'Ah! that is what shows how bad I am,' said Violet, despondingly. 'I never keep my mind in order at church, yet I am sure I was more unreasonably discontented when I was not able to go.'
'Which shows it is of use to you. Think of it not only as a duty that must be fulfilled, but watch for refreshment from it, and you will find it come.'
'Ah! I have missed all the great festivals this year. I have not stayed to the full service since I was at Rickworth, and what is worse, I do not dislike being prevented,' said Violet, falteringly; as if she must say the words, 'I don't like staying alone.'
'You must conquer that,' said John, earnestly. 'That feeling must never keep you away. Your continuance is the best hope of bringing him; your leaving off would be fatal to you both. I should almost like you to promise never to keep away because he did.'
'I think I can promise,' said Violet, faintly. 'It is only what mamma has always had to do; and, last Christmas, it did keep me away. I did think then he would have come; and when I found he did not—then I was really tired—but I know I could have stayed—but I made it an excuse, and went away.' The tears began to flow. 'I thought of it again when I was ill; and afterwards when I found out how nearly I had been dying, it was frightful. I said to myself, I would not miss again; but I have never had the opportunity since I have been well.'
'It is monthly at home,' said John. 'Only try to look to it as a favour and a comfort, as I said about church-going, but in a still higher degree—not merely as a service required from you. Believe it is a refreshment, and in time you will find it the greatest.'
'I'll try,' she said, in a low, melancholy voice; 'but I never feel as good people do.'
'You have had more than usual against you,' said John; cares for which you were not prepared, and weakness to exaggerate them; but you will have had a long rest, and I hope may be more equal to the tasks of daily life.'
They were interrupted by tea being brought; and the conversation continued in a less serious style.
'Our last tea-drinking,' said John. 'Certainly, it has been very pleasant here.'
'This island, that I thought so far away, and almost in foreign parts,' said Violet, smiling; 'I hope it has cured me of foolish terrors.'
'You will bravely make up your mind to Martindale.'
'I shall like to show Johnnie the peacock,' said Violet, in a tone as if seeking for some pleasant anticipation.
John laughed, and said, 'Poor Johnnie! I shall like to see him there in his inheritance.'
'Dear little man! I hope his grandfather will think him grown. I am glad they did not see him while he was so tiny and miserable. I am sure they must like him now, he takes so much notice.'
'You must not be disappointed if my mother does not make much of him,' said John; 'it was not her way with her own.'
Then, as Violet looked aghast, 'You do not know my mother. It requires a good deal to show what she can be, beneath her distant manner. I never knew her till two years ago.'
'When you were past thirty!' broke from Violet's lips, in a sort of horror.
'When I was most in need of comfort,' he answered. 'There has been a formality and constraint in our life, that has not allowed the affections their natural play, but indeed they exist. There have been times when even I distrusted my mother's attachment; but she could not help it, and it was all the stronger afterwards. Madeira taught me what she is, away from my aunt.'
'I do hope it is not wrong to feel about Mrs. Nesbit as I do! I am ready to run away from her. I know she is spying for my faults. Oh! I cannot like her.'
'That is a very mild version of what I have felt,' said John; 'I believe she has done us all infinite harm. But I am hardly qualified to speak; for, from the time she gave up the hope of my being a credit to the family, she has disliked me, said cutting things, well-nigh persecuted me. She did harass Helen to give me up; but, after all, poor woman, I believe I have been a great vexation to her, and I cannot help being sorry for her. It is a pitiable old age, straining to keep hold of what used to occupy her, and irritated at her own failing faculties.'
'I will try to think of that,' said Violet.
'I wonder what powers she will give me over her West Indian property; I must try,' said John; 'it will make a great difference to my opportunities of usefulness. I must talk to my father about it.'
'How very kind Theodora is to poor little Miss Piper,' said Violet.
'Yes; that is one of Theodora's best points.'
'Oh! she is so very good; I wish she could endure me.'
'So do I,' said John. 'I have neglected her, and now I reap the fruits. In that great house at home people live so much apart, that if they wish to meet, they must seek each other. And I never saw her as a child but when she came down in the evening, with her great black eyes looking so large and fierce. As a wild high-spirited girl I never made acquaintance with her, and now I cannot.'
'But when you were ill this last time, did she not read to you, and nurse you?'
'That was not permitted; there might have been risk, and besides, as Arthur says, I only wish to be let alone. I had not then realized that sympathy accepted for the sake of the giver will turn to the good of the receiver. No; I have thrown her away as far as I am concerned; and when I see what noble character and religious feeling there is with that indomitable pride and temper, I am the more grieved. Helen walked with her twice or three times when she was at Martindale, and she told me how much there was in her, but I never tried to develop it. I thought when Helen was her sister—but that chance is gone. That intractable spirit will never be tamed but by affection; but, unluckily, I don't know,' said John, smiling, 'who would marry Theodora.'
'Oh! how can you say so? She is so like Arthur.'
John laughed. 'No, I give up the hope of a Petruchio.'
'But Mr. Wingfield, I thought—'
'Wingfield!' said John, starting. 'No, no, that's not likely.'
'Nor Lord St. Erme!'
'I hope not. He is fancy-bit, I suppose, but he is not her superior. Life with him would harden rather than tame her. No. After all, strangely as she has behaved about him, when she has him in sight, I suspect there is one person among us more likely to soften her than any other.'
'Oh! of course, and if she will but love my Johnnie I don't much care about his mamma.'
In glowing health, with boundless wealth, But sickening of a vague disease, You know so ill to deal with time, You needs must play such pranks as these. —TENNYSON
In spite of herself, Theodora's heart bounded at the prospect of having Arthur's child in the house. She visited the babies in the village, and multiplying their charms by the superior beauty of Arthur and his wife, proportionably raised her expectations, but, of course, she betrayed none of her eagerness, and would not give up one iota of her course of village occupations for the sake of being at home for the arrival.
Nevertheless, she returned across the park, through burning sunshine, at double-quick pace, only slackened on seeing a carriage, but it proved to be her aunt, who was being assisted out of it, and tottering up the steps with the help of Lady Martindale's arm, while Miss Piper, coming down to give her assistance, informed them that the party had arrived about an hour before. The two gentlemen had gone out, and Mrs. Arthur Martindale was in her own room.
Trembling with eagerness, Theodora followed the tardy steps of her mother and aunt as they mounted the stairs. As they entered the gallery, a slender figure advanced to meet them, her apple-blossom face all smiles, and carrying a thing like a middle-sized doll, if doll had ever been as bald, or as pinched, or as skinny, or flourished such spare arms, or clenched such claw-like fingers. Was this the best she could give Arthur by way of son and heir? Yet she looked as proud and exulting as if he had been the loveliest of children, and the little wretch himself had a pert, lively air of speculation, as if he partook her complacency.
Lady Martindale gave her stately greeting, and Mrs. Nesbit coldly touched her hand; then Theodora, with some difficulty, pronounced the words, 'How are you?' and brought herself to kiss Violet's cheek, but took no apparent notice of the child, and stood apart while her mother made all hospitable speeches, moving on, so as not to keep Mrs. Nesbit standing.
Theodora followed her aunt and mother, and as soon as the baize door was shut on them, Violet hugged her baby closely, whispering, 'No welcome for the poor little boy! nobody cares for him but his own mamma! Never mind, my Johnnie, we are not too grand to love each other.'
Theodora in the meantime could not help exclaiming, 'Poor child! It is just like a changeling!'
'Don't talk of it, my dear,' said Lady Martindale, with a shudder and look of suffering. 'Poor little dear! He looks exactly as your poor little brother did!' and she left the room with a movement far unlike her usually slow dignified steps.
'Ah!' said her aunt, in a tone between grief and displeasure; 'here's a pretty business! we must keep him out of her way! Don't you ever bring him forward, Theodora, to revive all that.'
'What is the meaning of it?' said Theodora. 'I did not know I ever had another brother.'
'It was long before your time, my dear, but your mamma has never entirely got over it, though he only lived nine weeks. I would not have had the recollection recalled on any account. And now John has brought this child here! If he was to die here I don't know what the effect on your mamma would be.'
'He is not going to die!' said Theodora, hastily; 'but let me hear of my other brother, aunt.'
'There is nothing to hear, my dear,' said Mrs. Nesbit. 'How could the girl think of bringing him on us without preparation? An effect of John's spoiling her, of course. She expects him to be made much of; but she must be taught to perceive this is no house of which she can make all parts a nursery.'
'Let me hear about my brother,' repeated Theodora. 'How old would he be? What was his name?'
'His name was Theodore. He never could have lived,' said Mrs. Nesbit: 'it was much as it was with this child of Arthur's. He was born unexpectedly at Vienna. Your mamma had a dreadful illness, brought on by your father's blundering sudden way of telling her of the death of poor little Dora and Anna. He has not a notion of self-command or concealment; so, instead of letting me prepare her, he allowed her to come home from the drive, and find him completely overcome.'
Theodora better understood her mother's stifled sympathy for Violet, and her father's more openly shown feeling for Arthur.
'We were in great alarm for her,' continued Mrs. Nesbit, 'and the poor child was a miserable little thing, and pined away till we thought it best to send him home to be under English treatment; and your father chose to go with him to see John, who was in a very unsatisfactory state.'
'And mamma did not go?'
'She was unfit for the journey, and I remained with her. It was a fortunate arrangement of mine, for I knew he could not survive, and anxiety for him retarded her recovery, though we had hardly ever let her see him.'
'Then he died?—how soon?'
'At Frankfort, a fortnight after we parted with him. It was a dreadful shock to her; and if it had happened in the house, I do not think she would ever have recovered it. Was it a fortnight? Yes, I know it was; for it was on the 3rd of September that I had your papa's letter. We were going to a party at Prince K—'s, where there was to be a celebrated Italian improvisatrice, and I would not give her the letter till the next morning.'
Theodora stared at her in incredulous horror.
'It threw her back sadly; but I did my utmost to rally her spirits, and her health did not suffer so materially as I feared; but she has strong feelings, and the impression has never been entirely removed. She scarcely ventured to look at Arthur or at you. How could your papa have let this child come here?'
'Is he like poor little Theodore?' said the sister.
'Only as one wretched-looking baby is like another. This one is not a bit like the Martindales; it is exactly his mother's face.'
'Is he buried here?'
'Who—Theodore? Yes; your papa came home, and managed matters his own way, sent off all the governesses, put John under that ignorant old nurse, and began the precious intimacy with the Fotheringhams, that led to such results. I could have told him how it would be; but I believe he did repent of that!'
'Did John know about Theodore?'
'No; his sisters' death had such an effect on him that they kept the knowledge from him. You had better never mention it, my dear; and especially,' she added, somewhat pleadingly, 'I would not have the party at the Prince's transpire to your papa.'
Theodora felt her indignation would not endure concealment much longer. She called Miss Piper, and hastened away, the next moment finding herself vis-a-vis with John.
'Are you just come in?' said he, greeting her.
'No, I have been with my aunt. How are you now?'
'Quite well, thank you. I wish you could have come to Ventnor. You would have enjoyed it very much.'
'Have you seen Violet?'
'Yes, I have.'
'And the little boy?'
'I can't say he is a beauty, but you who are such a baby fancier will find him a very animated, intelligent child. I hope all fear is over about him now; he has thriven wonderfully of late.'
Perverseness prompted Theodora to say, 'The baby at the lodge is twice the size.'
John saw there was no use in talking, and shut himself into his room. The next instant Sarah appeared, with the baby on one arm, and a pile of clothes on the other.
No one was in sight, so Theodora could gratify her passionate yearnings for her brother's babe; justifying herself to her own pride, by considering it charity to an overloaded servant.
'Let me have him. Let me carry him up.'
'Thank you, ma'am, I'll not fash you,' said Sarah, stiffly.
'Let me! Oh! let me. I have often held a baby. Come to me, my precious. Don't you know your aunt, your papa's own sister? There, he smiled at me! He will come! You know me, you pretty one?'
She held him near the window, and gazed with almost devouring eyes.
'He will be handsome—he will be beautiful!' she said. 'Oh! it is a shame to say you are not! You are like your papa—you are a thorough Martindale! That is your papa's bright eye, and the real Martindale brow, you sweet, little, fair, feeble, helpless thing! Oh, nurse, I can't spare him yet, and you have to unpack. Let me hold him. I know he likes me. Don't you love Aunt Theodora, babe?'
Sarah let her keep him, mollified by her devotion to him, and relieved at having him off her hands in taking possession of the great, bare, scantily-furnished nursery. Theodora lamented over his delicate looks, and was told he would not be here now but for his mamma, and the Isle of Wight doctor, who had done him a power of good. She begged to hear of all his wants; rang the bell, and walked up and down the room, caressing him, until he grew fretful, and no one answering the bell she rang again in displeasure, Sarah thanking her, and saying she wished to have him ready for bed before his mamma came up.
After her public reception, Theodora would not be caught nursing him in secret, so hastily saying she would send some one, she kissed the little blue-veined forehead, and rushing at full speed down the back stairs, she flew into the housekeeper's room; 'Jenkins, there's no one attending to the nursery bell. I wish you would see to it. Send up some one with some hot water to Master Martindale directly.'
As fast she ran back to her own room, ordered off Pauline to help Master Martindale's nurse, and flung herself into her chair, in a wild fit of passion.
'Improvisatrice! Prince's parties! this is what it is to be great, rich, horrid people, and live a heartless, artificial life! Even this silly, affected girl has the natural instincts of a mother, she nurses her sick child, it lies on her bosom, she guards it jealously! And we! we might as well have been hatched in an Egyptian oven! No wonder we are hard, isolated, like civil strangers. I have a heart! Yes, I have, but it is there by mistake, while no one cares for it—all throw it from them. Oh! if I was but a village child, a weeding woman, that very baby, so that I might only have the affection that comes like the air to the weakest, the meanest. That precious baby! he smiled at me; he looked as if he would know me. Oh! he is far more lovable, with those sweet, little, delicate features, and large considering eyes, than if he was a great, plump, common-looking child. Dearest little Johnnie! And my own brother was like him—my brother, whom my aunt as good as killed! If he had lived, perhaps I might still have a brother to myself. He would be twenty-eight. But I mind nothing now that dear child is here! Why, Pauline, I sent you to Master Martindale.'
'Yes, ma'am; but Mrs. Martindale is there, and they are much obliged to you, but want nothing more.'
Indeed Violet, who had been positively alarmed and depressed at first, at the waste and desolate aspect of the nursery, which seemed so far away and neglected, as almost, she thought, to account for the death of the two little sisters, had now found Sarah beset on all sides by offers of service from maids constantly knocking at the door, and Theodora's own Pauline, saying she was sent by Miss Martindale.
Violet could hardly believe her ears.
'Yes,' said Sarah, 'Miss Martindale has been here herself ever so long. A fine, well-grown lassie she is, and very like the Captain.'
'Has she been here?' said Violet. 'It is very kind of her. Did she look at the baby?'
'She made more work with him than you do yourself. Nothing was not good enough for him. Why, she called him the most beautifullest baby she ever seen!'
'And that we never told you, my Johnnie,' said Violet, smiling. 'Are you sure she was not laughing at you, baby?'
'No, no, ma'am,' said Sarah, affronted; 'it was earnest enough. She was nigh ready to eat him up, and talked to him, and he look up quite 'cute, as if he knew what it all meant, and was quite good with her. She was ready to turn the house upside down when they did not answer the bell. And how she did kiss him, to be sure! I'd half a mind to tell her of old nurse telling you it warn't good for the child to be always kissing of him.'
'No, no, she won't hurt him,' said Violet, in a half mournful voice. 'Let her do as she likes with him, Sarah.'
Violet could recover from the depression of that cold reception now that she found Johnnie did not share in the dislike. 'She loves Arthur's child,' thought she, 'though she cannot like me. I am glad Johnnie has been in his aunt's arms!'
Violet, as she sat at the dinner-table, understood Lord Martindale's satisfaction in hearing John talking with animation; but she wondered at the chill of manner between her husband and his sister, and began to perceive that it was not, as she had supposed, merely in an occasional impatient word, that Arthur resented Theodora's neglect of her.
'How unhappy it must make her! how much it must add to her dislike! they must be brought together again!' were gentle Violet's thoughts. And knowing her ground better, she could venture many more steps towards conciliation than last year: but Theodora disappeared after dinner, and Violet brought down some plants from the Isle of Wight which John had pronounced to be valuable, to his mother; but Mrs. Nesbit, at the first glance, called them common flowers, and shoved them away contemptuously, while Lady Martindale tried to repair the discourtesy by condescending thanks and admiration of the neat drying of the specimens; but her stateliness caused Violet to feel herself sinking into the hesitating tremulous girl she used to be, and she betook herself to her work, hoping to be left to silence; but she was molested by a very sharp, unpleasant examination from Mrs. Nesbit on the style of John's housekeeping at Ventnor, and the society they had met there. It was plain she thought he had put himself to a foolish expense, and something was said of 'absurd' when cross-examination had elicited the fact of the pony-carriage. Then came a set of questions about Mr. Fotheringham's return, and strong condemnation of him for coming home to idle in England.
It was a great relief when John came in, and instantly took up the defence of the ophrys, making out its species so indisputably, that Mrs. Nesbit had no refuge but in saying, specimens were worthless that had not been gathered by the collector, and Lady Martindale made all becoming acknowledgments. No wonder Mrs. Nesbit was mortified; she was an excellent botanist, and only failing eyesight could have made even prejudice betray her into such a mistake. Violet understood the compassion that caused John to sit down by her and diligently strive to interest her in conversation.
Theodora had returned as tea was brought in, and Violet felt as if she must make some demonstration out of gratitude for the fondness for her child; but she did not venture on that subject, and moving to her side, asked, with somewhat timid accents, after Charlie Layton, the dumb boy.
'He is very well, thank you. I hope to get him into an asylum next year,' said Theodora, but half-pleased.
'I looked for him at the gate, and fancied it was him I saw with a broad black ribbon on his hat. Is he in mourning?'
'Did you not hear of his mother's death?'
'No, poor little fellow.'
Therewith Theodora had the whole history to tell, and thawed as she spoke; while Violet's deepening colour, and eyes ready to overflow, proved the interest she took; and she had just begged to go to-morrow to see the little orphan, when Arthur laid his hand on her shoulder, and told her he had just come from the stables, where her horse was in readiness for her, and would she like to ride to-morrow?
'What will suit you for us to do?' said Violet, turning to Theodora.
'Oh, it makes no difference to me.'
'Tuesday. It is not one of your schooldays, is it?' said Violet, appearing unconscious of the chill of the answer; then, looking up to Arthur, 'I am going, at any rate, to walk to the lodge with Theodora to see the poor baby there. It is just the age of Johnnie.'
'You aren't going after poor children all day long,' said Arthur: and somehow Violet made a space between them on the ottoman, and pulled him down into it; and whereas he saw his wife and sister apparently sharing the same pursuits, and on friendly terms, he resumed his usual tone with Theodora, and began coaxing her to ride with them, and inquiring after home interests, till she lighted up and answered in her natural manner. Then Violet ventured to ask if she was to thank her for the delicious geranium and heliotrope she had found in her room.
'Oh no! that is an attention of Harrison or Miss Piper, I suppose.'
'Or? probably and?' suggested Arthur. 'How does that go on?'
'Take care,' said Theodora, peeping out beyond the shadow of his broad shoulder. 'Tis under the strictest seal of confidence; she asked my advice as soon as she had done it.'
'What! has she accepted him!' said Violet. 'Has it come to that?'
'Ay; and now she wants to know whether people will think it odd and improper. Let them think, I say.'
'A piece of luck for her,' said Arthur; 'better marry a coal-heaver than lead her present life.'
'Yes; and Harrison is an educated man though a coxcomb, and knows she condescends.'
'But why are they waiting!' asked Violet.
'Because she dares not tell my aunt. She trembles and consults, and walks behind my aunt's chair in the garden, exchanging glances with Harrison over her head, while he listens to discourses on things with hard names. The flutter and mystery seem to be felicity, and, if they like it, 'tis their own concern.'
'Now I know why Miss Piper told me Miss Martindale was so considerate,' said Violet.
What had become of the estrangement! Arthur had forgotten it, Violet had been but half-conscious of it, even while uniting them; Theodora thought all was owing to his being at home, and she knew not who had restored him.
Indeed, the jealous feeling was constantly excited, for Arthur's devotion to his wife was greater than ever, in his delight at being with her again, and his solicitude to the weakness which Theodora could neither understand nor tolerate. She took all unclassified ailments as fine lady nonsense; and was angry with Violet for being unable to teach at school, contemptuous if Arthur observed on her looking pale, and irate if he made her rest on the sofa.
John added to the jealousy. Little as Theodora apparently regarded him, she could not bear to be set aside while Violet held the place of the favourite sister, and while her father openly spoke of the benefit he had derived from having that young bright gentle creature so much with him.
The alteration was indeed beyond what could have been hoped for. The first day, when his horse was led round with the others, it was supposed to be by mistake, till he came down with his whip in his hand; and not till they were past the lodge did Theodora believe he was going to make one of the riding party. She had never seen him take part in their excursions, or appear to consider himself as belonging to the younger portion of the family, and when they fell in with any acquaintance Arthur was amused, and she was provoked, at the surprised congratulations on seeing Mr. Martindale with them.
Lord Martindale was delighted to find him taking interest in matters to which he had hitherto scarcely paid even languid attention; and the offer to go to Barbuda was so suitable and gratifying that it was eagerly discussed in many a consultation.
He liked to report progress to Violet, and as she sat in the drawing-room, the two brothers coming to her with all their concerns, Theodora could have pined and raged in the lonely dignity of her citadel up-stairs. She did not know the forbearance that was exercised towards her by one whom she had last year taught what it was to find others better instructed than herself in the family councils.
Violet never obtruded on her, her intimacy with John's designs, thinking it almost unfair on his sister that any other should be more in his confidence.
So, too, Violet would not spoil her pleasure in her stolen caresses of little Johnnie by seeming to be informed of them. She was grateful for her love to him, and would not thrust in her unwelcome self. In public the boy was never seen and rarely mentioned, and Theodora appeared to acquiesce in the general indifference, but whenever she was secure of not being detected, she lavished every endearment on him, rejoiced in the belief that he knew and preferred her enough to offend his doting mamma, had she known it; never guessing that Violet sometimes delayed her visits to the nursery, in order not to interfere with her enjoyment of him.
Violet had not yet seen the Brandons, as they had been making visits before returning home; but she had many ardent letters from Emma, describing the progress of her acquaintance with Miss Marstone, the lady who had so excited her imagination, and to whom she had been introduced at a school festival. She seemed to have realized all Emma's expectations, and had now come home with her to make some stay at Rickworth. Violet was highly delighted when, a few days after their return, her friends were invited to dinner, on the same evening that Mr. Fotheringham was expected. The afternoon of that day was one of glowing August sunshine, almost too much for Violet, who, after they had ridden some distance, was rather frightened to hear Theodora propose to extend their ride by a canter over the downs; but John relieved her by asking her to return with him, as he wanted to be at home in time to receive Mr. Fotheringham.
Accordingly, they rode home quietly together, but about an hour after, on coming up-stairs, he was surprised to find Violet in her evening dress, pacing the gallery with such a countenance that he exclaimed, 'I hope there is nothing amiss with the boy.'
Oh, nothing, thank you, he is quite well,' but her voice was on the verge of tears. 'Is Mr. Fotheringham come?'
No, I have given him up now, till the mail train; but it is not very late; Arthur and Theodora can't be back till past seven if they go to Whitford down,' said John, fancying she was in alarm on their account.
'I do not suppose they can.'
'I am afraid we took you too far. Why are you not resting?'
'It is cooler here,' said Violet. 'It does me more good than staying in my room.'
'Oh, you get the western sun there.'
'It comes in hot and dazzling all the afternoon till it is baked through, and I can't find a cool corner. Even baby is fretful in such a hot place, and I have sent him out into the shade.'
'Is it always so?'
'Oh, no, only on such days as this; and I should not care about it to-day, but for one thing'—she hesitated, and lowered her voice, partly piteous, partly ashamed. 'Don't you know since I have been so weak and stupid, how my face burns when I am tired? and, of all things, Arthur dislikes a flushed race. There, now I have told you; but I could not help it. It is vain and foolish and absurd to care, almost wicked, and I have told myself so fifty times; but I have got into a fret, and I cannot leave off. I tried coming here to be cool, but I feel it growing worse, and there's the dinner-party, and Arthur will be vexed'—and she was almost crying. 'I am doing what I thought I never would again, and about such nonsense.'
'Come in here,' said John, leading her into a pleasant apartment fitted up as a library, the fresh air coming through the open window. 'I was wishing to show you my room.'
'How cool! Arthur told me it was the nicest room in the house,' said Violet, her attention instantly diverted.
'Yes, am I not a luxurious man? There, try my great armchair. I am glad to have a visit from you. You must come again.'
'Oh! thank you. What quantities of books! No wonder every book one wants comes out of your room.'
'I shall leave you the use of them.'
'Do you mean that I may take any of your books home with me?'
'It will be very good for them.'
'How delightful,' and she was up in a moment reading their titles, but he made her return to the great chair.
'Rest now, there will be plenty of time, now you know your way. You must make this your retreat from the sun. Ah, by the bye, I have just recollected that I brought something for you from Madeira. I chose it because it reminded me of the flowers you wore at the Whitford ball.'
It was a wreath of pink and white brier roses, in the feather flowers of Madeira, and she was delighted, declaring Arthur would think it beautiful, admiring every bud and leaf, and full of radiant girlish smiles. It would exactly suit her dress, Arthur's present, now worn for the first time.
'You are not going yet?'
'I thought I might be in your way.'
'Not at all; if I had anything to do, I would leave you to the books; but I have several things to show you.'
'I was wishing to look at those drawings. Who is that queen with the cross on her arm?'
'St. Helena; it is a copy from a fresco by one of the old masters.'
'What a calm grave face! what strange stiff drawing!—and yet it suits it: it is so solemn, with that matronly dignity. That other, too—those apostles, with their bowed heads and clasped hands, how reverent they look!'
'They are from Cimabue,' said John: 'are they not majestically humble in adoration?'
Between, these two hung that awful dark engraving from Albert Durer.
'These have been my companions,' said John.
'Through all the long months that you have been shut up here?'
'My happiest times.'
'Ah! that does, indeed, make me ashamed of my discontent and ingratitude,' sighed Violet.
'Nay,' said John, 'a little fit of fatigue deserves no such harsh names.'
'When it is my besetting sin—all here speaks of patience and unrepining.'
'No, no, said John—'if you cannot sit still; I have sat still too much. We have both a great deal to learn.'
As he spoke he unlocked a desk, took out a miniature, looked at it earnestly, and then in silence put it into her hand. She was disappointed; she knew she was not to expect beauty; but she had figured to herself a saintly, spiritual, pale countenance, and she saw that of a round-faced, rosy-cheeked, light-haired girl, looking only as if she was sitting for her picture.
After much doubt what to say, she ventured only, 'I suppose this was done a long time ago?'
'When she was quite a girl. Mrs. Percival gave it to me; it was taken for her long before. I used not to like it.'
'I did not think she would have had so much colour.'
'It was a thorough English face: she did not lose those rosy cheeks till want of air faded them. Then I should hardly have known her, but the countenance had become so much more—calm it had always been, reminding me of the description of Jeanie Deans' countenance—I cannot tell you what it was then! I see a little dawning of that serenity on the mouth, even as it is here; but I wish anything could give you an idea of that look!'
Thank you for showing it to me,' said Violet, earnestly.
After studying it a little while, he restored it to its place. He then took out a small box, and, after a moment's hesitation, put into Violet's hands a pink coral cross, shaped by the animals themselves, and fastened by a ring to a slender gold chain.
'The cross!' said Violet, holding it reverently: 'it is very kind of you to let me see it.'
'Would you like to keep it, Violet?'
'Oh!' she exclaimed, and stopped short, with tearful eyes.
'You know she wished some one to have it who would find comfort in it, as she did.'
'No one will prize it more, but can you bear to part with it?'
'If you will take it, as her gift.'
'But just now, when I have been so naughty—so unlike her!'
'More like her than ever, in struggling with besetting failings; you are learning to see in little trials the daily cross; and if you go on, the serenity which was a gift in her will be a grace in you.'
They were interrupted: Brown, with beaming face, announced 'Mr. Fotheringham'; and there stood a gentleman, strong and broad-shouldered, his face burnt to a deep red, his dark brown hair faded at the tips to a light rusty hue, and his irregular features, wide, smiling mouth, and merry blue eyes, bright with good humour.
'Ha, Percy! here you are!' cried John, springing towards him with joyful alacrity, and giving a hand that was eagerly seized.
'Well, John, how are you?' exclaimed a hearty voice.
'Arthur's wife:' and this unceremonious introduction caused her to be favoured with a warm shake of the hand; but, much discomfited at being in their way, she hastily gathered up her treasures, and glided away as John was saying, 'I had almost given you up.'
'I walked round by Fowler's lodge, to bestow my little Athenian owl. I brought it all the way in my pocket, or on my hand, and I put him in Tom Fowler's charge while I am here. I could not think what fashionable young lady you had here. How has that turned out?'
'Excellently!' said John, warmly.
'She is a beauty!' said Percival.
'She can't help that, poor thing,' said John: 'she is an admirable creature; indeed, she sometimes reminds me of your sister.'
Then, as Percy looked at him, as if to be certain he was in his senses, 'I don't expect others to see it; it is only one expression.'
'How are you? You look in better case.'
'I am wonderfully well, thank you. Has your romance come to a satisfactory denouement?'
'The happy pair were at Malta when I started.'
'And where have you been?'
'Oh! in all manner of queer places. I have been talking Latin with the folks in Dacia. Droll state of things there; one could fancy it Britain, or Gaul half settled by the Teutons, with the Roman sticking about them. But that's too much to tell, I have heard nothing from home this age. How is Theodora? I am afraid she has outgrown her antics.'
'She is not too much like other people.'
'Are you all at home, and in "statu quo"?'
'Yes, except that my aunt is more aged and feeble.'
'And Master Arthur has set up for a domestic character. It must be after a fashion of his own.'
'Rather so,' said John, smiling; 'but it has done him a great deal of good. He has more heart in him than you and I used to think; and home is drawing it out, and making a man of him in spite of himself.'
'How came she to marry him?'
'Because she knew no better, poor thing; her family promoted it, and took advantage of her innocence.'
'Is she a sensible woman?'
'Why, poor child, she has plenty of sense, but it is not doing her justice to call her a woman. She is too fine a creature to come early to her full growth—she is a woman in judgment and a child in spirits.'
'So, Arthur has the best of the bargain.'
'He does not half understand her; but they are very much attached, and some day she will feel her influence and use it.'
'Form herself first, and then him. I hope Mark Gardner will keep out of the way during the process.'
'He is safe in Paris.'
'And how have you been spending the summer?'
'I have been at Ventnor, getting through the Crusaders, and keeping house with Violet and her child, who both wanted sea air.'
'What's her name?'
'Well, that beats all! Violet! Why, Vi'let was what they called the old black cart-horse! I hope the child is Cowslip or Daisy!'
'No, he is John, my godson.'
'John! You might as well be called Man! It is no name at all. That Arthur should have gone and married a wife called Violet!!'
Meanwhile Violet was wondering over the honour she had received, caressing the gift, and thinking of the hopes that had faded over it till patience had done her perfect work. She did not remember her other present till she heard sounds betokening the return of the riders. She placed it on her head, and behold! the cheeks had no more than their own roseate tinting, and she was beginning to hope Arthur would be pleased, when she became aware of certain dark eyes and a handsome face set in jet-black hair, presenting itself over her shoulder in the long glass.
'You little piece of vanity! studying yourself in the glass, so that you never heard me come in? Well, you have done it to some purpose. Where did you get that thing?'
'John brought it from Madeira.'
'I did not think he had so much taste. Where have you bottled it up all this time!'
'He forgot it till there was an opportunity for wearing it. Is it not pretty? And this is your silk, do you see?'
'Very pretty, that's the real thing. I am glad to find you in good trim. I was afraid Theodora had taken you too far, and the heat would knock you up, and the boy would roar till you were all manner of colours.'
'I was hot and tired, but John invited me into his nice cool room, and only think! he showed me Helen's picture.'
'He has one, has he? She was nothing to look at; just like Percy—you know he is come?'
'Yes, he came while I was in John's room. He is not at all like what I expected.'
'No, ladies always expect a man to look like a hero or a brigand. She had just that round face, till the last when I saw her in London, and then she looked a dozen years older than John—enough to scare one.'
'See what he gave me.'
'Ha! was that hers? I remember, it was that my aunt kicked up such a dust about. So he has given you that.'
'Helen said she should like some one to have it who would find as much comfort in it as she did.'
'Comfort! What comfort do you want?'
'Only when I am foolish.'
'I should think so; and pray what is to be the comfort of a bit of coral like that?'
'Not the coral, but the thoughts, dear Arthur,' said Violet, colouring, and restoring the cross to its place within her dress.
'Well! you and John understand your own fancies, but I am glad you can enter into them with him, poor fellow! It cheers him up to have some one to mope with.'
P. Henry.—But do you use me thus, Ned; must I marry your sister? Poins.—May the wench have no worse fortune, but I never said so.
—K. Henry IV
Arthur met the new-comer, exclaiming, 'Ha! Fotheringham, you have not brought me the amber mouth-piece I desired John to tell you of.'
'Not I. I don't bring Turks' fashion into Christian countries. You ought to learn better manners now you are head of a family.'
Theodora entered, holding her head somewhat high, but there was a decided heightening of the glow on her cheek as Mr. Fotheringham shook hands with her. Lord Martindale gave him an affectionate welcome, and Lady Martindale, though frigid at first, grew interested as she asked about his journey.
The arriving guests met him with exclamations of gladness, as if he was an honour to the neighbourhood; and John had seldom looked more cheerful and more gratified than in watching his reception.
At length came the names for which Violet was watching; and the presence of Lady Elizabeth gave her a sense of motherly protection, as she was greeted with as much warmth as was possible for shy people in the midst of a large party. Emma eagerly presented her two friends to each other, and certainly they were a great contrast. Miss Marstone was sallow, with thin sharply-cut features, her eyes peered out from spectacles, her hair was disposed in the plainest manner, as well as her dress, which was anything but suited to a large dinner-party. Violet's first impulse was to be afraid of her, but to admire Emma for being attracted by worth through so much formidable singularity.
'And the dear little godson is grown to be a fine fellow,' began Emma.
'Not exactly that,' said Violet, 'but he is much improved, and so bright and clever.'
'You will let us see him after dinner?'
'I have been looking forward to it very much, but he will be asleep, and you won't see his pretty ways and his earnest dark eyes.'
'I long to see the sweet child,' said Miss Marstone. 'I dote on such darlings. I always see so much in their countenances. There is the germ of so much to be drawn out hereafter in those deep looks of thought.'
'My baby often looks very intent.'
'Intent on thoughts beyond our power to trace!' said Miss Marstone.
'Ah! I have often thought that we cannot fathom what may be passing in a baby's mind,' said Emma.
'With its fixed eyes unravelling its whole future destiny!' said Miss Marstone.
'Poor little creature!' murmured Violet.
'I am convinced that the whole course of life takes its colouring from some circumstance at the time unmarked.'
'It would frighten me to think so,' said Violet.
'For instance, I am convinced that a peculiar bias was given to my own disposition in consequence of not being understood by the nurse and aunt who petted my brother, while they neglected me. Perhaps I was not a prepossessing child, but I had deeper qualities which might have been drawn out, though, on the whole, I do not regret what threw me early on my own resources. It has made me what I am.'
Violet was rather surprised, but took it for granted that this was something admirable.
'Your dear little boy, no doubt, occupies much of your attention. Training and instruction are so important.'
'He is not five months old,' said Violet.
'You cannot begin too early to lead forward his mind. Well chosen engravings, properly selected toys, the habit of at once obeying, the choice of nursery songs, all are of much importance in forming these dear little lambs to the stern discipline of life.'
'You must have had a great deal to do with little children,' said Violet, impressed.
'Why, not much personally; but I believe Emma has sent you my little allegory of the "Folded Lambs", where you will find my theories illustrated.'
'Yes, Emma gave it to me—it is very pretty,' said Violet, looking down. 'I am too stupid to understand it all, and I have been hoping for Emma to explain it to me.'
'Many people find it obscure, but I shall be delighted to assist you. I am sure you will find some of the ideas useful to you. What were your difficulties?'
It made Violet so very shy to be spoken to by an authoress in public about her own books, that she was confused out of all remembrance of the whole story of the "Folded Lambs", and could only feel thankful that the announcement of dinner came to rescue her from her difficulties. She was not to escape authors; for Mr. Fotheringham took her in to dinner, Lady Martindale assigned Miss Brandon to John; but Arthur, with a droll look, stepped between and made prize of her, leaving John to Miss Marstone.
Violet trusted she was not likely to be examined in the "Track of the Crusaders", of which, however, she comprehended far more than of the "Folded Lambs". Presently her neighbour turned to her, asking abruptly, 'Who is that next to Theodora?'
'Mr. Wingfield, the clergyman here.'
'I know. Is he attentive to the parish!'
'O yes, very much so.'
'Does Theodora take to parish work?'
'Indeed she does.'
'She goes to school twice a week, besides Sundays, and has the farm children to teach every morning.'
'And she is so kind to the children at the Lodge.'
'Let me see, they were afraid the boy was deaf and dumb.'
'Yes, he is, poor little fellow, and Theodora teaches him most successfully.'
'Well done! I knew the good would work out. How tall she is! and she looks as full of spirit as ever. She has had a season in London, I suppose!'
'Yes, she went out a great deal this spring.'
'And it has not spoilt her?'
'O no!' cried Violet, warmly, feeling as if she had known him all her life, 'she is more eager than ever in her parish work. She spares no trouble. She got up at four one morning to sit with old Betty Blain, that her daughter might get a little rest.'
'That head and brow are a fine study. She has grown up more striking than even I thought she would. Curious to see the difference between natural pride and assumed,' and he glanced from Theodora to her mother. 'How well Lady Martindale preserves! She always looks exactly the same. Who is that chattering in John's ear?
'Miss Marstone, a friend of Miss Brandon's.'
'What makes her go about such a figure?'
'She is very good.'
'I trust, by your own practice, that is not your test of goodness?'
'I should not think it was, said Violet, blushing and hesitating.
'What crypt did they dig her out of? Is she one of the Marstones of Gothlands?'
'I believe she is. She has two sisters, gay people, whose home is with an uncle. She lives with a lawyer brother.'
'Sam Marstone! I know him! I pity him. So Emma Brandon is come out? Which is she?'
'She is next to Arthur, on this side the table where you cannot see her.'
'What sort of girl is she!'
'Oh!' said Violet, and paused, 'she is the greatest friend I have in the world!'
He looked surprised, laughed, and said, 'So I must ask no more questions.'
Violet felt as if she had spoken presumptuously, and said, 'Lady Elizabeth has been so very kind to me. Emma is my baby's godmother.'
'And John its godfather.'
'Yes. Did he tell you so?'
'Ay! he spoke as if it was very near his heart.'
'He has been—O, so very—I believe he is very fond of baby,' hastily concluded Violet, as her first sentence stuck in her throat.
'I am heartily glad he has something to take interest in. He looks better and less frail. Is he so, do you think?'
'O yes, much better. He hardly ever coughs—'
'Does he get those bad fits of cough and breathlessness?'
'Very seldom; he has not had one since the day we heard you were coming home, and that, Brown thought, was from the excitement.'
'Ay! ay! he seems stronger every way.'
'Yes, he can bear much more exertion.'
'Then I hope he will be stirred up to do something. That's what he wants.'
'I am sure he is always very busy,' said Violet, displeased.
'Ay? Cutting open a book was rather arduous. If he was not at his best he left it to Brown.'
'No! no! I meant going over parchments; writing for Lord Martindale;' she did not know if she might mention the West Indian scheme.
'Ho! there's something in that. Well, if he comes to life after all, there's no one so capable. Not that I am blaming him. Illness and disappointment broke him down, and—such a fellow seldom breathed. If I had not had him at Cambridge it might have been a different story with me. So you need not look like his indignant champion.'
'I don't know what Arthur and I should have done without him,' said Violet.
'Where's the aunt? I don't see her.'
'She never comes down to dinner, she is only seen in the evening.'
There was a sound in reply so expressive of relief that Violet caught herself nearly laughing, but he said, gravely, 'Poor woman, then she is growing aged.'
'We thought her much altered this year.'
'Well!' and there was a whole sentence of pardon conveyed in the word. Then, after an interval, 'Look at John and his neighbour.'
'I have been trying to catch what they are saying.'
'They! It is all on one side.'
'Perhaps,' said Violet, smiling, 'it was something about chants.'
'Yes. Is it not rare to see his polite face while she bores him with that kind of cant which is the most intolerable of all, and he quietly turning it aside?'
'Is it cant when people are in earnest?' asked Violet.
'Women always think they are.'
'How are they to know?'
'If they hold their tongues'—a silence—Well!'
'Well,' said Violet.
'Where's the outcry?'
'Did you mean me to make one!'
'What could you do but vindicate your sex?'
'Then you would not have thought me in earnest.'
He made a funny pleased face and a little bow.
'The truth was,' said Violet, 'I was thinking whether I understood you.'
'May I ask your conclusion?'
'I don't exactly know. I don't think you meant we should never talk of what interests us.'
'When they know when to hold their tongues, perhaps I should have said.'
'O, yes, that I quite think.'
Another silence, while Violet pondered, and her neighbour continued his malicious listening to Miss Marstone, who spoke in a key too audible for such a party. Presently, 'He has got her to the Royal Academy. She has gone forthwith to the Prae-Raffaelites. Oh! she is walking Prae-Raffaelitism herself. Symbols and emblems! Unfortunate John! Symbolic suggestive teaching, speaking to the eye! She is at it ding-dong! Oh! he has begun on the old monk we found refreshing the pictures at Mount Athos! Ay, talk yourself, 'tis the only way to stop her mouth; only mind what you say, she will bestow it freshly hashed up on the next victim on the authority of Mr. Martindale.'
Violet was excessively entertained; and, when she raised her eyes, after conquering the laugh, was amazed to find how far advanced was the state dinner, usually so interminable. Her inquiries after the Athenian owl led to a diverting history of its capture at the Parthenon, and the adventures in bringing it home. She was sorry when she found Lady Martindale rising, while Mr. Fotheringham, as he drew back his chair, said, 'How shall you get on with Prae-Raffaelitism? I should like to set her and Aunt Nesbit together by the ears!'
Certainly it was not convenient to be asked by Emma what made her look so much amused.
She felt as if it would be much pleasanter to show off her babe without the stranger, and was glad to find that Miss Marstone had fallen into a discussion with Theodora, and both looked much too eager to be interrupted.
So Violet fairly skipped up-stairs before her friends, turning round to speak to them with such smiling glee, that Lady Elizabeth dismissed all fears of her present well-doing. Emma fell into raptures over her godson's little cot, and quoted the "Folded Lambs", and "Pearls of the Deep", another as yet unpublished tale of her friend's, to teach his mother how to educate him, and stood by impatiently contemning the nursery hints which Violet was only too anxious to gather up from Lady Elizabeth.
'And are you not charmed with her!' said Emma, as they went down-stairs.
'I have seen so little of her,' replied Violet, embarrassed. 'Why does she dress in that way?'
'That is just what I say,' observed Lady Elizabeth. 'I was sorry to see her in that dress this evening.'
'Mamma does not like it,' said Emma; 'but Theresa feels it such a privilege not to be forced to conform to the trammels of fashions and nonsense.'
'She does everything on high principle,' said Lady Elizabeth, as if she was trying to bring her mind as usual into unison with her daughter's. 'She is a very superior person, and one does not like to find fault with what is done on right motives; but I should be sorry to see Emma follow the same line. I have always been taught that women should avoid being conspicuous.'
'That I could never bear to be, mamma,' said Emma; 'but Theresa is of a firmer, less shrinking mould.'
Lady Elizabeth repeated that she was a very superior person, but was evidently not happy in her guest.
Miss Marstone was holding earnest tete-a-tetes all the evening, but Violet having sheltered herself under Lady Elizabeth's wing, escaped the expected lecture on the allegories.
When the Rickworth party had taken leave, Mr. Wingfield, the last guest, was heard to observe that Miss Marstone was an admirable person, a treasure to any parish.
'Do you wish for such a treasure in your own?' said Mr. Fotheringham, bluntly.
The curate shook his head, and murmuring something about Brogden being already as fortunate as possible, departed in his turn: while Arthur ejaculated, 'There's a step, Wingfield. Why, Theodora, he was setting up a rival.'
'Who is she?' said Theodora. 'Where did Emma pick her up?'
'Emma was struck with her appearance—'
The gentlemen all exclaimed so vehemently, that Violet had to repeat it again, whereupon Mr. Fotheringham muttered, 'Every one to his taste;' and Arthur said there ought to be a law against women making themselves greater frights than nature designed.
'So, it is a fit of blind enthusiasm,' said John.
'Pray do you partake it?' asked Percy. 'How do you feel after it?'
'Why, certainly, I never met with a person of more conversation,' said John.
'Delicately put!' said Arthur, laughing heartily. 'Why, she had even begun lecturing my father on the niggers!'
'I would not be Lady Elizabeth!' said Mr. Fotheringham.
'Those romantic exaggerations of friendship are not satisfactory,' said John. 'Emma is too timid to be eccentric herself at present; but a governing spirit might soon lead her on.'
'That it might,' said Theodora, 'as easily as I used to drag her, in spite of her terrors, through all the cows in the park. I could be worse to her than any cow; and this Ursula—or what is her outlandish name, Violet?'
'Theresa; Sarah Theresa.'
'Well, really,' said John, 'it is not for the present company to criticize outlandish names.'
'No,' said Arthur, 'it was a happy instinct that made us give my boy a good rational working-day name, fit to go to school in, and no choice either to give him the opportunity of gainsaying it, like Emma's friend, and some others—Sir Percival that is to be! A hero of the Minerva press!'
'No, indeed—if I was to be Sir Anything, which probably I never shall be, I would hold, like my forefathers, to my good old Antony, which it was not my doing to disregard.'
'Which earned him the title of Lumpkin, by which only he was known to his schoolfellow!' said Arthur. 'If you ask after Fotheringham, they invariably say, "Oh, you mean old Lumpkin!" So much for romantic names!'
'Or imperial ones,' said Percy. 'Did not you tell me Theodora came straight from the Palaeologos who died in the West Indies? I always considered that to account for certain idiosyncrasies.'
Theodora was called away to assist Mrs. Nesbit up-stairs; and as Violet followed, she heard the aunt observing that Percival Fotheringham was more bearish than ever; and that it was intolerable to see him encouraged in his free-and-easy manner when he had thrown away all his prospects.
'For poor John's sake,' began Lady Martindale.
'For his own,' interrupted Theodora. 'He has every right to be at home here, and it is an honour to the place that he should be so.'
'Oh, yes, I know; and he will be expecting your father to exert himself again in his behalf.'
'No, he will be beholden to no one,' said Theodora.
'I do wish his manners were less rough and eccentric,' said Lady Martindale.
'Presuming,' said Mrs. Nesbit; 'in extremely bad taste. I never was more sensible of our good fortune in having missed that connection. There was nothing but their being of a good old family that made it by any means endurable.'
At this hit at her brother's wife, Theodora was going to speak, but she forbore, and only wished her aunt good night. It would not be repressed, however; she stood in the gallery, after parting with the elder ladies, and said, loud enough for them to hear,
'I hate good old family, and all such humbug! She was a noble, self-devoted creature; as much above the comprehension of the rest of the world as her brother!'
'Did you know her well?' said Violet.
Theodora's tone instantly changed. She was not going to gratify childish curiosity. 'I never had the opportunity,' she said, coolly. 'Good night.'
Violet was disappointed; for the tone of enthusiasm had given her a moment's hope that they had at last found a subject on which they could grow warm together, but it was evident that Theodora would never so have spoken had she been conscious of her presence.
The next morning as Arthur and his wife were going down to breakfast, he said, 'We shall see some rare fun now Theodora and Fotheringham have got together.'
Theodora, with her bonnet on, was, according to her usual Sunday fashion, breakfasting before the rest of the party, so as to be in time for school. John and his friend made their appearance together, and the greetings had scarcely passed, before John, looking out of window, exclaimed, 'Ah! there's the boy! Pray come and see my godson. Come, Violet, we want you to exhibit him.'
Arthur looked up with a smile intended to be disdainful, but which was gratified, and moved across, with the newspaper in his hand, to lean against the window-shutter.
'There's John without his hat—he is growing quite adventurous. Very pretty Violet always is with the boy in her arms—she is the show one of the two. Hollo, if Percy has not taken the monkey himself; that's a pass beyond me. How she colours and smiles—just look, Theodora, is it not a picture?'
If he had called her to look at Johnnie, she must have come; but she was annoyed at his perpetual admiration, and would not abet his making himself ridiculous.
'I must not wait,' she said, 'I am late.'
Arthur shrugged his shoulders, and turned to his paper.
She put on her gloves, and took up her books. Percy meeting her, as she came down the steps, said, 'I have been introduced to your nephew.'
'I hope you are gratified.'
'He has almost too much countenance,' said Percy. 'There is something melancholy in such wistful looks from a creature that cannot speak, just as one feels with a dog.'
'I am afraid he is very weakly,' said Theodora.
'I am sorry to hear it; it seems like a new life to John, and that pretty young mother looks so anxious. Do you see much of her?'
'Not much; I have not time to join in the general Violet worship.'
'They are not spoiling her, I hope. It does one good to see such a choice specimen of womankind.'
'There, don't come any further; I must make haste.'
'Like all the rest,' she thought; 'not a man but is more attracted by feminine airs and graces than by sterling qualities.'
On coming out of church, in the afternoon, John, looking at the beautiful green shady bank of the river, proposed a walk along it; all the party gladly acceded, except Theodora, who, not without a certain pleasure in separating herself from them, declared that there was a child who must be made to say her hymn before going home.
'Can't you excuse her for once?' said Lord Martindale.
'Not if I beg her off publicly?'
'No, thank you. There is a temper that must be overcome.'
'Then flog her well, and have done with it,' said Arthur. Deigning no reply, she pounced upon her victim as the procession of scholars came out of church, 'Come, I am waiting to hear you say it. "How doth the little—"'
The child stood like a post.
'That is a Benson, I am sure,' said Mr. Fotheringham. Theodora told him he was right, and went on exhorting the child; 'Come, I know you can say it. Try to be good.
'You know I always keep my word, and I have said I will hear you before either of us goes home.'
'If you please, papa, would you go on? I shall never make her do it with you all looking on.'
She sat down on a tombstone, and placed the child before her. After an hour's walk, there was a general exclamation of amusement and compassion, on seeing Theodora and the child still in the same positions.
'She will never say it at all now, poor child,' said Violet; 'she can't—she must be stupefied.'
'Then we had better send down the tent to cover Theodora for the night,' said Arthur.
'As if Theodora looking at her in that manner was not enough to drive off all recollection!' said John.
'It is too much!' said Lord Martindale. 'Arthur, go, and tell her it is high time to go home, and she must let the poor child off.'
Arthur shrugged his shoulders, saying, 'You go, John.'
'Don't you think it might do harm to interfere?' said John to his father.
'Interfere by no means,' said Arthur. 'It is capital sport. Theodora against dirty child! Which will you back, Percy? Hollo! where is he? He is in the thick of it. Come on, Violet, let us be in for the fun.'
'Patience in seven flounces on a monument!' observed Mr. Fotheringham, in an undertone to Theodora, who started, and would have been angry, but for his merry smile. He then turned to the child, whose face was indeed stupefied with sullenness, as if in the resistance she had forgotten the original cause. 'What! you have not said it all this time? What's your name? I know you are a Benson, but how do they call you?' said he, speaking with a touch of the dialect of the village, just enough to show he was a native.
'Ellen,' said the girl.
'Ellen! that was your aunt's name. You are so like her. I don't think you can be such a very stupid child, after all. Are you? Suppose you try again. What is it Miss Martindale wants you to say?'
The child made no answer, and Theodora said, 'The Little Busy Bee.'
'Oh! that's it. Not able to say the Busy Bee? That's a sad story. D'ye think now I could say it, Ellen?'
'No!' with an astonished look, and a stolid countrified tone.
'So you don't think I'm clever enough! Well, suppose I try, and you set me right if I make mistakes. "How doth the great idle wasp—"'
'Busy bee!' cried the child, scandalized.
By wonderful blunders, and ingenious halts, he drew her into prompting him throughout, then exclaimed, 'There! you know it much better. I thought you were a clever little girl! Come, won't you say it once, and let me hear how well it sounds?'
She was actually flattered into repeating it perfectly.
'Very well. That's right. Now, don't you think you had better tell Miss Martindale you are sorry to have kept her all this time?'
She hung her head, and Theodora tried to give him a hint that the apology was by no means desired; but without regarding this, he continued, 'Do you know I am come from Turkey, and there are plenty of ladies there, who go out to walk with a sack over their heads, but I never saw one of them sit on a tombstone to hear a little girl say the Busy Bee. Should you like to live there?'
'Do you suppose Miss Martindale liked to sit among the nettles on old Farmer Middleton's tombstone?'
'Why did she do it then? Was it to plague you?'
'Cause I wouldn't say my hymn.'
'I wonder if it is not you that have been plaguing Miss Martindale all the time. Eh? Come, aren't you sorry you kept her sitting all this time among the nettles when she might have been walking to Colman's Weir, and gathering such fine codlings and cream as Mrs. Martindale has there, and all because you would not say a hymn that you knew quite well? Wasn't that a pity?'
'Yes,' and the eyes looked up ingenuously.
'Come and tell her you are sorry. Won't you? There, that's right,' and he dictated as she repeated after him, as if under a spell, 'I'm sorry, ma'am, that I was sulky and naughty; I'll say it next Sunday, and make no fuss.'
'There, that will do. I knew you would be good at last,' said Percy, patting her shoulder, while Theodora signified her pardon, and they turned homewards, but had made only a few steps before the gallop of clumsy shoes followed, and there stood Ellen, awkwardly presenting a bunch of the willow herb. Theodora gave well-pleased thanks, and told her she should take them as a sign she was really sorry and meant to do better.
'And as a trophy of the force of Percy's pathetic picture of Miss Martindale's seven flounces among the nettles on Farmer Middleton's tombstone,' said Arthur.
'You certainly are very much obliged to him,' said her father.
'And most ungratefully she won't confess it,' said Arthur.
'I despise coaxing,' said Theodora.
'The question is, what you would have done without it,' said John.
'As if I could not subdue a little sprite like that!'
'You certainly might if it was a question of physical force,' said Percy, as he seemed to be measuring with his eye the strength of Theodora's tall vigorous person.
'I spoke of moral force.'
'There the sprite had decidedly the advantage. You could "gar her greet," but you could not "gar her know." She had only to hold out; and when Miss Martindale found it time to go home to dinner, and began to grow ashamed of her position, the victory was hers.'
'He has you there, Theodora,' said Arthur.
'I don't know what he is driving at,' said Theodora.
'I am trying to find out whether Miss Martindale has the power of confessing that she was in a scrape.'
'That you may triumph,' said Theodora.
'No, not for the sake of triumph, but of old times,' he answered, in a lower, more serious tone.
Theodora's face softened, and drawing nearer, she asked, 'How are old times to be satisfied by such an admission?'
'Because then candour used to boast of conquering pride,' said Percy, now speaking so as to be heard by her alone.
'Well. It was becoming a predicament, and you rescued me very ingeniously. There, will that content you?' said Theodora, with one of the smiles the more winning because so rare. I am perfectly ready to own myself in the wrong when I see it.'
'When you see it,' said Percy, drily.
'I was wrong just now not to confess my obligation, because Arthur teased and triumphed; but I don't see why you all treat me as if I was wrong to set myself to subdue the child's obstinacy.'
'Not wrong, but mistaken,' said Percy. 'You forgot your want of power to enforce obedience. You wanted victory, and treated her with the same determination she was treating you with. It was a battle which had the hardest will and could hold out longest.'
'And if I had conquered she would have gone away angry with me, only having yielded because she could not help it. You softened her and made her sorry. I see. She really is a good child on the whole, and I dare say I shall do something with her now.'
'Is old Benson alive?'
And a long conversation on village matters ensued. Theodora was happier that evening than she had been for more than a year. That home-thrust at her pride, astonishing as it was that any one should venture it, and the submission that followed, had been a positive relief. She thought the pleasure was owing to the appeal to old times, recalling happy days of wild frolics, sometimes shared, sometimes censured by her grown-up playfellow; the few hours with his sister that had influenced her whole life; and the lectures, earnest, though apparently sportive, by which he had strengthened and carried on the impression; that brief time, also, of their last spending together, when his sorrow for his sister was fresh, and when John was almost in a hopeless state, and when she had been the one of the family to whom he came to pour out his grief, and talk over what his sister had been.
It was a renewal of happiness to her heart, wearied with jealousy, to find one to whom old times were precious, and who took her up where he had last seen her. His blunt ways, and downright attacks, were a refreshment to a spirit chafing against the external smoothness and refinement of her way of life, and the pleasure of yielding to his arguments was something new and unexampled. She liked to gain the bright approving look, and with her universal craving for attention, she could not bear not to be engrossing him, whether for blame or praise, it did not matter; but she had the same wish for his notice that she had for Arthur's.
Not that she by any means always obtained it. He was in request with every one except Mrs. Nesbit. Even Lady Martindale took interest in his conversation, and liked to refer questions about prints and antiques to his decision, and calls on his time and attention were made from every quarter. Besides, he had his own manuscript to revise, and what most mortified Theodora was to hear Violet's assistance eagerly claimed, as she knew her way better than John did through the sheets, and could point to the doubtful passages. Never was work more amusing than this, interspersed with debates between the two friends, with their droll counter versions of each other's anecdotes, and Mr. Fotheringham's quizzings of John, at whom he laughed continually, though all the time it was plain that there was no one in the world whom he so much reverenced.
The solitary possession of her own mornings was now no boon to Theodora. She was necessary to no one, and all her occupations could not drive away the ever-gnawing thought that Violet attracted all the regard and attention that belonged to her. If the sensation went away when she was down-stairs, where Percy's presence obliged her to be amiable against her will, it came back with double force in her lonely moments.
One day, when they had dispersed after luncheon, her father came in, inquiring for Violet. He was going to Rickworth, and thought she would like to go with him. He wished to know, as otherwise he should ride instead of driving; and, as she was up-stairs, desired Theodora to go and find out what would suit her.
'Papa, too!' thought Theodora, as with some reluctance she for the first time knocked at her sister's door, and found her with the baby.
'How very kind!' said she. 'I should be delighted, but I don't know whether Arthur does not want me. Is he there?'
'I think he is in the library.'
'If I could but go down! But I must not take baby, and Sarah is at dinner. Should you mind holding him for one minute?'
Theodora held out her arms, but Johnnie, though usually delighted to come to her from Sarah, turned his head away, unwilling to leave his mother. He did not quite cry, but was so near it that she had to do her utmost to amuse him. She caught up something bright to hold before him, and was surprised to see it was a coral cross, which Violet, in changing her dress, had laid for a moment on the dressing-table. The coincidence was strange, thought Theodora.
Violet was coming back, and she would have laid it down, but Johnnie had grasped it in his little fingers. As his mother appeared, his merriest smile shone out, and his whole little person was one spring of eagerness to return to her.
'Little man! Is he glad to come back to his mamma?' Violet could not help saying, as he nestled joyously on her neck; but the cold face of Theodora made her sorry that the words had escaped her, and she began to express her thanks.
Theodora was stooping to pick up the cross, and a concerned exclamation passed Violet's lips on observing its fall.
'It is safe,' said Theodora. 'I beg your pardon, I took it up to amuse him.'
'Thank you,' said Violet. 'I am sorry I seemed vexed. There's no harm done; but I was frightened, because it was Helen's.'
'Helen's' exclaimed Theodora, extremely amazed. 'Did John give it to you?'
'Yes, a little while ago,' said Violet, colouring. 'He—'
But Theodora was gone, with bitterer feelings than ever. This girl was absorbing every one's love! John had never given her anything that had belonged to Helen; he had never even adverted to his engagement, when she almost adored her memory! She had never supposed him capable of speaking of his loss; and perhaps it was the hardest blow of all to find Violet, whose inquiries she had treated as mere curiosity, preferred to such confidence as this. She did not remember how she had once rejected his sympathy. She forgot whose fault it was that she had not been in the Isle of Wight; she laid it all on the proneness of men to be interested by sweetness of manner, and thought of herself as a strong-minded superior woman, who could never be loved, and who could only suffer through her woman's heart.
Yet she could not entirely harden herself as she intended, while combats with Percy cast brightening gleams across her existence. She thought she should again settle into the winter's life of hard work and indifference, which was on the whole most comfortable to her.
When the party should be broken up, Percy was to be the first to depart; he was going to publish The Crusaders, take a lodging in London, and there busy himself with literature while awaiting the fulfilment of a promise of further diplomatic employment. Arthur and Violet were also to return home after paying a visit at Rickworth, and John would soon after sail for Barbuda. In the meantime he was much engaged in going over accounts, and in consulting with his father and the man of business.
One morning, towards the end of September, he came down to Violet in the drawing-room, looking much flushed and extremely annoyed.
'Well,' he said, 'I have often declared I would never let my aunt have a discussion with me again. I have been obliged to submit to this. I hope it will be the last.'
'About the West Indian property,' said Violet.
'Yes. She does give me power to act for her; but it is dearly bought! I wish I had never asked her! Every subject that she knew to be most unpleasant to me has she stirred up! How a woman of her age can go on with her eyes fixed on these matters I cannot guess. I am sure it is a warning what one sets one's heart upon!'
'You are quite worried and tired. Oh! it has made you cough! You had better lie down and rest.'
'I want you to put me into good humour,' said he, half reclining on the sofa. 'I feel as if I had been under a nutmeg-grater! What do you think of her taking me to task for having Fotheringham here, for fear he should marry Theodora! I wish there was any such chance for her; but Percy has far too much sense!'
'Why, how could Mrs. Nesbit think it? They are always disputing!'
'I should not take that as a reason for thinking it impossible. But Percy knows her far too well. No, it is only one of my aunt's fancies. She has set her hopes on Theodora now; but it is of no use to talk of it. I don't want to dwell on it. It is too pitiable to be angry about. What are you reading?'
Violet was as glad to talk to him of her book as he was to lose the thought of his vexatious conversation, which had been even more annoying that he had chosen to tell her.
Mrs. Nesbit had taken occasion to speak of the reversion of an estate, which she said she wished to go to augment the property of the title; and now she should have no hesitation in bequeathing it to him, provided she could see him, on his side, make such a connection as would be for the consequence of the family.
John tried silence, but she drove him so hard that he was obliged to reply that, since she had begun on the subject, he had only to say that he should never marry; and, with thanks for her views, the disposal of her property would make no difference to him.
She interrupted him by reproaches on a man of his age talking romantic nonsense, and telling him that, for the sake of the family, it was his duty to marry.
'With such health as mine,' replied John, quietly, 'I have long made up my mind that, even if I could enter on a fresh attachment, it would not be right. I am not likely to live many years, and I wish to form no new ties. You will oblige me, ma'am, by not bringing forward this subject again.'
'Ay, I know what you are intending. You think it will come to Arthur and his wife; but I tell you what, Mr. Martindale, no attorney's daughter shall ever touch a sixpence of mine.'
'That is as you please, ma'am. It was not to speak of these matters that I came here; and if you have told me all you wish with regard to the property, I will leave the papers for your signature.'
She was above all provoked by his complete indifference to the wealth, her chief consideration throughout her life, and could not cease from reproaching him with absurd disregard to his own interest, at which he very nearly smiled. Then she revived old accusations, made in the earlier days of her persecution about his engagement, that he was careless of the consequence and reputation of the family, and had all his life been trying to lower it in the eyes of the world; otherwise why had he set himself to patronize that wife of Arthur's, or why bring Percy Fotheringham here, just to put his sister in the way of marrying beneath her? And when he had answered that, though he saw no probability of such an event, opinions might differ as to what was beneath Theodora, she took the last means that occurred to her for tormenting him, by predicting that Arthur's sickly little child would never live to grow up—he need not fix any hopes on him.
He escaped at last, leaving her much irritated, as Theodora presently found her. She began to complain bitterly of the ingratitude of her great-nephews, after all her labours for the family! John treating her whole fortune as if it was not worth even thanks, when she had been ready to settle the whole on him at once, as she would have done, since (and she looked sharply at Theodora) he was now free from that Fotheringham engagement; for none of that family should ever have a share in her property.
Theodora looked, if possible, more indifferent than John, as she answered,
'John could not want it. I always thought you meant it for Arthur.'
'Arthur! as if you did not know he had forfeited all claim upon me!'
'His marriage is a reason for his needing it more,' said Theodora.
'It is of no use to speak of him. No, Theodora, you alone have acted as I could wish; and if you continue to deserve my regard—'
'Don't say that, Aunt Nesbit,' said Theodora. 'I shall act as, I hope, may deserve regard; but I don't want anybody's fortune, and if you left me yours it would be very unfair, and I certainly should give at least half of it to Arthur. I give you fair warning; but I did not come to talk of such hateful things, but to read to you.'
That afternoon Mrs. Nesbit wrote a letter to her lawyer, and surprised Miss Piper by asking if that puny child up-stairs had any name but John.
Unschooled affections, strong and wild, Have been my playmates from a child, And strengthening in the breast unseen, Poisoned the fount within. —Thoughts in Past Years
The morning of the next day had been fine, and was spent in shooting by Arthur and Mr. Fotheringham; but the latter came home in time to ride with John, to make a call on some old friends, far beyond what had long been John's distance.
The afternoon closed in a violent storm of wind and rain, which drove Arthur indoors, and compelled Violet to resort for exercise to the gallery, where she paced up and down with Johnnie in her arms, watching for the return of the others, as each turn brought her to the end window. As Lord Martindale came up-stairs, he paused at the sight of the slender young figure—her head bent over her little one. Perhaps he was thinking what might have been, if his own children had ever been as much to their mother; for when Violet turned towards him he sighed, as he roused himself, and asked whether she saw John coming. Then joining her, he looked at his grandson, saying, 'He is improving very fast. How like you he grows!'
'Poor little fellow, he was not at all well yesterday, and I began to think of asking whether I should send for Mr. Legh.'
'Whatever you do, beware of doctoring!' was Lord Martindale's rather hasty answer. 'Of doctoring and governessing!—I have seen enough of it, and I resolved my two youngest should run wholesomely wild, never be dosed, and never learn a lesson till they were six years old.'
'But this poor little man is really delicate, and I have no experience,' pleaded Violet.
'Depend upon it, my dear,' said Lord Martindale, with sorrowful emotion in his voice, as he saw the little fair head resting caressingly on her neck, 'you are doing more for him than all the physicians in England. You must not tease him and yourself with fretting and anxiety.'
'I know it is my duty not to be over-anxious,' said Violet, with her heart full, as she clasped her hands close round her tiny treasure.
'You must not,' said his grandfather. 'It was the notion that mine could never have enough teaching or doctoring-as if that was what they wanted! Some system or other was always being tried on them, and they were never left to healthy action of mind or body, till the end was that I lost my two pretty little girls! And poor John, I never saw a more wretched-looking child than he was when I took him to Dr.—.'
'And what was his advice?'
'His advice was this. "Throw away lessons and physic. Give him other children to play with, make him wear a brown holland pinafore, and let him grope in the dirt." I believe it saved his life! I begged Mrs. Fotheringham to let him do just like her children, little thinking what was to come of that.' Then catching himself up, as if fearing to give Violet pain, 'Not that I should have regretted that connection. She was all that could be wished, and I judged by personal merits.' He hesitated, but spoke warmly, as if applying the words to Violet. 'Their youth was my only objection from the first. Nothing would have rejoiced me more than their marriage.'
'O, yes,' said Violet, 'he says so much of your kindness.' She feared she had said too much, but Lord Martindale caught at her words. 'Has he ever adverted to that affair!'
'Sometimes,' said Violet, shyly.
'What! Actually spoken of poor Helen! I am heartily glad to hear it. How is he bearing it? Does he speak calmly?'
'Yes, calmly and cheerfully, as if he liked to dwell on the thought.'
Lord Martindale laid his hand on her arm, and said, gratefully, 'You have done him a great deal of good.'