?"
"No," she answered.
"It is out now, why he was so set upon Caroline's marriage, he had got Faulkner to back a bill for him; you don't know what that means, I suppose," said Lionel, with his old superior manner;—"made him engage that the money Elliot borrowed should be paid. There was to be some shuffle between them about her fortune it seems; so after the engagement was off, when the bill became due, Faulkner sent the holder of it to my father for the money and the news of this set on all the other creditors. No end of bills coming in, and he has been pretty nearly crazy among them; says we shall be beggars, and I don't know what all! I vow, it is my old plan coming right!" cried Lionel vehemently. "If the man in London can but set my eyes to rights, I'd be off to Australia to-morrow, instead of staying here to make all worse. Well, it's no use thinking of it: if ever I make my fortune now, it will be with a dog in a string, and a hat in his mouth."
"But go on, Lionel; are the debts so very bad?"
"I believe they are indeed, and no one knows the worst of them yet. No wonder Elliot was off to Paris in such a hurry, like a coward as he is, no one knows how he is ever to come back! And worst of all is to have mamma going about saying 'tis Caroline's fault! Hadn't I rather come to the hat and dog in good earnest than to see her marry that man? Why, Marian, he is actually engaged to Miss Dashwood! What do you say to that? To the Radical Dashwood's daughter that behaved so shamefully to papa!"
"No, the man. Fit company for the apostate, isn't it? He had better have begun with her. Fine love his must have been. Only six weeks. Should not that cure Caroline?"
"Has she heard it?"
"No, we have only known it since she was ill, and Clara thought she had better not tell her."
"Very right of Clara," said Marian; "but I think she will be glad, when she is well enough to be told."
Fast and eagerly did Marian and Lionel talk all the way, sometimes gravely and sorrowfully about Elliot and Caroline, sometimes cheerfully about Fern Torr, Edmund, and Gerald, of whom Lionel wanted much to hear. He clapped his hands, and danced himself up and down with ecstasy at the history of Gerald's embellishments of the plans, vowed that Gerald was a Trojan, and that it was as good as Beauty and the Beast, and seemed to be enjoying a perfect holiday in having some one to speak to again. "But," he said, "what a horrid bore it must have been to you to come away!"
"I thought I might be some help to Clara."
"Did she make you think Caroline so very ill? Mr. Wells says it is only a very bad cold. But I am very glad you are come."
Clara met Marian in the hall. "O Marian, I am glad you are come, but I am sorry you came home in such a hurry. Mamma says there was no occasion, and that I need not have frightened you, for it is only a bad attack of influenza."
"Then I hope Caroline Is better."
"Yes, rather, and she will be so glad to see you. Come to her at once, won't you? she heard the carriage, and is watching for you."
Marian hastily followed Clara to Caroline's room. In a few seconds both Caroline's arms were thrown round her neck, and a burning feverish face pressed to hers, then as she raised herself again, one of her hands still held fast, and Caroline lay looking up to her with an expression of relief and comfort. "Thank you," she murmured, in a hoarse low painful whisper, the sound of which gave an impression of dismay to Marian. Caroline was far worse than she had been prepared to sec her. That loud, oppressed, gasping breathing, the burning fever of hands and cheek, the parched lips,—this was far more than ordinary influenza. Marian stood watching her a little while; speaking now and then, until she closed her eyes in weariness, not for sleep, when she was about to leave the room, but Caroline looked up again anxiously and restlessly, and tried to say, "Come back."
"Yes, I'll come in a moment," said Marian, "I'll only just take off my bonnet, and go and see Mrs. Lyddell, if I may."
"O, yes, she is up, she knows you are come," said Clara, and Marian was presently knocking at Mrs. Lyddell's door.
She found her sitting by the fire in a large easy chair, in her dressing-gown and shawl, and was surprised at the first sight of her too, for that very weakening complaint, the influenza, had made a great change in her, perhaps assisted by all that she had gone through during the last summer and autumn, beginning with the parting with John, the grief and anxiety for Lionel, the disappointment and warfare with Caroline, and worse than all, the discoveries respecting her eldest and favourite son. She looked a dozen years older, all the clearness of her complexion was gone, and the colouring that remained, as if ingrained, was worse than paleness; her hand shook with weakness, and the only trace of her prompt, decided activity was in the nervous agitation of her movements, and the querulous sharpness of her tones, as if her weakness was irritating to her.
"Marian, how are you? I am sorry you have cut short your visit to come back to a sick house. I am afraid Clara has been alarming you needlessly."
"I am very sorry to find you so unwell," said Marian; "I thought Clara would want some help."
"Thank you, it was very kind," said Mrs. Lyddell, rather sharply, as if her thanks were only for form's sake. "Have you seen Caroline?"
"Yes, and I am afraid she is very ill. Such a terrible oppression on her breath."
"Ah! so Clara says. Mr. Wells has been applying mustard poultices."
"Have you had no further advice?" said Marian.
"No. He managed me very well; he is perfectly competent to attend an influenza such as this—a very simple affair."
Mrs. Lyddell was evidently under the unreasonable infatuation that so many people are subject to, who will go on trusting their favourite apothecary, in spite of proofs that he is not to be trusted; but Marian, in her short life, had heard a good deal of doctors, and whether reasonably or not, had imbibed a distrust of country practitioners, which Lionel's misfortune had not tended to remove in Mr. Wells' case. Indeed, she had a particular dislike to the man, with his soft manner, love of set speeches and fine words, and resolution not to own that anything was the matter. There were stories abroad in the neighbourhood of his treating cases wrongly because he would not own they were beyond his skill.
"Mrs. Lyddell," said she, very earnestly, "I do believe that Caroline is very ill. I think her throat is in a very alarming state, and I should not be at all satisfied to go on with no further advice."
Mrs. Lyddell made some answer about girls being easily frightened, and Marian went back to Caroline, very unhappy and anxious, and trying to find comfort by telling herself that the cure does not depend alone on the physician.
However, the words she had spoken were not without effect. Mrs. Lyddell's answer had been prompted by her first impulse of dislike and opposition, as if Marian was taking still further upon her; but she became very anxious when left alone. She thought that Marian's fresh eye might be better able to judge of the degree of Caroline's illness; she remembered how she had reproached herself about Lionel, and at last worked herself into such a state of alarm and anxiety, that though she had not yet walked further than to the window, she rose, left her room, and presently was by her daughter's bed-side.
There needed no more to convince her that Caroline was excessively ill, and quick and prompt as ever, her first measure was to send Clara for her father, and hold a consultation with him outside the door; a message was despatched to hasten Mr. Wells, and the result was that a physician was sent for. Marian, who had all this time been watching the severe suffering, unable to do the least thing to alleviate it, was almost as glad as if she had been told of Caroline's certain recovery. She had again to tell herself not to put her trust in physicians.
"Preach, read, and study as we will, Death is the mighty teacher still."
Caroline continued very ill all the evening, hardly able to to look up, and every attempt to speak or swallow causing her great pain. Her mother would not leave her again, and sat watching her, and she smiled, and gave a pleased look of surprise at her kindness, which she had so long missed; but her chief comfort seemed to be in Marian's presence. She followed her about the room with her eyes, and was uneasy whenever she fancied that she was going out of the room.
She was not told that the physician was coming till he was actually in the house, and then she gave Marian a quick, sharp look of alarmed inquiry; but Marian was not able to answer, as she had to leave her to his visit. When it was over, and Marian returned, while Mrs. Lyddell went to hear his opinion, Caroline was striving hard to speak. Marian bent over her, and at last heard one word gasped out—"Walter."
"Yes, I will tell Mr. Lyddell; he shall be sent for, dearest," said Marian; and Caroline seemed satisfied.
It was long before Marian had an opportunity of hearing what the physician's opinion had been, and there was little comfort in it. It was a very severe case of inflammation in the windpipe, and the only hope of subduing it was in instant recourse to strong remedies. How badly it was thought of she saw plainly enough, without words, in Mr. Lyddell's restless, hasty manner, and in the exertions which Mrs. Lyddell was allowed to make, at a time when she ought to have been in her bed. The worst sign of all was, it seemed to her, that as soon as she mentioned Caroline's wish to see Walter, Mr. Lyddell took measures for sending a letter at once by the railroad, instead of waiting for the post, which would have made a delay of two days.
Lionel sat meanwhile, by himself in the drawing room, or was found wandering on the stairs, anxiously listening. Marian came on him once, and had exclaimed at finding him in the dark, before she remembered that it made no difference to him. She was in haste to fetch something for Caroline and could do nothing for him but say the sad words, "No better."
All night Mrs. Lyddell and Marian stayed with Caroline; the one because she could not bear to go, the other because she could not be spared. Mrs. Lyddell would not acknowledge the extent of the danger to herself, far less allow any hint of it to come to Caroline; and for this Marian was sorry, though she was sure that Caroline was conscious of it herself; but with Mrs. Lyddell always present, it was impossible to read any of the things that would have been the only support at such a time. Poor Caroline could not speak to ask for them, and as if her mother feared they would bring death, she seemed to be watching Marian jealously to prevent the least approach to them.
It was a terrible night; the applications did nothing but cause suffering, instead of removing the disorder,—the oppression grew more and more severe,—each breath more painful; the two watchers hardly dared to meet each other's eyes, and Caroline was in too much pain, too oppressed and overwhelmed, to give any token how far the mind and thought was awake within her. Such another day succeeded, every hour extinguishing some faint hope, and bringing the dread certainty more fully upon them. There was little or nothing to be done: they could only watch the sufferer, and try to glean her wishes from her looks; but these usually expressed more of pain than aught else, and no one could tell whether the ear and thought were free. One, at least, who sat beside her prayed fervently, and trusted in hope and love; holding fast by the certainty that Caroline had embraced the good part, and given up the allurements of the world, in health, for the sake of the treasure to which she was hastening. That last letter of her's was surely a proof that she was ready; and who could wish to detain that worn, harassed spirit from the repose where earthly cares shall "cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest?" Yet how Marian loved and clung to her, and felt as if she could never bear to part, and lose the affection that had been so long kept off by her own repulsive demeanour, but that was so ardent and unreserved! How grievous to think of the blooming, life-like creature that she was so lately, now so suddenly cut down!
Hour after hour went by, bringing no change for the better. Day had faded into twilight, and twilight became night. Midnight had come, and Marian was still sitting, as she had done for more than an hour, holding up the faint head; for Caroline could no longer breathe in a recumbent posture, and sat partly supported on pillows, partly resting on Marian's shoulder. Her eyes were shut, and she seemed unconscious; it might be that she slept, but the features were full of suffering, and Marian could feel each of her breaths, gasping and convulsive. Her mother hung over her, feeling her pulse, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, or walking to the foot of the bed to speak to Mr. Lyddell, or to the apothecary, in the restless misery of despair. Mr. Lyddell came in and out, unable to bear the sight, yet unable to stay away. Clara had been too much overcome, and growing hysterical, had been sent away, and advised to go to bed. Lionel, too, had been sent to bed, but his room was in the same passage, and he lay with his door open, catching, with his quickened ears, at every sound in the sick room, and hearing each word of the hushed conferences that took place outside.
A fresh tread was in the house—on the stairs—in the passage; Lionel's heart could not help bounding at it, as it came so softly along. It was the tread of the brother who, for his effort of courage and principle had been allowed to leave home like an exile, and treated as an offender. Lionel heard his father's step coming to meet him: how would they meet? He could hear the movement as their hands grasped together, and then Mr. Lyddell's smothered, choked whisper, "Only just in time, Walter! she won't know you. Come!"
"Is it so?" said Walter, in a low tone, as of one extremely choked and overwhelmed.
A sort of sob came before the answer, "Going fast."
The steps moved on; Lionel could not stay where he was, dressed himself, and felt his way to the sick room. He heard the stifled breathings: he felt onward,—found he had hold of the bed-post, and leant against it, unheeded by all, so intently were all watching Caroline.
"Speak to her," was the first thing he heard whispered by the doctor.
"Caroline!" said Walter's trembling voice, "dear Caroline!"
Poor Lionel could not see how, at the call, the dark blue eyes once more opened, and looked up in Walter's face; he only heard the steadier tone in which the brother said the ministerial words, "Peace be with this house!"
The solemn calmness of the tone came gently and soothingly upon Lionel's ear; and withal there spread over Caroline's face a gleam of joy, and then a quiet stillness, as of a freedom from suffering. There was an interval—a gasp—another interval—another gasp—a pause—
Marian's voice was the first, and very low and awe-struck. "It has been without a struggle."
A slight cry from his mother, and a confused movement, as if they were lifting something—steps—he stood still, and the next moment felt Marian's hand on his arm. "Mrs. Lyddell has fainted," said she, in explanation; "Mr. Lyddell and Walter are taking her to her own room,"
Lionel clasped Marian's hand very tight, and each felt how the other was trembling. "We must come away," said Marian; then hesitating, and with a quivering whisper, she said, "Would you like to kiss her?"
"Yes, let me!"
It was strange to guide the blind brother to kiss the white brow of the dead sister. Marian's throat was aching to such a degree with intense feeling, that she could hardly utter a word; but Lionel, who could not see, must hear. "She looks so calm, so sweet," said Marian struggling, "but I must go to your mother. Let me take you to your room; I'll send Walter to you. Lionel, Lionel, indeed she is happy!" said Marian, earnestly, while Lionel burst into a flood of tears, wholesome tears, as she led him from the room.
She thought Walter would be the greatest comfort to him; and recollecting Mrs. Lyddell had no woman with her but her maid, she told Lionel she must go to his mother, ran down, and met Walter waiting in the dressing-room. "Is she recovering?"
"Will you go to Lionel?"
"This instant, but—" and he looked at her earnestly.
"Yes, yes," said she hastily, "it is all right and beautiful. Here's her last letter; I've been reading it all day. Take it; you'll see how—"
Marian's voice broke down, and she hastened to the open door of Mrs. Lyddell's room. There was something for her to do in attempting to restore her, for the maid was not helpful; and Mr. Lyddell stood at the foot of the bed, as if all his powers were paralysed. Mr. Wells wanted assistance; for Mrs. Lyddell, exhausted by watching and her previous weakness, was in so sinking and depressed a state, as to need the greatest care.
Marian was employed in attending her till towards morning, when she sank into a sleep. "You had better go to bed," said Mr. Lyddell, very kindly, as Marian at length turned away from her, and stood by the fireside, where he was sitting in the arm-chair, his hands over his forehead "I must not let you overwork yourself."
"O, I am not tired, if I can be of any use."
"No, no, rest now, thank you," said he, in a broken, dejected tone.
She went, and again found Walter in the outer room, watching for tidings of his mother. "Asleep," she said. "Lionel?"
"Asleep too, I hope. You are going to bed?"
"Yes, thank you; but Clara—"
"I will go to Clara the first thing in the morning. I shall sit up on my father's account. Don't you think of it,—sleep as long as you can; you have had watching enough."
"I have been so glad," Marian said, in a tear-stilled whisper.
"You cannot tell how I have longed to thank you, Marian, for what you have been to her:" said Walter, speaking from the fulness of heart, which overcame his natural reserve and bashfulness. "You are thanked enough by our present feelings on the subject,—by that letter:—may I keep it a little longer?"
"O yes, yes!" cried Marian, hastily, disclaiming in her heart all his thanks, though unable to do so with her lips.
"It takes away all regret for the briefness of the illness," added Walter, as if the speaking of it was a satisfaction he could hardly relinquish.
"I am sure she thought much; no one can tell what passed," said Marian, in a low, broken murmur.
"Little did I think last summer—" said Walter, aloud to himself. "Yes, this is best, far best, if one could but feel it so!"
Marian thought the same, and, like him, could not feel it; but unable to express herself, she simply said, as soon as her tears would let her, "Good-night," and went up to her own room.
Fatigue came on her now. When she took off the dress she had worn since leaving Fern Torr, she found her limbs stiff and aching, and her head dizzy with weariness. She could hardly get through the operation of undressing; and when she tried to say her prayers, they would not come. She could only go through the LORD'S Prayer; and too worn out to be shocked at herself more than in a dull way, scarcely even alive to the recollection of what had happened, she laid herself down on the bed, which seemed strangely soft, but for a long time was too tired to sleep. With confused thoughts and exhausted spirits, she kept on feeling as if her aching limbs belonged to somebody else, and going off into odd, dreamy vagaries, each more uncomfortable than the last,—ever and anon waking into a moment's remembrance that Caroline was dead, wondering at herself for being so dull as only to think it strange, then losing the consciousness again. At last the light of morning made her perceptions clearer. Fanny knocked at her door, and brought her a cup of tea. She heard that all was quiet,—said she would get up; but with that resolution she suddenly became more easy, and while believing she was getting up, fell into a sound sleep.
She awoke refreshed, and entirely herself again, though feeling stunned and bewildered by the all-pervading thought. Caroline dead! It seemed as if it was not otherwise with the rest of the family. Her illness had been so short, that there had been no time to grow familiar with the idea of her danger; and it was the first death in the household that had hitherto been so strong and confident in health,—the first touch that taught them how little the world they loved was an abiding-place. So sudden had been the stroke, that they seemed to pause and stand aghast under it, scarcely conscious how deep the wound might be. Her father went about the house, bowed down and stricken with grief, his tones low, sorrowful, and so gentle when speaking to his children, or to Marian, that they could scarcely be recognised as the same voice; but, without a word, so far as Marian, Clara, or Lionel knew, of his daughter, or of his own feelings. Her mother, already very weak, and suffering most acutely from the remembrance of the coldness with which she had treated her during the last autumn, became so seriously unwell, between a return of influenza, and her extreme depression and nervous hysterical agitation, that Marian and Clara were almost entirely occupied in nursing her, and trying to soothe her. In this work they were little successful. Marian had no hold on her affection, no power of talking soothingly, though most anxious to do what she could, and distressed excessively by her inability to be a comfort in the painful scenes which she was obliged to witness. She almost thought her presence made things worse, and that Mrs. Lyddell wished her away; but poor Clara was so entirely helpless and frightened, clung to her in so imploring a way, and was so incapable, from the restraint that had always subsisted between her and her mother, of saying anything to comfort her, or assuming any direction, that Marian was obliged, for her sake, to be almost always in the room. The only thing Marian could do in the way of consolation was to read aloud; she could not talk of the great thankfulness, peace, and hope which she felt herself, to Mrs. Lyddell, though she could have done so a little, with time, to Lionel, or even Clara; she could only read, and whether this did any good, she knew not. At any rate, it was what she ought to do; and the sound of the voice going on continuously had certainly a calming effect. Walter used daily to come and read, but this she did not seem to like, though she never made any objection; and there was so much reason for guarding against agitation and excitement, that he, never familiar with her, could not venture to attempt speaking to her on the subject of which all their hearts were full. It was only Mr. Lyddell who had any real serviceable influence with her. Her hysterical attacks never came on in his presence, and a few affectionate words or demonstrations from him would soothe the very worst of them. Marian saw so much real tenderness in his character, that she positively began to feel considerable affection for him.
Clara was entirely bewildered and frightened, hardly yet realizing that she had lost her sister; perplexed and alarmed about her mother, suddenly thrust forward, from being an unregarded child, into having all the responsibilities of the eldest daughter of a sick mother on her hands, she could only depend upon Marian, and hang on her for direction, assistance, and consolation,—say "yes" to whatever she suggested, and set about it; and whenever she felt lonely, sisterless, and wretched, lean on her, pour out her grief, and feel that she had a kind listener, though only a monosyllabic answerer. She used to have great fits of crying at night, when they passed Caroline's door; and more than once she was so inconsolable, that Marian was obliged to come and stay in her room, and sleep all night with her arm clinging round her. Altogether, it was very desolate and perplexing; and Marian was grieved at herself for dwelling more on this, and on the loss of her dear companion and friend, than on the hope and happiness that ought to occupy her. How different in the two deaths she had known before, where there was none of this weary, harassed, doubtful, careworn feeling; only the sorrow, bitter indeed as it was, of the parting, but with time and scope for dwelling on all thoughts of comfort, when they would come.
Lionel had his brother, and was thus in the best hands; and she saw very little of him except at meal-times, when all were silent and subdued.
So passed the week before the funeral. Only the gentlemen attended it; Marian and Clara stayed with Mrs. Lyddell, who went through the time better than they had ventured to hope. She was altogether improved, and was able to sit up a little in the evening. Lionel was to go the next day to London, to be seen by the oculist; and her sanguine mind was fastening itself on the hope of his recovery; and though there was too much danger that she was only hoping in order to be the more disappointed, yet the present relief was great.
Marian and Clara went down to dinner somewhat cheered, and hoping to carry satisfaction with them; but there was a deeper despondency in Mr. Lyddell's air than ever. He scarcely seemed to know what he was doing; and when at last dinner was over, he rose up, stood by the fire a moment, coughed, said to Walter, "You tell them," and ran upstairs.
There was a silence: each of the three dreaded to ask what was the matter; Walter did not know how to begin. Marian began to think it was some family misfortune, better mentioned in her absence, and was rising to go away; but Walter exclaimed, "No, don't go, Marian; all the world must know it soon, I fear."
"Not Johnny!" cried Clara. "O, Walter, Walter, don't let it be Johnny!"
"No," said Lionel; "I know it is something more about Elliot. Is it very bad indeed, Walter?"
"Very; I do not think he is going to tell my mother the full extent. There was a letter from Paris this morning, from Captain Evans, saying he thought it right that my father should be warned that Elliot is going on there in his old way, and worse still, is reported to be on the brink of a ruinous marriage."
Clara was the first to break the silence of consternation. "Marriage! and now! a Frenchwoman! O Walter, Walter it can't be true! he can't do it now, at any rate!"
"There is some hope that this may make a delay: it is the one chance that my father trusts to," said Walter. "The history seems to be this, as far as I can understand. When the discovery of all these debts came on my father, he wrote Elliot a very indignant letter, refusing to be answerable for any of them except that which Faulkner had guaranteed which of course he paid at once. This letter seems to have stirred Elliot up into a fit of passion; he went on more recklessly than ever, and now is getting drawn into this miserable connection."
"Yes, just like Elliot!" said Lionel. "And what is papa going to do?"
"He means to go to Paris at once, sacrifice any thing, pay all the debts at any cost, if he can only bring Elliot back with him, and save him from ruining himself entirely."
"But he is not going to tell mamma about the marriage, I hope?" said Clara.
"No, he will leave her to think it is only the old story, and that he wants to see if anything can be done about the debts. There is a hope that the news he must have had by this time may have checked him."
"Perhaps it may be bringing him home," said Marian.
"No, I fear he is too much involved to venture to England."
Again following a silence; no one could think of anything consoling to suggest; all were unwilling to heap censure upon one who deserved it but too richly. Only Lionel was heard to give a sort of groan, find after a time Clara asked, "Is it a Frenchwoman?"
"Yes," said Walter; "a person connected with the theatres."
The four again sat in mournful silence.
"I suppose," said Lionel at length, "that my going to London had better be put off till he comes back."
"No," said Walter, "he wishes that to be done at once. We are all three to go to London to-morrow, as was settled before; he will go with you to see the oculist, and on to Dover by the night-train; and if the oculist wishes to keep you, I shall stay with you in London till he comes back, or till my mother and the rest can come."
"Thank you," said Lionel, sighing; "I wish I could help it! Is not it leaving a pretty state of things behind us, though? not that we are any great good to the ladies to be sure!"
"Yes, it is leaving you at a very sad time," said Walter, looking at the two girls, "but we are hardly able to be of much use to my mother, and if there was any prospect of your improvement, that they all say would do her more good than anything else. However, my father said that must be according to your feelings, Clara and Marian, if you were afraid to be left with the charge of her, I would remain."
One of Walter's awkward ways of putting the question, and it instantly suggested to Clara to be afraid.
"I am sure I shan't know what to do. Only think, Marian, for us to be left—what should we do if mamma was to get suddenly worse? We should have no one to help us, I shall be in such a nervous state, I could do no good."
"No, no, Clara, you won't," said Marian, whilst Walter had begun to look in consternation at Clara. "Nobody ever has nerves when there is anything to be done. You know Mrs. Lyddell is much better."
"O but she will be so very unhappy and excited about papa's being gone, and I am sure I shall never be able to conceal from her all this dreadful business about Elliot."
"Yes, you will," said Marian quietly. "We shall do very well indeed, it cannot be for long, and if we wanted him we could get Walter home in a few hours' time. If he can send us good news of Lionel, it will help us much more than his staying here could do."
"If dear Caroline,"—and Clara burst into a fit of weeping, which obliged her to leave the room. Every one was feeling the same thing, that Caroline, with her energy, good sense, and the power she had once possessed with her mother, would have made all easy, and the sense of missing her had come strongly upon them all. Marian followed Clara to her own room, let her lean upon her and cry, wept with her, joined in saying how grievous the loss was, and how much they had loved her, and how they should want her every day and every hour, then called hack the remembrance that Caroline had not been happy here, and had longed for rest, and it was come to her, and they must not be selfish, but there Clara cried more, saying that Marian never knew what a sister was, and it was unkind to wish her to be glad.
"I don't know," said Marian, pausing as her tears flowed fast, "I have known death, Clara."
"You weren't glad!" said Clara passionately.
"I don't know," she said thinking, and speaking with difficulty. "Not then, not always now, O no! But I always knew I ought to be glad, for dear papa had suffered so much, I could not wish it to be going on still—no, no. And dear mamma, when he was gone, it was a sad world for her, she could only have wished to stay for our sakes. Yet, after the first, I always felt it was right, and so will you too, Clara, in time."
"If she was but here to help me!" sobbed Clara.
"We must try," said Marian, "we can't be as useful and ready as she was, but we will do our very best. I am sure Mrs. Lyddell likes to have you sit with her."
"Did you think so?" said Clara, ready to be cheered by any token, of preference.
"Yes, I saw how glad she was to have you instead of me, when you came in from the garden."
Clara looked pleased.
"You will sit with her, and read to her, and I can help you when you have too much on your hands at once. You see it is a great comfort to Mr. Lyddell to have you to leave her with."
The being made important was a great thing with Clara, and she was quite reconciled to the prospect of her charge by the time they had to go down stairs to tea.
After tea Marian was left alone with Lionel, while Clara was with her mother; and Walter in consultation with Mr. Lyddell, for here at least was one benefit, that Walter seemed to have taken his proper place, and to be a real comfort and help to his father in a way he had never hoped for.
"You've cheered up Clara, I hear in her voice," said Lionel.
"O yes, we shall do very well."
"Do you mind it, Marian?" said he, turning his ear towards her, as if to judge by the minute intonations of her answer, as people do by the expression of the countenance.
Her reply was brave, "No, not at all."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I don't see what would be gained by keeping you and Walter here. She does not depend on Walter as she does on your father, and all that is required we can do as well without Walter in the house. It would be nonsense to keep you merely for the feel of having some one, and for the rest, I am sure Clara will be the better for being thrust forward, and made useful."
"Very well. I should not in the least mind waiting, for I have not much hope myself, but it is just as well for oneself and every one else to be put out of one's misery as soon as possible, and settle down into it."
Marian remembered how differently he had spoken half a year ago, when the danger first broke on him, and looking up she saw his steadfast though mournful face. She spoke her thought.
"It has been a great thing to have this long preparation."
"Yes, I am glad of it, though I have been a great plague and nuisance to every one, especially to you, Marian. I know what you're going to say, so let alone that. I wish—. But no use talking of that, she was very kind and we got very comfortable together after you were gone, Marian, and I like to remember that."
"Ah! I was sure you would. And Walter read you what she said about you?"
"Yes, I wish—I little knew"—then suddenly "Marian, I'll tell you something: one morning when you were gone, she had to read a bit of a chapter in the Gospel about the healing the blind man, and you can't think how hard she tried to get through it without breaking down, but she could not. She cried at last, as if she could not help it, and then she got up, and came and kissed me, and I felt her tears on my face. I didn't know what to say, but that's what I like to remember."