'Oh, Percy! thank you more for this than for all. If the pressure had come, I believe it would have killed him. If you had seen the misery of those days!'
'And now,' continued Percy, 'poor Arthur is most anxious it should be paid; but I ought not to consent. If he were to sell out now, he would be almost destitute. I have persuaded him to let all rest in silence till John comes.'
'I am glad you have,' said Theodora. 'I am afraid papa is a good deal pressed for money. The rents have had to be reduced; and John wants all the Barbuda income to spend on the estate there. Even before the fire, papa talked of bringing John home to cut off the entail, and sell some land; and the house was insured far short of its value. He wants to get rid of Armstrong and all the finery of the garden; but he is afraid of vexing mamma, and in the meantime he is very glad that we are living more cheaply in the cottage. I really do not think he could conveniently pay such a sum; and just at present, too, I had rather poor Arthur's faults were not brought before him.'
'It comes to this, then;—Is it for your happiness to enter upon an indefinite engagement, and wait for the chance of my working myself up into such a competency as may make our marriage not too imprudent? It cannot, as far as I can see, be for years; it may be never.'
'When I thought you would not have me, I meant to be an old maid,' said Theodora; 'and, Percy, this time you shall not think I do not care for you. If we have to wait for our whole lives, let it be with the knowledge that we belong to each other. I could not give up that now, and'—as he pressed her hand—'mind, I am old enough to be trusted to choose poverty. I know I can live on a little: I trust to you to tell me whenever there is enough.'
'And your father?'
'He will not object—he will rejoice. The way I regarded that dear father was one of the worst sins of that time! It is better it should be as it is. Mamma could not well do without me now; I should be in doubt about leaving her, even if the rest were plain. So that is trouble saved,' she added with a smile.
'If they will see it in the same light! If they will forgive as readily as you do one of the greatest injuries to a young lady.'
'Hush—nonsense. Papa always considered that it served me right. And really this is such perfect content, that I do not know how to understand it. You had always the power of reconciliation in your hands; but, you know, I had not; and, apart from all other feelings, the mere craving for pardon was so painful! It was only yesterday morning that I was thinking it might, at least, come in the other world.'
'The pardon I was begging Violet to seek for me!—I trusted to obtain that, though I little hoped—'
'But indeed, Percy, we must write our letters, or the children will be upon us again.'
Her letter was more easily written than Percy's. He wrote, and tore up, and considered, and talked to her, and wished John was at home, and said that Lord Martindale would be perfectly justified in withdrawing his consent, and declaring him a presumptuous wretch.
'What! when you have rescued his son? No, indeed, papa knows you too well! I have no fears: for though he is not aware of the cost of what you did for Arthur, he is most grateful for what he does know of; he thinks you saved his life, and even without that, he is too kind to me to do what—I could not bear.'
'I will try to believe you.'
'I was thinking that this is just retribution on me, that whereas I led Arthur into temptation, this debt should be the obstacle.'
Perhaps nothing gratified him more than to hear her speak of the loan as if she participated in the loss, not as if she viewed it from the Martindale side of the question, and felt it too much of an obligation.
His letter was not written till just in time for the post, and it travelled in the same cover with hers. Till the answer arrived he was very anxious, came little to the house, and only put on his cheerful air before Arthur, whose spirits could not afford to be lowered. Theodora was secure. She knew that she deserved that there should be difficulties; but at the same time she had the sense that the tide had turned. Pardon had come, and with it hope; and though she tried to school herself to submit to disappointment, she could not expect it. She knew she might trust to her father's kind unworldly temper and sense of justice, now that he was left to himself. And when the letter came, Percy brought it in triumph under the shade of the old green umbrella, which hitherto he had not dared to produce.
Lord Martindale said everything affectionate and cordial. If he grieved at the unpromising prospect, he was wise enough to know it was too late to try to thwart an attachment which had survived such shocks; and he only dwelt on his rejoicing that, after all her trials, his daughter should have merited the restoration of the affection of one whom he esteemed so highly.
He fully forgave the former rejection, and declared that it was with far more hope and confidence of their happiness that he now accorded his sanction than when last it had been asked; and the terms in which he spoke of his daughter seemed to deepen her humility by the strength of their commendation.
Happy days succeeded; the lodgings in Piccadilly were nearly deserted, Percy was always either nursing Arthur, playing with the children, or bringing sheets of Byzantine history for revision; and he was much slower in looking over Theodora's copies of them than in writing them himself. There was much grave quiet talk between the lovers when alone together. They were much altered since the time when their chief satisfaction seemed to lie in teasing and triumphing over one another; past troubles and vague prospects had a sobering influence; and they felt that while they enjoyed their present union as an unlooked-for blessing, it might be only a resting point before a long period of trial, separation, and disappointment. It gave a resigned tone to their happiness, even while its uncertainty rendered it more precious.
All mirthfulness, except what the children called forth, was reserved for Arthur's room; but he thought Percy as gay and light-hearted as ever, and his sister not much less so. Percy would not bring their anxieties to depress the fluctuating spirits, which, wearied with the sameness of a sick-room, varied with every change of weather, every sensation of the hour.
Theodora almost wondered at Percy's talking away every desponding fit of Arthur's, whether about his health, his money matters, or their hopes. She said, though it was most trying to hear him talk of never coming down again, of not living to see the children grow up, and never allowing that he felt better, that she thought, considering how much depended on the impression now made, it might be false kindness to talk away his low spirits. Were they not repentance? Perhaps Percy was right, but she should not have dared to do so.
'Theodora, you do not know the difference between reflection and dejection. Arthur's repentance is too deep a thing for surface talk. It does not depend on my making him laugh or not.'
'If anxiety about himself keeps it up—'
'If I let him believe that I do not think he will recover, for the sake of encouraging his repentance, I should be leaving him in a delusion, and that I have no right to do. Better let him feel himself repenting as having to redeem what is past, than merely out of terror, thinking the temptations have given him up, not that he gives them up. Why, when he told me to sell his saddle-horses the other day, and that he should never ride again, it was nothing, and I only roused him up to hope to be out in the spring. Then he began to lament over his beautiful mare,—but when it came to his saying he had sacrificed Violet's drives for her, and that he had been a selfish wretch, who never deserved to mount a horse again, and ending with a deep sigh, and "Let her go, I ought to give her up," there was reality and sincerity, and I acted on it. No, if Arthur comes out of his room a changed character, it must be by strengthening his resolution, not by weakening his mind, by letting him give way to the mere depression of illness.'
'You believe the change real? Oh, you don't know what the doubt is to me! after my share in the evil, the anxiety is doubly intense! and I cannot see much demonstration except in his sadness, which you call bodily weakness.'
'We cannot pry into hidden things,' Percy answered. 'Watch his wife, and you will see that she is satisfied. You may trust him to her, and to Him in whose hands he is. Of this I am sure, that there is a patient consideration for others, and readiness to make sacrifices that are not like what he used to be. You are not satisfied? It is not as you would repent; but you must remember that Arthur's is after all a boy's character; he has felt his errors as acutely as I think he can feel them, and if he is turning from them, that is all we can justly expect. They were more weakness than wilfulness.'
'Not like mine!' said Theodora; 'but one thing more, Percy—can it be right for him to see no clergyman?'
'Wait,' said Percy again. 'Violet can judge and influence him better than you or I. Depend upon it, she will do the right thing at the right time. Letting him alone to learn from his children seems to me the safest course.'
Theodora acquiesced, somewhat comforted by the conversation, though it was one of those matters in which the most loving heart must submit to uncertainty, in patient hope and prayer.
Just before Christmas, Theodora was summoned home; for her mother was too unwell and dispirited to do without her any longer. Her father offered to come and take her place, but Arthur and Violet decided that it would be a pity to unsettle him from home again. Arthur was now able to sit up for some hours each day, and Percy undertook to be always at hand. He was invited to Brogden for Christmas; but it was agreed between him and Theodora that they must deny themselves the pleasure of spending it together; they thought it unfit to leave Violet even for a few days entirely unassisted.
Mr. Hugh Martindale came to fetch Theodora home. He brought a more satisfactory account of poor Emma, who had never forwarded the promised explanation to Theodora. Lady Elizabeth had applied to him to clear Emma's mind from some of the doubts and difficulties inspired by her friend, and at present, though her spirits were very low, they considered that one great step had been gained, for she had ceased every day to write to Miss Marstone.
Theodora had fixed many hopes on her cousin's interview with Arthur, but they only talked of Brogden news; however, she heard afterwards that Hugh was well satisfied with what he had seen of him, and that he thought Percy's view the safest. It was better to force nothing upon him. It was a sad struggle to resolve to depart, but it was made in thankfulness, when Theodora remembered the feelings with which she had entered that house. She went up in the early morning to wish Arthur good-bye. He raised himself and embraced her fondly.
'Thank you, Theodora,' he said; 'you have been a good sister to me.'
'Oh, Arthur, Arthur!' as the dark remembrance came, but he did not perceive it.
'I have been an ungrateful wretch, but I never understood it till lately,' said he again. 'The fire,—those children—'
'Hush, hush! you are hurting yourself,' for he was choked with excess of feeling.
'I can't say more;—but, oh! if I could help keeping you from happiness!' and he was here overpowered by cough and emotion so much as to alarm her, and she was forced to keep silence, and only kiss him again. He returned it with a squeeze of the hand and a look of affection. He had never given her such an one in the days when she deemed his love a thing exclusively her own, she had now gained something far better than his heart had then to offer. The best spot in it then had nothing half so deep, fond, and unselfish as what he gave her now.
She had ceased her wilful struggle, and besides all the rest, even this was added unto her.
A calm stream flowing with a muddy one, Till, in its onward current, it absorbs With swifter movement and in purer light The vexed eddies of its wayward brother, A leaning and upbearing parasite, Clothing the stem, which else had fallen quite. Shadow forth thee; the world hath not another Of such refined and chastened purity.
Patience and prayer brought their fruit in due season.
'Violet, you will not be able to go to church on Christmas-day.'
'No, I am not strong enough, even if you could spare me.'
'Do you think Mr. Rivers could come to us?'
'O, thank you!'
Those were the words, but the flush that gave colour to Arthur's face showed the effort which they cost, and his wife's brief answer was cut short by the sweetest tears she had ever shed.
She wrote a note to the clergyman, which was answered by a call the same afternoon. It took Arthur by surprise; but his mind was made up, and colouring deeply, he desired that Mr. Rivers should be shown up. Violet left them alone together, her heart throbbing with grateful hope and supplication.
Arthur's honest though faltering avowal, 'I have never thought enough of these things,' was his whole history.
It had been grace missed and neglected, rather than wilfully abused. There had of course been opportunities, but there had been little culture or guidance in his early days; his confirmation had taken place as a matter of form, and he had never been a communicant, withheld at once by ignorance and dread of strictness, as well as by a species of awe. Even his better and more conscientious feelings had been aroused merely by his affections instead of by the higher sense of duty; and now it was through these that the true voice had at length reached him.
He had learnt more from his little boy's devotions than all the years of his life had taught him. The ever-present influence under which his wife and that child lived and acted, impressed itself on him as a truth and reality, and the consciousness of his full responsibility dawned upon him. In the early part of his illness, his despair had been at the thought of his failures as husband, father, and son. Now there came on him the perception that not merely in his human relations had he transgressed, but that far more had he slighted the Almighty and Long-suffering Father. He looked back on his life of disregard, his dire offences—
Thus awakened, he watched each word from his little unconscious teacher, to gather from them clearer hopes of mercy and pardon. Happily, Johnnie, in his daily lessons, was going through the ground-work, and those words of mighty signification conveyed meanings to the father, which the innocent child had as yet no need to unfold. The long silent hours gave time for thought, and often when the watchers deemed that the stifled groan or restless movement arose from pain or oppression, it was in fact drawn forth by the weight on his mind.
So it had gone on; while mingled feelings of shame, reserve, and reluctance to show himself in a new light, kept his lips closed, and days and weeks passed before he brought himself to speak the word even to his wife. When it was spoken, her silent intense gladness was at once a reward and a rebuke. Though she scarcely spoke, he knew her well enough to perceive more perfect joy than even at the moment when she first made him smile on their first-born son.
He raised his eyes to meet that look again, when, after his interview with the clergyman, she came back to join in fixing the hour. Contrition, dread, shame, penitence, all seemed to be soothed, and yet rendered deeper, by meeting those eyes of serene and perfect content and thankfulness.
That evening Johnnie was turning over prints by his side.
'There is the Good Shepherd, papa. Do you see the poor sheep, who wandered out of the fold, away into the wilderness among the rocks and deserts—that is doing wrong, you know, papa. And it lost its way, and the wolf was watching to tear it to pieces, that is Satan; but the Good Shepherd,' and the child bent his head reverently, 'He went after it. Mamma said that means that He touches our hearts and makes us sorry, and it looked up and was ready—as we pray to be made good again. So then He laid it on His shoulders, and carried it safe home to be happy in the fold again. Is He not very good, papa? And only think! There is joy among the Holy Angels in Heaven when one sinner grieves and comes back.'
Johnnie was wont to go on in this dreamy way without expecting an answer; but he was startled to see his father's face hidden by the shadowy fingers that propped his forehead.
'Has it made your head ache, papa? Must I go away?'
'Say that again, Johnnie.'
'I cannot say it quite right,' answered the boy; 'I only know it says that the Angels in Heaven rejoice and are glad over one sinner that repenteth. I thought about it that night after I had been naughty.'
'You, Johnnie?' Arthur could hardly believe that child capable of a fault.
'Yes,' said Johnnie, with a trembling lip; 'I was cross at doing my lessons with Aunt Theodora instead of mamma, and I was so sorry. But at night, something seemed to bring that verse, and I thought the Angels must have faces like mamma.'
Certainly his father thought so too.
Theodora's Christmas morning was cheered by a letter from Percy, to tell her that he was to be with Arthur and Violet on this occasion. It was greater happiness to her than it would even have been to have had him at Brogden.
It was a very quiet day in Cadogan-place. The full freshness of awe and reverence was upon Arthur, and though he hardly spoke, and made almost no demonstration, the strength of his feeling was attested by the fatigue that ensued, partly, perhaps, from the unwonted effort of fixing his attention. All the rest of the day he lay on the sofa, silent and dozing, till in the evening, when left alone with Johnnie, he only roused himself to ask to have a Bible placed within his reach, and there losing his way in searching for the parable of the strayed sheep, he wandered about in the sayings of St. John's Gospel.
Johnnie's delight had been the dressing the cathedral cup with a spray of holly sent to him from Brogden by his aunt, and now he sat conning the hymns he had heard in church, and musing over his prints in silence, till his brow caught an expression that strangely blended with those dreamy impressions of his father.
'Poor children! they have had a dull Christmas-day!' said Arthur, as they came to bid him good night.
'No, no, papa; the owl-man has had such a game at play with us in the dining-room!' cried Helen.
'Yes,' said Johnnie; 'and you know, papa, I never said my hymn to you on a Christmas-day before. I like to-day the best of all I remember.'
The next day he was glad to find that Johnnie would, after all, have his share of the festivities of the season. Colonel Harrington came to see Arthur, and begged to have his little godson at a New Year's party at his house.
Violet was perplexed. She could not send her little, shy boy alone, yet she did not like to let his father know that it had been a mistake to accept the invitation. Percy came to her aid. 'There is no such fun as a children's party. I wish you would smuggle me in as Johnnie's nursery governess.'
'You know, Mrs. Harrington, don't you?' said Arthur; 'as a general rule, you know every one, and every one knows you.'
'Yes, I know her. Come, Violet, can't you get me in, in Johnnie's train? If you will let me take charge or him, I will keep an eye over the cake, and you shall see how I will muffle him up to come home.'
It was too good an offer to be refused, though Violet had doubts whether it would be perfect happiness, for Johnnie was apt to shrink from strange children, and was unusually shy and timid. However, his spirits had risen of late. Ever since he had found his place in his father's heart, the drooping unchild-like sadness had passed away, and though still grave and thoughtful, there was a life and animation about him at times that cheered and delighted her.
There was a great friendship between him and 'Uncle Percy'; they took walks together, fed the ducks in St. James's Park, had many interesting conversations on Brogden affairs, and Johnnie had been several times at the rooms over the toy-shop, and was on intimate terms with old Puss. Violet knew that he would be safe, and was willing to think it right he should be made more of a man.
She felt her Johnnie's value more than ever that evening, when she saw how his father missed him. After the pleasure of seeing him ready to set off, looking so fair and bright and delicate, Arthur flagged very much.
It had been a trying day. The experiment of a more strengthening diet had resulted in heightened pulse and increased cough, and the medical men had been obliged to own that though the acute inflammation had been subdued, the original evil still remained, and that he was farther from complete recovery than they had lately been hoping. Besides, he had sent in his claim on Mr. Gardner, on hearing of his marriage, and the answer, now due, did not come.
Nothing but the company of the children seemed likely to divert his thoughts, and Helen was too much for him. She was exalted at her own magnanimity in rejoicing that Johnnie should have the treat without her, and was in a boisterous state that led to an edict of banishment, vehemently resisted. It was the first time that anything had gone wrong in Arthur's presence, and Violet was much concerned, and fearful of the effect, when, after the conquest had been achieved, she left Helen sobbing in the nursery, and came down to his room.
There was not the annoyance she had dreaded; but the dejection had been deepened, and he did not respond to the somewhat forced cheerfulness with which she tried to speak of the generosity united in Helen with a hasty temper. It seemed to hurt and pain him so much to have the little girl punished, that there was nothing to be done but to try to turn away his attention.
Those weary times were perhaps harder to bear than periods of more evident trial and excitement. Violet, as she strove to rally her spirits and sustain his, could not help so feeling it—and then she thought of Helen Fotheringham, and recollected that she had been intending to read to Arthur an affectionate letter she had received from his brother on hearing of his illness. Arthur was greatly touched by the tone in which he was mentioned in it, and began eagerly to talk over John's many proofs of affection, among which he now ranked his disregarded warnings.
'I have not forgotten his saying I must make you happy. I little understood him then!'
There was happiness enough in the caress that would fain have silenced him.
'Well! I have been thinking! Our marriage was the best and worst thing I ever did. It was unjust to you, and as bad as possible towards them; but that is what I can't be as sorry for as it deserves,' and he looked up with a sweet smile, fading at once—'except when I look at you and the children, and think what is to become of you.'
'Oh, don't, dear Arthur! Why look forward! There has been great mercy so far. Let us rest in it.'
'You may; it was not your fault,' said Arthur; 'but how can I? I took you in your ignorance; I let your father deceive himself about my expectations, then, when my own people were far kinder to me than I deserved, and I ought to have done everything myself to make up for my imprudence, I go and let you pinch yourself, while I squander everything on my own abominable follies! And now, here am I leaving you with all these poor children, and nothing on earth—nothing but a huge debt? What are you to do, I say?'
He was almost angry that she did not partake his apprehension for her welfare.
'This is only a casual drawback. Dr. L—— said so!'
'That's nothing to the purpose. My health is done for. There is nothing before me but decline. I have felt that all along, whatever doctors may say. And how can you expect me not to feel what I have brought on you?'
'I am sure you need not be afraid for us. Is it not unkind to doubt your father and John?'
'Suppose they should die before Johnnie comes of age—suppose John should marry!'
Oh, Arthur, I cannot suppose anything! I am only quite sure that there is a Father who will take care of our children. I do not know how, but I am certain we shall not be forsaken. Do not grieve for us. I am not afraid.'
'Not of poverty, even for the children?'
'No!' said Violet. 'I know it will not come, unless it is the best thing for them.'
He did not entirely comprehend her, but he liked to watch her face, it looked so beautiful in its perfect trust. He could not share that peaceful confidence for the future, the harvest of his past recklessness was present poignant dread and anxiety for the innocent ones on whom the penalty must fall. He relapsed into silence, and perhaps his meditations were as much perplexed by the nine Arabic figures as those of Violet's convalescence had once been, only where hers were units, his were hundreds.
She interrupted him with more of John's letters, and the amusing detail of the West Indian life stood her in good stead till the sounds of return brightened his face; and Johnnie sprang into the room loaded with treasures from a Christmas tree. Never had she seen the little fellow's face so merry, or heard his tongue go so fast, as he threw everything into her lap, and then sprang about from her to his papa, showing his prizes and presenting them. Here were some lemon-drops for papa, and here a beautiful box for mamma, and a gutta-percha frog for Helen, and a flag for Annie, and bon-bons for both, and for Sarah too, and a delightful story about a little Arthur, that nobody could have but the baby—Johnnie would keep it for him till he could read it.
'And what have you got for yourself, Johnnie!' said his father.
'I have the giving it!' said Johnnie.
'You are your mother's own boy, Johnnie,' said Arthur, with a sort of fond deep sadness, as the child mounted his footstool to put one of the lemon-drops into his mouth, watching to be told that it was good.
He went off to the nursery to feed Sarah on sugar-plums, and dispose the frog and banner on his sisters' beds to delight them in the morning; while Percy, coming in, declared that this had been the little boy's happiest time. He had been far too shy for enjoyment, perfectly well behaved, but not stirring a step from his protector, only holding his hand, and looking piteously at him if invited away; and Percy declared, he was as much courted as a young lady in her teens. Sitting down with him at a table surrounded by small elves, Percy had of course kept them in a roar of laughter, throughout which Johnnie had preserved his gravity, only once volunteering a whisper, that he wished Helen was there; but Percy thought that when unmolested by attention, he had seemed quietly amused. When admitted to the Christmas tree in its glory, he had been slightly afraid of it at first, as of an unexpected phenomenon, and had squeezed his friend's hand very tight; but as he perceived how things were going, his alarm had given place to silent joyous whispers, appropriating his gifts to those at home. He had no idea of keeping anything for himself; and Percy had distressed him by a doubt whether the book, as a godfather's gift, ought to be transferred. On this Johnnie was scrupulous, and Percy had been obliged to relieve his mind by repeating the question for him to Colonel Harrington, whether he might give the book to his little brother. This settled, Johnnie's happiness had been complete, and his ecstasy during their return, at having a present for everybody, was, said Percy, the prettiest comment he had ever known on the blessedness of giving.
It evidently struck Arthur. At night, Violet, from her sofa, heard him murmur to himself, 'My boy! my unselfish boy, what will you think of your father?' and then stifle a groan.
The next afternoon, Johnnie, having as a preliminary inscribed his brother's unwieldy name all over the fly-leaf, was proceeding most happily to read the book aloud, lying on the hearth-rug, with his heels in the air. He read his mamma into a slumber, his papa into a deep reverie, which resulted in his dragging himself up from his chair, by the help of the chimney-piece, and reaching pen and writing-case from Violet's table.
'Oh! papa!' whispered Johnnie, in an injured tone, at not having been asked to do the little service.
'I thought it would disturb mamma less,' returned Arthur, sinking back; 'but you may give me the ink. And now, my dear, go on to yourself.'
'Are you going to write, papa? That is being much better.'
'I am going to try to write to your uncle. Johnnie, supposing you lose me, I look to your uncle and you for care of the little ones.'
Johnnie gave a great sigh, and looked at his father, but made no answer. Papa's writing was a matter of curiosity, and he stood watching in silence.
'You must not watch me, Johnnie,' said Arthur, presently, for whether his son could read his writing or not, he could not bear his eyes upon it. The boy had dropped into his place on the carpet in a moment.
It was a full confession and outpouring of his troubles. It cost him much, for there was shame at his own folly and selfishness, and he had to disclose extravagance that he well knew to be, in John's eyes, especially inexcusable. So painful was the effort, that even his fears for his family would not alone have determined him on making it, if it had not been for his new resolution to face the worst, and to have no more shufflings or concealments. He could bear to tell John better than his father, and Percy had bound him to silence towards Lord Martindale. The whole was explained to the best of his powers, which were not at present great. His debts, including that to Percy, he believed to exceed ten thousand, his resources were limited to the sale of his commission, and the improbable recovery of the debt from Gardner—his wife and children were entirely unprovided for. 'I can only trust to your kindness,' he wrote. 'If I could see you, I could die in peace. I know that while you live, you will never see Violet distressed. I have no right to ask anything, but this much I will and must beg may be looked on as my last wish. Never let the children be taken from their mother's charge. If they are to be better than I, it must be her doing. And though this is more than I should dare to ask, if you can help me, do not, when I am gone, let my boys grow up to find their father's memory loaded with these hateful debts, hanging round their necks like a burden. I know Johnnie's sense of honour would never let him rest till they were cleared; but I cannot look at his face and think of his hearing how I have served his mother. He does love me now, Heaven knows, undeservedly enough. I cannot bear to think of a cloud on his remembrance of me.'
Either grief will not come, or if it must, Do not forecast. And while it cometh, it is almost past. Away distrust, My God hath promised, He is just.
'Arthur, the landlady has been to ask how much longer we shall want the rooms!'
'How long have we been here?'
'We came on the 20th of April, and this is the 3rd of June. What a difference it has made in you!'
'And in you; Ventnor is a grand doctor.'
'And Johnnie is really beginning to have a colour. How pleased his grandpapa will be to see him so much stronger and more spirited. I do not think Lord Martindale could have done anything kinder by us than sending us here.'
'How does the purse hold out?'
'I have been reckoning that we could stay on three weeks more before going to Brogden; and, if you like it, I should wish to spend our wedding-day here,' said Violet, in the shy diffident way in which she was wont to proffer any request for her own gratification.
'I had another scheme for our wedding-day. What do you say to spending it at Wrangerton?'
She looked up in his face as if to see if he really meant it, then the glad flush darted into her cheeks, and with a cry of joy like a child, she almost sobbed out, 'Oh, Arthur, Arthur! thank you.'
He looked at her, amused, and enjoying her ecstasy. 'So you approve, Mrs. Martindale?'
'O, to go to mamma! to show mamma the children! Annette! home!—Johnnie to see Helvellyn!—my sisters!—Olivia's baby!' cried Violet, in incoherent exclamations, almost choked with joy.
'My poor Violet,' said Arthur, surprised and almost remorseful; 'I did not know you wished it so very much.'
'I believe I had left off thinking about it,' said Violet; 'but I am so very much obliged to you, dear Arthur—how very kind it is.'
It never occurred to her, as it did to him, that the kindness might have come sooner. 'I only hope you like it,' she added, after a pause.
'Don't I like what makes you look as you do now?' said he, smiling. 'I shall enjoy looking up our old quarters. Besides,' he added, more gravely, 'it is your turn now; and liking apart, I know I have not used Mrs. Moss well, in keeping you so long from her. You must let her know it was not your fault.'
'May I write, then? Oh, Arthur, dearest! if I could but find words to tell you how happy you have made me!'
It was no sudden determination, for he brought a 'Bradshaw' out of his pocket, with all the various railways and trains underscored in pencil in a most knowing way, and a calculation of expenses on the cover, all wrong—for Arthur had never done an addition sum right in his life.
Violet was to write as soon as she pleased, and fix the day and hour.
Perhaps Violet had never been so happy in her life as when, in the afternoon, she wandered a little apart on the beach, to realize and feed on her new treasure of delight. Arthur and the children were felicitously dabbling in sand and sea-water, reducing the frocks to a condition that would have been Sarah's daily distraction, if she had not reconciled herself to it by observing, 'it did her heart good to see the Colonel take to the children, though he was no more to be trusted with them than a sea-mew; and if it was not for Master John, she believed they would all come home some day drownded.'
As soon as the spring was sufficiently advanced, Lord Martindale had sent the whole party to recruit by the sea-side, at their own dear Ventnor, and there the last six weeks had been spent in the daily joy of watching Arthur's progress in recovery;—until now a slight degree of weakness and languor, an occasional cough, and his greatly altered appearance, were the only evident remains of his illness; and though she could not feel that his health was absolutely re-established, there was such abundant cause for hope and thankfulness, as filled her heart to overflowing, especially when she was rejoiced by tokens of that more blessed change within.
His spirits had returned with his health. Perhaps it was part of his boyish nature, that his sorrow for his errors, though sincere and earnest, did not permanently depress him, when not brought before his mind; but rather the sense of behaving well added to his brightness. There was nothing to conceal; the guilty consciousness was gone, and the fear for the future was distant. His manners had a sweetness more engaging than ever. To his wife, who had, as he recovered, suffered from the effects of her exertions, he was most affectionately attentive, and his children were his delight, while little Johnnie throve and expanded into spirit and mirth, like a plant reviving in sunshine.
He had gone over Violet's old haunts with her, and she had enjoyed making him enter into the feelings associated with the scenes she had visited with his brother. John was expected to return in the summer, but even this anticipation paled in comparison with the present felicity. That longing for her own home had been forced into such a remote cell, that she had had no idea of its strength till now, when it was allowed to spring up and colour everything.
She walked along the shore within sight of the cottage, where she had been with John, too small and expensive for their present numbers and means, and looking up at its bowery wicket, gathered up the remembrances associated with it.
She had come thither a mere child, a wife and mother, before strength, spirits, or judgment were equal to her tasks,—terrified at her responsibility, perceiving her failures, sinking under the load too early laid on her. There had she been guided to comfort,—there had her hand been taught to clasp the rod and staff, that had led her safe through the shadow, well-nigh of death. How would her heart have fainted if she could have guessed what had awaited her! But these things were past, and their memory was sweetened by thankfulness. And now, where once stood the self-torturing, pining girl, was now the calm trustful woman,—serene beneath the overshadowing Wings, resting on the everlasting Arms,—relying, least of all, upon herself. Further trouble might be in store; the clouds might return after the rain; but her peace was not mere freedom from storms, it was the security that there was One who would be with her and her loved ones through all, and thus could she freely rejoice in present sunshine, without scanning each distant cloud, or marring present bliss by future dread.
It was complete gladness. There was not a misgiving whether home might be exactly as it stood in her memory, or in Johnnie's imagination; and she filled the children's heads so much with what they were to see, that their papa declared he had found Annie under the belief that Helvellyn was her grandfather.
Arthur was so much charmed with seeing his wife so happy, that, forgetting all his fears of tediousness, he partook the enjoyment of her anticipations. He was the first, when they came in sight of a mountain, to lift Johnnie on his knee and tell him it was Helvellyn; and mamma's resentment at the grievous error was one of the prettiest and merriest things imaginable.
However, when Helvellyn actually appeared, and she felt herself really coming home, she was silent, in anxiety and doubt. She must be very different from the Violet who had gone away. Would her mother and Matilda think she had improved according to her opportunities?
She could hardly reply when Arthur recognized the High-street, so much wider in her imagination, and her heart beat as the garden wall and the lawn were before her. At the door—yes!—it was, it was the mother for whose embrace, she had so often longed! Timidly affectionate and hastily nervous, she could hardly afford one moment to her daughter in her frightened haste to greet her son-in-law, before he was ready, as he was lifting the children out. Here, too, were Annette and Mr. Moss, the young ladies were in the drawing-room, detained by etiquettes of Matilda's; but Violet hardly knew who spoke to her, the joy was to see a baby of hers at last in her mothers arms.
She could hardly see any one but the slight worn-looking mother, whose low, sad-toned voice awoke such endless recollections, and made her realize that she was once more beside mamma. To look at her sisters almost disturbed her; and it well-nigh struck her as unnatural to find the children hanging on her.
Still more unnatural was it to be conducted up-stairs, like company, to the best room, and to find her mother in distress and solicitude lest things should not be comfortable, and such as they were used to. And oh! the strangeness of seeing her little ones in her own old nursery, waited upon by the sisters she had left as children—and by Sarah, settled in there as if she had never been away. One part of her life or the other must be a dream.
Dear as all the faces were, it was a relief to be silent for a little while, as Arthur, half-asleep, rested in the large old armchair, and she unpacked, too happy for weariness; and the clear pure mountain air breathing in at the open window, infusing life into every vein, as she paused to look at the purple head above the St. Erme woods, and to gaze on the fragrant garden beneath; then turned away to call to mind the childish faces which she had not yet learnt to trace in those fine-looking young women.
'Ha!' said Arthur, rousing himself; 'are all the pretty plaits and braids come out again? A welcome sight.'
'Mamma thought me altered,' said Violet; 'and I thought I would not look more old than I could help; so I would not put on my cap for fear it should distress her.'
'Old! altered!' said Arthur. 'How dare you talk of such things!'
'I can't help it,' said Violet, meekly.
'Well! I believe I see what you mean,' he said, studying her with a gravity that was amusing. 'There's your youngest sister, Octavia, is not she?'
'Oh, is not she pretty?'
'Whish! don't praise yourself; she is the image of you at sixteen. Now that I have seen her, I see you are changed; but somehow—the word that always suited you best was lovely; and you have more of that style of thing than even when your cheeks were pink. Not your oval face and white skin, you know, but that—that look that is my Violet—my heart's-ease, that used to keep my heart up last winter. Ay! you are more to my mind!'
That little episode was the special charm of Violet's evening—a happy one, though there were some anxieties, and a few fond little illusions dispelled.
It might be the dread of Arthur's being annoyed, as she watched him looking very pale and spiritless from fatigue, which made her perceive that all dinner-time Matilda was overwhelming him with a torrent of affected nonsense—or at least what Violet would have thought so in any one but her highly-respected eldest sister; and she feared, too, that he could not admire the girlish airs and graces which did not become that sharpened figure and features. She had not known how much more Matilda talked than any one else; even her father only put in a caustic remark here and there, when Matilda WOULD know all Lord St. Erme's and Lady Lucy's views and habits. Mrs. Moss was silenced whenever her low voice tried to utter a sentence. Annette, quiet and gentle as ever, looked drooping and subdued, and scarcely spoke, while the two fine blooming girls, who seemed like new acquaintance, were still as mice in awe and shyness. Caroline, the second sister, was married and settled in Canada; and the three blanks that weddings had made only now impressed themselves on her mind as a novelty.
After dinner, Violet felt as if she must rescue Arthur from Matilda at any cost, and succeeded in setting her down to the piano; and to secure his quiet, though feeling it a very presumptuous venture, she drew her chair near her father, and set herself to talk to him. Mr. Moss was quite amazed to find a woman—a daughter—capable of rational conversation. She went on with the more spirit, from her pleasure in seeing Arthur, instead of dozing under cover of the music, going to sit by Mrs. Moss and talk to her, and though nothing was heard, their countenances were proof enough of their interest—Mrs. Moss's thin mild face quite colouring up at the unwonted attention, and her eyes glistening. In fact they were talking about Violet, and in such a strain that Mrs. Moss that night confided to Annette, that she should never again believe a word against Colonel Martindale.
But if the fortnight was to be like this, how was Arthur to bear it? Violet dreaded it for him the more because he was so very good and forbearing, not making one remark on what she knew must have struck him. She could almost have reproached herself with selfishness in never having thought of his want of companionship and amusement.
The night's rest, however, made a great difference in his capacity for entertainment, beginning from his laugh at Helen's inquiry, 'What was the use of so many aunts?' He lay on the grass in the sunshine, playing with the children, and fast making friends with the younger aunts, who heartily relished his fun, though they were a good deal afraid of him; while Violet sat under the verandah, feasting her eyes upon Helvellyn, and enjoying the talk with her sisters as much as she could, while uneasy at the lengthened housekeeping labours that her mother was undergoing. They were to retrace one of their memorable walks by the river-side in the afternoon, but were prevented by the visit expected all the morning, but deferred to that fashionable hour, of Mrs. Albert Moss, who sailed in, resolved that the Honourable Mrs. Martindale should find one real companion in the family.
Those fluttering silks and fringes seemed somewhat to stand on end at finding themselves presented to a slight, simply dressed figure in a plain straw bonnet; and the bare-legged, broad-sashed splendours of Miss Albertine Louisa stood aghast at the brown holland gardening suits of the London cousins.
'In training for the Highlanders?' was Arthur's mischievous aside to Octavia, setting her off into the silent frightened laugh that was his special diversion; and he continued, as they stood half in and half out of the window, 'There's Helen patronizing her! I hope she will take her down to the sand-heap, where the children have been luxuriating all the morning.'
'Oh! how can you—'
'It is my father's great principle of education,' said Arthur, solemnly, 'to let them grope in the dirt. I never rested till I had seen my boy up to the ears in mud.—But ha! what a magnificent horse! Why,' as he started forward to look at it, 'I declare it is stopping here!'
'Olivia and Mr. Hunt in the gig!' cried Octavia. Oh, she has the baby in her lap!'
Matilda and Mrs. Albert Moss looked at each other, shocked.
'What will Mr. Hunt make her do next?'
'Poor Olivia!' said Mrs. Albert. 'We regret the connection; but Mr. Hunt will have his own way. You must excuse—'
It was lost. Seeing the new-comers in difficulties between baby, horse, and gate, Arthur had sped out to open the last for them; and Violet had sprung after him, and received the child in her arms while her sister alighted. Here was the mesalliance of the family, too wealthy to have been rejected, but openly disdained by Matilda, while the gentle Mrs. Moss and Annette hardly ventured to say a good word for him. Violet's apprehensions had chiefly centred on him, lest his want of refinement should make him very disagreeable to Arthur; and she almost feared to look up as she held out her hand to him.
In a moment her mind was relieved; voice, look, and manner, all showed that the knightly soul was in him, and that he had every quality of the gentleman, especially the hatred of pretension, which made him retain the title of English yeoman as an honourable distinction.
It was a pretty group of contrasts; the soldierly, high-bred, easy grace of the pallid black-haired Colonel, with the native nobleness of bearing of the stalwart farmer, equally tall, and his handsome ruddy face glowing with health; and the two sisters, the one fresh, plump, and rosy, the picture of a happy young mother, and the other slender and dignified, with the slightly worn countenance, which, even in her most gladsome moods, retained that pensive calmness of expression.
The baby occupied the ladies, the horse their husbands; and on hearing what guests were in the drawing-room, Mr. Hunt, with a tell-tale 'then,' said he would drive on to his business at Coalworth, inviting the Colonel to take the vacant seat.
With Arthur off her mind, Violet was free to enjoy, and soon found that the only flaw in Olivia's felicity was the Wrangerton fashion of sneering at her husband, and trying to keep her up to Matilda's measure of gentility. Proud as she was of her 'George,' he had not made her bold enough to set those censures at nought; but when she found Violet of his way of thinking, she joyfully declared that she would never allow herself to be again tormented by Matilda's proprieties. How glad she was that George had insisted; for, as she confided to Violet and Annette, she knew that bringing the baby without a maid would be thought so vulgar that she would have stayed at home, in spite of her desire to see Violet; but her husband had laughed at her scruples, declaring that if her sister could be offended by her coming in this manner, she must be a fine lady not worth pleasing.
Perhaps Mr. Hunt so expected to find her. He was a breeder of horses on an extensive scale, and had knowledge enough of the transactions of Mark Gardner and his set, not to be very solicitous of the acquaintance of Colonel Martindale, while he dreaded that the London beauty would irretrievably fill his little wife's head with nonsense.
One look swept away his distrust of Mrs. Martindale; and the charm of the Colonel's manner had gained his heart before the drive was over. The next day he was to send a horse for Arthur to ride to Lassonthwayte to see his whole establishment; and Violet found she might dismiss her fears of want of amusement for her husband.
He had sold off all his own horses, and had not ridden since his illness, and the thought seemed to excite him like a boy. His eyes sparkled at the sight of the noble hunter sent for him; and Violet had seldom felt happier than as she stood with the children on the grass-plat, hearing her sisters say how well he looked on horseback, as he turned back to wave her an adieu, with so lover-like a gesture, and so youthful an air, that it seemed to bring back the earliest days of their marriage.
This quiet day, only diversified by a call from Lord St. Erme and Lady Lucy, and by accompanying Mrs. Moss to make some visits to old friends in the town, brought Violet to a fuller comprehension of her own family.
Her mother was what she herself might have become but for John. She was an excellent person, very sensible, and completely a lady; but her spirit had been broken by a caustic, sharp-tempered, neglectful husband, and she had dragged through the world bending under her trials, not rising above them. Her eldest daughter had been sent to a fashionable school, and had ever since domineered over the whole family, while the mother sank into a sort of bonne to the little ones, and a slave to her husband. There was much love for her among her fine handsome girls, but little honour for the patient devotion and the unfailing good sense that judged aright, but could not act.
Annette, her chief comfort, tried to bring up her pupil Octavia to the same esteem for her; but family example was stronger than precept, and Annette had no weight; while even Mr. Hunt's determination that Olivia should show due regard to her mother, was looked on as one of his rusticities. Poor Mrs. Moss was so unused to be treated as a person of importance, that she could hardly understand the attention paid her, not only by Violet, but by the Colonel; while the two young sisters, who regarded Violet and her husband as the first of human beings, began to discover that 'O, it is only mamma!' was not the most appropriate way of speaking of her; and that when they let her go on errands, and wait on every one, Violet usually took the office on herself.
So busy was Mrs. Moss, that Violet had very few minutes of conversation with her, but she saw more of Annette, in whom the same meek character was repeated, with the tendency to plaintiveness that prevented its real superiority from taking effect. She drooped under the general disregard, saw things amiss, but was hopeless of mending them; and for want of the spirit of cheerfulness, had become faded, worn, and weary. Violet tried to talk encouragingly, but she only gave melancholy smiles, and returned to speak of the influences that were hurting Octavia.
'Do not let us dwell on what we cannot help,' said Violet; 'let us do our best, and then leave it in the best Hands, and He will bring out good. You cannot think how much happier I have been since I knew it was wrong to be faint-hearted.'
Before the end of the day she had seen her mother and Annette look so much more cheerful, that the wish crossed her that she could often be at hand.
By and by Arthur came home in the highest spirits, tossing Annie in the air, as he met her in the passage, and declaring himself so far from tired that he had not felt so well for a year, and that the mountain breezes had taken the weight off his chest for good and all. He was in perfect raptures with Lassonthwayte and with its master, had made an engagement to bring Violet, her mother, and the children, to stay there a week, and—'What more do you think?' said he.
'Everything delightful, I see by your face,' said Violet.
'Why, Hunt has as pretty a little house as ever I saw in the village of Lassonthwayte, to be let for a mere nothing, just big enough to hold us, and the garden all over roses, and that style of thing. Now, I reckon our allowance would go three times as far here as in London; and if I were to sell out, the money invested in these concerns of Hunt's would be doubled in a year or two—at any rate, before the boys will want schooling. If I do know anything it is of horses, you see, and we should pay off Percy and all the rest of them, and be free again.'
'Live near mamma and Olivia!'
'Ah! I knew you would like it. The mountain air will bring back your colour, and make a Hercules of Johnnie yet. I longed to have him there to-day! We may live cheaply, you know, not get into all this town lot; only have the girls staying with us, and give your mother a holiday now and then. Don't you fancy it, Mrs. Martindale?'
'It is too delightful! I suppose we must not settle it without your father, though.'
'He can't object to our living at half the cost, and getting out of debt; I'll talk him over when we go home. Hunt is as fine a fellow as I ever saw, and as steady as old time.'
And oft when in my heart I heard Thy timely mandate, I deferred The task, in smoother paths to stray, But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may.
—Ode to Duty—WORDSWORTH
Lassonthwaite lost none of its charms on closer acquaintance. Mr. Hunt's farm stood on the slope of a hill, commanding a view of the mountains, rising like purple clouds above the moorland, richly carpeted with the varied colours of heath, fern, and furze, and scattered with flocks of the white bleached mountain sheep, and herds of sturdy little black cattle; while the valley, nearer at hand, was fringed with woods, sheltering verdant pasture land, watered by the same clear frolicsome stream that danced through the garden—Olivia's garden—brilliant with roses and other beauties, such as the great Harrison himself would hardly have disdained.
Lord St. Erme might well call it a farm of the poets, so well did everything accord with the hearty yeoman, and his pretty, shepherdess-looking wife. The house was of the fine old order, large and lofty, full of wonders in the way of gables, porches, and oriels, carved doors and panels, in preservation that did them honour due, and the furniture betokening that best of taste which perceives the fitness of things. All had the free homely air of plenty and hospitality—the open doors, the numerous well-fed men and maids, the hosts of live creatures—horses, cows, dogs, pigs, poultry, each looking like a prize animal boasting of its own size and beauty—and a dreadful terror to Johnnie. He, poor little boy, was the only person to whom Lassonthwayte was not a paradise. Helen and Annie had no fears, and were wild with glee, embracing the dogs, climbing into dangerous places, and watching the meals of every creature in the yard; but poor Johnnie imagined each cow that looked at him to be a mad bull, trembled at each prancing dog, and was miserable at the neighbourhood of the turkey-cock; while Mr. Hunt's attempts to force manliness on him only increased his distress to such a degree as to make it haunt him at night. However, even this became a source of pleasant feeling; Arthur, once so rough with him, now understood the secret of his delicacy of nerves, and reverenced him too much to allow him to be tormented. Even in the worst of Johnnie's panics at night would come smiles, as he told how papa would not let him be forced to pat the dreadful dog, and had carried him in his arms through the herd of cattle, though it did tire him, for, after putting him down, he had to lean on the gate and pant. So next time the little boy would not ask to be carried, and by the help of holding his hand, so bravely passed the savage beasts, that his uncle pronounced that they should make a man of him yet.
Arthur, always happier when the little fingers were in his, was constantly talking of the good that Johnnie was to gain in the life in the open air; and this project continually occupied them. The cottage was a very pretty one, and most joyously did Olivia show it off to Violet and Mrs. Moss, planning the improvements that Mr. Hunt was to make in it, and helping Violet fix on the rooms. It seemed like the beginning of rural felicity; and Arthur talked confidently to his wife of so rapidly doubling his capital, that he should pay off his debts without troubling his father, who need never be aware of their extent.
Violet did not quite like this, but Arthur argued, 'They are my own concerns, not his, and if I can extricate myself without help, why should he be further plagued about me?'
She did not contest the point; it would be time enough when they were at Brogden, but it made her rather uneasy; the concealment was a little too like a return to former habits, and she could not but fear the very name of horses and races. Still, in the way of business, and with George Hunt, a man so thoroughly to be relied on, it was a different thing; and Arthur's mind was so changed in other matters, that she could not dream of distrust. The scheme was present pleasure enough in itself, and they all fed on it, though Mr. Hunt always declared that the Colonel must not consider himself pledged till he had consulted his own family, and that he should do nothing to the house till he had heard from him again.
Violet could not satisfy herself that Lord and Lady Martindale would give ready consent, and when talking it over alone with her mother, expressed her fears.
'Well, my dear,' said Mrs. Moss, 'perhaps it will be all for the best. We cannot tell whether it might turn out well for you to be settled near us. Colonel Martindale is used to something different, and your children are born to another rank of life.'
'O mamma, that could make no difference.'
'Not, perhaps, while they were young, but by and by you would not wish to have them feeling that we are not like their other relations. My dear child, you need not blush to that degree!'
'They will never feel that you are not equal to—to the grandest—the dearest!' said Violet, tearfully.
'You would try not to let them, dearest, but the truth would be too strong,' said Mrs. Moss, smiling. 'You know we had been content to think poor Louisa our model of manners till you came among us again.'
'O, mamma! at least there was Lady Lucy.'
'And now we see you fit company for Lady Lucy, and that we are not. No, my dear, don't deny it; I see it in your ease with her, and it is quite right.'
'I don't like to think so!'
'I understand better now,' said Mrs. Moss. 'Perhaps it would have been more advisable if there had been no intermingling of ranks, yet I can hardly regret, when I see you, my Violet. It has raised your whole tone of mind, but it has cut you off from us, and we cannot conceal it from ourselves. If you do come here, you must make up your mind beforehand not to be too intimate even with Olivia and George.'
'I am very glad I am not to settle it,' said Violet, with a sigh. 'I should be much disappointed to give it up, and yet sometimes—it will be some consolation at least to find that you have not set your heart on it, mamma?'
'I have left off setting my heart on anything, my dear child, said Mrs. Moss, with a sigh, telling of many and many a disappointment. Sincerely religious as she was, it was out of sight, and scarcely a word was ever breathed to her daughter of her true spring of action.
There was a feeling that she was not mistaken in thinking that too much intercourse was not desirable. Arthur was apt to call the distance from Wrangerton to Lassonthwayte seven miles, instead of five, and soon it grew to nine, with a bad road and a shocking hill. This was after he had discovered from Mr. Hunt that Lord St. Erme's affairs had fallen into a most unsatisfactory state, while the Messrs. Moss had been amassing a comfortable fortune; and that every one knew that the colliery accident was chiefly owing to Albert's negligence, cowardice, and contempt of orders; so that it was the general marvel that the Earl did not expose them, and remove his affairs from their hands.
Arthur could suppose that the cause of this forbearance might be the connection between Theodora and the Moss family; and the idea made him feel almost guilty when in company with the Earl. Matilda, and indeed the others, were surprised at his declining the invitations to stay at the park; but Violet, as well as he, thought it better to lay themselves under no further obligations; though they could not avoid receiving many attentions. Lady Lucy feted the children, and Violet accomplished her wish of showing Johnnie the little Madonna of Ghirlandajo.
The first sight of the rooms made Violet somewhat melancholy, as she missed the beautiful works of art that had been a kind of education to her eye and taste, and over which she had so often dreamt and speculated with Annette. However, there was something nobler in the very emptiness of their niches, and there was more appropriateness in the little picture of the Holy Child embracing His Cross, now that it hung as the solo ornament of the library, than when it was vis-a-vis to Venus blindfolding Cupid, and surrounded by a bewildering variety of subjects, profane and sacred, profanely treated. She could not help feeling that there was a following in those steps when she saw how many luxuries had been laid aside, and how the brother and sister, once living in an atmosphere of morbid refinement, were now toiling away, solely thoughtful of what might best serve their people, mind or body, and thinking no service beneath them.
Lord St. Erme's talent and accomplishment were no longer conducive only to amusement or vanity, though they still were exercised; and it was curious to see his masterly drawings hung round the schools and reading-room, and his ready pencil illustrating his instructions, and to hear him reading great authors to the rude audience whom he awakened into interest. There might be more done than sober judgments appreciated, and there were crotchets that it was easy to ridicule, but all was on a sound footing, the work was thoroughly carried out, and the effects were manifest. The beautiful little church rising at Coalworth would find a glad congregation prepared to value it, both by the Earl and by the zealous curate.
Violet wished Theodora could but see, and wondered whether she would ever venture to make a visit at Lassonthwayte; hardly, she supposed, before her marriage.
Lady Lucy one day asked when Miss Martindale was to be married, and on hearing that no period could be fixed, said she was grieved to find it so; it would be better for her brother that it should be over. Violet ventured to express her hopes that he had at last found peace and happiness.
'Yes,' said Lucy, 'he is very busy and happy. I do not think it dwells on his spirits, but it is the disappointment of his life, and he will never get over it.'
'I hope he will find some one to make him forget it.'
'I do not think he will. No one can ever be like Miss Martindale, and I believe he had rather cling to the former vision, though not repining. He is quite content, and says it is a good thing to meet with a great disappointment early in life.'
Violet doubted not of his contentment when she had looked into his adult school, and seen how happily he was teaching a class of great boys to write; nor when she heard him discussing prices, rents, and wages with Mr. Hunt.
Lord St. Erme and Lady Lucy had come to an early dinner at Lassonthwayte, thus causing great jealousy on the part of Mrs. Albert Moss, and despair on Matilda's, lest Olivia should do something extremely amiss without her supervision. Little did she guess that Lucy had been reckoning on the pleasure of meeting her dear Mrs. Moss for once without those daughters.
After dinner, all the party were on the lawn, watching the tints on the mountains, when Lord St. Erme, coming to walk with Mrs. Martindale, asked her, with a smile, if she remembered that she had been the first person who ever hinted that the Westmoreland hills might be more to him than the Alps.
'I have not forgotten that evening,' he said. 'It was then that I first saw Mr. Fotheringham;' and he proceeded to ask many questions about Percy's former appointment at Constantinople, his length of service, and reason for giving it up, which she much enjoyed telling. He spoke too of his books, praising them highly, and guessing which were his articles in reviews, coming at last to that in which, as he said, he had had the honour of being dissected.
'Poor Lucy has hardly yet forgiven it,' he said; 'but it was one of the best things that ever befell me.'
'I wonder it did not make you too angry to heed it.'
'Perhaps I was at first, but it was too candid to be offensive. The arrow had no venom, and was the first independent criticism I had met with. Nobody had cared for me enough to take me to task for my absurdities. I am obliged to Mr. Fotheringham.'
Violet treasured this up for Percy's benefit.
This festivity was their last in the north. Their visit at Lassonthwayte had been lengthened from a week to a fortnight, and Lady Martindale wrote piteous letters, entreating them to come to Brogden, where she had made every arrangement for their comfort, even relinquishing her own dressing-room. They bade farewell to Wrangerton, Arthur assuring Mrs. Moss that he would soon bring Violet back again; and Mrs. Moss and Violet agreeing that they were grateful for their happy meeting, and would not be too sorry were the delightful vision not to be fulfilled.
At the beginning of their journey, Arthur's talk was all of the horses at Lassonthwayte and the friendship that would soon be struck up between Percy and Mr. Hunt. The railway passed by the village of Worthbourne, and he called Violet to look out at what might yet be Theodora's home.
'For the sake of John and Helen too,' said Violet; while the children, eager for anything approaching to a sight, peeped out at the window, and exclaimed that there was a flag flying on the top of the church steeple.
'The village wake, I suppose,' said Arthur. 'Ha! Helen, we will surprise Uncle Percy by knowing all about it!'
At the halt at the Worthbourne station, he accordingly put out his head to ask the meaning of the flag.
'It is for the son and heir, sir. Old Sir Antony's grandson.'
Arthur drew in his head faster than he had put it out, making mutterings to himself that a good deal surprised the children. After their long pleasuring, Cadogan-place looked dingy, and Violet as she went up to the drawing-room in the gray twilight, could not help being glad that only three months of Arthur's sick leave had expired, and that they were to be there for no more than one night. In spite of many precious associations, she could not love a London house, and the Lassonthwayte cottage seemed the prettier in remembrance.
Arthur had fetched his papers, and had been sitting thoughtful for some time after Johnnie had gone to bed, when he suddenly looked up and said, 'Violet, would it be a great vexation to you if we gave up this scheme?'
'Don't think of me. I always thought you might view it differently from a distance.'
'It is not that,' said Arthur; 'I never liked any one better than Hunt, and it is nine if not ten miles from the town. But, Violet, I find we are in worse plight than I thought. Here are bills that must be renewed, and one or two things I had forgotten, and while I owe the money and more too, I could hardly in honesty speculate with the price of my commission.'
'No!—oh! You could never be comfortable in doing so.'
'If it was only Percy that was concerned, I might get him to risk it, and then double it, and set him and Theodora going handsomely; but—No, it is of no use to think about it. I wish it could be—'
'You are quite right, I am sure.'
'The thing that settles it with me is this,' continued Arthur. 'It is a way of business that would throw me with the old set, and there is no safety but in keeping clear of them. I might have been saved all this if I had not been ass enough to put my neck into Gardner's noose that unlucky Derby-day. I had promised never to bet again after I married, and this is the end of it! So I think I have no right to run into temptation again, even for the chance of getting clear. Do you?'
'You are quite right,' she repeated. 'If the money is not our own, it would only be another sort—'
'Of gambling. Ay! And though in those days I did not see things as I do now, and Hunt is another sort of fellow, I fancy you had rather not trust me, mamma?' said he, looking with a rather sad though arch smile into her face.
'Dear Arthur, you know—'
'I know I won't trust myself,' he answered, trying to laugh it off. 'And you'll be a good child, and not cry for the cottage?'
'Oh, no! Mamma and I both thought there might possibly be considerations against it, especially as the girls grow up.'
'That's right. I could not bear giving up what you seemed to fancy. but we will visit them when we want a mouthful of air, and Annette and Octavia shall come and stay with us. I should like to show Octavia a little of the world.'
'Then, we shall go on as we are?'
'Yes; spend as little as may be, and pay off so much a year. If we keep no horses, that is so much clear gain.'
'That seems the best way; but I almost fear your being well without riding.'
'No fear of that! I don't want to go out, and you never do. We will take our long walks, and, as Percy says, I will read and be rational. I mean to begin Johnnie's Latin as soon as we are settled in. Why, I quite look forward to it.'
'How delighted Johnnie will be!'
'We shall do famously!' repeated Arthur. 'Nothing like home, after all.'
Violet did not think he quite knew what he undertook, and her heart sank at the idea of a London winter, with his health and spirits failing for want of his usual resources. He imagined himself perfectly recovered; but when he went the next day to show himself to the doctor, the stethoscope revealed that the damage was not so entirely removed but that the greatest care would be necessary for some time to come. It sat lightly on him; his spirits depended on his sensations, and he had no fears but that a few months would remove all danger; and Violet would say no word of misgiving. She would have felt that to remonstrate would have been to draw him back, after his first step in the path of resolute self-denial.
On Sunday, Heaven's gate stands ope, Blessings are plentiful and rife, More plentiful than hope.
'Five years! How little can letters convey the true state of affairs! They can but record events—not their effects nor the insensible changes that may have taken place. My aunt's death I know, but not what my mother is without her. I have heard of my father's cares, but I have yet to see whether he is aged or broken. And Theodora, she has had many trials, but what can she be—tamed and refined as they tell me she is? I wish I could have gone through London to see Arthur and Violet. There again is the anxious question, whether his repentance is really such as his touching letter led me to hope. One at least I trust to see unchanged—my sweet sister, my best correspondent! Foolish it is to cling to the hope of meeting her again, as that vision of loveliness—that creature of affection and simplicity, that first awoke me to a return of cheerfulness! The boy, too—my godson, my child! he has been the dream of my solitude. At last, here is the village. How bright its welcome, this summer evening! Old faces!—may those at home be as unchanged. Alteration enough here! Even at this distance I see the ruin; but how richly green the park! How fresh the trees, and the shade of the avenue! This is home, thanks to Him who has led me safely back. Whom do I see yonder in the avenue? A gentleman leading a pony, and a little boy on it! Can it be?—impossible! Yet the step and manner are just as he used to lead Violet's horse, Surely, it must be he! I must meet him and hear all before going up to the house, it will prepare them. Stop here.
He was out of the carriage in a moment, and walking down the avenue, feeling as if he only now was in the right way home; but a misgiving crossing him as he came nearer the two figures that had attracted him—there was less resemblance on a nearer view than in the general air when further off.
A shout—'Hollo, John!' settled all doubts.
'Arthur! is it you?' and the brothers' hands were locked together.
'Here is a gentleman you know something of, and who has thought very much of you,' continued Arthur, proudly. 'There, is not he like her?' as he tried to give a cock-up to the limp, flapping straw hat, under shade of which Johnnie was glowing up to his curls.
'Her very look!' said John. 'How is she, Arthur, and all of them?'
'All well. Have you not been at home yet!'
'No; I saw you here, and I could not help coming to meet you, that I might know if all was right.'
'You would have found no one at home, unless my mother and Violet are come in. They are always creeping about together.'
'Where is my father?'
'Looking after the workmen at the farm. We left him there because it was Johnnie's supper-time. Why, John, what a hale, middle-aged looking subject you are grown! Was it not wonderful sagacity in me to know you?'
'Greater than mine,' said John. 'My instinct was failing as I came near. Are you really well?'
'Never better. Johnnie and his mamma nursed me well again, and Helvellyn breezes blew away the remainder. When did you land?'
'This morning. We put in at Liverpool, and I came on at once. How is my mother? She had not been well.'
'She was ailing all the winter, but a house full of grandchildren seems to have cured her completely. You will stare to see her a perfect slave to—our eldest girl,' said Arthur, checking himself as he was about to speak the name, and John turned to the child.
'Well, Johnnie, and are you fond of riding?'
'With papa holding the rein,' and Johnnie edged closer to his father.
'Ay! I hope your uncle did not expect a godson like your dear Coeur de Lion, whom you have been romancing about all the way home. What is the country your uncle has seen, and you want to see, Johnnie?'
'Please, don't now, papa,' whispered Johnnie, colouring deeply.
'Yes, yes, you shall have it out when you are better acquainted,' said Arthur, patting both boy and pony. 'Well, John, is this the fellow you expected?'
John smiled, but before he could answer, a voice from behind, shouting to them to wait, caused him to turn, exclaiming, 'Percy! I did not know he was here! And Theodora!'
'He came a day or two ago—'
Theodora blushed crimson, and all the glad words of welcome were spoken by Percy; but he then fell into the background, taking charge of Johnnie, while the other three walked on together, Theodora's arm within that of her eldest brother.
'Thank you for your letter,' said Arthur. 'It did me great good.'
'My impulse was to have set out at once on receiving yours, but I was obliged to wait to get things into train for going on without me; and since that there have been delays of steamers.'
'You could not have come at a better time. We only wanted you to make us complete—'
Arthur was interrupted by a joyous outcry of 'Papa! papa!' from a little group on the other side of the road into which they were emerging.
'Ay! and who else! Look at this fellow!' cried he, catching from Sarah's arm, and holding aloft an elf, whose round mouth and eyes were all laughter, and sturdy limbs all movement, the moment he appeared. 'There! have we not improved in babies since your time! And here is a round dumpling that calls itself Anna. And that piece of mischief is grandmamma's girl, Aunt Theodora's double.'
Those flashing black eyes were not the ideal John had attached to the name which Arthur had paused to speak; but it would have been hard to be disappointed by the bright creature, who stood on the raised foot-path, pretending to hide her face with a bunch of tall foxgloves, and peeping out behind them to see whether she was noticed.
'The introduction is all on one side,' said Percy. 'Do you know who it is, Helen?'
Helen stuck her chin into her neck. She would tell her surmise to no one but Johnnie, who had persuaded Mr. Fotheringham to lift him from horseback, where he was never at ease with any one but papa. He looked up smiling: 'Helen thinks it must be Uncle Martindale, because papa is so glad.'
Helen ran away, but returned for a ride; and when the party, that had gathered like a snow-ball, came in front of the cottage, Percy was holding both little sisters on the pony at once, Theodora still leaning on her eldest brother's arm, Johnnie gravely walking on the foot-path, studying his uncle, and Arthur, with the young Arthur pulling his whiskers all the time, was walking forwards and backwards, round and about his brother, somewhat in the ecstatic aimless fashion of a dog who meets his master.
He was the first to exclaim, 'There she is! Run on, Johnnie, tell mamma and grandmamma whom we have here.'
The first greeting was left exclusively to Lady Martindale. When John's attention was again at liberty, Violet was standing by her husband, saying, with a sweet smile of playful complaint, 'And you have shown him all the children and I was not there!'
'Never mind. They will show off much better with you, you jealous woman. What does John think to hear you scolding?'
'Has he seen all the children?' said Lady Martindale, taking up the note. 'Oh! what is Mr. Fotheringham doing with Helen and Annie? It is very dangerous!'
And Lady Martindale hastened to watch over the little girls, who, of course, were anything but grateful for her care, while Violet was asking John about his voyage, and inquiring after the interests he had left in Barbuda.
The first sight of her was a shock. The fragile roses that had dwelt on his imagination had faded away, and she was now, indeed, a beautiful woman,—but not the creature of smiles and tears whom he remembered. The pensive expression, the stamp of anxiety, and the traces of long-continued over-exertion, were visible enough to prove to him that his fears had been fulfilled, and that she had suffered too deeply ever to return to what she had once been.
Yet never had John so enjoyed an arrival, nor felt so thoroughly at home, as when his father had joined them, full of quiet and heartfelt gladness. Stiffness and formality seemed to have vanished with the state rooms; and there was no longer the circle on company terms, for Lady Martindale herself was almost easy, and Theodora's words, though few, were devoid of the sullen dignity of old times. Violet's timidity, too, was gone, and the agitated wistful glances she used to steal towards her husband, had now become looks of perfect, confiding, yet fostering affection. John saw her appealed to, consulted, and put forward as important to each and all of the family party, as if every one of them depended on her as he had been wont to do, while she still looked as retiring as ever, and taken up by watching that the children behaved well.
The occupation of the evening was the looking over plans for the new house. Lord Martindale had them all ready, and John soon perceived that his father's wishes were that he should prefer those which most nearly reproduced the original building, pulled down to please Mrs. Nesbit. Lady Martindale had surprised them by making from memory a beautiful sketch of the former house; and her husband, to whom each line produced a fresh hoard of reminiscences, was almost disappointed that John's recollection did not go back far enough to recognize the likeness, though he was obliged to confess that not a wall of it was standing when he was two years old.
The general vote was, of course, that Old Martindale should be renewed,—and it was to be begun—when?
'When ways and means are found,' said Lord Martindale. 'We must talk over that another time, John.'
John, as he bade Theodora good night, murmured thanks for the safety of all the properties which he had been surprised to find in the room prepared for him. Her eyes were liquid as she faltered her answer.
'O, John, it was such a pleasure! How much you have to forgive! How right you were, and how wrong I was!'
'Hush! not now,' said John, kindly.
'Yes, now, I cannot look at you till I have said it. I have felt the truth of every word you said, and I beg your pardon for all that has passed.'
He pressed her hand in answer, saying, 'It was my fault. But all is well now, and you know how I rejoice.'
'Everything is everybody's fault,' said Percy, joining him; 'but we must not stop to battle the point, or Mr. Hugh Martindale's housekeeper will be irate. Good night, Theodora.'
Percy and John were quartered at the Vicarage, and walked thither, at first in silence, till the former said, 'Well, what do you think of it?'
'The best coming home I ever had, and the most surprising. I have seen so much that is unexpected, that I don't know how to realize it.'
'Heartsease,' was Percy's brief reply.
'Violet? You don't mean it!'
'The history of these years is this,' said Percy, making an emphatic mark on the gravel with his stick. 'Every one else has acted, more or less, idiotically. She has gone about softening, healing, guarding, stirring up the saving part of each one's disposition. If, as she avers, you and Helen formed her, you gave a blessing to all of us.'
'How can this be? No one has spoken of her power.'
'It is too feminine to be recognized. When you talk to the others you will see I am right. I will speak for myself. I verily believe that but for her I should have been by this time an unbearable disappointed misanthrope.'
'A likely subject,' said John, laughing.
'You cannot estimate the shock our rupture gave me, nor tell how I tried to say "don't care," and never saw my savage spite till her gentle rebuke showed it to me. Her rectitude and unselfishness kept up my faith in woman, and saved me from souring and hardening. On the other hand, her firmness won Theodora's respect, her softness, her affection. She led where I drove, acted the sun where I acted Boreas; and it is she who has restored us to each other.'
'Highly as I esteemed Violet, I little thought to hear this! My father wrote that he regretted Theodora's having been left to one so little capable of controlling her.'
'Lord Martindale is a very good man, but he has no more discrimination of character than my old cat!' cried Percy. 'I beg your pardon, John, but the fact was patent. Mrs. Martindale is the only person who has ever been a match for Theodora. She conquered her, made her proud to submit, and then handed her over to the lawful authorities. If Lord Martindale has an unrivalled daughter, he ought to know whom to thank for it.'
'I hope he appreciates Violet.'
'In a sort he does. He fully appreciates her in her primary vocation, as who would not, who had watched her last winter, and who sees what she has made her husband.'
'Then you are satisfied about Arthur?'
'Better than I ever thought to be.'
'And, Percy, what is this that he tells me of your having rescued him at your own expense?'
'Has he told you all that?' exclaimed Percy.
'He wished me to know it in case of his death.'
'I could not help it, John,' said Percy, in apology. 'If you had seen her and her babies, and had to leave him in that condition on her hands, you would have seen there was nothing for it but to throw a sop to the hounds, so that at least they might leave him to die in peace.'
'It saved him! But why did you object to my father's hearing of it?'
'Because I knew he would dislike any sense of obligation, and that he could not conveniently pay it off. Besides, we had to keep Arthur's mouth shut out of consideration for the blood-vessel, so I told him to let it rest till you should come. I fancy we have all been watching for you as a sort of "Deus ex Machina" to clear up the last act of the drama, though how you are to do so, I cannot conceive.'
The next day was Sunday, almost the first truly homelike Sunday of John's life. Not only was there the churchgoing among friends and kindred after long separation, but the whole family walked thither together, as John had never known them do before; and with his mother on his arm, his little godson holding Lord Martindale's hand, Helen skipping between her father and mother, Theodora gentle and subdued, it seemed as if now, for the first time, they had become a household of the same mind.
It was one of the most brilliant days of summer—a cloudless sky of deep blue sunshine, in which the trees seemed to bask, and the air, though too fresh to be sultry, disposing to inaction. After the second service, there was a lingering on the lawn, and desultory talk about the contrast to the West Indian Sundays, and the black woolly-headed congregation responding and singing so heartily, and so uncontrollably gay and merry.
At length, when Johnnie and Helen, who had an insatiable appetite for picaninny stories, had been summoned to supper, John and Violet found that the rest of their companions had dispersed, and that they were alone.
'I told you that Fanshawe came home with me,' said John. 'The new arrangements have increased his income;' then, as Violet looked up eagerly and hopefully,—'he made me a confidence, at which I see you guess.'
'I only hope mamma will not be anxious about the climate. I must tell her how well it has agreed with you.'
'I am glad that you think there are hopes for him. It has been a long attachment, but he thought it wrong to engage her affections while he had no prospect of being able to marry.'
'It is what we guessed!' said Violet. 'Dear Annette! If he is what I remember him, she must be happy.'
'I can hardly speak highly enough of him. I have found him a most valuable friend, and am sincerely glad to be connected with him; but, tell me, is not this the sister about whom Percy made a slight mistake!'
'Oh! do you know that story? Yes, it was dear Annette! Otherwise I should never have known about Mr. Fanshawe. It was only a vague preference, but it was very fortunate that it prevented any attachment to Percy, or it would have been hard to decide what would be right.'