He was soon at his mother's side, congratulating her on John's recovery, and her looks were of real satisfaction. 'I am glad you think him better! He is much stronger, and we hope this may be the period when there is a change of constitution, and that we may yet see him a healthy man.'
'Has he been going out, or seeing more people of late?'
'No—still keeping in his rooms all the morning. He did drive one day to Rickworth with your father, otherwise he has been nowhere, only taking his solitary ride.'
'I never was more surprised than to see him at Winchester!'
'It was entirely his own proposal. You could not be more surprised than we were; but it has been of much benefit to him by giving his thoughts a new channel.'
'He likes her, too,' said Arthur.
'I assure you he speaks most favourably of her.'
'What did he say?' cried Arthur, eagerly.
'He said she was a lady in mind and manners, and of excellent principles, but he declared he would not tell us all he thought of her, lest we should be disappointed.'
'Are you?' said Arthur, with a bright, confident smile.
'By no means. He had not prepared me for so much beauty, and such peculiarly graceful movements. My drawing days are nearly past, or I should be making a study of her.'
'That's right, mother!' cried Arthur. 'What a picture she would make. Look at her now! The worst of it is, she has so many pretty ways, one does not know which to catch her in!'
Perhaps Lady Martindale caught her aunt's eye, for she began to qualify her praise. 'But, Arthur, excuse me, if I tell you all. There is nothing amiss in her manners, but they are quite unformed, and I should dread any contact with her family.'
'I never mean her to come near them,' said Arthur. 'Though, after all, they are better than you suppose. She has nothing to unlearn, and will pick up tone and ease fast enough.'
'And for education? Is she cultivated, accomplished?'
'Every man to his taste. You never could get learning to stick on me, and I did not look for it. She knows what other folks do, and likes nothing better than a book. She is good enough for me; and you must take to her, mother, even if she is not quite up to your mark in the ologies. Won't you? Indeed, she is a good little Violet!'
Arthur had never spoken so warmly to his mother, and the calm, inanimate dignity of her face relaxed into a kind response, something was faltered of 'every wish to show kindness;' and he had risen to lead his wife to her side, when he perceived his aunt's bead-like eyes fixed on them, and she called out to ask Lady Martindale if Lady Elizabeth Brandon had returned.
The young ladies came in late; and Arthur in vain tried to win a look from his sister, who kept eyes and tongue solely for Miss Gardner's service.
At night, as, after a conversation with his brother, he was crossing the gallery to his own room, he met her.
'Teaching my wife to gossip?' said he, well pleased.
'No, I have been with Jane.'
'The eternal friendship!' exclaimed he, in a changed tone.
'Good night!' and she passed on.
He stood still, then stepping after her, overtook her.
'Theodora!' he said, almost pleadingly.
He paused, tried to laugh, and at last said, rather awkwardly, 'I want to know what you think of her?'
'I see she is very pretty.'
'Good night!' and his receding footsteps echoed mortification.
Theodora looked after him. 'Jane is right,' she said to herself, 'he cares most for me. Poor Arthur! I must stand alone, ready to support him when his toy fails him.'
They read botanic treatises And works of gardeners through there, And methods of transplanting trees To look as if they grew there. —A. TENNYSON
Theodora awoke to sensations of acute grief. Her nature had an almost tropical fervour of disposition; and her education having given her few to love, her ardent affections had fastened upon Arthur with a vehemence that would have made the loss of the first place in his love painful, even had his wife been a person she respected and esteemed, but when she saw him, as she thought, deluded and thrown away on this mere beauty, the suffering was intense.
The hope Jane Gardner had given her, of his return to her, when he should have discovered his error, was her first approach to comfort, and seemed to invigorate her to undergo the many vexations of the day, in the sense of neglect, and the sight of his devotion to his bride.
She found that, much as she had dreaded it, she had by no means realized the discomposure she secretly endured when they met at breakfast, and he, remembering her repulse, was cold—she was colder; and Violet, who, in the morning freshness, was growing less timid, shrank back into awe of her formal civility.
In past days it had been a complaint that Arthur left her no time to herself. Now she saw the slight girlish figure clinging to his arm as they crossed the lawn, and she knew they were about to make the tour of their favourite haunts, she could hardly keep from scolding Skylark back when even he deserted her to run after them; and only by a very strong effort could she prevent her mind from pursuing their steps, while she was inflicting a course of Liebig on Miss Gardner, at the especial instance of that lady, who, whatever hobby her friends were riding, always mounted behind.
Luncheon was half over, when the young pair came in, flushed with exercise and animation; Arthur talking fast about the covers and the game, and Violet in such high spirits, that she volunteered a history of their trouble with Skylark, and 'some dear little partridges that could not get out of a cart rut.'
In the afternoon Miss Gardner, 'always so interested in schools and village children,' begged to be shown 'Theodora's little scholars,' and walked with her to Brogden, the village nearly a mile off. They set off just as the old pony was coming to the door for Violet to have a riding lesson; and on their return, at the end of two hours, found Arthur still leading, letting go, running by the side, laughing and encouraging.
'Fools' paradise!' thought Theodora, as she silently mounted the steps.
'That is a remarkably pretty little hat,' said Miss Gardner. Theodora made a blunt affirmative sound.
'No doubt she is highly pleased to sport it. The first time of wearing anything so becoming must be charming at her age. I could envy her.'
'Poor old pony!' was all Theodora chose to answer.
'There, they are leaving off,' as Arthur led away the pony, and Violet began to ascend the steps, turning her head to look after him.
Miss Gardner came to meet her, asking how she liked riding.
'Oh, so much, thank you.'
'You are a good scholar?'
'I hope I shall be. He wants me to ride well. He is going to take me into the woods to-morrow.'
'We have been admiring your hat,' said Miss Gardner. 'It is exactly what my sister would like. Have you any objection to tell where you bought it?'
'I'll ask him: he gave it to me.'
'Dressing his new doll,' thought Theodora; but as Violet had not been personally guilty of the extravagance, she thought amends due to her for the injustice, and asked her to come into the gardens.
'Thank you, I should like it; but will he, will Mr.—will Arthur know what has become of me?'
'He saw you join us,' said Theodora, thinking he ought to be relieved to have her taken off his hands for a little while.
'Have you seen the gardens?' asked Jane.
'Are not these the gardens?' said Violet, surprised, as they walked on through the pleasure-ground, and passed a screen of trees, and a walk trellised over with roses.
There spread out before her a sweep of shaven turf, adorned with sparkling jets d'eau of fantastic forms, gorgeous masses of American plants, the flaming or the snowy azalea, and the noble rhododendron, in every shade of purple cluster among its evergreen leaves; beds of rare lilies, purely white or brilliant with colour; roses in their perfection of bloom; flowers of forms she had never figured to herself, shaded by wondrous trees, the exquisite weeping deodara, the delicate mimosa, the scaly Himalaya pines, the feathery gigantic ferns of the southern hemisphere.
Violet stood gazing in a silent trance till Arthur's step approached, when she bounded back to him, and clinging to his arm exclaimed, so that he alone could hear, 'Oh, I am glad you are come! It was too like enchanted ground!'
'So you like it,' said Arthur, smiling.
'I did not know there could be anything so beautiful! I thought the pleasure-ground finer than anything—so much grander than Lord St. Erme's; but this! Did you keep it to the last to surprise me!'
'I forgot it,' said Arthur, laughing to see her look shocked. 'It is not in my line. The natives never have any sport out of a show-place.'
'It is simply a bore,' said Theodora, 'a self-sacrifice to parade.'
'To the good of visitors,' replied Miss Gardner, smiling, to Violet, who, fearing her own admiration was foolish, was grateful to hear her say, 'And in that capacity you will allow Mrs. Martindale and me to enjoy.'
'Did not I bring you to make the grand tour!' said Theodora. 'Come, prepare to be stifled. Here are all the zones up to the equator,' and she led the way into the conservatory.
Arthur's protection and his satisfaction in Violet's pleasure set her at ease to enter into all the wonders and beauties; but he did not know one plant from another, and referred all her inquiries to his sister, who answered them in a cold matter-of-fact way that discouraged her from continuing them, and reduced her to listening to the explanations elicited by Jane Gardner, until a new-comer met them, thus greeted by Arthur—'Ah! here is the authority! Good morning, Harrison. Mrs. Martindale wants to know the name of this queer striped thing.'
He bowed politely, and Violet, as she bent and smiled, supposed they were too familiar for the hand-shake, while he went on to name the plant and exhibit its peculiarities. Her questions and remarks seemed to please him greatly, and while he replied graciously with much curious information, he cut spray after spray of the choicest flowers and bestowed them upon her, so that when the tour was completed, and he quitted them, she said, with smiling gratitude, 'It is the most exquisite bouquet I ever saw.'
'A poor thing, 'was the proud humility answer, 'but honoured by such hands!'
'Well done, Harrison!' ejaculated Arthur, as soon as he was out of ear-shot.
'Who is he?' asked Violet, still blushing; then, as the truth dawned on her, 'can he be the gardener? I thought him some great botanist allowed to study here.'
'Pray tell Miss Piper, Theodora,' said Arthur. 'If it goes round to him, Violet will never want for flowers.'
'It is so exactly what he considers himself,' said Jane.
'Except his being allowed,' said Arthur. ''Tis we that are there on sufferance.'
Miss Piper was seen advancing on the same walk, and Violet was uncomfortable, dreading to see her treated as an inferior; but to her great satisfaction, Arthur addressed the little lady in his cordial manner, and Theodora congratulated her on being out of doors on this fine evening.
'Mrs. Nesbit wished me to ask Mr. Harrison for a frond of the new Trichomanes,' said Miss Piper.
'You will find him somewhere near the forcing-house,' said Theodora; 'but pray don't hurry in. I am going to my aunt's room, and you should go and look at the Japan lilies, they are fine enough to make even me admire them.' Then running after her to enforce her words, 'mind you stay out—be quite at rest till dinner-time—I have scarcely been with my aunt to-day. I am sure a walk will do you good.'
The kind solicitude went deep into the affections of the lonely little woman. Violet longed for anything like such notice; then, in a state between wonder, delight, and disappointment, went to her room to attempt a description of the fairy land which she had been visiting, and to enjoy the splendours by thinking how much it would gratify her mother and sisters to hear of her sharing them.
Mrs. Nesbit greeted Theodora with exclamations on Miss Piper's tardiness, and she explained in the authoritative way which she alone ventured to use towards her aunt; then, in a tone of conciliation, spoke of the garden and the beauty of the Japan lilies.
'Harrison grows too many; they are losing their rarity, and look like a weed.'
'They are hardy, are they not?' said Theodora, maliciously. 'I shall get some for my school garden.'
'That is your way of making everything common, and depreciating all that is choice.'
'No,' said Theodora, 'I would have beauty as widely enjoyed and as highly appreciated as possible.'
'And pray, if all privileges are extended to the lower classes, what is left to the higher orders?'
'Themselves,' said Theodora, proudly. 'No, aunt, we only lower ourselves by exclusiveness. It is degrading to ourselves and our tastes to make them badges of vanity. Let them be freely partaken, we shall be first still. The masses cannot mount higher without raising us.'
'A levelling theory,' said Mrs. Nesbit.
'No, exalting. Has Latin and Greek made Harrison a gentleman? Can even dress in better taste make Pauline look as much a lady as Miss Piper?'
'There is a good deal in that,' said Mrs. Nesbit. 'Even Lady Elizabeth Brandon cannot hide her good blood, though she does her best to do so.'
'And so does Emma,' said Theodora.
'Foolish girl,' said Mrs. Nesbit, 'I would have given anything to see her attractive.'
'Too late now!' said Theodora, with a look of repressed scorn and triumph.
'Too late for ARTHUR,' replied Mrs. Nesbit, with emphasis. 'And you'll never, never succeed in the other quarter!'
'Young people always have those fancies. I know what you would say, but John is not so young now. It is just the time of life when men take a turn. Depend upon it, now he has had his boy's romance, he is not going to play the disconsolate lover for the rest of his life. No! that girl shall never be Lady Martindale.'
'Well, I shan't dispute' said Theodora; 'but—'
'Believe when you see, said Mrs. Nesbit.
'And so you mean it to be Emma Brandon,' said Theodora, with the same sarcastic incredulity.
'Let me tell you there are things more unlikely. John thinks much of Lady Elizabeth, and is just one of the men to marry a plain quiet girl, fancying she would be the more domestic; and for yourself, you would find Emma very accommodating—never in your way.'
'No indeed,' said Theodora.
'Nothing could give your mother more pleasure. It is more than ever important now. What have you seen of Arthur's piece of wax? He seems to have been playing with her all day long.'
'Yes, poor fellow,' said Theodora, sighing. 'However, it might have been worse. I believe she is an innocent child, and very ladylike.'
'There is an instance of the effect of your dissemination notions! This would never have happened if every country attorney did not bring up his daughters to pass for ladies!'
'I am glad she is nothing outwardly to be ashamed of.'
'I had rather that she was than for her to have the opportunity of worming herself into favour! Those modest airs and her way of peeping up under her eyelashes seem to make a great impression,' said Mrs. Nesbit, with a sneer.
'Really, I think she is simple and shy.'
Mrs. Nesbit laughed. 'You, too! What has she to do with shyness? She has had her lesson; but you are like the rest! Your mamma actually proposing to take her likeness, but I told her it was not to be thought of. There will be plenty to fill her with presumption.'
'And papa—what does he think?' said Theodora, who was wont to obtain the family politics from her aunt.
'Oh! men are sure to be caught by a pretty face, and they cannot make enough of her. I thought your father had more sense, but since John has had his ear, everything has been past my management. I cannot bear to see Arthur's cool way—but no wonder. There will be no end to their expectations, treated as they are.'
'Then papa means to do something for them?'
'I cannot tell. He may do as he pleases. It is no affair of mine. They cannot touch my property. Your father may try how he likes supporting them.'
'He will then?'
'He cannot help it, after having invited them here.'
Theodora could no longer bear to hear Arthur thus spoken of, and began to read aloud, relieved in some degree by finding Arthur was not to suffer poverty. If he had been persecuted, she must have taken his part; now she could choose her own line. However, the world must not suppose that she disapproved of his wife, and she was grateful to the unmeaning words amiable and ladylike, especially when she had to speak to Mr. Wingfield. He observed on the lady's beauty, and hoped that the affair was as little unsatisfactory as possible under the circumstances, to which she fully agreed. They proceeded to parish matters, on which they had so much to say to each other, that Violet thus reflected—'Ah! it is just as Mr. Martindale used to sit with me in the window at home! She is going to give up all her grandeur for the sake of this good clergyman! How good she is! If she could only like me one little bit.'
For the present this mattered the less to Violet, as she was extremely happy out of doors with her husband, who took up her time so exclusively, that she scarcely saw the rest, except at meals and in the evening. Then, though less afraid of 'solecisms in etiquette,' she made no progress in familiarity, but each day revealed more plainly how much too lowly and ignorant she was to be ever one of the family.
Mrs. Nesbit was always formidable and sarcastic, alarming her the more because she could not understand her irony, though conscious it was levelled against her; Lady Martindale always chilling in condescending courtesy, and daily displaying more of the acquirements that frightened Violet by their number and extent; Theodora always gravely and coldly polite and indifferent. Miss Gardner was her great resource. Her pleasant manners and ready conversation were universally liked, and more than once she dexterously helped Violet out of a state of embarrassment, and made a connecting link, through which she ventured to talk to the other ladies.
With the gentlemen she was happier. Lord Martindale was kind in manner, and she improved in the power of speaking to him, while John was, as she knew, her best friend; but she saw very little of him, he lived apart from the family, often not meeting them till dinner-time, and she began to understand Arthur's surprise at his doings at Winchester, when she found that his usual habits were so solitary that his father was gratified if he joined him in a ride, and his mother esteemed it a favour if he took a turn in the garden with her.
The parish church was so distant that the carriage was always used to convey thither the ladies, except Theodora, who ever since her fourteenth year had made it her custom to walk early to the school, and to remain there in the interval between the services. It was believed that she enjoyed a wet Sunday, as an occasion for proving her resolution, now so well established that no one thought of remonstrance, let the weather be what it might. The first Sunday of Violet's visit happened to be showery, and in the afternoon, Lord Martindale had gone to John's room to dissuade him from going to church a second time, when, as the door stood open, they heard Arthur's voice in the gallery.
'Hollo! you are not setting out in these torrents!'
'Do let me, please!' returned the pleading note.
'Why, the avenue is a river, and you are not a real goose yet, you know.'
'We never did miss church for weather, and it is further off at Wrangerton.'
'Nobody is going, I tell you. It is not in common sense. You are as bad as Theodora, I declare.'
'I don't mean to be wilful!' said she, piteously; 'I won't go if you tell me not, but please don't. I have no Sunday-book, and nothing to do, and I should feel wrong all the week.'
'To be sure you can't smoke a cigar,' said Arthur, in a tone of commiseration; 'so wilful will to water! Now for an aquatic excursion!'
Their steps and voices receded, and the father and brother looked amused. 'A good honest child!' 'She will do something with him after all!' and Lord Martindale (for Arthur had made too broad an assertion in declaring no one was going) followed them down, and showed positively paternal solicitude that Violet should be guarded from the rain, even sending to Pauline for a cloak of Miss Martindale's.
It was early when they reached the village, and Lord Martindale, saying he must speak to a workman, took them through a pretty garden to a house, the front rooms of which were shut up; they entered by the back door, and found themselves in a kitchen, where a couple of labouring people were sitting, in church-going trim. While Violet shook off the rain, and warmed herself at the fire, Lord Martindale spoke to the man; and then opening a door, called her and Arthur to look.
There were several rooms, without trace of ever having been inhabited, and not looking very inviting. The view of the park, which Violet would fain have admired, was one gush of rain.
'This might be made something of,' said Lord Martindale. 'It was built at the same time as the house. There was some idea of Mrs. Nesbit's living here; and of late years it has been kept empty for poor John.'
He broke off. Violet wondered if it was to be her abode, and whether those empty rooms could ever be as pleasant as the parlour at Winchester; but no more passed, and it was time to go into church.
After this, Lord Martindale pressed to have their stay prolonged; which Arthur could not persuade his wife to believe a great compliment to her, though she was pleased, because he was, and because she hoped it was a sign that she was tolerated for his sake. Personally, she could have wished that his leave of absence might not be extended, especially when she found that by the end of the next two months it was likely that the regiment would be in London, so that she had seen the last of her dear Winchester lodging; but she had so little selfishness, that she reproached herself even for the moment's wish, that Arthur should not remain to be happy at his own home.
It was a great loss to her that Miss Gardner was going away, leaving her to the unmitigated coldness and politeness of the other ladies. She grieved the more when, on the last morning, Jane made positive advances of friendship, and talked affectionately of meeting in London.
'My home is with my sister, and we shall be delighted to see you. You will be fixed there, no doubt.'
'Thank you. I cannot tell; but I shall be so glad to see you!'
'And I shall be delighted to introduce you to my sister. I know you will be great friends. What a season it will be! Two such sisters as Mrs. and Miss Martindale making their appearance together will be something memorable.'
Violet blushed excessively, and made some inarticulate disavowals. She felt it presumption to let her name be coupled with Miss Martindale's, and there was a sense of something dangerous and wrong in expecting admiration.
Miss Gardner only smiled encouragingly at her youthfulness. 'I will not distress you, though I look forward to what I shall hear. I shall feel that I have a right to be proud of you, from priority of acquaintance.'
'You are very kind; but, please, don't talk so. It is bad, I know, for me.'
'You are very right, I quite agree with you. No doubt it is the wisest way; but so very few feel as you do. I wish more were like you, or, indeed, like Theodora, who is positively displeased with me for speaking of her making a sensation.'
'Oh! of course she does not care,' said Violet. 'So very good as she is.'
'Appallingly so, some people say,' returned Jane, with a peculiar look; 'but, I know her well, though she was more my sister's friend than mine.'
'Then you have known her a long time?'
'All her life. We used to meet every day in London, when she and my sister were two madcaps together, playing endless wild pranks. We used to tell her she ruled the governesses, and no one could control her—nor can—'
'But she is very good,' repeated Violet, puzzled.
'Ah! she took a serious turn at about fourteen, and carried it out in her own peculiar way. She has worked out a great deal for herself, without much guidance. She has a standard of her own, and she will not acknowledge a duty if she does not intend to practise it.'
'I don't understand,' said Violet. 'I thought if one saw a duty one must try to practise it.'
'I wish all the world went upon your principles' said Miss Gardner, with a sigh. 'I am afraid you will find many not half so consistent with their own views as yourself, or Theodora.'
'Oh! of course one must fail,' said Violet. 'One cannot do half one means, but Theodora seems so strong and resolute.'
'Ay, no one has been able to cope with her, not even Mrs. Nesbit; who, as a kindred spirit, might have had a chance!'
'Mrs. Nesbit has had a great deal to do with her education?'
'I dare say you have found out the real head of the family. I see you are very acute, as well as very guarded.'
'Oh dear! I hope I have said nothing I ought not,' cried Violet, in a fright.
'No, indeed, far from it. I was admiring your caution.'
Violet thought she had done wrong in betraying her dislike; she knew not how; and trying to ascribe all to shyness, said, 'It was so strange and new; I have never been out till now.'
'Yes, if you will allow me to say so, I thought you got on admirably, considering how trying the situation was.'
'Oh! I was very much frightened; but they are very kind—Mr. Martindale especially.'
'Poor Mr. Martindale! I wish he could recover his spirits. He has never held up his head since Miss Fotheringham's death. He is an admirable person, but it is melancholy to see him spending his life in that lonely manner.'
'It is, indeed. I often wish anything would cheer him!'
'All the family are devoted to him, if that would comfort him. It is the only point where Lady Martindale is not led by her aunt, that she almost worships him!'
'I thought Mrs. Nesbit was fond of him.'
'Did you ever hear that Percy Fotheringham once said of her, "That woman is a good hater"? She detested the Fotheringham family, and Mr. Martindale, for his engagement. No, he is out of her power, and she cannot endure him; besides, he is a rival authority—his father listens to him.'
'I suppose Mrs. Nesbit is very clever.'
'She has been one of the cleverest women on earth. She formed her niece, made the match, forced her forward into the very highest society—never were such delightful parties—the best music—every lion to be met with—Lady Martindale herself at once a study for beauty, and a dictionary of arts and sciences—Mrs. Nesbit so agreeable. Ah! you cannot judge of her quite, she is passee, broken, and aged, and, poor thing! is querulous at feeling the loss of her past powers; but there used to be a brilliance and piquancy in her conversation that has become something very different now.'
Violet thought it most prudent only to remark on Lady Martindale's varied accomplishments.
'She has carried them on much longer than usual. People generally give them up when they marry, but she has gone on. I am not sure whether it was the wisest course. There is much to be said on both sides. And I have sometimes thought Theodora might have been a little less determined and eccentric, if she had not been left so much to governesses, and if her affections had had more scope for development.'
Theodora came in, and Violet blushed guiltily, as if she had been talking treason.
Miss Gardner's object in life, for the present, might be said to be to pick up amusement, and go about making visits; the grander the people the better, adapting herself to every one, and talking a sort of sensible scandal, with a superior air of regret; obtaining histories at one house to be detailed at another, and thus earning the character of being universally intimate. The sentiments of the young bride of Martindale had been, throughout her visit, matter of curiosity; and even this tete-a-tete left them guess work. Theodora's were not so difficult of discovery; for, though Jane had never been the same favourite with her as her more impetuous sister, she had, by her agreeable talk and show of sympathy, broken down much of the hedge of thorns with which Theodora guarded her feelings.
'I have been talking to Mrs. Martindale,' Jane began, as they went up-stairs together. 'She is a graceful young thing, and Georgina and I will call on her in London. Of course they will be settled there.'
'I don't know,' said Theodora. 'A notion has been started of his leaving the Guards, and their coming to live at the cottage at Brogden.'
'Indeed!' exclaimed Miss Gardner.
'It is not settled, so don't mention it. I doubt how it would answer to set Arthur down with nothing to do.'
'I doubt, indeed! I have seen a good deal of families living close together.'
'Nothing shall make me quarrel with Arthur, or his wife. You smile, but it needs no magnanimity to avoid disputes with anything so meek and gentle.'
'You can't judge of her; a girl of sixteen in a house full of strangers! Give her a house of her own, and she will soon learn that she is somebody. As long as your eldest brother is unmarried, she will expect to be looked upon as the wife of the heir. She will take offence, and your brother will resent it.'
'And there will be discussions about her,' said Theodora.
'Depend upon it, 'tis easier to keep the peace at a distance. Fancy the having to call for her whenever you go out to dinner. And oh! imagine the father, mother, and half-dozen sisters that will be always staying there.'
'No, Arthur has not married the whole family, and never means them to come near her.'
'There are two words to that question,' said Miss Gardner, smiling. 'Quiet as she seems now, poor thing she has a character of her own, I can see, and plenty of discernment. To be so guarded, as she is, at her age, shows some resolution.'
'Guarded! has she been saying anything?'
'No, she is extremely prudent.'
'Inferring it, then,' exclaimed Theodora. 'Well, her expectations must be high, if she is not satisfied; one comfort is, the Brogden scheme is only John's and papa's. My aunt can't bear it, because it seems quite to give up the chance of John's marrying.'
'Well, Georgina and I will do the best we can for her. I suppose you wish it to be understood that you approve.'
'Of course: you can say everything with truth that the world cares for. She is pleasing, and amiable, and all that.'
'She will be extremely admired.'
'And her head so much turned as to ruin all the sense there may be in it! I hate the thought of it, and of what is to become of Arthur when he wakes from his trance.'
'He will find that he has a sister,' said Jane, who had learnt that this was the secret of consolation; and, accordingly, a softer 'Poor Arthur!' followed.
'And will you write, dear Theodora?'
'I don't promise. I hardly ever write letters.'
'And you will not send your love to poor Georgina?'
'I forgive her for having pained and disappointed me. I hope she will be happy, but I am very much afraid she has not gone the right way to be so.'
'Am I to tell her so?'
'I dare say you will, but don't call it my message. If she makes a good use of her means, I shall try to forget the way she obtained them.'
'I only hope, with your notions, that you will not get into a scrape yourself. I'm a little afraid of that curate.'
'We both know better,' said Theodora.
Jane departed, and Violet felt as if she had a friend and protector the less. She was sitting forlorn in the great drawing-room, waiting for Arthur, who was trying horses; presently Theodora came in, and with something of compassion, said, 'I hope you have an entertaining book there.'
Oh yes, thank you, "La Vie de Philippe Auguste". I like it very much; it is as amusing as "Philip Augustus" itself.'
'James's novel, you mean?'
'Have you read it?'
'His novels are exactly alike,' said Theodora, leaving the room, but checked by the thought that it would be merciful to take her into her room. 'No, nonsense,' said second thoughts; 'I shall have nothing but chatter ever after, if I establish her coming to me when Arthur is out; and if this cottage scheme comes to pass, she will be marching up whenever she has nothing better to do. Give an inch, and she will take an ell.'
She was interrupted by a diffident, hesitating call, and, looking back, as she was mounting the stairs, beheld Violet, who changed the appellation into 'Miss Martindale.'
'Well!' said she, feeling as if her citadel were in jeopardy.
'Would you—would you be so very kind as to lend me a French dictionary?'
'Certainly; I'll give you one in a moment,' said Theodora; with so little encouragement as would have deterred a person bent on gaining the entree. Violet stood meekly waiting till she brought the book, and received it with gratitude disproportionate to the favour conferred.
Some heavy business hath my lord in hand, And I must know it, else he loves me not. —King Henry IV
Miss Gardner's departure threw the rest of the party more together, and Theodora did not hold herself as much aloof as before. Indeed she perceived that there were occasions when Arthur seemed to be returning to his preference for her. She had more conversation, and it often fell on subjects of which the bride had no knowledge, while the sister was happy in resuming old habits. Sometimes Violet was entertained; but one day when they were riding, the talk was going on eagerly on some subject of which she knew nothing, while they rode faster than she liked, and she fancied she was insecure in her saddle. Twice she timidly called Arthur; but he was too much absorbed to attend to her, without a degree of scream, which she did not feel would be justified. Each moment she grew more alarmed and miserable, and though at last, when he perceived that she wanted him, he was off his horse in a moment and set all to rights, she completely forgot her distress,—the charm had been broken, she was no longer his first thought.
The sensation of loneliness often returned during the next few weeks; there was no real neglect, and she would not so have felt it if she had not depended on him alone, and so long enjoyed his exclusive attention. His fondness and petting were the same, but she perceived that he found in his sister a companionship of which she did not feel capable. But to Theodora herself, whenever she succeeded in engrossing Arthur, it seemed a victory of sisterly affection and sense over beauty and frivolity.
Arthur was anxious to know the family politics, and resumed the habit of depending on his sister for gathering intelligence from Mrs. Nesbit. On her he bestowed his complaints that his father would not see things as he wished, and with her talked over his projects. In truth, he could not bear to disclose to his wife the footing on which he stood,—looking on her as a mere child, sure to be satisfied, and not requiring to be consulted.
Theodora gave him tidings of the proposal that he should settle in the village, and finding him undecided, threw all her weight into the opposite scale. She sincerely believed she was consulting his happiness and the harmony of the family by speaking of the irksomeness of living there with nothing to do, and by assisting him in calculating how large an income would be necessary to enable him to keep hunters, go from home, &c., without which he declared it would be intolerable, and as there was little probability of his father allowing him so much, continuing in his profession was the only alternative.
Violet saw them in frequent consultation, and once John said something to her of his hopes of seeing her at Brogden; then, finding her in ignorance, drew back, but not till he had said enough to make her restless at hearing no more. She would, of course, have preferred living in the country; but when she figured to herself Arthur always with Theodora, and herself shut up in the little parlour she had seen in the rain, she grew extremely disconsolate.
One morning, unable to read or sit quiet under these anticipations, she went out to dispel them by a turn among the flowers, and a conversation with the peacock. At the corner of the lawn, she heard Arthur's voice—'Exactly so; two thousand is the very least. Ha, Violet!' as he and Theodora emerged from a shady alley.
'Oh, I did not mean to interrupt you,' said Violet, confused; 'I only came out for some fresh air.'
'Unbonneted, too, do you want to get roasted brown?' said Arthur.
'I never am burnt,' said Violet; 'but I will not be in your way, I'll go.'
'Nonsense,' said he, drawing her arm into his. 'Come in good time,' and he yawned, tired of the discussion. 'Ha, Mr. Peacock, are you there?'
'He always follows me,' said Violet. 'Miss Piper showed me where his food is kept, and I can almost get him to eat out of my hand.'
Theodora walked off, thinking there was an end of her brother's sense, and Violet looked after her rather sadly, thinking, while exhibiting to Arthur her friendship with the peacock, 'he consults her, he only plays with me. Perhaps it is all I am good for; but I wish we were at Winchester.'
As Theodora went up-stairs, she saw her eldest brother standing at the south window of the gallery. He called to her, saying, 'Here's a pretty picture, Theodora.'
In front of the sparkling crystal arches of the fountain stood Violet, bending forward, and holding out her hand full of grain to invite the beautiful bird, which now advanced, now withdrew its rich blue neck, as in condescension, then raised its crested head in sudden alarm, its train sweeping the ground in royal splendour. Arthur, no unpicturesque figure in his loose brown coat, stood by, leaning against the stand of one of the vases of plants, whose rich wreaths of brightly coloured blossoms hung down, making a setting for the group; and while Violet by her blandishments invited the peacock to approach, he now and then, with smiling slyness, made thrusts at it with her parasol, or excited Skylark to approach.
'A pretty scene, is it not?' said John.
'Like a Sevres china cup,' Theodora could not help saying.
'Fountain and peacock, and parasol for shepherd's crook, forming a French Arcadia,' said John, smiling. 'I suppose it would hardly make a picture. It is too bright.'
Theodora only answered by a sigh, and was turning away, when John added, 'I am glad she has him at last, I was afraid she had a long solitary morning while you were out with him. I saw you walking up and down so long.'
'He was talking over his plans,' said Theodora, with an assumption of sullen dignity.
'I have been wishing to speak to you about that very thing,' said John. 'I think you may be in danger of putting yourself between him and his wife.'
It was a new thing to her to hear that this was a danger, but, in an offended manner, she replied, 'I can hardly be accused of that. He ceases all rational talk about his most important concerns to go to child's play with her.'
'But why keep her out of the rational talk?'
'That is his concern. He knows what she is capable of, I suppose.'
'I doubt whether he does,' said John; 'but I don't want to interfere with his behaviour, only to give you a caution. It is natural that you should wish to have him what he was before. I knew his marriage was a great blow to you.'
'I knew he would marry,' said Theodora, coldly; for she could not bear compassion. 'It is the common course of things.'
'And that the wife should be first.'
'Then would it not be better to bear that in mind, and make up your mind to it, rather than try to absorb his confidence?'
'He is not bound to consult no one but that child. You would not drive him back to her if he came to you for advice.'
'I should not pass her over; I should assume that her opinion was to be respected.'
'I can't be untrue.'
'Then try to make it valuable.'
'He wants no help of mine to make him fond of her!' cried Theodora. 'Does not he dote on her, and make himself quite foolish about her complexion and her dress!'
'That is a different thing. She cannot be always a toy; and if you want to do the most inestimable service to Arthur, it would be by raising her.'
'Trying to educate a married sister-in-law! No, thank you!'
'I don't see what is to become of them,' said John, sadly. 'He will be always under some influence or other, and a sensible wife might do everything for him. But she is a child; and he is not the man to form her character. He would have spoilt her already if she did not take his admiration, for mere affection; and just at the age when girls are most carefully watched, she is turned out into the world without a guide! If he ceases to be happy with her, what is before them? You think he will fall back on you; but I tell you he will not. If you once loosen the tie of home, and he seeks solace elsewhere, it will be in the pursuits that have done him harm enough already.'
'He has given up his race-horses,' said Theodora.
The luncheon-bell interrupted them; but as they were going down, John added, 'I hope I have said nothing to vex you. Indeed, Theodora, I feel much for your loss.'
'I am not vexed,' was her haughty reply, little guessing how, in her pursuit of the brother who had escaped her, she was repelling and slighting one who would gladly have turned to her for sisterly friendship. His spirits were in that state of revival when a mutual alliance would have greatly added to the enjoyment of both; but Theodora had no idea of even the possibility of being on such terms. He seemed like one of an elder generation—hardly the same relation as Arthur.
'So, Lady Elizabeth comes,' said Lady Martindale, as they entered the room.
'Is she coming to stay here!' asked John.
'Yes; did you not hear that we have asked her to come to us for the Whitford ball?'
'Oh, are we in for the Whitford ball?' said Theodora, in a tone of disgust that checked the delighted look on Violet's face.
'Yes, my dear; your papa wishes us to go.'
'What a bore!' exclaimed Theodora.
'Yes,' sighed Lady Martindale; 'but your papa thinks it right.'
'A necessary evil—eh, Violet?' said Arthur.
'I hope you don't mind it?' said Violet, looking anxiously at him.
'Ah, you will enjoy it,' said her ladyship, graciously regarding her folly.
'Oh, yes, thank you,' said Violet, eagerly.
'Have you been to many balls?'
'Only to one;' and she blushed deeply, and cast down her eyes.
'And so the Brandons are coming to stay! For how long, mamma?' proceeded Theodora.
'From Wednesday to Saturday,' said Lady Martindale. 'I have been writing cards for a dinner-party for Wednesday; and your father says there are some calls that must be returned; and so, my dear, will you be ready by three?'
'You don't mean me, mamma?' said Theodora, as nobody answered.
'No; you are a resolute rebel against morning visits. You have no engagement for this afternoon, my dear?'
Violet started, saying, 'I beg your pardon; I did not know you meant me. Oh, thank you! I am very much obliged.'
'I suppose you will not go with us, Arthur?'
He looked as if he did not like it, but caught a beseeching glance from his wife, and was beginning to consent, when Theodora exclaimed, 'Oh, Arthur, don't; it will be such a famous opportunity for that ride.'
'Very well; you know where my cards are, Violet!'
'Yes,' she answered, submissively, though much disappointed, and in dread of the drive and of the strangers.
'Really, I think you had better go, Arthur,' said John, greatly displeased at Theodora's tone. 'It is the sort of occasion for doing things regularly.'
'Indeed, I think so,' said Lady Martindale; 'I wish Arthur would go with us this once. I doubt if it will be taken well if he does not.'
'You will find no one at home. His going won't make a bit of difference,' said Theodora, who now regarded keeping him as a matter of power.
'Surely your ride might wait,' said her mother. 'No, it won't, mamma. It is to see that old man, Mary's father.'
'What Mary, my dear?'
'The scullery-maid. I want to speak to him about her confirmation; and the only way is over Whitford Down—all manner of leaping places, so we must go without Violet.'
Violet feared there was little hope for her, for Arthur looked much invited by the leaping places, but John made another effort in her favour, and a great one for him.
'Suppose you accept of me for your escort, Theodora?' Every one looked astonished, Lady Martindale positively aghast.
'Were you ever on Whitford Down, John?' said Arthur.
'Why, yes,—in old times; I know the place, I believe.'
'You talk of knowing it, who never hunted!' said Arthur. 'No, no; you are a great traveller, John, but you don't know the one horse-track on Whitford Down that does not lead into a bog—'
'Theodora does, I dare say.'
'Yes, I know it, but it is too far for you, John, thank you, and not at all what would suit you. I must give it up, if Arthur prefers playing the disconsolate part of a gentleman at a morning call.'
'Do you really dislike going without me?' asked Arthur, and of course nothing was left for Violet to say but, 'O, thank you, pray don't stay with me. Indeed, I had much rather you had your ride.'
'You are sure?'
'O yes, quite. I shall do very well' and she smiled, and tried to make a show of ease and confidence in his mother, by looking towards her, and asking upon whom they were to call.
Lady Martindale mentioned several ladies who had left their cards for Mrs. Arthur Martindale, adding that perhaps it would be better to leave a card at Rickworth Priory.
'Is that where Lady Elizabeth Brandon lives?' asked Violet.
'Yes,' said Lady Martindale. 'It belongs to her daughter. Lady Elizabeth is a highly excellent person, for whom Lord Martindale has a great regard, and Miss Brandon is one of Theodora's oldest friends.'
'Hum!' said Theodora.
'My dear, she is a very nice amiable girl—just your own age, and admirably brought up.'
'Granted,' said Theodora.
'I cannot see that Emma Brandon wants anything but style and confidence,' proceeded Lady Martindale, 'and that I believe to be entirely poor Lady Elizabeth's fault for keeping her so much in retirement. That German finishing governess, Miss Ohnglaube, whom we were so sorry to lose, would have been the person to teach her a little freedom and readiness of manner. I wish we could have kept her a little longer.'
'I told Lady Elizabeth about her,' said Theodora; but Lady Martindale, without hearing, said she must go to her aunt, and renewing injunctions to Violet to be ready by three, left the room.
'You did not astonish her weak mind with the ghost story?' said Arthur.
'With its cause.'
'You would not have thought, Violet,' continued Arthur, 'that we had a ghost in the north wing.'
'What was it?' said Violet. 'You don't mean really?'
'Only a Turk's-head broom, with phosphorus eyes, and a sheet round the handle,' said Theodora. 'It had a grand effect when Arthur stood on the second landing-place, and raised it above the balusters—a sort of bodilessness rising from vacancy.'
'Didn't she faint?' said Arthur.
'No, I was afraid she would, and then it would have been all over with us; but I dragged her safe into the school-room, and there she was so hysterical that I nearly relented.'
'Then was it all in play?' said Violet.
'In earnest,' said Arthur. 'It was the only way of getting quit of mademoiselle.'
'That lady who used to talk metaphysics and sing!' said John. 'I remember the lamentations at her not choosing to remain. Why was she victimized?'
'There was no help for it,' said Theodora. 'She considered the book of Genesis as a "sehr schone mythische Geschichte", and called the Patriarchs the Hebrew Avatars.'
'Theodora! You don't mean it!' exclaimed John.
'I do, but I had my revenge, for, after the Turk's-head adventure, she never slept without my Bible under her pillow. If by broad daylight she would have renounced the Avatar theory, I really would have forgiven her, for she was very good-natured, and she admired "the high Roman fashion" so much, I was half afraid she might follow it herself if we tormented her much more.'
'But why keep it to yourself! I can hardly believe it possible! Why play these tricks instead of telling all?'
'I did tell Aunt Nesbit, but Miss Ohnglaube was always reading Jean Paul with her and mamma; they were in raptures with her, and my aunt only said I was too well instructed to be misled.'
'How old were you?'
'It is beyond belief. Why could you not tell my father?' said John.
'I hardly saw him—I never spoke to him.'
'Was not I at home!'
'Yes, shut up in your room. I never thought of speaking to you. All I could do was to be as restive as possible, and when she did not care for that, there was nothing for it but playing on her German superstition. So Arthur told her some awful stones about whipping blacks to death, and declared West Indian families were very apt to be haunted; but that it was a subject never to be mentioned to mamma nor my aunt.'
'And having paved the way, we treated her to the Turk's-head,' concluded Arthur. 'I would do it again to hear her sigh and scream, and see Theodora acting as coolly as if she was in daily intercourse with the defunct nigger. If mademoiselle had not been frightened out of her senses, her self-possession would have betrayed us.'
'I could not act fright,' said Theodora.
'And this was the best plan you could devise for getting rid of an infidel governess!' said John.
And as they dispersed, he stood looking after his sister, thinking that there was more excuse for her inconsistencies than he had yet afforded her, and that, in fact, she deserved credit for being what she was. His aunt had done even more harm than the ruin of his happiness.
Theodora triumphed, and carried Arthur off, but Violet found the reality of the expedition less formidable than the anticipation. She knew her mother would have enjoyed seeing her well dressed, and setting forth in that style; the drive was agreeable, and Lady Martindale kind and gracious. Alone with her, she lost much of her dread, and felt better acquainted; but all froze up into coldness when they came home.
The ladies at Rickworth had not been at home; and as they did not arrive on the Wednesday till Violet had gone to dress, she had time to frighten herself by imagining an heiress on the pattern of Lady Martindale, and an earl's daughter proportionably unapproachable. Her trepidation was increased by Arthur's not coming in, though she heard guests arriving, and when at last he appeared, it was so late, that he desired her to go down and say he was 'just ready.'
It was a serious thing to encounter alone that great saloon full of strangers, and with cheeks of the brightest carnation Violet glided in, and after delivering her message to Lord Martindale, was glad to find herself safely seated on an ottoman, whence she looked for the chief guests. In the distance, beside Lady Martindale, sat a quiet elderly lady in black; Theodora was paying a sort of scornful half-attention to a fine showy girl, who was talking rather affectedly; and, thought Violet, no one but an heiress could wear so many bracelets.
Her survey completed, she became conscious that a small, fair-haired, pale girl was sitting near her, looking so piteously shy and uncomfortable, that she felt bound to try and set her at ease, and ventured an observation on the weather. It was responded to, and something about the harvest followed; then, how pretty the country, and, thereupon, Violet said it only wanted mountains to be beautiful.
'Ah! when one has once seen a mountain one cannot forget it.'
'Never!' said Violet. 'I miss Helvellyn every morning when I look out of window.'
'Do you know the Lake country?' said the young lady.
'My home—my old home—is within sight of the Westmoreland hills. Have you been there?'
'Mamma and I once spent a month there, and enjoyed it exceedingly.'
'Oh! and did you go up Helvellyn!'
'Yes, that we did, in spite of the showers; and what a view we had!'
They were surprised to find that dinner had been announced. Violet was placed next to Mr. Martindale, and was able to ask the name of her new acquaintance.
'Miss Brandon, you mean.' 'O no, not Miss Brandon, but that light pale girl in the lilac worked muslin, who was talking to me!'
'I saw you talking to Miss Brandon.'
'Could it be? She looked all astray and frightened, like me!'
'That description answers to Emma Brandon,' said John, smiling.
'Who would have thought it! I should never have begun talking to her if I had guessed who she was. I only did it because she looked so uncomfortable. I hope it was not being forward.'
'Not in the least. You know you are at home here,—it was a great kindness.'
'Do you like her?' said Violet.
'I believe she is a very good kind of girl, and her mother is one of our oldest friends. They are very excellent sensible people, and do a great deal of good in their own parish.'
'And only think! She has been in Westmoreland! She has seen Helvellyn!'
Violet was the only person who ever spoke to John in that hearty confidence of sympathy in rejoicing; and quite refreshed by her bright looks, he led her into a history of an ascent of Helvellyn, which had, until this spring, been the great event of her life.
On coming into the drawing-room, Miss Brandon shrank up to her mother's side. Violet wished she had a mother to protect her; and not daring to place herself among the great ladies, stood in the group of younger ones, with whom Theodora was keeping up a cold formal converse. Country neighbours thought much of being asked to Martindale; but the parties there were of the grandest and stiffest. Moreover, every one had to give their friends a description of the bride; and the young ladies were more inclined to study her appearance than to find conversation, regarding her as an object of curiosity, as well as with some of their general dread of the house of Martindale.
After an awkward ten minutes, Lady Martindale came towards her, and said, 'My dear, Lady Elizabeth Brandon wishes to be introduced to you.'
'To me!' and Violet followed her, blushed and bent, then found her hand cordially shaken, and a most comfortable voice addressing her. Room was made for her on the sofa, between Lady Elizabeth and her daughter, and she was supremely happy in talking about her own dear lake country. Arthur smiled, and looked well pleased to see her in such company; and Mr. Martindale came and talked to Lady Elizabeth all the evening.
Violet expected Theodora to monopolize Miss Brandon the next morning, but Theodora had reasons of her own for not breaking her habit of spending the morning in her own occupations. She knew Lady Elizabeth to be perfectly guiltless of manoeuvring; but from the time she had become conscious of Mrs. Nesbit's designs on Rickworth, first for Arthur and now for John, it had been her decided purpose to give no colour for throwing the heiress in their way by any friendship of hers; and as she considered Emma one of the dullest and most silly girls of her acquaintance, it was very pleasant to be justified in neglecting her.
The office of companionship to the younger visitor fell to Mrs. Martindale. She showed off the peacock, and they wandered happily in the gardens, most amiably received by Mr. Harrison, who delighted in displaying his treasures, and almost overwhelmed Violet with his graciousness, when she shyly asked if he could spare her a few of his white roses for her hair.
Miss Brandon groaned and sighed about the ball, declaring it her detestation; she should be tired to death; she hated dancing; and above all, there was the nuisance of dressing.
'Oh! I am sorry you don't like it,' said Violet, 'but that is the way with all sensible people.'
'No; mamma says it is not being sensible, but because I don't dance well, and she wishes I did.'
'I am glad of that. My mamma does not think it foolish.'
'Do you like dancing, then?'
'That I do,' cried Violet, making a few steps; 'I only wish I might dance with him still!'
This was the only difference of opinion—on school-teaching books—heroes, historical and fictitious—on the "Bridal of Triermain"—and Wordsworth's Waggoner, their sentiments accorded exactly. Perhaps Emma's mind was the more formed and cultivated, but Violet's was the more discerning and diffident in judgment.
Emma took the first opportunity of pouring out to her mother a perfect rapture about Mrs. Martindale, dwelling on her right views, and all that showed she had been well brought up.
'She is a sweet-looking creature,' said Lady Elizabeth, 'and I do hope she is all she seems. Lord Martindale has been telling me how entirely the marriage was her father's doing, and that she was perfectly ignorant and innocent, poor thing.'
'She looks as if she could never do anything wrong. Mamma, I hardly know whether you would like me to make friends with her, but I could not help it, and she said such nice things that I knew you would like her. I never could get on with any one before, you know, but, from the moment she came blushing in, and spoke to me in that sweet low voice, I felt as if I most be fond of her—before I made out who she was—and even then I could not like her less.'
'She is so unaffected and unassuming!' said Lady Elizabeth. 'I little expected Arthur Martindale's marriage to have turned out so well.'
'I don't wonder at his falling in love at first sight! I don't see how he could help it. I am sure I should!'
'I think you have, said Lady Elizabeth, smiling.
'Wasn't it charming, mamma? Theodora never came near us all the morning, and very soon got out of my way in the afternoon, so we were so comfortable!'
'Take care what you say about her, my dear.'
'Oh, yes. We never spoke of her at all. I wonder what Mrs. Martindale does here! It is a dreadful place, and they are all one more stately than the other,'
'Not the sons.'
'Oh! poor Mr. Martindale is worse than stately. There's something in that gentle melancholy tone of his that is so different from other people—and he looks so refined and thoughtful. He frightens me more than any of them!'
'I hope he is in rather better spirits. I have had a good deal of talk with him this evening. Indeed, his father told me he had been roused by all this affair about his brother. But, Emma, my dear, you have not rung all this time! Here am I almost dressed. I shall have to fulfil my threat, and leave you to come down alone.'
It had to be fulfilled. Emma left insufficient time for her maid to try to set out her soft light scanty hair, to make her satin and gauze look anything but limp and flabby, and to put on her jewels, in the vain hope of their making her seem well dressed. Whatever was ordained for her to wear, Emma always looked exactly the same. She opened her door at the same moment as Violet advanced into the gallery, her tall taper figure arrayed in bridal lace, not much whiter than her long neck and rounded arms, a wreath of roses around her dark tresses, brilliant flowers in her hand, her soft eyes bright with pleasure, and her beauteous complexion deepened by bashfulness.
Emma could not repress her delight. 'Oh!' she exclaimed, 'you can't think how beautiful you are!'
'Isn't she?' said a proud, playful voice. 'Thank you;' but seeing Emma disconcerted, Arthur hastened down-stairs.
'Oh, I didn't know he was there!'
'Never mind!' said Violet, among her blushes. 'I'm glad he was. He liked it.'
'I could not help it,' said Emma. 'You are so like a story! I can hardly believe you are real!'
Violet felt familiar enough to prove herself substantial by a playful pinch. 'But look here! See what I found on my table.'
'One of those serpent bracelets. It is very pretty!'
'Was not it kind of Lord Martindale?'
'You have to thank him for it! Oh! dreadful!'
'I don't mind speaking to him. It is so kind. "Mrs. A. Martindale, from her affectionate father," the direction said. Oh! it is so very, very pleasant that he should be so kind to me. Is not it a beautiful creature! Look at its scales and its crown, and eyes. Arthur says they are sapphires.'
'Yes, I never saw a prettier one.'
'I wish Annette could see it, and all at home. Is it not like a creature in a fairy tale?'
'Like Zelinda's singing serpents?'
'Just like them. Do you know, I sometimes think I have got into a fairy tale. Everything is so beautiful and so bewildering, and unlike what I fancied.'
'Because you are so like a fairy princess yourself. Are you sure you have not a talisman ring!'
'I think I have,' and Violet pulled off her glove. 'There—that forget-me-not—the first ring I ever had. From the day he gave me that it has all been so strange, that now and then I have been almost afraid to awake, for fear it should not be true. But may I look at that diamond butterfly of yours? It shines as if it would flash in the dark.'
'Never mind mine. Stupid things that came as heir-looms, and have no pleasure belonging to them. The only thing I do care for is this'—and she drew out a locket from within her dress. 'There, that is my father's hair, and that is my little brother's. They both died before I can remember; and there is dear mamma's nice pepper-and-salt lock round them.'
Theodora swept by in black lace, her coronal of hair wreathed with large pearls, and her lofty air like the Tragic Muse.
'Comparing ornaments! Worthy of such a friendship,' thought she, as she held back, and made them go down before her, Emma glad to hold by Violet's arm for protection.
Mrs. Nesbit was in the drawing-room talking to Lady Elizabeth, and with her keen piercing eyes watching John, who was reading the newspaper by the table. She was pleased to see him lay it aside, look up, and smile, as the two friends entered, but she could have beaten them both, the one for her insignificance, and the other for her radiant loveliness; and she was still further provoked to see Miss Brandon sit down as near her mother as possible, while Violet went up to him to show him her bracelet. She stood by him for some little time, while he was examining and praising it, and congratulating her on the choice bouquet that Harrison had bestowed on her, but surprised to see her eyes cast pensively down, and a grave look on that fair young face. He little suspected that she was saddened by the contrast between her joys and his sorrow and ill health, and thought it unkind to speak of her delight to one so far removed from it.
Theodora began to indulge in a hearty grumbling.
'Well, my dear,' said Mrs. Nesbit, 'you will only show yourselves there, and go home. Miss Brandon is not more inclined to Whitford balls than you are.'
'No, I am rather surprised at having dragged Emma so far,' said Lady Elizabeth. 'I hope they will both find it turn out better than they expect. You must teach them,' and she looked smilingly at Violet.
Mrs. Nesbit was extremely annoyed at the quantity of notice Violet had lately received, and was the more resolved to put her down. 'No one can expect them to like country balls,' she said. 'One attends them as a duty, for the sake of the neighbourhood; but as to pleasure in them, that is only for the young ladies of the place on the look-out for the military.'
She had fulfilled her purpose of making every one uncomfortable, except one—namely, Violet. John looked at her, and perceived she was too innocent and clear in conscience to understand or appropriate the taunt, so he thought it better to leave the field open to Lady Elizabeth's calm reply, 'Well, I used to enjoy country balls very much in my time.'
Arthur evaporated his indignation by shaking his foot, and murmuring, not so low but that his sister heard it, 'Old hag!'
Lord and Lady Martindale came in together, and Violet's blushing gratitude was so pretty and bright that it made Lord Martindale smile, and silence it by a kiss, which perhaps surprised and gratified her more than the bracelet did.
Lady Elizabeth begged to have her in her carriage; and growing intimate in the sociable darkness, she found out that the mother was as loveable as the daughter, and was as much at home with them as if she had known them for years.
The evening exceeded even Violet's anticipations, though her one former ball had been such as could never be equalled. Lord Martindale wished every one to know how entirely he accepted his new daughter, so he gave his arm to her, and presented her to the principal ladies, while she felt herself followed by her husband's encouraging and exulting eye. It certainly was a very different thing to go into society as Miss Violet Moss or as Mrs. Arthur Martindale, and there was a start of fear as the thought crossed her—was her pleasure pride and vanity?
She was chiefly sorry that she could not see Miss Brandon enjoy herself: all that could be extracted from her by the most animated appeal was a resigned smile, and a little quizzing of some of the sillier young ladies. She professed, however, that she had never disliked any ball so little, since she had the pleasure of watching Mrs. Martindale, hearing how universally she was acknowledged to be the prettiest person present, and telling Arthur all that was said of her.
Miss Brandon and Arthur had for some years past kept at a respectful distance, each in dread of designs of the other; but now they were fast resuming the childish familiarity of tone of the ancient times, when the rough but good-natured, gentlemanlike boy had been a companion much preferred to the determined, domineering girl. They danced a quadrille, and talked a great deal of Violet. Emma began to think much better of his capacity.
As to Theodora, she was talking, laughing, dancing, and appearing so full of spirits, that Violet could not help venturing a remark, that she surely liked it better than she expected.
'Not at all,' was the answer; 'but if one is to make oneself absurd, it is as well not to do so by halves.'
So far was she from doing so by halves, that when her mother was ready to go home, she was engaged so many deep, that it was settled she should be left with Arthur and Violet. She danced indefatigably till morning shone into the room, and was handed into the carriage by a gentleman who, it was the private opinion of her young chaperone, had, like Arthur, fallen in love at first sight. Poor man! it was a pity he could not know about Mr. Wingfield; or she could almost suppose that Theodora did not care so much for Mr. Wingfield, after all.
The drive home was very amusing. Violet was so tired that it was a trouble to speak; but she liked to hear the brother and sister discuss the ball, and laugh over the people; and leant back in her corner so comfortably, that she only dreaded the moment of rousing herself to walk up-stairs.
Theodora never stopped talking all the way, sprung nimbly out of the carriage, ran up the steps, and admired the morning sky; and Violet believed she did not go to bed at all, for it seemed a very short time before the distant notes of the singing class were heard; yet she looked as fresh and blooming as ever when they met at breakfast, and did not flag in any of her usual employments.
The other ladies were capable of nothing but loitering; and it was a day for making great advances in intimacy. Most delightful was that first friendship, as they wandered arm-in-arm, talked gravely or gaily, and entered more and more into each other's minds. Theodora held aloof, despising their girlish caressing ways, and regarding the intimacy with the less toleration because it was likely to serve as a pretext to Mrs. Nesbit for promoting her views for John; and though the fewest words possible had passed between him and Miss Brandon, she found that Mrs. Nesbit was building hopes on the satisfaction he showed in conversing with Lady Elizabeth. The visit ended with a warm invitation to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Martindale to come and stay at Rickworth before they left the country.
Is it that they have a fear Of the dreary season near, Or that other pleasures be Sweeter even than gaiety? —WORDSWORTH
Were they to leave the country? This was still under consideration. The next fortnight made some difference in Theodora's wishes respecting Brogden Cottage. Violet becoming less timid, ventured to show that she took interest in poor people; and Theodora was pleased by finding her able to teach at school, and to remember the names of the children. Especially her sweet looks and signs gained the heart of little Charley Layton, the dumb boy at the lodge—the creature on whom Theodora bestowed the most time and thought. And on her begging to be shown the dumb alphabet, as the two sisters crossed fingers, they became, for one evening, almost intimate.
Theodora began to think of her as not only harmless, but likely to be useful in the parish; and could afford to let Arthur have her for a plaything, since he made herself his confidante. She withdrew her opposition; but it was too late. Arthur had declared that he could not live there without L2500 a year, and this his father neither could nor would give him. The expense of building the house, and the keeping up of such a garden and establishment, did not leave too much available of the wealth Lady Martindale had brought, nor was the West Indian property in a prosperous state; the demand was preposterous; and Theodora found herself obliged to defend poor Violet, who, her aunt declared, must have instigated it in consequence of the notice lavished upon her; while, as Theodora averred with far more truth, 'it was as much as the poor thing did to know the difference between a ten-pound note and a five.' Twelve hundred pounds a year, and the rent of a house in London, was what his elder brother would have married upon; and this, chiefly by John's influence, was fixed as the allowance, in addition to his pay; and as his promotion was now purchased for him, he had far more than he had any right to expect, though he did not seem to think so, and grumbled to Theodora about the expense of the garden, as if it was consuming his patrimony.
How the income would hold out, between his carelessness and her inexperience, was a question over which his father sighed, and gave good advice, which Arthur heard with the same sleepy, civil air of attention, as had served him under the infliction many times before.
John gave only one piece of advice, namely, that he should consign a fixed sum for household expenses into his wife's hands; so that he might not be subject to continued applications.
On this he acted; and subtracting to himself, wine, men, and horses, the full amount of his bachelor income, he, for the first time, communicated to Violet the result of the various consultations.
'So the upshot of it all is, that we are to have a house somewhere in Belgravia,' he began.
'That is near Lord Martindale's London house, is it not?'
'Yes; you will be in the way of all that is going on.'
'Do we go there next month?'
'I suppose so.'
'Oh! I am glad.'
'Are you? I thought you liked being here.'
'Yes, yes, of course, that I do; but it will be so pleasant to be at home, and to have you all to myself.'
She repented the next moment, as if it had been a complaint; but he was gratified, and called her a little monopolist.
'Oh, I don't mean to be troublesome to you,' said she, earnestly; 'I shall have so much more to do in our own house, that I shall not miss you so much when you are out; besides, we can have Annette to stay with us.'
'We'll see about that. But look here,' laying a paper with some figures before her; 'that's all my father leaves me for you to keep house with. I put it into your hands, and you must do the best you can with it.'
'You don t mean to put all that into my hands!' exclaimed Violet in alarm. 'What a sum!'
'You won't think so by the end of the year; but mind, this must do; it will be of no use to come to me for more.'
'Then is it little?' asked Violet.
'See what you think of it by and by; you won't find it such an easy thing to make both ends meet.'
'I will write and ask mamma to tell me how to manage.'
'Indeed,' said Arthur, with sharpness such as she had never seen in him before, 'I beg you will not. I won't have my affairs the town talk of Wrangerton.' But seeing her look frightened, and ready to cry, he softened instantly, and said, affectionately, 'No, no, Violet, we must keep our concerns to ourselves. I don't want to serve for the entertainment of Matilda's particular friends.'
'Mamma wouldn't tell—'
'I'll trust no house of seven women.'
'But how am I to know how to manage?'
'Never mind; you'll get on. It comes as naturally to women as if it was shooting or fishing.'
'I wonder how I shall begin! I don't know anything.'
'Buy a cookery book.'
'Aunt Moss gave me one; I didn't mean that. But, oh, dear, there's the hiring of servants, and buying things!'
'Don't ask me: it is woman's work, and always to be done behind the scenes. If there's a thing I mortally hate, it is those housekeeper bodies who go about talking of their good cooks.'
Violet was silenced, but after much meditation she humbly begged for answers to one or two questions. 'Was she to pay the servants' wages out of this?'
'Your maids—of course.'
'And how many are we to have?'
'As many as will do the work.'
'A cook and housemaid—I wonder if that would be enough?'
'Don't ask me, that's all'
'I know you don't like to be teased,' she said, submissively; 'but one or two things I do want to know. Is James to be in the house?'
'Why, yes; he is a handy fellow. We will have him down for Simmonds to give him some training.'
'Then ought we to have two maids or three?'
He held up his hands, and escaped.
That morning John, happening to come into the drawing-room, found Violet disconsolately covering a sheet of paper with figures.
'Abstruse calculations?' said he.
'Yes, very,' said she, sighing, with the mystified face of a child losing its way in a long sum.
He did not like to leave her in such evident difficulties, and said, with a smile, 'Your budget? Are you good at arithmetic?'
'I can do the sums, if that was all, but I don't know what to set out from, or anything about it. Mamma said she could not think how I should keep house.'
'She would be the best person to give you counsel, I should think.'
'Yes, but—' and she looked down, struggling with tears, 'I must not write to ask her.'
'Arthur says the Wrangerton people would gossip, and I should not like that,' said she; 'only it is very hard to make out for myself, and those things tease Arthur.'
'They are not much in his line,' said John; 'I don't know,' he added, hesitating, 'whether it would be of any use to you to talk it over with me. There was a time when I considered the management of such an income; and though it never came to practice, mine may be better than no notions at all.'
'Oh, thank you!' said Violet, eagerly; then, pausing, she said, with a sweet embarrassment, 'only—you can't like it.'
'Thank you,' replied he, with kind earnestness; 'I should like to be of use to you.'
'It is just what I want. I am sure Arthur would like me to do it. You see this is what he gives me, and I am to buy everything out of it.'
'The best plan,' said John; 'it never answers to be always applying for money.'
'No,' said Violet, thoughtfully, as she recollected certain home scenes, and then was angry with herself for fancying Arthur could wear such looks as those which all the house dreaded.
Meanwhile John had perceived how differently Arthur had apportioned the income from what his own intentions had been. He had great doubts of the possibility of her well-doing, but he kept them to himself. He advised her to consider her items, and soon saw she was more bewildered than helpless. He knew no more than Arthur on the knotty point of the number of maids, but he was able to pronounce her plan sensible, and her eyes brightened, as she spoke of a housemaid of mamma's who wanted to better herself, and get out of the way of the little ones, 'who were always racketing.'
'And now,' said John, 'we passed over one important question—or is that settled otherwise?—your own pocket-money!'
'Oh! I have plenty. Arthur gave me fifty pounds when we went through London, and I have twelve left.'
'But for the future! Is it included here?'
'I should think so. Oh!' shocked at the sum he set down, 'a quarter of that would be enough for my dress.'
'I don't think Miss Standaloft would say so,' said John, smiling.
'But Arthur said we must economize, and I promised to be as little expense as possible. Please let me write down half that.'
'No, no,' said John, retaining the pencil, 'not with my consent. Leave yourself the power of giving. Besides, this is to cover all the sundries you cannot charge as household expenses. Now let me mark off another hundred for casualties, and here is what you will have for the year. Now divide.'
'Surely, two people and three servants can't eat all that in one week.'
'Fires, candles,' said John, amused, but poor Violet was quite overpowered.
'Oh, dear! how many things I never thought of! Mamma said I was too young! These coals. Can you tell me anything about them?'
'I am afraid not. You are getting beyond me. If you wanted to know the cost of lodgings in Italy or the south of France, I could help you; but, after all, experience is better bought than borrowed.'
'But what shall I do? Suppose I make Arthur uncomfortable, or spend his money as I ought not when he trusts me?'
'Suppose you don't,' said John. 'Why should you not become an excellent housewife? Indeed, I think you will' he proceeded, as she fixed her eyes on him. 'You see the principle in its right light. This very anxiety is the best pledge. If your head was only full of the pleasure of being mistress of a house, that would make me uneasy about you and Arthur.'
'Oh! that would be too bad! Mamma has talked to me so much. She said I must make it a rule never to have debts. She showed me how she pays her bills every week, and gave me a great book like hers. I began at Winchester.'
'Why, Violet, instead of knowing nothing, I think you know a great deal!'
She smiled, and said something about mamma. 'I don't say you will not make mistakes,' he continued, 'but they will be steps to learn by. Your allowance is not large. It seems only fair to tell you that it may not be sufficient. So, if you find the expenses exceed the week's portion, don't try to scramble on; it will only be discomfort at the time, and will lead to worse. Go boldly to Arthur, and make him attend; it is the only way to peace and security.'
'I see,' said Violet, thoughtfully. 'Oh, I hope I shall do right. One thing I should like. I mean, I thought one ought to set apart something for giving away.'
'That is one use in reserving something for yourself,' said John, in his kindest manner. 'Of the rest, you are only Arthur's steward.'
'Yes, I hope I shall manage well.'
'You will if you keep your present frame of mind.'
'But I am so young and ignorant. I did not think enough about it when I was married,' said Violet, sorrowfully, 'and how it seems all to come on me. To have all his comfort and the well-being of a whole house depending on such as I am.'
'I can only say one thing in answer, Violet, what I know was the best comfort to one who, without it, would have sunk under the weight of responsibility.' His whole countenance altered, his voice gave way, a distressing fit of coughing came on, the colour flushed into his face, and he pressed his hand on his chest. Violet was frightened, but it presently ceased, and after sitting for a few moments, exhausted, with his head resting on his hand, he took up the pencil, and wrote down—'As thy day, so shall thy strength be'—pushed it towards her, and slowly left the room.
Violet shed a few tears over the paper, and was the more grieved when she heard of his being confined to his room by pain in the side. She told Arthur what had passed. 'Ah! poor John,' he said, 'he never can speak of Helen, and any agitation that brings on that cough knocks him up for the rest of the day. So he has been trying to "insense" you, has he? Very good-natured of him.'
'I am so grieved. I was afraid it would be painful to him. But what was the responsibility he spoke of?'
'Looking after her grandfather, I suppose. He was imbecile all the latter part of his life. Poor John, they were both regularly sacrificed.'
John took the opportunity of a visit from his father that afternoon to tell him how much good sense and right feeling Violet had shown, and her reluctance to appropriate to herself what he had insisted on as absolutely necessary.
'That is only inexperience, poor girl,' said Lord Martindale. 'She does not know what she will want. If it is not confidential, I should like to know what she allows herself.'
John mentioned the sum.
'That is mere nonsense!' exclaimed his father. 'It is not half as much as Theodora has! And she living in London, and Arthur making such a point about her dress. I thought you knew better, John!'
'I knew it was very little, but when I considered the rest, I did not see how she could contrive to give herself more.'
'There must be some miscalculation,' said Lord Martindale. 'There is not the least occasion for her to be straitened. You thought yourself the allowance was ample.'
'That it is; but you know Arthur has been used to expensive habits.'
'More shame for him.'
'But one can hardly expect him to reduce at once. I do think he is sincere in his promises, but he will be careless, even in ordinary expenditure. I don't say this is what ought to be, but I fear it will be. All the prudence and self-denial must be upon her side.'
'And that from a girl of sixteen, universally admired! What a business it is! Not that I blame her, poor thing, but I don't see what is to become of them.'
The conversation was not without results. Lord Martindale, some little time after, put into Violet's hand an envelope, telling her she must apply the contents to her own use; and she was astounded at finding it a cheque for L100. He was going to London, with both his sons, to choose a house for Arthur, and to bid farewell to John, who was warned, by a few chilly days, to depart for a winter in Madeira.
Violet was, during her husband's absence, to be left at Rickworth; and in the last week she had several other presents, a splendid dressing-case from Lady Martindale, containing more implements than she knew how to use, also the print of Lalla Rookh; and even little Miss Piper had spent much time and trouble on a very ugly cushion. Theodora declared her present should be useful, and gave all the household linen, for the purpose of having it hemmed by her school-children;—and this, though she and Miss Piper sat up for three nights till one o'clock to hasten it, was so far from ready, that Captain and Mrs. Martindale would have begun the world without one table-cloth, if old Aunt Moss had not been hemming for them ever since the day of Arthur's proposal.
Theodora was weary and impatient of the conflict of influence, and glad to be left to her own pursuits, while she thought that, alone with Violet, Arthur must surely be brought to a sense of his mistake.
Violet's heart bounded at the prospect of a renewal of the happy days at Winchester, and of a release from the restraint of Martindale, and the disappointment of making no friends with the family,—Mr. Martindale was the only one of them with whom she was sorry to part; and she had seen comparatively little of him. Indeed, when the three gentlemen set out, she thought so much of Arthur's being away for a week, that she could not care for John's voyage to Madeira, and looked preoccupied when he affectionately wished her good-bye, telling her to watch for him in the spring,—her house would be his first stage on his return. Then, as he saw her clinging to Arthur to the last moment, and coming down with him to the bottom of the long steps, he thought within himself, 'And by that time there will be some guessing how much strength and stability there is with all that sweetness, and she will have proved how much there is to trust to in his fondness!'
There was not much time for bewailing the departures before Emma Brandon came to claim her guest; and the drive was pleasant enough to make Violet shake off her depression, and fully enjoy the arrival at Rickworth, which now bore an aspect so much more interesting than on her former drive.
The wooded hills in the first flush of autumn beauty sloped softly down to the green meadows, and as the carriage crossed the solid-looking old stone bridge, Violet exclaimed with transport, at a glimpse she caught of a gray ruin—the old priory! She was so eager to see it that she and Emma left the carriage at the park gate, and walked thither at once.
Little of the building remained, only a few of the cloister arches, and the stumps of broken columns to mark the form of the chapel; but the arch of the west window was complete, and the wreaths of ivy hid its want of tracery, while a red Virginian creeper mantled the wall. All was calm and still, the greensward smooth and carefully mown, not a nettle or thistle visible, but the floriated crosses on the old stone coffin lids showing clearly above the level turf, shaded by a few fine old trees, while the river glided smoothly along under the broad floating water-lily leaves, and on its other side the green lawn was repeated, cattle quietly grazing on the rich pasture, shut in by the gently rising woods. The declining sun cast its long shadows, and all was peace,—the only sounds, the robin's note and the ripple of the stream.
Violet stood with her hands resting on Emma's arm, scarcely daring to break the silence. 'How lovely!' said she, after a long interval. 'O Emma, how fond you must be of this place!'
'Yes, it is beautiful,' said Emma, but with less satisfaction than Violet expected.
'It is worth all the gardens at Martindale.'
'To be sure it is,' said Emma, indignantly.
'It puts me in mind of St. Cross.'
'But St. Cross is alive, not a ruin,' said Emma, with a sigh, and she asked many questions about it, while showing Violet the chief points of interest, where the different buildings had been, and the tomb of Osyth, the last prioress. Her whole manner surprised Violet, there was a reverence as if they were actually within a church, and more melancholy than pleasure in the possession of what, nevertheless, the young heiress evidently loved with all her heart.
Turning away at length, they crossed the park, and passed through the garden, which was gay with flowers, though much less magnificent than Mr. Harrison's. Emma said, mamma was a great gardener, and accordingly they found her cutting off flowers past their prime. She gave Violet a bouquet of geranium and heliotrope, and conducted her to her room with that motherly kindness and solicitude so comfortable to a lonely guest in a strange house.
Not that the house could long seem strange to Violet. It was an atmosphere of ease, where she could move and speak without feeling on her good behaviour. Everything throughout was on an unpretending scale, full of comfort, and without display, with a regularity and punctuality that gave a feeling of repose.
Violet was much happier than she had thought possible without Arthur, though her pleasures were not such as to make a figure in history. There were talks and walks, drives and visits to the school, readings and discussions, and the being perfectly at home and caressed by mother and daughter. Lady Elizabeth had all the qualities that are better than intellect, and enough of that to enter into the pursuits of cleverer people. Emma had more ability, and so much enthusiasm, that it was well that it was chastened by her mother's sound sense, as well as kept under by her own timidity.
It was not till Violet was on the point of departure that she knew the secret of Emma's heart. The last Sunday evening before Arthur was to fetch her away, she begged to walk once more to the Priory, and have another look at it. 'I think,' said she, 'it will stay in my mind like Helvellyn in the distance.'
Emma smiled, and soon they stood in the mellow light of the setting sun, beside the ruin. 'How strange,' said Violet, 'to think that it is three hundred years since Sunday came to this chapel.'
'I wonder' said Emma, breaking off, then beginning, 'O Violet, it is the wish of my heart to bring Sundays back to it.'
'Emma! but could it be built up again?'
'Mamma says nothing must be done till I am twenty-five—almost six years hence. Not then, unless I am tame and sober, and have weighed it well.'
'Restore it?—build a church?'
'I could have a sort of alms-house, with old people and children, and we could look after them ourselves.'
'That would be delightful. Oh, I hope you will do it.'
'Don't think of it more than as a dream to myself and mamma. I could not help saying it to you just then; but it is down too deep generally even for mamma. It must come back somehow to God's service. Don't talk of it any more, Violet, dearest, only pray that I may not be unworthy.'
Violet could hardly believe a maiden with such hopes and purposes could be her friend, any more than Prioress Osyth herself; and when, half-an-hour afterwards, she heard Emma talking over the parish and Sunday-school news in an ordinary matter-of-fact way, she did not seem like the same person.
There were many vows of correspondence, and auguries of meeting next spring. Lady Elizabeth thought it right that her daughter should see something of London life, and the hope of meeting Violet was the one thing that consoled Emma, and Violet talked of the delight of making her friend and Annette known to each other.
To this, as Lady Elizabeth observed, Arthur said not a word. She could not help lecturing him a little on the care of his wife, and he listened with a very good grace, much pleased at their being so fond of her.
She wished them good-bye very joyously, extremely happy at having her husband again, and full of pleasant anticipations of her new home.
There's pansies for you, that's for thoughts.
How far less am I blest than they, Daily to pine, and waste with care, Like the poor plant, that from its stem Divided, feels the chilling air. —MICKLE'S Cumnor Hall
Arthur and Violet arrived at their new home in the twilight, when the drawing-room fire burnt brightly, giving a look of comfort. The furniture was good; and by the fire stood a delightful little low chair with a high back, and a pretty little rosewood work-table, on which was a coloured glass inkstand, and a table-stand of books in choice bindings.
'Arthur, Arthur, how charming! I am sure this is your doing.'
'No, it is John's; I can't devise knick-knackeries, but he is a thorough old bachelor, and has been doing all sorts of things to the house, which have made it more tolerable.'
'How very kind he is! The books—how beautiful! Just what I wanted. That one he lent me—he talked to me of that. This Emma has—I saw your sister reading that, and wished to see more of it. But I can't look at them all now; I must see Sarah, she was to bring something from home.'
A Wrangerton face had great charms, though it was starched and severe, without one smile in answer to the joyous greeting, 'Well, Sarah, I am glad you could come. How are they all?'
'Thank you, ma'am, Mr. and Mrs. Moss, and the young ladies, and Mr. Albert, are all very well, and desires their love,' replied a voice solemn enough for the announcement that they were all at the point of death. Violet's spirits would have been damped but for the sight of the table spread with parcels directed in dear familiar writing, and she was pouncing on them when Sarah began her grave requests for orders, and Violet felt her own ignorance and incapacity growing more patent every moment as questions about arrangements beset and tormented her on every side. At last she was left to enjoy the out-spreading of the precious gifts, the devices characteristic of the kind hands that had prepared them, and all her own private possessions—a welcome sight.
It was a happy evening, and the days that followed were full of pleasure and occupation—in settling her treasures and making purchases. When she seated herself in her own carriage, she thought now indeed it would be delightful to show herself to her mother and sisters. She had no relation in London but an uncle, a solicitor, fond and proud of her, but too sensible to wish to frequent her house. He gave her a silver tea-pot; and being asked to dinner now and then on Sunday was all the attention he required. Her brother Albert did, indeed, sometimes come to town on business; and Violet, after many hopes, was, one evening, charmed at seeing him make his appearance. Arthur asked him to stay to dinner, after which they were going to a party.
Albert, a spruce, good-looking youth, had been too grand to make friends with so young a sister; but, now that she was a person of consequence, his tone was different. He talked his best, and she had a perfect feast of Wrangerton news—showed him all her presents, and enjoyed the thought of Annette's smile at hearing of her little Violet stepping into her carriage for a party at a countess's.
Arthur said London was empty, but Violet thought her visitors innumerable, and, as the autumn advanced towards winter, had many invitations. She enjoyed going out; her shyness had nearly worn off; and she was everywhere received so as to make Arthur, proud and pleased. Indeed she had doubts whether she was not growing too gay, and if it was right to pay so much attention to her appearance. She asked Arthur, and was laughed at for her pains.
However, Violet was not without her troubles from the first. She was very much afraid of Sarah, and never spoke to her without shrinking back into Miss Violet, and being conscious that it was mere presumption in her to try to order one so much wiser than herself. The cook, a relation of Miss Standaloft, was much more smooth and deferential, full of resources, which seemed to come from Mrs. Martindale herself; and though the weekly bills always exceeded her reckonings, so many things were wanting, as Mrs. Cook observed, just getting into a house. The first time of having any guests at dinner, Violet was in much anxiety, but all went off to general satisfaction until the bills came in on Monday morning. The cost was beyond her calculations, exceeded her week's portion, and devoured the savings of the days when they had not dined at home. Invitations had been sent out for another party, and Violet tried to bring it within bounds; but the cook was civilly superior—'It was always so in the first families, such as she was accustomed to, but if Mrs. Martindale liked to have things in a different style—'
She knew Arthur would consent to no external change, and all she could do was to look at the price of all she ordered, reject sundry expensive delicacies, and trust to living on the relics of the feast for the rest of the week; but, behold! they scarcely served for one luncheon, and on Monday the bills had mounted up in an inexplicable manner. There were no savings left, and she made up the deficiency from her own resources. A third party was impending, and she strove more resolutely for frugality. 'Well, ma'am, if you choose, it must be so; but it was not what I was used to in the families such as I have lived in.'
But Violet was firm, whereupon the cook harassed her with contrarieties; and late hours and London air had so far told upon her that she could not shake off her cares cheerfully. She knew all would turn out ill—tormented herself—brought on a headache, and looked unwell when the evening came. The cook sent up the dinner with just enough want of care to keep her in such continual apprehension that she could hardly attend to the conversation.
'You did not make such a good hand of it to-day,' said Arthur, when the guests were gone; 'that soup was ditch-water, and—'
Violet was so worn out that she burst into tears. 'Hey? What's the matter now? I said nothing to cry for.'
She tried to speak, but the tears would not let her.
'Well, if you can't bear to be told everything is not perfection, I don't know what is to be done.' And Arthur, in displeasure, took up a candle and walked off to smoke a cigar in his sitting-room down-stairs.
Her tears were checked by consternation, and, earnest to be forgiven, she followed; then, as he turned impatiently, said, in a trembling pleading voice, 'Dear Arthur, I've done crying. I did not mean to be cross.'
'Well, that's enough, never mind,' said he, not unkindly, but as if in haste to dismiss the subject, and be left to the peaceful enjoyment of his cigar.