'And you forgive me?'
'Forgive? nonsense—only don't begin crying about nothing again. There's nothing more intolerable than for a woman to be always crying, whenever one speaks to her.'
''Twas not so much that,' said Violet, meekly, 'as that I was vexed at the dinner not looking well, and it won't, without spending such quantities of money!'
'Quantities—what do you call quantities?'
She named the cost of the last dinner, and he laughed at her horror; then, when she was going to prove that it was disproportionate to their means, he silenced her:
'Well, well, never mind; we are not going to give any more dinners just yet; but when we do, have done with pinching and squeezing. Why, you don't look fit to be seen after it.'
'I'm only tired.'
'Ay, with worrying. Go to bed and to sleep, and forget it all!'
She was consoled for that time; but the perplexity continued. She strove to reduce the ordinary expenditure, but Arthur had a fashion of bringing home a friend to dinner without notice; and she underwent indescribable miseries, while reflecting on her one chicken, or five mutton chops; and though something was sure to be extemporized by the cook, the result was that these casual guests were as expensive as a banquet. She ventured to beg Arthur to tell her when he was going to ask any one, but he was vexed, and said he liked to bring home a man by chance; there need be nothing out of the common way, and a dinner for two was a dinner for three. Poor Violet thought, 'Ah! this is not like the time at Winchester. It is my own fault, I am not companion, enough.'
She began to grow tired of going out in the evening; late hours tried her; she felt listless and unwell; and her finances could not support the dress expenses, but when she tried to excuse herself, she found Arthur determined on taking her out, though he had previously grumbled, and declared he only went for her sake. When she looked pale and languid he seemed annoyed, in a way that gave her the impression that he valued nothing but her beauty. She believed he found home dull, and her not what he expected.
The truth was, perhaps, that Violet's spirits were naturally not strong, and she was scarcely equal to the cares that had come on her. She missed the companionship of the large family at home; and a slight degree of indisposition or of anxiety was sufficient to set her tormenting herself with every imaginable fear and grief; above all, the dread that he was not pleased with her.
She believed herself to have strictly adhered to the rule of paying for everything at once; but she was dismayed by a shower of bills at Christmas, for things ordered by the cook without her knowledge, several of which she disowned altogether; and several that her memory and 'great book' both declared she had paid; though the tradesmen and the cook, through whom the money had been sent, stoutly denied it. She was frightened, paid the sums, and so went the last remains of Lord Martindale's present.
Sure that the woman was dishonest, yet not knowing how to prove it; afraid to consult Arthur on the household concerns, that he detested; and with a nervous dread of a disturbance, Violet made arrangements for conveying no more payments through Mrs. Cook; and, for the rest, thought she must go on as she could, till the time should come, when, near the end of May, she reckoned on having her mother with her. She would repair her mistakes, make her feel herself mistress in her own house, and help her to all she wanted to know, without fear of Wrangerton gossip. That hope strengthened and cheered her in all her troubles; and oh! suppose Annette came too!
Poor Violet! the first time she referred to her mother's coming, Arthur looked annoyed, gave a sort of whistle, and said, as if searching for an excuse, 'Why, they never could spare her from Wrangerton.'
'O, that they would,' said Violet, eagerly; 'or if not mamma herself, at least, I am sure, Matilda would come to me, or Annette.'
'Whew!' again whistled Arthur; 'I don't know whether that will do.'
'There will be my mother close by, and Lady Elizabeth. No, no, you won't want to have any one up from there.'
'May I not have my own mamma?' pleaded poor Violet, urged into something like pertinacity.
But Arthur cut her short; his great dislike to what he had to say making him speak the more ungraciously: 'I don't want to vex you, Violet, but once for all we must come to an understanding. You must not expect to have your family here. They are good sort of people, and all that style of thing,'—he faltered at her looks of imploring consternation, and tried to work himself into anger in order to be able to finish. 'It is of no use looking wretched, I tell you, you must put it out of your head. They belong to a different set altogether, and it won't do any way. There now, don't go and be nervous about yourself; Theodora shall see to you, and you'll do very well, I have no doubt.'
With these words he hastily quitted her, that he might not witness the distress he had occasioned, though he had not the least idea what his refusal was to her.
The sense of her own helplessness and inexperience, and the prospect of illness, without mother or sister, were lost in the more overpowering sorrow at his unkindness. How could he love her if he denied her this at such a time, and in such a manner?' He is ashamed of my family! ashamed of me! He is disappointed in me! I can't make it pleasant to him at home. I am not even good-tempered when I am not well, and I am not half as pretty as I used to be! Oh! if he had but married me for anything but my prettiness! But I was not worth vexing every one for! I am only a plague and trouble! Well, I dare say I shall die, now there is no one to take care of me, and then, perhaps, he will be sorry for me. Just at last, I'll tell him how I did mean to be a good wife, and tried all I could.'
But then poor Violet fell into a maze of terror. She roused herself and dried her tears on hearing some one approaching. It was James, bringing in a parcel. It contained a beautiful and costly silk dress. After the first glance she pushed it from her, and her grief burst forth again. 'Does he think that can make up to me for my mother? How silly he must think me! Yet he is kind and tries to please me still, though I am so troublesome! Dear, dear Arthur!'
She took it back upon her lap, and tried to admire, but her heart failed her; and she could not look at it till the sound of his entrance revived her; she felt as if she had been injuring him, and recalling her smiles, met him with what he thought delighted gratitude.
He was relieved to find the late subject blown over, and only wishing to keep it out of her mind, he invited her to take a walk.
Violet had begun to dread his walks, for he was a loiterer, apt to go further and stay out longer than he intended, and she could not bear to tease him by hints of fatigue; but to-day she could not demur at anything he asked, and she only observed that they had better not go far, as they had an engagement for the evening.
At first the air and his attention did her good; but when she saw Captain Fitzhugh approaching, she knew that Arthur's arm was the only further use she should have of him, and there would be an endless sauntering and talk about horses or fishing, while he would all the time fancy himself going home.
The consequence was, that she was obliged to go at once to bed on coming in, and was declared by Arthur to have been very silly never to have mentioned her fatigue; while Sarah, bestowing grim and sour looks upon them both, attended on her with the most assiduous and minute care. Arthur was greatly concerned, and very unwilling to go to the party alone, but Violet persuaded him, and he promised to return early; then found the evening pleasant, and never knew how time went, while she was lying awake, imagining that something dreadful had happened to him, and mourning over her grievances.
The effects of that over-fatigue did not pass away, and she was forced to give up all evening engagements. He meant to be kind, but was too ignorant and inconsiderate not to do her as much harm as good. One day he almost overwhelmed her with attentions, the next left her to herself. He offered to refuse all invitations for her sake, but it ended in her spending more than half her evenings alone; and when the horse was wanted for him in the evening, she lost her drive. Very soon she fell out of the habit of going out, for now that she was no companion for his long rambles, he found other ways of disposing of his afternoons; and she was still so countrified as to dislike and dread walking alone, even in the quiet Belgravian regions, so that she was always relieved to decide that the gray mist was such as could do no one any good, or that she really was not well enough for a walk.
She did not know the use of change of scene, and the bracing effect of resolution,—she had no experience of self-management, and had not learnt that it was a duty not to let herself pine. Though most conscientious, she had not yet grown up to understand religion as a present comfort. To her it was a guide and an obligation, and as such she obeyed its dictates, to the best of her power, but only as an obedient child, without understanding the immediate reward in this life, namely, confidence, support, and peace. It is a feeling generally belonging to an age beyond hers, though only to be won by faithful discipline. She was walking in darkness, and, by and by, light might come. But there was one omission, for which she long after grieved; and which, though she knew it not, added to her present troubles.
All heart and hope had been taken from her since she had been forbidden to see her mother and sister. The present was dreary, the future nothing but gloom and apprehension, and she had little to distract her attention. She strove hard to fulfil what she knew were duties, her household concerns and the readings she had fixed as tasks; but these over, she did not try to rouse her mind from her cares; nor had she perhaps the power, for her difficulties with the cook were too much for her, and it was very trying to spend so many hours of the dingy London day and long evening in solitude.
Her amusing books were exhausted, and she used to lie forlorn on the sofa, with her needlework, hearing the roar of carriage-wheels, and, her mind roaming from the perplexities of her accounts to her sad forebodings and her belief in Arthur's coldness, till her heart seemed ready to break,—and her tears gathered, first in solitary drops, then in floods. She had no one to cheer her spirits, to share her hopes and fears. Her plans and employments were tedious to her husband, and he must not be troubled with them,—and so, locked up within herself, they oppressed her with care and apprehension. In letter-writing there was only pain; she could not bear to be supposed unwell or unhappy, and, above all, dreaded saying what might lead to an offer from her mother to come to her. Her letters became mere comments on home news; she wrote less frequently, feared they would think her grown too fine to care for them, and then wept and sobbed with home sickness. There was a little more comfort in writing to Rickworth, for she expected the Brandons early in May, and her only hope was in Lady Elizabeth for care and counsel: for as to Arthur's dependence, his mother and sister, she felt as if the fear and restraint of their presence would be unbearable.
Her husband never guessed how she languished. In his presence she was a different creature, forgetting her griefs in the one wish of pleasing him. No matter what she had been undergoing in his absence, his knock raised her spirits, in a moment life darted into her limbs and colour into her cheeks. She had no notion of complaining. Her mother had always been silent, though often with greater cause for remonstrance; and poor Violet, imagining herself a burden, would not for the world have made herself more troublesome than she could help. Her whole desire was to win a smile, a fond word, a caress, and she sat watching as if those were life to her; her cheeks burning with eagerness so much that Arthur little guessed how wan they were in his absence.
The colour was heightened by warm rooms, for Arthur was of a chilly race, and could not understand how oppressive the close atmosphere of London was to one used to mountain breezes. He would come in shivering, and be provoked to find her sitting by the smallest of fires; till she learnt that their estimate of heat was so different, that the only safety was in keeping the room like an oven. The folding doors into the back drawing-room had a trick of opening of their own accord; and the trouble given her by this draught-trap, as Arthur called it, can hardly be estimated, especially one windy week in March, when he had a cold.
She had never been wont to think seriously of colds but when it came to coughing and feverishness all night, and Arthur, with his hand on his chest, persisted that it was all in his throat and told her to send for a blister, she grew alarmed, but this only displeased him. He disdained her entreaty that he would remain in bed; and said women always made a fuss about nothing, when she timidly suggested sending for 'some one.'
For three deplorable days he sat over the fire, with a distaste for everything, while she did her utmost to make him comfortable, and when she failed, thought it her own fault, reproached herself for her inefficiency, and imagined that he was going to be as ill as his brother, and that she should be of no use to him. How hard on him to have such a bad wife! She could not even entertain him while he was kept indoors—for she could not find anything to talk about, so long was it since she had been out, or read anything amusing.
However, on the third afternoon, he brightened up, found the soup good, talked and laughed, and declared that if to-morrow was fine, he should be out again. And the next day she was so delighted to find his cough was gone—more quickly than he had ever known so severe a cold depart—that it was not till he was out of the house that she remembered that she was condemned to solitude for many hours.
Here was quarter-day, bringing fresh confusion, in those inexplicable household expenses, and a miserable sense of wastefulness, and unfaithfulness to her charge. She thought of John's advice, to make her husband attend, if she found her means insufficient; and set herself to draw up a statement of the case, to lay before him; but she grew more and more puzzled; the cook's dishonesty weighed on her, and her fears of taking any measures increased. Her calculations always ended in despairing tears.
She was lying on her bed, recovering from one of these almost hysterical fits, when she was roused from a doze by a knock at her door; and started up, trying to hide that anything had been the matter, as Sarah came in, and said, with a tone of authority,
'Mrs. Finch and Miss Gardner, ma'am! but I will say you are not well enough to see them.'
'O no, Sarah, I am quite well, I was only asleep.'
'You had better not go down,' sternly repeated Sarah. 'You had much best lie down, and have your sleep out, after being kept awake till two o'clock last night, with Captain Martindale not coming home. And you with the pillow all awry, and that bit of a shawl over you! Lie you down, and I'll set it straight.'
But Violet was on her feet—the imputation on Captain Martindale had put her on her mettle. 'Thank you, I don't want anything; I am going down directly.'
Sarah shook her head, and looked significantly at the glass; and there, indeed, Violet perceived that her eyes bore traces of recent weeping; but, still, she would do anything rather than own her tears. 'My head aches a little—that makes my eyes heavy,' said she. 'It will do me good to see Miss Gardner. I knew her at Martindale.'
But when Violet found herself in the presence of Miss Gardner, and of a tall fashionable lady, she did not like the recollection that she had been talked of as a beauty.
She was glad to meet Miss Gardner, but Mrs. Finch's style was dashing and almost boisterous, and her voice quick and loud, as she seized on her hand, exclaiming, 'I want no introduction, I have heard so much of you! I know we shall be excellent friends. I must hear of Theodora. You know she is the greatest ally I have on earth. When did you hear of her last? When are they coming to town! I would not miss Theodora's first appearance for all the world.'
Violet felt overpowered by the torrent; but thought it was giving no right impression of her husband to look disconsolate, and exerted herself to be cheerful, and answer.
But they would speak of Martindale, and oblige her to expose her ignorance. She did not know when the family were coming to town, nor had she heard when Mr. Martindale's return might be expected.
If Miss Gardner had been alone, she thought she might have got on better; but the quieter elder sister hardly put in a word, so unceasing was the talk of the younger; whose patronage became oppressive, when she began on Mrs. Martindale herself; told her she was lazy, taking too much care, and growing nervous: and even declared she should come some day, take her by storm, and carry her out for a drive in the park.
Poor Violet felt as if to be shut up in the carriage with this talking lady would kill her outright; begged she would not take the trouble; but only met with smiles, and declarations that Theodora would scold her well when she came.
The next afternoon Violet listened with dread to the sounds of wheels, and was not at all inclined to blame a headache, which was sufficient excuse for sending down thanks and refusal. On the following, she had just made up her mind that the danger was over for that day, when her alarm was excited by a thundering knock, and in walked her brother.
'Well, Violet, I have caught you at home. I'm come to town about Lord St. Erme's business—go back by the mail train. Are you dining at home? Can you give me a dinner?'
'Oh, yes!' said Violet; but fears came over her of Arthur's not being pleased, especially supposing he should bring back any one with him. And therewith came dismay at finding herself giving no better welcome to her own brother, and she eagerly asked for all at home.
'In a high state of preservation. And how are you? You don't look quite the thing.'
'Oh, yes, I am, thank you.'
'And how is Martindale?'
'He would not call him so to his face!' thought the wife. 'Oh! I wish he would sit anywhere but in Arthur's chair, and not fidget me with playing with that horrid little piece of watch-chain!' 'He is very well, thank you. He had a bad cold last week, but it is quite gone now. I hope he will soon come in.'
'I am not sorry to have found you alone. I want to hear something of these relations of yours.'
'Oh! I shall be sure to say something wrong!' thought she, and as the best thing to put forward, announced that they would soon be in London.
'And they are not high with you? I hear fine accounts of their grandeur,—they say the lady and her daughter are eaten up with pride, and think no one fit to speak to.'
'Miss Martindale has the plainest ways in the world. She will do anything for the poor people.'
'Ay, ay, that's the way with fine ladies,—they like to be condescending and affable. And so you say they receive you well? make you one of the family—eh?'
Violet hoped it was not wrong to utter a faint 'yes.'
'Does Martindale's sister write to you?'
'No; she does not write letters much. But I told you how very kind they are—Mr. Martindale, his brother, especially.'
'Ay!' said Albert, 'he disconcerted our calculations. He seems to have taken out a new lease.'
'He is a great deal better.'
'But he has no lungs left. His life can't be worth a year's purchase, by what the governor heard. He would never have let Martindale have you on such easy terms if he had not looked on you as good as her ladyship.'
Such shame and disgust came over Violet that she felt unworthy to sit on John Martindale's chair, and moved to the sofa, trying to change the subject; but Albert persisted in inquiries about Mr. Martindale's age, health, and the likelihood of his marrying, till she could no longer be without the perception that not only had her husband been to blame for their marriage—her father's part had been far worse.
Albert hoped the old lord was coming down handsomely and tried to make her tell their income. She was glad not to know and he began calculating it from their style of living, with such disregard to her feelings, as made her contrast his manners with those of the true gentlemen to whom she was now accustomed, and feel sadly that there was reason in her husband's wish to keep her family at a distance. There was no checking or silencing this elder brother; she could only feel humiliated by each proof of his vulgarity of mind, and blame herself, by turns, for churlishness to him, and for permitting conversation Arthur would so much dislike.
Why would not Arthur come and put a stop to it! It was not the first time she had waited dinner for him in vain, and though she tried to make Albert think she liked it, she knew she was a very bad dissembler.
When she at length ordered in dinner, the conversation changed to Wrangerton doings, the Christmas gaieties, jokes about her sisters and their imputed admirers, and a Miss Louisa Davies—a new-comer, about whom Albert seemed to wish to be laughed at himself. But poor Violet had no spirits even to perceive this,—she only thought of home and the familiar scenes recalled by each name. What a gulf between her and them! In what free, careless happiness they lived! What had her father done in thrusting her into a position for which she was unfit,—into a family who did not want her, and upon one to whom she was only a burthen! At home they thought her happy and fortunate! They should never guess at her wretchedness.
But when the time for Albert's departure came, Violet forgot his inconvenient questions, and would have given the world to keep him. He was her own brother—a part of home; he loved her—she had felt inhospitable to him, and perhaps she should never see him again.
When he recurred to her pale looks and languid manner, and expressed concern, it was all she could do to keep from bursting into tears, and telling all her griefs; and she could not control the rapid agitated tones that belied her repeated assurances that nothing was amiss, and that he must not give a bad account of her and alarm her mother.
She could hardly let him go; and when he bade her goodbye, there was a moment's intense desire to be going with him, from this lonely room, home to her mother and Annette, instantly followed by a horror at such a wish having occurred, and then came the sobs and tears. She dreaded that Arthur might be displeased at the visit; but he came home full of good humour, and on hearing of it, only hoped she had good news from Wrangerton, and said he was glad he had been out of the way, so that she had been able to have her brother all to herself.
Her fears of the effect of Albert's account of her were better founded; for two mornings after, on coming down to breakfast, she found a letter from her mother to exhort her to be careful, assuring her that she need have no scruple in sending for her, and betraying so much uneasiness as to add to all her terrors. She saw this in one glance; for she knew that to dwell on the tender affectionate letter would bring on a fit of weeping, and left it and the dreadful consideration of her reply till Arthur should be gone, as he was to spend the day in fishing with a friend in the country. He had come home late last night, and was not yet dressed, and she waited long, gazing at the gleams of sunshine on the square gardens, thinking how bright this second day of April must be anywhere but here, where it was close and oppressive, and wondering whether Helvellyn was beginning to lose his snow; then, as Helvellyn brought the sensation that led to tears, she took the newspaper, and had read more than she cared for before Arthur appeared, in the state of impatience which voluntary lateness is sure to produce.
She gave him his tea as quickly as she could, but all went wrong: it was a horrid cold day, ALL east wind—there was a cold wind coming in somewhere.
'The back drawing-room window! I'm sorry I did not see it was open.'
'What makes you go to shut it?' said he, hastily marching across the room, and closing it and the doors. 'I shall be gone in a moment, and you may let in a hurricane if you like. Have you seen my cigar-case!'
'It was on the ledge of your wardrobe.'
'Some of your maids have been and hid it.'
'I told Sarah never to put your things away. I think I could find it.'
'No, don't go, I have looked everywhere.'
As he never found things, even when before his eyes, this was not conclusive; and she undertook the search in spite of another careless 'No, no, don't,' knowing it meant the contrary.
She could not find it in his dressing-room, and he looked annoyed, again accusing the maids. This made her feel injured, and though growing exhausted, as well she might, as she had not even begun breakfast, she said she would look in the sitting-room. He half remonstrated, without looking up from the paper, but she hoped to be gladdened by thanks, hunted in all his hiding-places in vain, and found she must give it up, after a consultation with Sarah, who resentfully denied all knowledge of it, and told her she looked ready to drop.
Dolefully coming into the hall, she saw Arthur's black travelling-bag. Was it for more than the day? The evenings were bad enough—but a desolate night! And he had never told her!'
'I suppose you have not found it?'
'No; I wish I could!'
'Never mind; it will turn up. You have tired yourself.'
'But, Arthur, are you not coming home to-night?'
'Didn't I tell you? If I can't get away by the seven o'clock train, I thought of sleeping there. Ten o'clock, I declare! I shall miss the train!'
She came to the head of the stairs with him, asking plaintively, 'When DO you come home? To-morrow, at latest?'
Perhaps it was her querulous tone, perhaps a mere boyish dislike to being tied down, or even it might be mere hurry, that made him answer impatiently, 'I can't tell—as it may happen. D'ye think I want to run away! Only take care of yourself.'
This was in his coaxing voice; but it was not a moment when she could bear to be turned aside, like an importunate child, and she was going to speak; but he saw the wrong fishing-rod carried out, called hastily to James, ran down-stairs, and was gone, without even looking back at her.
The sound of the closing door conveyed a sense of utter desolation to her over-wrought mind—the house was a solitary prison; she sank on the sofa, sobbing, 'Oh, I am very, very miserable! Why did he take me from home, if he could not love me! Oh, what will become of me? Oh, mamma! mamma!'
What is so shrill as silent tears? —GEORGE HERBERT
Arthur came home late in the afternoon of the following day. The door was opened to him by his brother, who abruptly said, 'She is dying. You must not lose a moment if you would see her alive.'
Arthur turned pale, and gave an inarticulate exclamation of horror-stricken inquiry—'Confined?'
'Half-an-hour ago. She was taken ill yesterday morning immediately after you left her. She is insensible, but you may find her still living.'
Nothing but strong indignation could have made John Martindale thus communicate such tidings. He had arrived that day at noon to find that the creature he had left in the height of her bright loveliness was in the extremity of suffering and peril—her husband gone no one knew whither; and the servants, too angry not to speak plainly, reporting that he had left her in hysterics. John tried not to believe the half, but as time went on, bringing despair of the poor young mother's life, and no tidings of Arthur; while he became more and more certain that there had been cruel neglect, the very gentleness and compassion of his nature fired and glowed against him who had taken her from her home, vowed to cherish her, and forsaken her at such a time. However, he was softened by seeing him stagger against the wall, perfectly stunned, then gathering breath, rush up-stairs without a word.
As Arthur pushed open the door, there was a whisper that it was he, too late, and room was made for him. All he knew was, that those around watched as if it was not yet death, but what else did he see on those ashy senseless features?
With a cry of despair he threw himself almost over her, and implored her but once to speak, or look at him. No one thought her capable even of hearing, but at his voice the eyelids and lips slightly moved, and a look of relief came over the face. A hand pressed his shoulder, and a spoon containing a drop of liquid was placed in his fingers, while some one said, 'Try to get her to take this.'
Scarcely conscious he obeyed, and calling her by every endearing name, beyond hope succeeded in putting it between her lips. Her eyes opened and were turned on him, her hand closed on his, and her features assumed a look of peace. The spark of life was for a moment detained by the power of affection, but in a short space the breath must cease, the clasp of the hand relax.
Once more he was interrupted by a touch, and this time it was Sarah's whisper—'The minister is come, sir. What name shall it be!'
'Anything—John,' said he, without turning his head or taking in what she said.
The clergyman and John Martindale were waiting in the dressing-room, with poor Violet's cathedral cup filled with water.
'She does not know him?' asked John, anxiously, as Sarah entered.
'Yes, sir, she does,' said Sarah, contorting her face to keep back the tears. 'She looked at him, and has hold of his hand. I think she will die easier for it, poor dear.'
'And at least the poor child is alive to be baptized?'
'O, yes, sir, it seems a bit livelier now,' said Sarah, opening a fold of the flannel in her arms. 'It is just like its poor mamma.'
'Is it a girl?' he inquired, by no means perceiving the resemblance.
'A boy, sir. His papa never asked, though he did say his name should be John.'
'It matters little,' said John, mournfully, for to his eye there was nothing like life in that tiny form. 'And yet how marvellous,' thought he, 'to think of its infinite gain by these few moments of unconscious existence!'
At the touch of the water it gave a little cry, which Sarah heard with a start and glance of infinite satisfaction.
She returned to the chamber, where the same deathly stillness prevailed; the husband, the medical men, the nurse, all in their several positions, as if they had neither moved nor looked from the insensible, scarcely breathing figure.
The infant again gave a feeble sound, and once more the white features moved, the eyes opened, and a voice said, so faintly, that Arthur, as he hung over her, alone could hear it, 'My baby! O, let me see it!'
'Bring the child,' and at the sound of those words the gleam of life spread over her face more completely.
He could not move from her side, and Sarah placed the little creature upon his broad hand. He held it close to her. 'Our baby!' again she murmured, and tried to kiss it, but it made another slight noise, and this overcame her completely, the deathly look returned, and he hastily gave back the infant.
She strove hard for utterance, and he could hardly catch her gasping words, 'You'll be fond of it, and think of me.'
'Don't, don't talk so, dearest. You will soon be better. You are better. Let me give you this.'
'Please, I had rather lie still. Do let me.' Then again looking up, as if she had been losing the consciousness of his presence, 'Oh! it is you. Are you come? Kiss me and wish me good-bye.'
'You are better—only take this. Won't you? You need not move; Violet, Violet, only try. To please me! There, well done, my precious one. Now you will be more comfortable.'
'Thank you, oh no! But I am glad you are come. I did wish to be a good wife. I had so much to say to you—if I could—but I can't remember. And my baby; but oh, this is dying,' as the sinking returned. 'O, Arthur, keep me, don't let me die!' and she clung to him in terror.
He flung his arm closer round her, looking for help to the doctors. 'You shall not, you will not, my own, my darling.'
'You can't help it,' sighed she. 'And I don't know how—if some one would say a prayer?'
He could only repeat protests that she must live, but she grew more earnest. 'A prayer! I can't recollect—Oh! is it wicked? Will God have mercy? Oh! would you but say a prayer?'
'Yes, yes, but what? Give me a book.'
Sarah put one into his hand, and pointed to a place, but his eyes were misty, his voice faltered, broke down, and he was obliged to press his face down on the pillows to stifle his sobs.
Violet was roused to such a degree of bewildered distress and alarm at the sight of his grief, that the doctors insisted on removing him, and almost forced him away.
There had been prayers offered for her, of which she knew nothing.
The clergyman was gone, and John had despatched his melancholy letter to Lord Martindale, when he heard the steps on the stairs. Was it over! No, it was only one of the doctors with Arthur, and they did not come to him, but talked in the back drawing-room for some moments, after which the doctor took leave, repeating the words in John's hearing, that Arthur must compose himself before returning to her—agitation would be at once fatal. Arthur had thrown himself on the sofa, with his face hidden in his hands, in such overpowering distress, that his brother's displeasure could not continue for a moment, and he began to speak soothingly of the present improvement.
'It cannot last,' said Arthur. 'They say it is but a question of minutes or hours,' and again he gave way to a burst of grief, but presently it changed to an angry tone. 'Why was I never sent for?'
John explained that no one knew whither to send. He could hardly credit this, and his wrath increased at the stupidity of the servants; it seemed to relieve him to declaim against them.
'Then you left her well?'
'Of course I did. She had been searching over the house for that abominable cigar-case of mine, which was in my pocket all the time! I shall never bear to see it again,' and he launched it into the fire with vehemence. 'I suppose that upset her! Why did I not prevent her? Fool that I was not to know it was not fit for her, though she chose to do it. But I never took care of her.'
'She is so very unselfish,' said John.
'That was it. I thought women always looked out for themselves. I should have known I had one not like the rest! She had never one thought for herself, and it is killing her, the sweetest, loveliest, best—my precious Violet! John, John! is there nothing that can be done for her?' cried he, starting up in a tumultuous agony of grief, and striking his foot on the floor.
'Could we not send for her mother? Brown might set off at once to fetch her.'
'Thank you, but no, it is of no use. No railroad within forty miles of the place. She could not be here till—till—and then I could not see her.' He was pacing the room, and entangled his foot in Violet's little work-table, and it fell. Her work-box flew open, and as they stooped to pick up the articles, Arthur again wept without control as he took up a little frock, half made, with the needle hanging to it. The table-drawer had fallen out, and with it the large account-book, the weekly bills, and a sheet of paper covered with figures, and blotted and blistered with tears. The sight seemed to overwhelm him more than all. 'Crying over these! My Violet crying! Oh! what have I been doing?'
'And why? What distressed her?'
'It was too much for her. She would plague herself with these wretched household accounts! She knew I hated the sound of them. I never let her bring them to me; but little did I think that she cried over them alone!'
'She was cheerful with you?'
'Was not she?' I never saw that dear face without its sweet smile, come when I would. I have never heard a complaint. I have left her to herself, madman as I was, when she was unwell and anxious! But—oh! if she could only recover, she should see—Ha! Sarah, can I come?'
'Yes, sir, she is asking for you; but, if you please, sir, Mr. Harding says you must come very quiet. She seems wandering, and thinking you are not come home, sir,' said Sarah, with a grisly satisfaction in dealing her blow home.
John tried to rectify the confusion in the work-box with a sort of reverential care; not able to bear to leave it in disorder, whether its mistress were ever to open it again or not, yet feeling it an intrusion to meddle with her little feminine hoards of precious trifles.
'Poor Arthur!' said he to himself, 'he may fairly be acquitted of all but his usual inconsiderateness towards one too tender for such treatment. He deserves more pity than blame. And for her—thank Heaven for the blessing on them that mourn. Innocent creature, much will be spared her; if I could but dwell on that rather than on the phantom of delight she was, and my anticipations of again seeing the look that recalls Helen. If Helen was here, how she would be nursing her!'
John saw his brother no more that evening—only heard of Violet 'as barely kept alive, as it seemed, by his care.' Each report was such that the next must surely be the last; and John sat waiting on till his servant insisted on his going to bed, promising to call him if his brother needed him.
The night passed without the summons, and in the morning there was still life. John had been down-stairs for some little time, when he heard the medical man, who had spent the night there, speaking to Arthur on the stairs. 'A shade of improvement' was the report. 'Asleep now; and if we can only drag her through the next few days there may be hope, as long as fever does not supervene.'
'Thank Heaven!' said John, fervently. 'I did not venture to hope for this.'
But Arthur was utterly downcast, and could not take heart. It was his first real trouble, and there was little of the substance of endurance in his composition. That one night of watching, grief, and self-reproach, had made his countenance so pale and haggard, and his voice so dejected and subdued, that John was positively startled, as he heard his answer—
'I never saw any one so ill.'
'Come and have some breakfast, you look quite worn out'
'I cannot stay,' said he, sitting down, however. 'She must not miss me, or all chance would be over. You don't mind the door being open?'
'No, indeed. Is she sensible now?'
'Clear for a minute, if she has my hand; but then she dozes off, and talks about those miserable accounts—the numbers over and over again. It cuts me to the heart to hear her. They talk of an over-strain on the mind! Heigh-ho! Next she wakes with a dreadful frightened start, and stares about wildly, fancying I am gone.'
'But she knows you,' said John, trying to speak consolingly.
'Yes, no one else can do anything with her. She does not so much as hear them. I must be back before she wakes; but I am parched with thirst. How is this? Where is the tea?'
'I suppose you put in none. Is this the chest?'
Arthur let his head drop on his hand, helpless and overcome, as this little matter brought home the sense of missing his wife, and the remembrance of the attentions he had allowed her to lavish upon him. His brother tried the tea-chest, and, finding it locked, poured out some coffee, which he drank almost unconsciously, then gave his cup for more, sighed, pushed his hair back, and looked up somewhat revived. John tended him affectionately, persuading him to take food; and when he had passively allowed his plate to be filled, his appetite discovered that he had tasted nothing since yesterday morning, and therewith his spirits were refreshed; he looked up cheerfully, and there was less despondency in his tone as he spoke of her sleep towards morning having been less disturbed.
'The child woke her with a squall, and I thought we were undone, but no such thing. I declare nothing has done her so much good; she had him brought, and was so happy over him, then went off to sleep again.'
'This is a great relief,' said John. 'From your manner, I dreaded to ask for him, but I hope he may be doing well.'
'I am sure I hope so, or it would be all over with her. I believe both their lives hang on one thread. To see her with him this morning—I did not know such fondness was in women. I declare I never saw anything like it; and she so weak! And such a creature as it is; the smallest thing that ever was born, they say, and looking—like nothing on earth but young mice.'
John could not help smiling: 'That is better than yesterday, when I could scarcely believe he was alive.'
'What! did you see him?'
'When he was baptized.'
'Was he? What did you call him?'
'You sent word to name him John.'
'Did I? I had not the least recollection of it. I forgot all about him till he made himself heard this morning, and she wanted to know whether he was boy or girl.'
'A son and heir,' said John, glad to see the young father able to look gratified.
'Well, it is the best name; I hope she will like it. But, hollo, John, where did you drop from?' as it suddenly occurred to him to be surprised.
'I came home on some business of Fotheringham's. I landed early yesterday, and came up from Southampton.'
'A fine state of things to come to,' sighed Arthur. 'But you will not go away?'
'Certainly not till she is better.'
'Ah! you were always fond of her; you appreciated her from the first. There is no one whom I should have liked so well to have here.' Then, with a pause, he added, in a tone of deep feeling: 'John, you might well give me that warning about making her happy; but, indeed, I meant to do so!' and his eyes filled with tears.
'As far as affection could go, you have done so,' said John, 'or you could not have recalled her to life now.'
'You little know,' said Arthur sadly; 'Heaven knows it was not want of affection; but I never guessed what she underwent. Sarah tells me she spent hours in tears, though she would never allow them to be noticed.'
'Poor Violet! But what could be her trouble?'
'Her household affairs seem to have overpowered her, and I never would attend to them; little thinking how she let them prey upon her. I never thought of her being lonely; and her sweet, bright face, and uncomplaining ways, never reminded me. There never was any one like her; she was too good for me, too good to live, that is the truth; and now I must lose her!'
'Do not think so, Arthur; do not give way. The getting through this night is more than could have been hoped. Happiness is often the best cure; and if she is able to take so much pleasure in you, and in the child, it is surely a hopeful sign.'
'So they said; that her noticing the child made them think better of her. If she can but get over it, she shall see. But you will stay with me, John,' said he, as if he clung to the support.
'That I will, thank you. I could not bear to go. I can sleep in Belgrave Square, if you want my room for her mother.'
'We shall see how it is by post-time. I tried whether it would rouse her to tell her I would write to Mrs. Moss, but she took no heed, and the old nurse looked daggers at me.'
He was interrupted; Violet had awakened in an alarming fit of trembling, imploring to be told why he was angry, and whether he would ever come back.
So glimmered the feeble ray of life throughout the day; and when the post went out, the end was apparently so near, that it was thought in vain to send for Mrs. Moss; whom Arthur shrank from seeing, when it should be too late. He was so completely overwhelmed with distress, that in the short intervals he spent out of the sick-room, it was his brother's whole work to cheer and sustain him sufficiently to perform those offices, which Violet was incapable of receiving from any one else.
It was no wonder he broke down; for it was a piteous sight to see that fair young mother, still a child in years, and in her exhausted state of wavering consciousness, alive only through her fond affections; gleams of perception, and momentary flashes of life, called forth only by her husband, or by the moanings of the little frail babe, which seemed to have as feeble and precarious a hold of life as herself. The doctors told John that they were haunted through the day by the remembrance of her face, so sweet, even in insensibility, and so very lovely, when the sound of her babe's voice, for a moment, lighted up the features. Their anxiety for her was intense; and if this was the case with strangers, what must it not have been for her husband, to whom every delirious murmur was an unconscious reproach, and who had no root of strength within himself! The acuteness of his grief, and his effectiveness as a nurse, were such as to surprise his brother, who only now perceived how much warmth of heart had been formerly stifled in a cold, ungenial home.
Sustained from hour to hour by his unremitting care, she did, however, struggle through the next three days; and at last came a sounder sleep, and a wakening so tranquil, that Arthur did not perceive it, till he saw, in the dim lamp-light, those dark eyes calmly fixed upon him. The cry of the infant was heard, and she begged for it, fondling it, and murmuring over it with a soft inarticulate sound of happiness.
'You purr like an old cat over her kitten,' said Arthur, longing to see her smile once more; and he was not disappointed; it was a bright, contented, even joyous smile, that played on the colourless features, and the eyes beamed softly on him as she said, 'Kiss him, papa.'
He would have done anything for her at that moment, and another bright look rewarded him.
'Does mamma know about this dear little baby?' she said, presently.
'Yes, dearest, I have written every day. She sends you her love;' and as Violet murmured something of 'Dear mamma—'
'Do you wish to have her here?'
'No, indeed, I don't wish it now,' said Violet; 'you do make me so very happy.'
She was returning to her full self, with all her submission to his will, and in fact she did not wish for any change; her content in his attention was so complete, so peaceful, that in her state of weakness there was an instinctive dread of breaking the charm. To lie still, her babe beside her, and Arthur watching her, was the perfect repose of felicity, and imperceptibly her faculties were, one by one, awakening. Her thoughtfulness for others had revived; Arthur had been giving her some nourishment, and, for the first time, she had taken it with a relish, when it so chanced that the light fell for a moment on his face, and she was startled by perceiving the effects of anxiety and want of sleep. In vain he assured her there was nothing the matter. She accused herself of having been exacting and selfish, and would not be comforted, till he had promised to take a good night's rest. He left her, at length, nearly asleep, to carry the tidings to his brother, and enjoy his look of heart-felt rejoicing. Never had the two very dissimilar brothers felt so much drawn together; and as John began, as usual, to wait on him, and to pour out his coffee, he said, as he sat down wearied, 'Thank you, John, I can't think what would have become of me without you!'
'My father would have come to you if I had not been here.'
'Where's his letter?—I forgot all about it. Is there none from Theodora?'
'No; I suppose she waited for further accounts.'
Arthur began reading his father's letter. 'Very kind! a very kind letter indeed,' said he, warmly. '"Earned so high a place in our regard—her sweetness and engaging qualities,"—I must keep that to show her. This is very kind too about what it must be to me. I did not think he had appreciated her so well!'
'Yes, indeed, he did,' said John. 'This is what he says to me. "Never have I seen one more gentle and engaging, and I feel sure she would have gained more on our affections every day, and proved herself a treasure to the family."'
'That is right,' said Arthur. 'He will get to know her well when they come to London! I'll write to him to-morrow, and thank him, and say, no need for him to come now! "Hopes his grandson will live to be a comfort to me!"' and Arthur could not help laughing.
'Well, I am not come to that yet!'
'He is much pleased at its being a son,' said John.
'Poor little mortal!' said Arthur, 'if he means to be a comfort I wish he would stop that dismal little wail—have one good squall and have done with it. He will worry his mother and ruin all now she takes more notice. So here's Mrs. Moss's letter. I could not open it this morning, and I have been inventing messages to Violet from her—poor woman! I have some good news for her now. It is all about coming, but Violet says she does not want her. I can't read it all, my eyes are so weak! Violet said they were bloodshot,' and he began to examine them in the glass.
'Yes, you are not equal to much more nursing; you are quite done for.'
'I am!' said Arthur, stretching. 'I'm off to bed, as she begged me; but the worst is over now! We shall do very well when Theodora comes; and if she has a taste for the boy, she and Violet will make friends over him,—good night.'
With a long yawn, Arthur very stiffly walked up-stairs, where Sarah stood at the top waiting for him. 'Mrs. Martindale is asleep, sir; you had best not go in,' said she. 'I have made up a bed in your dressing-room, and you'd best not be lying down in your clothes, but take a good sleep right out, or you'll be fit for nothing next. I'll see and call if she wants you.'
'Thank you, Sarah; I wonder how long you have been up; you will be fit for nothing next.'
'It don't hurt me,' said Sarah, in disdain; and as Arthur shut his door, she murmured to herself, 'I'm not that sort to be knocked up with nothing; but he is an easy kind-spoken gentleman after all. I'll never forget what he has done for missus. There is not so much harm in him neither; he is nothing but a great big boy as ought to be ashamed of hisself.'
The night passed off well; Violet, with a great exertion of self-command, actually composed herself on awaking in one of her nervous fits of terror; prevented his being called; and fairly deserved all the fond praise he lavished on her in the morning for having been so good a child.
'You must not call me child now,' said she, with a happy little pride. 'I must be wiser now.'
'Shall I call you the prettiest and youngest mamma in England?'
'Ah! I am too young and foolish. I wish I was quite seventeen!'
'Have you been awake long?'
'Yes; but so comfortable. I have been thinking about baby's name.'
'Too late, Violet; they named him John: they say I desired it.'
'What! was he obliged to be baptized? Is he so delicate? Oh, Arthur! tell me; I know he is tiny, but I did not think he was ill.'
Arthur tried to soothe her with assurances of his well-doing, and the nurse corroborated them; but though she tried to believe, she was not pacified, and would not let her treasure be taken from within her arms till Mr. Harding arrived—his morning visit having been hastened by a despatch from Arthur, who feared that she would suffer for her anxiety. She asked so many questions that he, who last night had seen her too weak to look up or speak, was quite taken by surprise. By a little exceeding the truth, he did at length satisfy her mind; but after this there was an alteration in her manner with her baby; it was not only the mere caressing, there was a sort of reverence, and look of reflection as she contemplated him, such as made Arthur once ask, what she could be studying in that queer little red visage?
'I was thinking how very good he is!' was her simple answer, and Arthur's smile by no means comprehended her meaning.
Her anxious mind retarded her recovery, and Arthur's unguarded voice on the stairs having revealed to her that a guest was in the house, led to inquiries, and an endless train of fears, lest Mr. Martindale should be uncomfortable and uncared for. Her elasticity of mind had been injured by her long course of care, and she could not shake off the household anxieties that revived as she became able to think.
Indeed there were things passing that would have greatly astonished her. Sarah had taken the management of everything, including her master; and with iron composure and rigidity of demeanour, delighted in teasing him by giving him a taste of some of the cares he had left her mistress to endure. First came an outcry for keys. They were supposed to be in a box, and when that was found its key was missing. Again Arthur turned out the unfortunate drawer, and only spared the work-box on John's testifying that it was not there, and suggesting Violet's watch-chain, where he missed it, and Sarah found it and then, with imperturbable precision, in spite of his attempts to escape, stood over him, and made him unlock and give out everything himself. 'If things was wrong,' she said, 'it was her business that he should see it was not owing to her.'
Arthur was generally indifferent to what he ate or drank,—the reaction, perhaps, of the luxury of his home; but having had a present of some peculiar trout from Captain Fitzhugh, and being, as an angler, a connoisseur in fish, many were his exclamations at detecting that those which were served up at breakfast were not the individuals sent.
Presently, in the silence of the house, John heard tones gradually rising on the stairs, till Arthur's voice waxed loud and wrathful 'You might as well say they were red herrings!'
Something shrill ensued, cut short by, 'Mrs. Martindale does as she pleases. Send up Captain Fitzhugh's trout.'
A loud reply, in a higher key.
'Don't tell me of the families where you have lived—the trout!'
Here John's hand was laid upon his arm, with a sign towards his wife's room; whereupon he ran down-stairs, driving the cook before him.
Soon he came hastily up, storming about the woman's impertinence, and congratulating himself on having paid her wages and got rid of her.
John asked what was to be done next? and was diverted with his crestfallen looks, when asked what was to become of Violet.
However, when Sarah was consulted, she gravely replied, 'She thought as how she could contrive till Mrs. Martindale was about again;' and the corners of her mouth relaxed into a ghastly smile, as she replied, 'Yes, sir,' in answer to her master's adjurations to keep the dismissal a secret from Mrs. Martindale.
'Ay!' said John, 'I wish you joy of having to tell her what revolutions you have made.'
'I'll take care of that, if the women will only hold their tongues.'
They were as guarded as he could wish, seeing as plainly as he did, how fretting over her household matters prolonged her state of weakness. It was a tedious recovery, and she was not able even to receive a visit from John till the morning when the cough, always brought on by London air, obliged him reluctantly to depart.
He found her on the sofa, wrapped in shawls, her hair smoothed back under a cap; her shady, dark eyes still softer from languor, and the exquisite outline of her fair, pallid features looking as if it was cut out in ivory against the white pillows. She welcomed him with a pleased smile; but he started back, and flushed as if from pain, and his hand trembled as he pressed hers, then turned away and coughed.
'Oh, I am sorry your cough is so bad,' said she.
'Nothing to signify,' he replied, recovering. 'Thank you for letting me come to see you. I hope you are not tired?'
'Oh, no, thank you. Arthur carried me so nicely, and baby is so good this morning.'
'Where is he? I was going to ask for him.'
'In the next room. I want to show him to you, but he is asleep.'
'A happy circumstance,' said Arthur, who was leaning over the back of her sofa.
'No one else can get in a word when that gentleman is awake.'
'Now, Arthur, I wanted his uncle to see him, and say if he is not grown.'
'Never mind, Violet,' said Arthur. 'Nurse vouches for it, that the child who was put through his mother's wedding-ring grew up to be six feet high!'
'Now, Arthur! you know it was only her bracelet.'
'Well, then, our boy ought to be twelve feet high; for if you had not stuffed him out with long clothes, you might put two of him through your bracelet.'
'If nurse would but have measured him; but she said it was unlucky.'
'She would have no limits to her myths; however, he may make a show in the world by the time John comes to the christening.'
'Ah!' said Violet, with a sweet, timid expression, and a shade of red just tinting her cheek as she turned to John. 'Arthur said I should ask you to be his godfather.'
'My first godchild!' said John. 'Thank you, indeed; you could hardly have given me a greater pleasure.'
'Thank you,' again said Violet. 'I like so much for you to have him,—you who,' she hesitated, unable to say the right words, 'who DID IT before his papa or I saw the little fellow;' then pausing—' Oh, Mr. Martindale, Sarah told me all about it, and I have been longing to thank you, only I can't!' and her eyes filling with tears, she put her hand into his, glancing at the cathedral cup, which was placed on the mantel-shelf. 'It was so kind of you to take that.'
'I thought you would like it,' said John; 'and it was the most ecclesiastical thing I could find.'
'I little thought it would be my Johnnie's font,' said Violet, softly. 'I shall always feel that I have a share in him beyond my fellow-sponsors.'
'O, yes, he belongs to you,' said Violet; 'besides his other godfather will only be Colonel Harrington, and his godmother—you have written to ask your sister, have you not, Arthur?'
'I'd as soon ask Aunt Nesbit,' exclaimed Arthur, 'I do believe one cares as much as the other.'
'You must send for me when you are well enough to take him to church,' said John.
'That I will. I wish you could stay for it. He will be a month old to-morrow week, but it may wait, I hope, till I can go with him. I must soon get down-stairs again!'
'Ah! you will find the draught trap mended,' said Arthur. 'Brown set to work on it, and the doors shut as tight as a new boot.'
'I am often amused to see Brown scent out and pursue a draught,' said John.
'I have been avoiding Brown ever since Friday,' said Arthur; 'when he met me with a serious "Captain Martindale, sir," and threatened me with your being laid up for the year if I kept you here. I told him it was his fault for letting you come home so early, and condoled with him on your insubordination.'
'Ah! Violet does not know what order Sarah keeps you in?' retorted John.
'I am afraid you have both been very uncomfortable!'
'No, not in the least, Sarah is a paragon, I assure you.'
'She has been very kind to me, but so has every one. No one was ever so well nursed! You must know what a perfect nurse Arthur is!'
Arthur laughed. 'John! Why he would as soon be nursed by a monkey as by me. There he lies on a perfect bank of pillows, coughs whenever you speak to him, and only wants to get rid of every one but Brown. Nothing but consideration for Brown induces him to allow my father or Percy Fotheringham now and then to sit up.'
'A comfortable misanthropical picture,' said John, 'but rather too true. You see, Violet, what talents you have brought out.'
Violet was stroking her husband's hand, and looking very proud and happy. 'Only I was so selfish! Does not he look very pale still?'
'That is not your fault so much as that of some one else,' said John. 'Some one who declares smoking cigars in his den down-stairs refreshes him more than a sensible walk.'
'Of course,' said Arthur, 'it is only ladies, and men who have nursed themselves as long as you have, who ever go out for a constitutional.'
'He will be on duty to-morrow,' said Violet, 'and so he will be obliged to go out.'
'And you will write to me, Violet,' said John, 'when you are ready? I wish I could expect to hear how you get on, but it is vain to hope for letters from Arthur.'
'I know,' said Violet; 'but only think how good he has been to write to mamma for me. I was so proud when he brought me the letter to sign.'
'Have you any message for me to take?' said John, rising.
'No, thank you—only to thank Lord and Lady Martindale for their kind messages. And oh'—but checking herself—'No, you won't see them.'
'Lady Elizabeth and Emma. I had such a kind letter from them. So anxious about me, and begging me to let some one write; and I am afraid they'll think it neglectful; but I turn giddy if I sit up, and when I can write, the first letter must be for mamma. So if there is any communication with Rickworth, could you let them know that I am getting better, and thank them very much!'
'Certainly. I will not fail to let them know. Good-bye, Violet, I am glad to have seen you.'
'Good-bye. I hope your cough will be better,' said Violet.
He retained her hand a moment, looked at her fixedly, the sorrowful expression returned, and he hastened away in silence.
Arthur followed, and presently coming back said, 'Poor John! You put him so much in mind of Helen.'
'Poor Mr. Martindale!' exclaimed Violet. 'Am I like her?'
'Not a bit,' said Arthur. 'Helen had light hair and eyes, a fat sort of face, and no pretence to be pretty—a downright sort of person, not what you would fancy John's taste. If any one else had compared you it would have been no compliment; but he told me you had reminded him of her from the first, and now your white cheeks and sick dress recalled her illness so much, that he could hardly bear it. But don't go and cry about it.'
'No, I won't,' said Violet, submissively, 'but I am afraid it did not suit him for us to be talking nonsense. It is so very sad.'
'Poor John! so it is,' said Arthur, looking at her, as if beginning to realize what his brother had lost. 'However, she was not his wife, though, after all, they were almost as much attached. He has not got over it in the least. This is the first time I have known him speak of it, and he could not get out her name.'
'It is nearly two years ago.'
'Nearly. She died in June. It was that cold late summer, and her funeral was in the middle of a hail-storm, horridly chilly.'
'Where was she buried?'
'At Brogden. Old Mr. Fotheringham was buried there, and she was brought there. I came home for it. What a day it was—the hailstones standing on the grass, and I shall never forget poor John's look—all shivering and shrunk up together.' He shivered at the bare remembrance. 'It put the finishing touch to the damage he had got by staying in England with her all the winter. By night he was frightfully ill—inflammation worse than ever. Poor John! That old curmudgeon of a grandfather has much to answer for, though you ought to be grateful to him, Violet; for I suppose it will end in that boy of yours being his lordship some time or other.'
The next morning was a brisk one with Violet. She wished Arthur not to be anxious about leaving her, and having by no means ceased to think it a treat to see him in uniform, she gloried in being carried to her sofa by so grand and soldierly a figure, and uttered her choicest sentence of satisfaction—'It is like a story!' while his epaulette was scratching her cheek.
'I don't know how to trust you to your own silly devices,' said he, laying her down, and lingering to settle her pillows and shawls.
'Wise ones,' said she. 'I have so much to do. There's baby—and there's Mr. Harding to come, and I want to see the cook—and I should not wonder if I wrote to mamma. So you see 'tis woman's work, and you had better not bring your red coat home too soon, or you'll have to finish the letter!' she added, with saucy sweetness.
On his return, he found her spread all over with papers, her little table by her side, with the drawer pulled out.
'Ha! what mischief are you up to? You have not got at those abominable accounts again!'
'I beg your pardon,' said she, humbly. 'Nurse would not let me speak to the cook, but said instead I might write to mamma; so I sent for my little table, but I found the drawer in such disorder, that I was setting it to rights. Who can have meddled with it!'
'I can tell you that,' said Arthur. 'I ran against it, and it came to grief, and there was a spread of all your goods and chattels on the floor.'
'Oh! I am so glad! I was afraid some of the servants had been at it.'
'What! aren't you in a desperate fright? All your secrets displayed like a story, as you are so fond of saying—what's the name of it—where the husband, no, it was the wife, fainted away, and broke open the desk with her head.'
'My dear Arthur!' and Violet laughed so much that nurse in the next room foreboded that he would tire her.
'I vow it was so! Out came a whole lot of letters from the old love, a colonel in the Peninsula, that her husband had never heard of,—an old lawyer he was.'
'The husband? What made her marry him?'
'They were all ruined horse and foot, and the old love was wounded, "kilt", or disposed of, till he turned up, married to her best friend.'
'What became of her?'
'I forget—there was a poisoning and a paralytic stroke in it.'
'Was there! How delightful! How I should like to read it. What was its name?'
'I don't remember. It was a green railway book. Theodora made me read it, and I should know it again if I saw it. I'll look out for it, and you'll find I was right about her head. But how now. Haven't you fainted away all this time?'
'No; why should I?'
'How do you know what I may have discovered in your papers? Are you prepared? It is no laughing matter,' added he, in a Blue Beard tone, and drawing out the paper of calculations, he pointed to the tear marks. 'Look here. What's this, I say, what's this, you naughty child?'
'I am sorry! it was very silly,' whispered Violet, in a contrite ashamed way, shrinking back a little.
'What business had you to break your heart over these trumpery butchers and bakers and candlestick makers?'
'Only candles, dear Arthur,' said Violet, meekly, as if in extenuation.
'But what on earth could you find to cry about?'
'It was very foolish! but I was in such a dreadful puzzle. I could not make the cook's accounts and mine agree, and I wanted to be sure whether she really—'
'Cheated!' exclaimed Arthur. 'Well, that's a blessing!'
'What is?' asked the astonished Violet.
'That I have cleared the house of that intolerable woman!'
'The cook gone!' cried Violet, starting, so that her papers slid away, and Arthur shuffled them up in his hand in renewed confusion. 'The cook really gone? Oh! I am so glad!'
'Capital!' cried Arthur. 'There was John declaring you would be in despair to find your precious treasure gone.'
'Oh! I never was more glad! Do tell me! Why did she go?'
'I had a skrimmage with her about some trout Fitzhugh sent, which I verily believe she ate herself.'
'Changed with the fishmonger!'
'I dare say. She sent us in some good-for-nothing wretches, all mud, and vowed these were stale—then grew impertinent.'
'And talked about the first families?'
'Exactly so, and when it came to telling me Mrs. Martindale was her mistress, I could stand no more. I paid her her wages, and recommended her to make herself scarce.'
'When did it happen?'
'Rather more than a fortnight ago.'
Violet laughed heartily. 'O-ho! there's the reason nurse scolds if I dare to ask to speak to the cook. And oh! how gravely Sarah said "yes, ma'am," to all my messages! How very funny! But how have we been living? When I am having nice things all day long, and giving so much trouble! Oh dear! How uncomfortable you must have been, and your brother too!'
'Am I not always telling you to the contrary? Sarah made everything look as usual, and I suspect Brown lent a helping hand. John said the coffee was made in some peculiar way Brown learnt in the East, and never practises unless John is very ill, or they are in some uncivilized place; but he told me to take no notice, lest Brown should think it infra dig.'
'I'm afraid he thought this an uncivilized place. But what a woman Sarah is! She has all the work of the house, and yet she seems to me to be here as much as nurse!'
'She has got the work of ten horses in her, with the face of a death's head, and the voice of a walking sepulchre!'
'But isn't she a thorough good creature! I can't think what will become of me without her! It will be like parting with a friend.'
'What would you part with her for? I thought she was the sheet-anchor.'
'That she is; but she won't stay where there are children. She told me so long ago, and only stayed because I begged her for the present. She will go when I am well.'
'Better give double wages to keep her,' said Arthur.
'I'd do anything I could, but I'm afraid. I was quite dreading the getting about again, because I should have to lose Sarah, and to do something or other with that woman.'
'What possessed you to keep her?'
'I wasn't sure about her. Your aunt recommended her, and I thought you might not like—and at first I did not know what things ought to cost, nor how long they ought to last, and that was what I did sums for. Then when I did prove it, I saw only dishonesty in the kitchen, and extravagance and mismanagement of my own.'
'So the little goose sat and cried!'
'I could not help it. I felt I was doing wrong; that was the terrible part; and I am glad you know the worst. I have been very weak and silly, and wasted your money sadly, and I did not know how to help it; and that was what made me so miserable. And now, dear Arthur, only say you overlook my blunders, and indeed I'll try to do better.'
'Overlook! The only thing I don't know how to forgive is your having made yourself so ill with this nonsense.'
'I can't be sorry for that,' said Violet, smiling, though the tears came. 'That has been almost all happiness. I shall have the heart to try more than ever—and I have some experience; and now that cook is gone, I really shall get on.'
'Promise me you'll never go bothering yourself for nothing another time. Take it easy! That's the only way to get through the world.'
'Ah! I will never be so foolish again. I shall never be afraid to make you attend to my difficulties.'
'Afraid! That was the silliest part of all! But here—will you have another hundred a year at once? and then there'll be no trouble.'
'Thank you, thank you! How kind of you! But do you know, I should like to try with what I have. I see it might be made to do, and I want to conquer the difficulty; if I can't, I will ask you for more.'
'Well, that may be best. I could hardly spare a hundred pounds without giving up one of the horses; and I want to see you riding again.'
'Besides, this illness must have cost you a terrible quantity of money. But I dare say I shall find the outgoings nothing to what the cook made them.' And she was taking up the accounts, when he seized them, crumpling them in his hand. 'Nonsense! Let them alone, or I shall put them in the fire at once.'
'Oh, don't do that, pray!' cried she, starting, 'or I shall be ruined. Oh, pray!'
'Very well;' and rising, and making a long arm, he deposited them on the top of a high wardrobe. 'There's the way to treat obstinate women. You may get them down when you can go after them—I shan't.'
'Ah! there's baby awake!'
'So, I shall go after that book at the library; and then I've plenty to tell you of inquiries for Mrs. Martindale. Good-bye, again.'
Violet received her babe into her arms with a languid long-drawn sigh, as of one wearied out with happiness. 'That he should have heard my confession, and only pet me the more! Foolish, wasteful thing that I am. Oh, babe! if I could only make you grow and thrive, no one would ever be so happy as your mamma.'
Perhaps she thought so still more some hours later, when she awoke from a long sleep, and saw Arthur reading "Emilia Wyndham", and quite ready to defend his assertion that the wife broke open the desk with her head.
But there was one fairy who was offended because she was not invited to the Christening.—MOTHER BUNCH
Theodora had spent the winter in trying not to think of her brother.
She read, she tried experiments, she taught at the school, she instructed the dumb boy, talked to the curate, and took her share of such county gaieties as were not beneath the house of Martindale; but at every tranquil moment came the thought, 'What are Arthur and his wife doing!'
There were rumours of the general admiration of Mrs. Martindale, whence she deduced vanity and extravagance; but she heard nothing more till Jane Gardner, a correspondent, who persevered in spite of scanty and infrequent answers, mentioned her call on poor Mrs. Martindale, who, she said, looked sadly altered, unwell, and out of spirits. Georgina had tried to persuade her to come out, but without success; she ought to have some one with her, for she seemed to be a good deal alone, and no doubt it was trying; but, of course, she would soon have her mother with her.
He leaves her alone—he finds home dull! Poor Arthur! A moment of triumph was followed by another of compunction, since this was not a doll that he was neglecting, but a living creature, who could feel pain. But the anticipation of meeting Mrs. Moss, after all those vows against her, and the idea of seeing his house filled with vulgar relations, hardened Theodora against the wife, who had thus gained her point.
Thus came the morning, when her father interrupted breakfast with an exclamation of dismay, and John's tidings were communicated.
I wish I had been kind to her! shot across Theodora's mind with acute pain, and the image of Arthur in grief swallowed up everything else. 'I will go with you, papa—you will go at once!'
'Poor young thing!' said Lord Martindale; 'she was as pretty a creature as I ever beheld, and I do believe, as good. Poor Arthur, I am glad he has John with him.'
Lady Martindale wondered how John came there,—and remarks ensued on his imprudence in risking a spring in England. To Theodora this seemed indifference to Arthur's distress, and she impatiently urged her father to take her to him at once.
He would not have delayed had Arthur been alone; but since John was there, he thought their sudden arrival might be more encumbering than consoling, and decided to wait for a further account, and finish affairs that he could not easily leave.
Theodora believed no one but herself could comfort Arthur, and was exceedingly vexed. She chafed against her father for attending to his business—against her mother for thinking of John; and was in charity with no one except Miss Piper, who came out of Mrs. Nesbit's room red with swallowing down tears, and with the under lady's-maid, who could not help begging to hear if Mrs. Martindale was so ill, for Miss Standaloft said, 'My lady had been so nervous and hysterical in her own room, that she had been forced to give her camphor and sal volatile.'
Never had Theodora been more surprised than to hear this of the mother whom she only knew as calm, majestic, and impassible. With a sudden impulse, she hastened to her room. She was with Mrs. Nesbit, and Theodora following, found her reading aloud, without a trace of emotion. No doubt it was a figment of Miss Standaloft, and there was a sidelong glance of satisfaction in her aunt's eyes, which made Theodora so indignant, that she was obliged to retreat without a word.
Her own regret and compassion for so young a creature thus cut off were warm and keen, especially when the next post brought a new and delightful hope, the infant, of whose life John had yesterday despaired, was said to be improving. Arthur's child! Here was a possession for Theodora, an object for the affections so long yearning for something to love. She would bring it home, watch over it, educate it, be all the world to Arthur, doubly so for his son's sake. She dreamt of putting his child into his arms, and bidding him live for it, and awoke clasping the pillow!
What were her feelings when she heard Violet was out of danger? For humanity's sake and for Arthur's, she rejoiced; but it was the downfall of a noble edifice. 'How that silly young mother would spoil the poor child!'
'My brothers' had always been mentioned in Theodora's prayer, from infancy. It was the plural number, but the strength and fervency of petition were reserved for one; and with him she now joined the name of his child. But how pray for the son without the mother? It was positively a struggle; for Theodora had a horror of mockery and formality; but the duty was too clear, the evil which made it distasteful, too evident, not to be battled with; she remembered that she ought to pray for all mankind, even those who had injured her, and, on these terms, she added her brother's wife. It was not much from her heart; a small beginning, but still it was a beginning, that might be blessed in time.
Lord Martindale wished the family to have gone to London immediately, but Mrs. Nesbit set herself against any alteration in their plans being made for the sake of Arthur's wife. They were to have gone only in time for the first drawing-room, and she treated as a personal injury the proposal to leave her sooner than had been originally intended; making her niece so unhappy that Lord Martindale had to yield. John's stay in London was a subject of much anxiety; and while Mrs. Nesbit treated it as an absurd trifling with his own health, and his father reproached himself for being obliged to leave Arthur to him, Theodora suffered from complicated jealousy. Arthur seemed to want John more than her, John risked himself in London, in order to be with Arthur and his wife.
She was very eager for his coming; and when she expected the return of the carriage which was sent to meet him at the Whitford station, she betook herself to the lodge, intending him to pick her up there, that she might skim the cream of his information.
The carriage appeared, but it seemed empty. That dignified, gentlemanly personage, Mr. Brown, alighted from the box, and advanced with affability, replying to her astonished query, 'Mr. Martindale desired me to say he should be at home by dinner-time, ma'am. He left the train at the Enderby station, and is gone round by Rickworth Priory, with a message from Mrs. Martindale to Lady Elizabeth Brandon.'
Theodora stood transfixed; and Brown, a confidential and cultivated person, thought she waited for more information.
'Mr. Martindale has not much cough, ma'am, and I hope coming out of London will remove it entirely. I think it was chiefly excitement and anxiety that brought on a recurrence of it, for his health is decidedly improved. He desired me to mention that Mrs. Martindale is much better. She is on the sofa to-day for the first time; and he saw her before leaving.'
'Do you know how the little boy is?' Theodora could not help asking.
'He is a little stronger, thank you, ma'am,' said Brown, with much interest; 'he has cried less these last few days. He is said to be extremely like Mrs. Martindale.'
Brown remounted to his place, the carriage drove on, and Theodora impetuously walked along the avenue.
'That man is insufferable! Extremely like Mrs. Martindale! Servants' gossip! How could I go and ask him? John has perfectly spoilt a good servant in him! But John spoils everybody. The notion of that girl sending him on her messages! John, who is treated like something sacred by my father and mother themselves! Those damp Rickworth meadows! How could Arthur allow it? It would serve him right if he was to marry Emma Brandon after all!'
She would not go near her mother, lest she should give her aunt the pleasure of hearing where he was gone; but as she was coming down, dressed for dinner, she met her father in the hall, uneasily asking a servant whether Mr. Martindale was come.
'Arthur's wife has sent him with a message to Rickworth,' she said.
'John? You don't mean it. You have not seen him?'
'No; he went round that way, and sent Brown home. He said he should be here by dinner-time, but it is very late. Is it not a strange proceeding of hers, to be sending him about the country!'
'I don't understand it. Where's Brown?'
'Here's a fly coming up the avenue. He is come at last.'
Lord Martindale hastened down the steps; Theodora came no further than the door, in so irritated a state that she did not like John's cheerful alacrity of step and greeting. 'She is up to-day, she is getting better,' were the first words she heard. 'Well, Theodora, how are you?' and he kissed her with more warmth than she returned.
'Did I hear you had been to Rickworth?' said his father.
'Yes; I sent word by Brown. Poor Violet is still so weak that she cannot write, and the Brandons have been anxious about her; so she asked me to let them know how she was, if I had the opportunity, and I came round that way. I wanted to know when they go to London; for though Arthur is as attentive as possible, I don't think Violet is in a condition to be left entirely to him. When do you go?'
'Not till the end of May—just before the drawing-room,' said Lord Martindale.
'I go back when they can take the boy to church. Is my mother in the drawing-room? I'll just speak to her, and dress—it is late I see.'
'How well he seems,' said Lord Martindale, as John walked quickly on before.
'There was a cough,' said Theodora.
'Yes; but so cheerful. I have not seen him so animated for years. He must be better!'
His mother was full of delight. 'My dear John, you look so much better! Where have you been?'
'At Rickworth. I went to give Lady Elizabeth an account of Violet. She is much better.'
'And you have been after sunset in that river fog! My dear John!'
'There was no fog; and it was a most pleasant drive. I had no idea Rickworth was so pretty. Violet desired me to thank you for your kind messages. You should see her to-day, mother; she would be quite a study for you; she looks so pretty on her pillows, poor thing! and Arthur is come out quite a new character—as an excellent nurse.'
'Poor thing! I am glad she is recovering,' said Lady Martindale. 'It was very kind in you to stay with Arthur. I only hope you have not been hurting yourself.'
'No, thank you; I came away in time, I believe: but I should have been glad to have stayed on, unless I made room for some one of more use to Violet.'
'I wish you had come home sooner. We have had such a pleasant dinner-party. You would have liked to meet the professor.'
It was not the first time John had been sensible that that drawing-room was no place for sympathy; and he felt it the more now, because he had been living in such entire participation of his brother's hopes and fears, that he could hardly suppose any one could be less interested in the mother and child in Cadogan-place. He came home, wishing Theodora would go and relieve Arthur of some of the care Violet needed in her convalescence; and he was much disappointed by her apparent indifference—in reality, a severe fit of perverse jealousy.
All dinner-time she endured a conversation on the subjects for which she least cared; nay, she talked ardently about the past dinner-party, for the very purpose of preventing John from suspecting that her anxiety had prevented her from enjoying it. And when she left the dining-room, she felt furious at knowing that now her father would have all the particulars to himself, so that none would transpire to her.
She longed so much to hear of Arthur and his child, that when John came into the drawing-room she could have asked! But he went to greet his aunt, who received him thus:
'Well, I am glad to see you at last. You ought to have good reasons for coming to England for the May east winds, and then exposing yourself to them in London!'
'I hope I did not expose myself: I only went out three or four times.'
'I know you are always rejoiced to be as little at home as possible.'
'I could not be spared sooner, ma'am.'
'Spared? I think you have come out in a new capacity.'
John never went up his aunt without expecting to undergo a penance.
'I was sorry no one else could be with Arthur, but being there, I could not leave him.'
'And your mother tells me you are going back again.'
'Yes, to stand godfather.'
'To the son and heir, as they called him in the paper. I gave Arthur credit for better taste; I suppose it was done by some of her connections?'
'I was that connection,' said John.
'Oh! I suppose you know what expectations you will raise?'
John making no answer, she grew more angry. 'This one, at least, is never likely to be heir, from what I hear; it is only surprising that it is still alive.'
How Theodora hung upon the answer, her very throat aching with anxiety, but hardening her face because John looked towards her.
'We were very much afraid for him at first,' he said, 'but they now think there is no reason he should not do well. He began to improve from the time she could attend to him.'
A deep sigh from his mother startled John, and recalled the grief of his childhood—the loss of two young sisters who had died during her absence on the continent. He crossed over and stood near her, between her and his aunt, who, in agitated haste to change the conversation, called out to ask her about some club-book. For once she did not attend; and while Theodora came forward and answered Mrs. Nesbit, she tremulously asked John if he had seen the child.
'Only once, before he was an hour old. He was asleep when I came away; and, as Arthur says, it is a serious thing to disturb him, he cries so much.'
'A little low melancholy wailing,' she said, with a half sob. But Mrs. Nesbit would not leave her at peace any longer, and her voice came beyond the screen of John's figure:—
'Lady Martindale, my dear, have you done with those books! They ought to be returned.'
'Which, dear aunt?' And Lady Martindale started up as if she had been caught off duty, and, with a manifest effort, brought her wandering thoughts back again, to say which were read and which were unread.
John did not venture to revert to a subject that affected his mother so strongly; but he made another attempt upon his sister, when he could speak to her apart. 'Arthur has been wondering not to hear from you.'
'Every one has been writing,' she answered, coldly.
'He wants some relief from his constant attendance,' continued John; 'I was afraid at first it would be too much for him, sitting up three nights consecutively, and even now he has not at all recovered his looks.'
'Is he looking ill?' said Theodora.
'He has gone through a great deal, and when she tries to make him go out, he only goes down to smoke. You would do a great deal of good if you were there.'
Theodora would not reply. For Arthur to ask her to come and be godmother was the very thing she wished; but she would not offer at John's bidding, especially when Arthur was more than ever devoted to his wife; so she made no sign; and John repented of having said so much, thinking that, in such a humour, the farther she was from them the better.
Yet what he had said might have worked, had not a history of the circumstances of Violet's illness come round to her by way of Mrs. Nesbit. John had told his father; Lord Martindale told his wife; Lady Martindale told her aunt, under whose colouring the story reached Theodora, that Arthur's wife had been helpless and inefficient, had done nothing but cry over her household affairs, could not bear to be left alone, and that the child's premature birth had been occasioned by a fit of hysterics because Arthur had gone out fishing. No wonder Theodora pitied the one brother, and thought the other infatuated. To write to Arthur was out of the question; and she could only look forward to consoling him when the time for London should come. Nor was she much inclined to compassionate John, when, as he said, the east wind—as his aunt said, the London fog—as she thought, the Rickworth meadows—brought on such an accession of cough that he was obliged to confine himself to his two rooms, where he felt unusually solitary.
She went in one day to carry him the newspaper. 'I am writing to Arthur,' he said, 'to tell him that I shall not be able to be in London next Sunday; do you like to put in a note?'
'No, I thank you.'
'You have no message?'
He paused and looked at her. 'I wish you would write,' he said. 'Arthur has been watching eagerly for your congratulation.'
'He does not give much encouragement,' said Theodora, moving to the door.
'I wish he was a letter writer! After being so long with them, I don't like hearing nothing more; but his time has been so much engrossed that he could hardly have written at first. I believe the first letter he looked for was from you.'
'I don't know what to say. Other people have said all the commonplace things.'
'You would not speak in that manner—you who used to be so fond of Arthur—if you by any means realized what he has gone through.'
Theodora was touched, but would not show it. 'He does not want me now,' she said, and was gone, and then her lips relaxed, and she breathed a heavy sigh.
John sighed too. He could not understand her, and was sensible that his own isolation was as a consequence of having lived absorbed in his affection and his grief, without having sought the intimacy of his sister. His brother's family cares had, for the first time, led him to throw himself into the interests of those around him, and thus aroused from the contemplation of his loss, he began to look with regret on opportunities neglected and influence wasted. The stillness of his own room did not as formerly suffice to him; the fears and hopes he had lately been sharing rose more vividly before him, and he watched eagerly for the reply to his letter.
It came, not from Arthur, but in the pointed style of Violet's hardest steel pen, when Matilda's instructions were most full in her mind; stiff, cramped, and formal, as if it had been a great effort to write it, and John was grieved to find that she was still in no state for exertion. She had scarcely been down-stairs, and neither she nor the baby were as yet likely to be soon able to leave the house, in spite of all the kind care of Lady Elizabeth and Miss Brandon. Violet made numerous apologies for the message, which she had little thought would cause Mr. Martindale to alter his route.
In fact, those kind friends had been so much affected by John's account of Violet's weak state, under no better nursing than Arthur's, that, as he had hoped, they had hastened their visit to London, and were now settled as near to her as possible, spending nearly the whole of their time with her. Emma almost idolized the baby, and was delighted at Arthur's grateful request that she would be its sponsor, and Violet was as happy in their company as the restlessness of a mind which had not yet recovered its tone, would allow her to be.
In another fortnight John wrote to say that he found he had come home too early, and must go to the Isle of Wight till the weather was warmer. In passing through London, he would come to Cadogan-place, and it was decided that he should arrive in time to go with the baby to church on the Tuesday, and proceed the next morning.
He arrived as Violet came down to greet her party of sponsors. Never had she looked prettier than when her husband led her into the room, her taper figure so graceful in her somewhat languid movements, and her countenance so sweetly blending the expression of child and mother. Each white cheek was tinged with exquisite rose colour, and the dark liquid eyes and softly smiling mouth had an affectionate pensiveness far lovelier than her last year's bloom, and yet there was something painful in that beauty—it was too like the fragility of the flower fading under one hour's sunshine; and there was a sadness in seeing the matronly stamp on a face so young that it should have shown only girlhood's freedom from care. Arthur indeed was boasting of the return of the colour, which spread and deepened as he drew attention to it; but John and Lady Elizabeth agreed, as they walked to church, that it was the very token of weakness, and that with every kind intention Arthur did not know how to take care of her—how should he?
The cheeks grew more brilliant and burning at church, for on being carried to the font, the baby made his doleful notes heard, and when taken from his nurse, they rose into a positive roar. Violet looked from him to his father's face, and there saw so much discomposure that her wretchedness was complete, enhanced as it was by a sense of wickedness in not being able to be happy and grateful. Just as when a few days previously she had gone to return thanks, she had been in a nervous state of fluttering and trembling that allowed her to dwell on nothing but the dread of fainting away. The poor girl's nerves had been so completely overthrown, that even her powers of mind seemed to be suffering, and her agitated manner quite alarmed Lady Elizabeth. She was in good hands, however; Lady Elizabeth went home with her, kept every one else away, and nursing her in her own kind way, brought her back to common sense, for in the exaggeration of her weak spirits, she had been feeling as if it was she who had been screaming through the service, and seriously vexing Arthur.
He presently looked in himself to say the few fond merry words that were only needed to console her, and she was then left alone to rest, not tranquil enough for sleep, but reading hymns, and trying to draw her thoughts up to what she thought they ought to be on the day of her child's baptismal vows.
It was well for her that the christening dinner (a terror to her imagination) had been deferred till the family should be in town, and that she had no guest but John, who was very sorry to see how weary and exhausted she looked, as if it was a positive effort to sit at the head of the table.
When the two brothers came up to the drawing-room, they found her on the sofa.
'Regularly done for!' said Arthur, sitting down by her. 'You ought to have gone to bed, you perverse woman.'
'I shall come to life after tea,' said she, beginning to rise as signs of its approach were heard.
'Lie still, I say,' returned Arthur, settling the cushion. 'Do you think no one can make tea but yourself! Out with the key, and lie still.'
'I hope, Violet,' said John, 'you did not think the Red Republicans had been in your drawers and boxes. I am afraid Arthur may have cast the blame of his own doings on the absent, though I assure you I did my best to protect them.'
'Indeed he did you more justice,' said Violet, 'he told me the box was your setting to rights, and the drawer his. It was very honest of him, for I must say the box did you most credit.'
'As to the drawer,' said Arthur, 'I wish I had put it into the fire at once! Those accounts are a monomania! She has been worse from the day she got hold of that book of hers again, and the absurd part of it is that these are all bills that she pays!'
'Oh! they are all comfortable now,' said Violet.
'And what did you say to Arthur's bold stroke!' said John.
'Oh! I never laughed more in my life.'
'Ah ha'' said Arthur, 'it was all my admirable sagacity! Why, John, the woman was an incubus saddled upon us by Miss Standaloft, that this poor silly child did not know how to get rid of, though she was cheating us out of house and home. Never were such rejoicings as when she found the Old Man of the Sea was gone!'
'It is quite a different thing now,' said Violet. 'Nurse found me such a nice niece of her own, who does not consume as much in a fortnight as that dreadful woman did in a week. Indeed, my great book has some satisfaction in it now.'
'And yet he accuses it of having thrown you back.'
'Everything does that!' said Arthur. 'She will extract means of tiring herself out of anything—pretends to be well, and then is good for nothing!'
'Arthur! Arthur! do you know what you are doing with the tea?' cried Violet, starting up. He has put in six shellfuls for three people, and a lump of sugar, and now was shutting up the unfortunate teapot without one drop of water!' And gaily driving him away, she held up the sugar-tongs with the lump of sugar in his face, while he laughed and yielded the field, saying, disdainfully, 'Woman's work.'