'Then Theodora had better go home,' said Percy, soberly.
'No, no; we can't do without her. She takes good care of Violet, and is very attentive and useful, and I can't have Violet left alone. If we could but get her down off her high horse, and drive that impudent woman out of her head!—if you can't, no one else can.'
'It is very unfortunate,' said Percy. 'There is so much generous feeling and strong affection to prompt her resistance, that it is hard to oppose her, especially as I do believe there is no worse than folly and levity in this friend of hers. I wish these occasions would not arise. Left to herself these people would soon disgust her but for her own sake we must interfere, and that keeps up her partisanship.'
'What is to be done?' was Violet's disconsolate beginning, as soon as she could see Arthur alone.
'Take it easy'—words which she had taught herself to regard as a warning that she was doleful. 'Never mind; if Theodora is so pig-headed as to rush into this scheme, it is no concern of yours. All you have to do is to take care not to be worried.'
Violet had regained a cheerful voice. 'If you were going with her, it would not signify.'
'It would signify pretty much to me to be bored with all that riff-raff. One would think Theodora bewitched.'
'There is hardly any one of our acquaintance.'
'No, the lady has dropped pretty much in the scale.'
'I wish I knew what your father and mother would think of it.'
'They would hate it as much as we do, but they could not prevent it. Nobody can stop Theodora when once she has the bit between her teeth. As I told Percy, if he can't, 'tis past all power. I wonder if he thinks by this time he has caught a Tartar?'
'Did he call you to speak about it?'
'Yes; to say I must by no means let her go without a respectable female to look after her.'
'I don't know these ladies; but if Mrs. Finch would ask Mrs. Bryanstone, she is so good-natured that I dare say she would go.'
'That would be the most tolerable way of doing it; but I would lay you anything you please that nothing but unmitigated Finch will content her.'
'And that is worse than no one.'
'I wish some stop could be put to it. It is worse than Percy knows. She can't speak to a man without flirting, and we shall have her turning some poor fellow's head, like Wingfield's. I don't think it is respectable!'
'It is very strange, so good and religious as she is.'
'Where is the use of her religion if it does not bring down her pride or cure her obstinacy? If it would, I should see some good in the rout she makes about going to church and teaching dirty children.'
'Oh! Arthur, dear, don't say that.'
'It is the truth, though.'
'I think,' said Violet, diffidently, 'that some day the good will conquer the rest. Some day she will feel these things to be wrong and strive against them.'
'Do you mean that she does not know it is wrong to be as wilful and proud as Lucifer?'
'I do not think she knows she has those tendencies.'
Arthur laughed and shook his head. 'One learns one's faults as one grows older, you know,' continued Violet, 'and she is so very kind. Think of her giving up all going out in the evening to stay with me; and you don't know how she waits on baby and me. She is so grand and noble, that kindness from her is delightful, and her face when it softens is so like you! Some book says that high natures have the most trouble with their faults.'
'Then hers ought to be high indeed.'
Violet began the day by telling Arthur that his sister would go to make arrangements with Mrs. Finch, and asked him to tell her of their decision before he returned to Windsor that morning.
'Our decision! What do you mean!'
'Don't you remember about Mrs. Bryanstone?'
'Oh! if that is to be done, you must say it. Ladies must manage their own visiting affairs. I don't understand chaperons and stuff.'
'Arthur, you don't mean me to speak?'
'If it is to be done at all, it is woman's work, and I see no use in it. She will toss her head, and only be more resolved on her own way.'
'Oh, Arthur, one moment! Did you not say it ought to be done?'
'Of course it ought; but it is of no use, and if you are wise, you will not tease yourself.'
'But you said Percy insisted on it.'
'So he did, but if he cannot tackle her himself, I am sure we can't. I'll have nothing to do with it—it is no affair of mine.'
'Then, am I to let her alone?'
'As you choose. I wish she would hear reason, but it is not worth bothering yourself for, when it is of no use.'
'What do you wish me to do? I wish I knew—'
He shut the door behind him, and Violet tried to recover from her dismay. Thankful would she have been for commands not to interfere; but to be left to her own judgment was terrible when she knew that his true opinion coincided with hers. How could she hope to prevail, or not to forfeit the much-prized affection that seemed almost reluctantly to be at last bestowed?
But, cost what it might, Violet never swerved from a duty, and her mind was clear that to permit Theodora to join the party alone without remonstrance, and without the knowledge of her parents, would be improper. She resolved not to confuse herself with fears and anxieties, and strove to dwell on whatever could steady or calm her mind for the undertaking. How wide a difference in moral courage there was between that tall grenadier and his timid delicate wife.
Arthur and Theodora were both down-stairs before her, and the latter was preparing breakfast, when there was a knock. 'Percy!' she thought. 'He shall see how useless it is to interfere!'
'Mr. Albert Moss!'
Arthur threw aside his newspaper, and held out his hand with a fair show of welcome. 'Ha! Moss, how are you? Your sister will be down-stairs directly. Miss Martindale—'
Theodora was resolved against being supercilious, but Mr. Moss's intention of shaking hands obliged her to assert her dignity by a princess-like inclination.
'Good morning,' said Albert. 'I came to town yesterday—slept at my uncle's—have this day in London—much occupied—thought myself sure of you at breakfast.'
'I will tell Mrs. Martindale,' said Theodora, glad to escape that she might freely uplift her eyes at his self-sufficiency, and let her pity for Arthur exhale safely on the stairs.
She met Violet, and was vexed at her start of joy, only consoling herself by thinking that she did not look as if she was his sister. Indeed, after the momentary instinct of gladness, came fears lest Arthur might not be pleased, and Theodora be annoyed; but the familiar home-like voice drove away all except pleasure as soon as she was certified that her husband's brow was smooth. His presence was a restraint, keeping Albert on his best behaviour, so that there was nothing to disturb her present enjoyment of home tidings. That good-humour and ease of his were indeed valuable ingredients of comfort.
He asked Albert to dinner, and desired him to bring Uncle Christopher, if they chose to be entertained by the ladies alone, further offering him a seat in his cab as far as their roads lay together. Highly gratified, Albert proceeded to ask his sister whether she was able to execute a commission for Matilda, the matching of a piece of chenille. Violet readily undertook it, and he said, 'he would explain the occasion on his return.'
When they were gone, the cares of the morning returned upon her, and by the time her household affairs were finished, all her pulses were throbbing at the prospect of the effort to which she was nerving herself. She ordered herself to be quiet, and lay down on the sofa, leaving the door open that Theodora might not go out without her knowledge.
'It is my duty,' repeated she to herself. 'If I turn from it because it is so dreadful to me, I shall not take up my cross! If she will only listen and not be angry!'
Nearly an hour passed, the day seeming to grow warmer and more oppressive, and a nervous headache coming on. Poor Violet! she was still a frightened child, and when she saw Theodora coming down with her bonnet on, the fluttering of her heart made her call so feeble that Theodora supposed her ill, and came to her with kind solicitude that rendered it still harder to say what she knew would be taken as an affront.
With great difficulty she uttered the words, 'I only wanted to speak to you about this expedition to Richmond.'
'Well,' said Theodora, smiling with what was meant for good-humour, but was only scorn, 'you need not distress yourself, my dear, I am ready to hear.'
'Would you get Mrs. Finch to ask Mrs. Bryanstone, and go with her?' Violet could really speak at no more length.
'It would be folly. Mrs. Bryanstone would be out of her element, and only a nuisance to herself and every one else. That will do. You have discharged your conscience.'
'It is not myself alone,' said Violet, sitting up, and gathering force to speak firmly and collectedly, but with her hand on her heart. 'Your brother and I both think it is not right, nor what Lord and Lady Martindale would approve, that you should join this party without some one they know and like.'
You mistake, Violet. This is not like a ball. There is no absurd conventionality, tacking a spinster to a married woman.'
'No, but since. Arthur cannot be with you, it is needful to take measures to prevent any awkwardness for you.'
'Thank you. I'll take care of that.'
'Dear Theodora, I did not mean to vex you; but will you only put yourself in our place for one moment. Your father and mother let you stay here on the understanding that you go out with us, and when we cannot go, do you think we ought to see you put yourself under the escort of a person to whom we believe they would object?'
'I have told you that I know what my own father and mother permit.'
Violet was silent, and pressed her hand on her brow, feeling as if all her prepared arguments and resolutions were chased away by the cool disregard which seemed to annihilate them even in her own eyes. By an effort, however, she cleared her mind, conjured back her steadiness, and spoke, preserving her voice with difficulty from being plaintive. 'You may know what they permit you, but we owe them duties too. Theodora, if you will not take some one with you whom we know they would approve, we must write and ask what Lord Martindale would wish.'
'Arthur will never write,' said Theodora, in defiance; but the answer took her by surprise—'If he does not, I shall.'
'If there is to be such a rout, I will not go at all.'
'Indeed I think it would be the best plan,' said Violet, removing the hand that had been hiding the springing tears, to look up beseechingly, and see whether the project were resigned, and herself spared the letter which she well knew would be left to her lot.
But for those wistful eyes, Theodora would have felt caught in her own trap; for such speeches had often brought governess, mother, and even aunt, to humble entreaties that she would take her own course. She had to recollect her words before she perceived that she had yielded, and that she must abide by them. Anything was better than the humiliation of Violets sending home complaints of her conduct. She was greatly incensed; but a glance at the gentle, imploring face, and the hands trying in vain not to tremble with nervousness, could not but turn away her wrath. It was impossible to manifest displeasure; but to speak a word of concession seemed still more impossible. She impetuously threw off her bonnet, seized a pen, dashed off a few lines, and tossed the note and its envelope into Violet's lap, saying, in her low voice of proud submission, 'There! you will send it,' and left the room. Violet read
'MY DEAR GEORGINA,—My brother is engaged at Windsor, and I cannot join your party to Richmond.
'TH. A. MARTINDALE.
'Mrs. Martindale is pretty well, thank you.'
Violet almost expected Theodora's next note would announce her return home. She had been forced to give up all the affection so slowly gained, and to wound her proud sister-in-law where she was most sensitive. Should she hold Theodora to this renunciation, and send the note she had extorted, or should she once more ask whether this was in earnest, and beg her to reconsider the alternative?
But Violet was convinced that Theodora intended to hear no more about the matter, and that nothing would be such an offence as to be supposed to have acted hastily. She was afraid of renewing the subject, lest her weakness should lose her what she had gained. 'Better,' thought she, 'that Theodora should think me presumptuous and troublesome than that she should mix herself up with these people, and, perhaps, displease Percy for ever. But, oh! if I could but have done it without vexing her, and to-day, too, when she has to bear with Albert.'
Violet felt that she must give way to her headache, trusting that when it had had its will it might allow her to be bright enough to make a fair show before Albert. She lay with closed eyes, her ear not missing one tick of the clock, nor one sound in the street, but without any distinct impression conveyed to her thoughts, which were wandering in the green spots in the park at Wrangerton, or in John's descriptions of the coral reefs of the West Indies. The first interruption was Sarah's bringing down the baby, whom she was forced to dismiss at once.
Again all was still, but the half slumber was soon interrupted, something cold and fragrant was laid on her brow, and, thinking Sarah would not be satisfied without attending to her, she murmured thanks, without opening her eyes. But the hand that changed the cool handkerchief was of softer texture; and, looking up, she saw Theodora bending over her, with the face so like Arthur's, and making every demonstration of kindness and attention—drawing down blinds, administering sal volatile, and doing everything in her service.
Not that Theodora was in the least subdued. She was burning with resentment with every one—with Percy and his prejudice; with the gossiping world; with her friends for making this a trial of power; with Arthur for having put forward his poor young wife when it cost her so much. 'He knew I should not have given way to him! Feebleness is a tyrant to the strong. It was like putting the women and children on the battlements of a besieged city. It was cowardly; unkind to her, unfair on me. She is a witch!'
But candour was obliged to acknowledge that it had not been feebleness that had been the conqueror. Violet had made no demonstration of going into fits; it had been her resolution, her strength, not her weakness, that had gained the victory. Chafe as Theodora might, she could not rid herself of the consciousness that the sister of that underbred attorney—that timid, delicate, soft, shrinking being, so much her junior—had dared to grapple with her fixed determination, and had gained an absolute conquest. 'Tyrant!' thought Theodora, 'my own brother would have left me alone, but she has made him let her interfere. She means to govern us all, and the show of right she had here has overthrown me for once; but it shall not happen again.'
At this juncture Theodora discovered, from the sounds in the other room, how much Violet had suffered from her effort, and her compassion was instantly excited. 'I must go and nurse her. She meant to do right, and I honour the real goodness. I am no petted child, to be cross because I have lost a pleasure.'
So she took exemplary care of Violet, read aloud, warded off noises, bribed the brass band at the other side of the square, went up to see why Johnnie was crying, carried up her luncheon, waited on her assiduously, and succeeded so well, that by the time the carriage came round, the head was in a condition to be mended by fresh air.
Mere driving out was one of Theodora's aversions. If she did not ride, she had district visiting and schooling; but to-day she went with Violet, because she thought her unfit to be tired by Matilda's commission. It proved no sinecure. The west-end workshops had not the right article; and, after trying them, Theodora pronounced that Violet must drive about in the hot streets no longer. One turn in the park, and she would set her down, and go herself into the city, if necessary, to match the pattern.
And this from Theodora, who detested fancy work, despised what she called 'dabblers in silk and wool,' and hated the sight of a Berlin shop!
Violet would not have allowed it; but Theodora threw her determination into the scale, resolved to make herself feel generous and forgiving, and not above taking any trouble to save Violet. So off she set, and was gone so long that Violet had a long rest, and came down-stairs, much revived, to welcome her brother.
Albert arrived alone. Uncle Christopher was engaged, and had charged him with his excuses, for which Violet was sorry, as he was an unpretending, sensible man, to whom she had trusted for keeping her brother in order; but Albert was of a different opinion. 'No harm,' he said. 'It was very good-natured of Martindale, but he is a queer old chap, who might not go down so well in high life,' and he surveyed his own elegant toilette.
'We get on very well,' said Violet, quietly.
'Besides,' added Albert, attempting bashfulness, 'I have a piece of intelligence, which being slightly personal, I should prefer—you understand.'
Violet was prepared by her sister's letters for the news that Albert was engaged to Miss Louisa Davis, very pretty, 'highly accomplished,' and an heiress, being the daughter of a considerable county banker—a match superior to what Albert could have expected. They had been engaged for the last fortnight, but he had not allowed his sisters to mention it, because he was coming to London, and wished to have the pleasure of himself communicating the intelligence. Violet was much flattered; she who used to be nobody to be thus selected! and she threw herself into all the home feelings. The wedding was fixed for the beginning of July, and this first made her remember the gulf between her and her family.
Seven o'clock was long past when Theodora entered, arrayed in rich blue silk and black lace, put on that Violet's brother might see she meant to do him honour; and so Violet understood it, but saw that he was only contrasting it with her own quiet-coloured muslin.
Here ended Violet's comfort. Albert was so much elated that she was afraid every moment of his doing something mal-a-propos. Theodora was resolved to be gracious, and make conversation, which so added to his self-satisfaction, that Violet's work was to repress his familiarity. At dinner, she made Theodora take Arthur's place, and called her Miss Martindale, otherwise she believed it would be Theodora the next moment with him, and thus she lost all appearance of ease. She was shy for her brother, and when he said anything she did not like, tried to colour it rightly; but she was weary and languid, and wanted spirit to control the conversation.
'So, Violet, Fanshawe's appointment was a pretty little bit of patronage of yours; but the ladies of Wrangerton will never forgive you. They were going to get up a subscription to give him a piece of plate.'
'O, yes! and he desired them to send the money to the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel,"' said Violet. 'Annette mentioned it.'
'I suppose it depends on Mr. Martindale, whether he makes a good thing of it in Barbuda,' said Albert; but the gov—' at a dismayed look from her, he turned it into 'My father is much obliged to you for getting him out of the way. The girls were so taken up with him one hardly knew whether something might not come of it; and really a poor curate—after the manner in which some of the family have connected themselves.'
The ladies were sorry for each other—one ashamed and one amused, neither venturing to look up, and Albert had no opportunity for the bow he intended for Miss Martindale.
'By the bye,' continued he, 'who is this Fotheringham that was to settle with Fanshawe? I thought he was Lord Martindale's solicitor; but my uncle knows nothing about him.'
Violet coloured crimson, and wished herself under the table; Theodora made violent efforts to keep from an explosion of laughing.
'No,' said Violet, rather indignantly; 'he is—he is—he is—' she faltered, not knowing how to describe one so nearly a relation, 'a great friend of—'
Theodora having strangled the laugh, came to her rescue, and replied, with complete self-possession, 'His sister, who died, was engaged to my eldest brother.'
'Oh! I beg your pardon. You look on him as a sort of family connection. I suppose, then, he is one of the Fotheringhams of Worthbourne? Matilda fancied he was the literary man of that name; but that could not be.'
'Why not?' said Theodora, extremely diverted.
'A poet, an author! I beg your pardon; but a lady alone could suppose one of that description could be employed in a practical matter. Is not it Shakespeare who speaks of the poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling? Eh, Violet? I shall never forget the gove—my father's indignation when he detected your humble servant in the act of attempting a slight tribute to the Muses. I believe the old gentleman looked on my fate as sealed.'
'Albert!' said Violet, feeling as if she must stop his mouth, 'you are quite mistaken. Mr. Fotheringham does belong to the family you mean, and he did write "The Track of the Crusaders". He has been attached to the embassy in Turkey, and is waiting for another appointment.' Then, looking at Theodora, 'You never told me how far you went to-day.'
Theodora detailed her long pursuit of the chenille, and her successful discovery of it at last. Albert's gratitude was extreme; his sister would be delighted and flattered, the work would receive an additional value in the eyes of all, and he might well say so, he was a party concerned, the material was for a waistcoat, to be worn on an occasion—but his sister would explain.
Violet thought he had exposed himself quite enough; and as dessert was on the table, she rose with as good a smile as she could, saying, 'Very well, I'll explain; you will find your way to the drawing-room,' and retreated.
Theodora caressingly drew her arm into hers, much pleased with her, and accepting her as entirely Martindale, and not at all Moss. 'What! is he going to be married in it?'
'Yes, that is what he meant.'
'I hope you are satisfied.'
'O yes, I never saw her; but they are all very much pleased.'
'Now tell me frankly, which do you like? Shall I leave you at peace with him, or will he think it rude in me?'
Violet decided in favour of Theodora's absence till tea-time. Alone she had enjoyed Albert, but the toil of watching his manners was too much.
'Then I'll come down and make the tea.'
'Thank you, dear Theodora. It is so kind. I hope it will not be very disagreeable. And one thing—could you tell him how well I really am, except for to-day's headache, or he will go and take home another bad account of me.'
'Your head is worse again. There, I'll fetch some lavender, and do you lie still and rest it till he comes.'
He soon came.
'Well, Miss Martindale is a fine young lady, upon my word. Real high blood and no mistake. And not so high in her manner after all, when one knows how to deal with her.'
'She is very kind to me.'
'And how long does she stay?'
'O, for some time longer. Till August, most likely.'
'Why, she will get the command of your house altogether.'
'I am very glad to have her here.'
'Ah!' said Albert, looking confidential, 'you do right to be prudent, but you may trust me, and I should be glad to know that it is more comfortable than last year.'
'It never was otherwise,' said Violet.
'I hope so,' said Albert; 'I honour your prudence, and, after all, you have a handsome establishment,—capital dinners, good turnout. I only wish I could see you look in better spirits.'
Violet started forward and coloured. 'Albert, don't take up fancies. I am perfectly happy, and you must believe it. They all pet and spoil me with kindness. If you think me looking poorly to-day it is only from a headache, which Miss Martindale has been nursing so carefully and tenderly.'
'Well, you cannot be too cautious if you are to stand well with the family. You do well to be on your guard. Martindale only the second son, and the elder may marry any day. That was one thing I thought I ought to speak to you about. You really should try to get some settlement made on you. You have nothing to depend upon, and, you see, you cannot expect anything from home.'
'Do not talk about such things.'
'You must not be childish, Violet; I am come as your best friend to give you advice. You ought to consider what would become of you if you were left with a family of young children, connected as you are. You depend entirely on one life, and you must not reckon on us, as you MUST see.'
'I see,' said Violet, only wanting him to cease.
'Then you perceive I have your real interest in view when I tell you it is your duty to use what influence you have to get some provision made.'
'Don't go on, Albert. As my marriage was brought about, it would be improper in me to do anything of the kind.'
'I only wished you to see what you have to trust to. Ah! by the bye, there's the old aunt. Have not you expectations from her?'
'No; she was so much offended at our marriage that there is no likelihood of her doing anything for us.'
'Bless me! That's a bad case! But you have been staying there. Can't a pretty engaging thing like you manage to come round the old lady and get into her good graces?'
'Albert! don't talk so.'
'Really, Violet, it is time to give up being a silly child. You ought not to throw away your true interests, or the time will come when you will be sorry, and remember what I said; but you are not to depend on me.'
'No,' said Violet, and scalding tears arose, 'I do not. You need not be afraid. I have a brother who will take care of me and mine.'
'Well, you know your own ground. I thought it my duty to warn you, and I hope you will take care to make the most of yourself—it will never do to let yourself seem of no importance, and be overcrowed by this haughty young lady.'
Violet nearly laughed, but the next speech was too much for her patience. 'And you are satisfied at Martindale being so much from home?'
'He must be while his regiment is at Windsor;' and she rang for tea, and sent a message to summon Miss Martindale, feeling her presence her only protection.
Her head ached so much that she was obliged to lie on the sofa and let things take their chance, and Theodora's attempt to represent her in good health only appeared like blindness and indifference. Albert was much enchanted with Miss Martindale, and made himself more ridiculous, until it was a great satisfaction to his sister to see him depart.
'He always comes on unlucky days!' she said. 'I wish I could have made it go off better. Thank you for taking all the trouble.'
'No trouble at all,' said Theodora, kindly. 'I am sorry you had so much to tire you in the morning. Now, come up to your room. I wish I could carry you, as Arthur does.'
She put her arm round her, helped her tenderly up the stairs, and came in several times to her room to see that she was comfortable. At the last good night, Violet whispered, 'Dear Theodora, don't think my sisters like this—'
'I'll judge them from you, my dear little sister.'
'And you forgive me?'
'To be sure I do. You did as you thought right.' Strange to say, Theodora had more sympathy for Violet after this awkward evening.
In the middle of the following day, Violet and little Johnnie were together in the drawing-room, when Arthur came in, 'Well, how are you? I am only here for two hours, but I wanted to know how you are getting on.'
'Very well indeed, thank you.'
'Theodora sticks to her flight of Finches, I suppose?'
'She has been so kind! she has given it up.'
You don't mean it. I thought she was ready to go through fire and water!' cried Arthur, incredulously.
'She has written to refuse.'
'What, Percy brought her to reason?'
'No, he has not been here, but I suppose his opinion influenced her.'
'What in the name of wonder prevailed! I never saw her turn when once she had taken up a notion.'
'I believe it was that I said you or I must write to her father, and ask what he wished.'
'So that settled her! Ha! Well done! Theodora forced to give up her will, and by you! Well, that is the best thing I have heard a long time. My little Violet to have got the upper hand of Miss Martindale!' and Arthur burst into such a fit of triumphant laughter as to quite discomfort Violet, but little Johnnie by her side on the sofa, catching the infection of merriment, gave, what was very unusual with him, a regular shout of baby fun, and went on laughing in ecstasy that set Arthur off on a fresh score. 'So! young man, you think it very funny that mamma has been too much for Aunt Theodora?'
Theodora could not have chosen a more unlucky moment for walking into the room! However, it must remain uncertain whether she had heard. The visible consequence of the late air was exemplary attention to Violet's comfort; and that doubt, so often balanced in her sister's mind, whether she loved Percy, now inclined to the affirmative, for there was a concealed disquietude at his totally absenting himself from Cadogan-place. They did not see him again till the very day of the picnic, when, as they were driving in the park, the exclamation—'There he is! broke from her, and then she leant back, vexed at having betrayed her joy.
He came to speak to them with such an open beaming look of gratification as Violet trusted was a recompense, but Theodora chose to keep an unmoved countenance; and it was only Violet's happy congratulating face that assured him that all was right and the Richmond scheme resigned.
She asked him to dinner for that day, and he gladly accepted; but Theodora, considering it a sugar-plum to console her for staying at home, behaved as if it was a matter of indifference.
Violet took care to leave them alone, and she began the subject herself. 'You find me here to-day, Percy, but it is no proof that I am convinced.'
'It shows, as I hoped, that your good sense would prevail when left to itself.'
'No, it was Violet.'
'I honour her and you more than I ever did before.'
'That's your way,' said Theodora, with the bright smile that was an act of oblivion for all her waywardness. 'All you value is a slave with no will of her own.'
'One who has a will, but knows how to resign it.'
'That you may have the victory.'
'No, but that you may be greater than he that taketh a city.'
Theodora raised her eyes much softened. She never liked Percy so well as when he made these direct attacks on her faults in general; when it came to a combat over the individual questions, it was a different matter.
'I am very glad you have given this up,' Percy proceeded. 'It is a positive relief to my mind to find that you can yield. Do not be ashamed of it, it is the best thing you have done a long time.'
'But, Percy, I did not do it on principle; I did it because Violet would have written to papa.'
'There's the true sort of spirit! Brave enough to confront even you for the right, yet yielding her own will and wish at the first moment. I think more highly of Mrs. Martindale the more I hear of her.'
'And you wish me to be like her?' said Theodora, watching for the blunt negative.
'No, but to see you what you might and ought to be. It is repeating what I told you when this first began. You have a noble nature, but you will not check yourself, will not control your pride; you cannot bear any attempt to curb you. You are proud of it; but I tell you, Theodora, it is not high spirit, it is absolute sinful temper. If no one else will tell you so, I must.'
Theodora bent her head and cast down her eyes, not in sullenness, but in sorrow. 'It is true,' she murmured; 'I see it sometimes, and it frightens me.'
'I know,' he said, much moved, 'the sense of right must conquer; but, indeed, Theodora, it is time to begin, that it may not be some evil consequence that subdues you.' He opened "The Baptistery" as it lay on the table, and pointed to the sentence—'If thou refusest the cross sent thee by an angel, the devil will impose on thee a heavier weight.'
Theodora looked up in his face; the words were applied in a sense new to her. 'Are humility and submission my cross?' said she.
'If you would only so regard them, you would find the secret of peace. If you would only tame yourself before trouble is sent to tame you! But there, I have said what I felt it my duty to say; let us dwell on it no longer.'
The large tears, however, fell so fast, that he could not bear to have caused them, and presently she said, 'You are right, Percy, I am proud and violent. I have grown up fearfully untamed. No one ever checked me but you, and that is the reason I look up to you beyond all others.'
The lioness was subdued, and the rest of the evening there was a gentleness and sober tone about her that made her truly charming: and a softer sense of happiness was around her when she awoke the next morning, making her feel convinced that this was indeed the only real peace and gladness.
Call me false, or call me free, Vow, whatever light may shine, No man on your face shall see Any grief for change of mine.
—E. B. BROWNING (The Lady's Yes)
It appeared as if Mrs. Finch and Miss Gardner were offended at Theodora's defection, for nothing was heard of them for several days, and the household in Cadogan-place continued in a state of peacefulness. Arthur was again at home for a week, and Theodora was riding with him when she next met the two sisters, who at once attacked them for their absence from the picnic, giving an eager description of its delights and of the silence and melancholy of poor Lord St. Erme.
'He and Mark were both in utter despair,' said Jane.
'Well, it is of no use to ask you; I have vowed I never will,' said Mrs. Finch; 'or I should try to make you come with us on Wednesday.'
'What are you going to do?'
'You living in Captain Martindale's house, and forgetting the Derby!' And an entreaty ensued that both brother and sister would join their party. Arthur gave a gay, unmeaning answer, and they parted.
'What do you think of it?' asked Theodora.
'Too much trouble,' said he, lazily. 'There is no horse running that I take interest in. My racing days are over. I am an old domestic character.'
'Nonsense! You don't look two-and-twenty! Lady Elizabeth's sister would not believe you were my married brother. You have not the look of it.'
Arthur laughed, and said, 'Absurd!' but was flattered.
When he told his wife of the invitation, he added, 'I wonder if there is a fresh breeze blowing up!'
'I trust not.'
'If she really wants to go, and she has never seen the thing, I had rather take her in a sober way by ourselves, and come home at our own time.'
'Why don't you! It would be very pleasant for you both, and I should be so glad. Think how she shuts herself up with me!'
'We will see. Anything for a quiet life.'
Theodora, being fond of horses, and used to hear much about them from her brother, had a real curiosity to go to Epsom, and broached the subject the next morning at breakfast. Before any answer had been given, Mr. Fotheringham made his appearance.
'Well, Percy,' said Arthur, 'you find this sister of mine bent on dragging me to Epsom. Come with us! You will have an opportunity of getting up an article against fashionable life.'
Theodora was ready to hide her desire for his consent, but thought better of it, and said, 'It is of no use to ask him.'
'Indeed I would go,' said Percy; 'I wish I could; but I came here to tell you that my Aunt Fotheringham is coming to London early on Wednesday for advice for her son, and will only be there two days, so that it is impossible to be away.'
'Is Sir Antony Fotheringham coming?' asked Violet, as Theodora did not speak.
'No; he is a fixture. He has never even seen a railroad. My aunt could hardly persuade him to let her come up without the old chariot and posters.'
'You will bring them here to dinner,' said Arthur. 'Thank you, I must not promise; I cannot tell what Pelham may be fit for. I must take him to the Zoological Gardens. How he will enjoy them, poor fellow! The only thing to guard against will be his growing too much excited.'
Percy was engaged that morning, and soon departed, with hardly a word from Theodora, whose amiability had been entirely overthrown by finding her service postponed to that of his aunt.
'There's the Derby happily disposed of!' said Arthur, rising from the breakfast-table. 'I don't see why,' said Theodora.
'What! Is not this Percy's well-beloved aunt, who nursed Helen, and is such a friend of John's?'
'I am not going to dance attendance on any one.'
'It is your concern,' said Arthur; 'but, if you don't take care, Percy won't stand much more of this.'
Vouchsafing no answer, she quitted the room. Arthur made a gesture of annoyance. 'She treats Percy like a dog!' he said. 'I believe my aunt is right, and that it never will come to good!'
'Shall you go with her, then?'
'I must, I suppose. She will not let me off now.'
'If we do not vex her by refusing, I hope she will give it up of herself. I am almost sure she will, if no one says anything about it.'
'Very well: I am the last person to begin. I am sick of her quarrels.'
Two wills were dividing Theodora: one calling on her to renounce her pride and obstinacy, take up the yoke while yet there was time, earn the precious sense of peace, and confer gladness on the honest heart which she had so often pained. Violet was as the genius of this better mind, and her very presence infused such thoughts as these, disposing her not indeed openly to yield, but to allow it to drop in silence.
But there was another will, which reminded her that she had thrice been baffled, and that she had heard the soft tyrant rejoicing with her brother over her defeat! She thought of Violet so subjugating Arthur, that he had not even dared to wish for his favourite amusement, as if he could not be trusted!
Such recollections provoked her to show that there was one whose determination would yield to no one's caprice, and impelled her to maintain the unconquerable spirit in which she had hitherto gloried. Violet's unexpressed opinion was tricked out as an object of defiance; and if she represented the genius of meekness, wilfulness was not without outward prompters.
Mrs. Finch and Miss Gardner called, and found her alone. 'There!' said the former, 'am I not very forgiving? Actually to come and seek you out again, after the way you served us. Now, on your honour, what was the meaning of it?'
'The meaning was, that this poor child had been told it was etiquette for me to have a chaperon at my heels, and made such a disturbance that I was obliged to give up the point. I am not ashamed. She is a good girl, though a troublesome one at times.'
'Who would have thought that pretty face could be so prudish!'
'I suppose she is against your coming to Epsom!' said Jane, interrupting her sister.
'No; my brother and I have been proposing to go, independently; so as to be able to come home at our own time.'
'You had better be satisfied with that, Georgina,' said Jane. 'We shall find ourselves together at the stand, and it will spare a few dangerous hysterics.'
'I shall do nothing underhand,' said Theodora. 'I shall proclaim my intention of joining you; but I doubt, because Lady Fotheringham is coming to London.'
'Her ladyship herself?' cried Georgina. 'What, in the name of wonder, brings her from her antediluvian hall?'
'She brings her son for advice.'
'We can say no more,' said Jane. 'Percy's expectations would be ruined if the good lady found his intended concerned in such naughty doings. She must stay at home.'
'To entertain Pelham!' cried Mrs. Finch, in a paroxysm of laughing, of her most unreal kind.
'Let me give you one piece of advice,' said Jane. 'Don't make yourself too great a favourite, as I unwittingly did, or you will have no cessation of "I have a pony; it can trot; it can canter."'
'I have not decided.'
'No,' said Jane, 'you cannot do it. We know Lady Fotheringham too well to ask you to lose your place in her regard for our sake. Probably this is a most important visit, and all may depend on her first impressions.'
'I don't depend on her.'
'Ah! you don't understand. She is the managing partner, and I have little doubt this is only an excuse for coming to inspect you. It is quite in their power, you know, to do the only rational thing under the circumstances—make an eldest son of Percy, and set poor Pelham aside, with enough to make him happy.
'I do believe that must be it!' cried Georgina. 'She would be a dear old woman if she would only do it!'
'And you see it would be fatal for Theodora to appear as a fashionable young lady, given to races, and the like vanities.'
'I shall seem nothing but what I am.'
'She would find Mrs. Martindale sighing at her inability to keep you out of bad company. So sorry to trust you with us. She did her utmost. No, no, Theodora; you must stay at home, and the good lady will be charmed.'
'I do not intend to be turned from my course.'
'No! Now, Jane, you should not have spoken in that way,' said her sister. 'You will only make Theodora more resolved to come with us; and, indeed, I had rather she did not, if it is to do her any harm.'
'I shall leave you to settle it between you,' said Jane, with apparent carelessness. 'I shall go home to appease for a little while the unfortunate dressmaker, whom we are keeping so long waiting. Make the most of Theodora, while you can have her.'
She would not have gone, had she not believed her work done.
'I have made up my mind,' said Theodora, as the door closed.
'Theodora! I do beg you will not,' cried Georgina, in an agitated voice, fully meaning all she said. 'You will vex and displease them all. I know you will, and I could not bear that! Your happiness is not wasted yet! Go, and be happy with your Percy!'
'I have told Percy of my intentions. Do you think I would alter them for this notion of Jane's?'
'That is my own dear Theodora! But it is not only that. They are such good people—so kind! You must not risk their good opinion, for they would be so fond of you!'
'If their good opinion depends on narrow-minded prejudice, I do not wish for it.'
'If she would but come a day later,' said Georgina; 'for I do want you to be with me very much, Theodora! I know I shall meet with nothing but mortification, if you are not. People will only make that little starched bow! And Mr. Finch has noticed your not being so much with me. But no, no, you shall not come. You shall stay and see dear, good old Lady Fotheringham! Oh! how I wish I could!' and her breast heaved with a suppressed sob.
'Why do you not, then, dear Georgina? Let me tell her your feeling, and—'
'No, no, no, no! I can never see her again! Don't talk to me about her! She belongs to another state of existence.'
'This will not do, Georgina. It is vain to turn aside now from what will and must come on you some day.'
'Don't! don't, Theodora!' said she, petulantly. 'Everything goes against me! There's Jane taken to lecturing, and even Mr. Finch is growing crabbed, and declares he shall take me to vegetate in this horrid place he has bought in the country.'
'Oh, I am so glad!' exclaimed Theodora. 'Now then, there is a chance for you. If you will throw yourself into the duties and pursuits—'
'What! be squiress and Lady Bountiful; doctor old women, and lecture school-children? No, no, that may do for you, but I am at least no hypocrite!'
'I should be a great hypocrite, if I did not believe the old women and the children far better than myself,' said Theodora, gravely. 'But, indeed, trying to make them comfortable would occupy your mind, and interest you till—oh! if it would but help you on the only way to happiness—'
'Don't talk of that word any more with me.'
'If not happiness, it would be peace.'
'Peace! I don't know what you mean.'
'If you watched my sister, you would.'
'She is happy!' said Mrs. Finch, in a tone of keen regret, laying her hand on a toy of Johnnie's; but instantly changing her note, 'A cold, inanimate piece of wax! That is what you call peace! I would not have it.'
'You don't understand her—'
'I know one thing!' cried the fitful lady, vehemently; 'that it is she who governs you all, and wants to divide you from me. 'Tis she and your Percy who have robbed me of you, with their ill-natured stories.'
'There is no ill-nature in them, and no one governs me,' said Theodora.
'Then you hold fast by me, and come with me?'
'My thorough-going old Theodora! I knew they could not spoil you, say what they would!' for she was by no means insensible of the triumph.
'But, Georgina,' continued her friend, earnestly, 'you must be prudent. Let me speak to you for once.'
'Only don't talk of prudence. I am sick of that from Jane.'
'Yes! it is speaking on this world's grounds; I will speak of higher motives. Think what is to come by and by: there are things that cannot be kept off by being forgotten. You are weary and dissatisfied as it is; try whether boldly facing the thoughts you dread might not lead to better things. There will be pain at first; but content will come, and—'
'If you will come and stay with me in the country, you shall teach me all your ways. But no; it would put all the Fotheringhams in commotion! If I had a happy home I might be good. You must not quite forsake me, Theodora. But here's Mrs. Martindale!'
Violet entering, Mrs. Finch greeted her in a subdued manner, and, indeed, looked so dejected that when she was gone, Violet asked if she was well.
'Yes, poor thing, it is only the taste of the ashes she eats instead of bread. But I have had her alone, and have got her to hear some grave talk!'
'Oh, how glad I am.'
'But I cannot give up meeting her at Epsom. She would feel it a desertion, and my influence is the best hope for her. Besides, I will not sacrifice her to curry favour with the Worthbourne people.'
'Surely it would not be doing so.'
'I have made up my mind.'
Her better and worse feelings were alike enlisted in behalf of the expedition. Sincerity, constancy, and generosity were all drawn in to espouse the cause of pride and self-will; and she never once recollected that the way to rescue her friend from the vortex of dissipation was not to follow her into it.
Little was needed to rouse in Arthur the dormant taste so long the prevalent one. So eager was he when once stirred up, that his sister almost doubted whether she might not be leading him into temptation, as she remembered the warning against Mr. Gardner; but she repelled the notion of his being now liable to be led away, and satisfied herself by recollecting that whenever he had met his former school-fellow, he had shown no disposition to renew the acquaintance.
All the notice of Percy that she chose to take, was, that on the Tuesday evening, she said, as she wished Violet good night, 'If Percy should call with his aunt to-morrow, which I don't expect, you will explain, and say I hope to call early next day.'
'Well! I hope you will get into no scrape,' said Arthur; 'but mind, whatever comes of it, 'tis your doing, not mine.'
Words which she answered with a haughty smile, but which she was never to forget.
Violet saw the brother and sister depart, and could only hope that nothing might be heard of the Fotheringham party; but before half the morning had passed, the knock, for the first time unwelcome, sounded at the door, and there entered not only Percy, but an elderly lady who might have been supposed the grandmother, rather than the mother, of the tall comely youth who bashfully followed her.
Violet strove, by the warmth of her reception, to make up for what was wanting; but her sentences were broken and confused; she was glad and she was sorry, and they would be very sorry, and something about not expecting and calling early, was all mixed together, while she watched with deprecating looks the effect upon Percy.
'Is she gone?' he asked, in a low stern voice.
'Yes; but she told me to say, in case—we hardly thought it likely—but in case Lady Fotheringham should be kind enough to call, she told me to say she will certainly call early to-morrow.'
Violet knew she had made a most tangled speech, and that there was great danger that her trembling sorrowful voice should convey to Lady Fotheringham an impression that there was something amiss; but she could only try to make the intelligence as little mortifying as possible.
The fact was enough. Percy stood in the window in silence, while his aunt, on learning where Miss Martindale was, good-naturedly supposed it had long been settled, and said it must be such a pleasure to the brother and sister to go together, that she should have been grieved if it had been prevented.
Violet spoke of the call to be made to-morrow; but Lady Fotheringham seemed to have so little time free that it was not probable she would be at home. Uneasy at Percy's silence, Violet did not prosper in her attempts at keeping up the conversation, until Percy, suddenly coming forward, begged that 'the boy' might be sent for; his aunt must see John's godson. It was chiefly for his own solace, for he carried the little fellow back to his window, and played with him there till luncheon-time, while the ladies talked of Mr. Martindale.
Violet won her visitor's heart by her kind manner to the poor son, who was very well trained, and behaved like an automaton, but grew restless with the hopes of wild beasts and London shops. His mother was about to take leave, when Percy proposed to take charge of him, and leave her to rest for the afternoon with Mrs. Martindale, a plan very acceptable to all parties.
Lady Fotheringham was a woman of many sorrows. Her husband was very feeble and infirm, and of a large family, the youngest, this half-witted son, was the only survivor. Grief and anxiety had left deep traces on her worn face, and had turned her hair to a snowy whiteness; her frame was fragile, and the melancholy kindness of her voice deeply touched Violet. There was much talk of John, for whom Lady Fotheringham had a sort of compassionate reverence, derived from his patient resignation during Helen's illness, of which Violet now gathered many more particulars, such as added to her affection and enthusiasm for both.
Of her nephew, Percival, Lady Fotheringham spoke in the highest terms, and dwelt with pleasure on the engagement still connecting him with the Martindale family. Violet was glad to be able to speak from her heart of Theodora's excellence and kindness.
By and by, her visitor, in a sad voice, began to inquire whether she ever saw 'a young connection of theirs, Mrs. Finch;' and as Violet replied, said she was anxious to hear something of her, though she feared it was a painful subject. 'I cannot help being interested for her,' she said. 'She was a very fine girl, and had many good dispositions; but I fear she was very ill managed. We grew very fond of her, when she was at Worthbourne, poor thing, and if we and that excellent elder sister could have kept her to ourselves, we might have hoped—But it was very natural that she should grow tired of us, and there was much excuse for her—'
'Indeed there was, from all Theodora has told me.'
'I am glad to hear Miss Martindale keeps up her friendship. While that is the case, I am sure there is nothing positively wrong, though imprudent I fear she must be.'
Violet eagerly explained how every one was fully satisfied that, though Mrs. Finch was too free and dashing in manner, and too fond of attracting notice, there was principle and rectitude at the bottom, and that her life of dissipation was chiefly caused by the tedium of her home. All attachment between her and Mark Gardner had evidently died away; and though it might have been wiser to keep him at a distance, she had some good motives for allowing him to be often at her house.
Lady Fotheringham was relieved to hear this, and added that she might have trusted to Jane. Violet was surprised to find that Miss Gardner held a very high place in Lady Fotheringham's esteem, and was supposed by her to take most watchful, motherly care of her headstrong younger sister. She had made herself extremely agreeable at Worthbourne, and had corresponded with Lady Fotheringham ever since; and now Violet heard that Jane had thought the marriage with Mr. Finch a great risk, and would willingly have dissuaded her sister from it; but that Georgina had been bent upon it! 'thinking, no doubt, poor girl, that riches and gaiety would make her happy! I wish we could have made it pleasanter to her at Worthbourne!'
'She has spoken very affectionately of you.'
'Ah, poor child! she had met with little kindness before. She used to pour out her griefs to me. It was that wretched Mark who broke her heart, and after that she seemed not to care what became of her. But I am a little comforted by your account. I will try to see her to-morrow, poor dear. Percy was hoping I should be able, although I think that he is quite right not to visit them himself.'
Violet agreed to all, and was pleased at the notion of the good old lady's influence being tried on one evidently amenable to right impressions. As far as she herself was concerned, the visit was very gratifying, and when the leave-taking came, it seemed as if they had been intimate for years.
Violet sat pondering whether the dulness of Worthbourne and the disappointment of her first love had been the appointed cross of Georgina Gardner, cast aside in impatience of its weight. And then she tried to reconcile the conflicting accounts of Jane's influence in the matter, till she thought she was growing uncharitable; and after having tried in vain to measure the extent of Percy's annoyance, she looked from the window to see if carriages seemed to be returning from Epsom, and then with a sigh betook herself to the book Theodora had provided for her solitude.
She had long to wait. Arthur and his sister came home later than she had expected, and did not bring the regale of amusing description that they had promised her.
Arthur was silent and discontented, and went to his smoking-room. Theodora only said it had been very hot, and for the first time really looked tired, and owned that she was so. It had been hard work, first to draw Arthur into Mrs. Finch's party, against which he exerted all his lazy good-humoured "vis inertia"—undertaking to show her everything, and explain all to her, be at her service all the day, if only she would keep away from them and their nonsense. But when their carriage was found, and Arthur was dragged into the midst of them, a still harder task arose. She was frightened to see Mark Gardner conversing with him, while he looked eager and excited, and she hastened to interrupt, put forth every power of attraction, in the resolve entirely to monopolize Mr. Gardner; and for a long time, at the expense of severe exertion in talking nonsense, she succeeded. But some interruption occurred; she missed Mr. Gardner, she missed Arthur; they were waited for; she wondered and fretted herself in vain, and at length beheld them returning in company-heard Mrs. Finch gaily scolding them, and understood that there had been bets passing!
She called it fatigue, but it was rather blank dread, and the sense that she had put herself and others in the way of evil.
It was possible that Arthur might have been only a spectator; or, if not, that he might have known where to stop. He had bought his experience long ago, at high cost; but Theodora was but too well aware of his unsteadiness of purpose and facile temper; and in spite of his resolutions, it was a fearful thing to have seen him in such a place, in such company, and to know that almost against his own desire she had conducted him thither for the gratification of her self-will.
Vainly did she strive to banish the thought, and to reassure herself by his manner. She knew too well what it was wont to be when he had been doing anything of which he was ashamed. One bet, however, was no great mischief in itself. That book which Percy had given to her spoke of 'threads turning to cords, and cords to cables strong.' Had she put the first thread once more into the hand of the Old Evil Habit'?
If she would confess the sin to herself and to her God, with earnest prayer that the ill might be averted, perhaps, even yet, it might be spared to them all.
But the proud spirit declared there was no sin. She had merely been resolute and truthful. So she strengthened herself in her belief in her own blamelessness, and drove down the misgiving to prey on the depths of her soul, and sharpen her temper by secret suffering.
In the morning she accompanied Violet to call on Lady Fotheringham, sullen, proud, and bashful at the sense of undergoing inspection, and resolved against showing her best side, lest she should feel as if she was winning Worthbourne for Percy.
That majestic ill-humour was wasted—Lady Fotheringham was not at home; but Violet left a note begging her to come to luncheon the next day. It passed, and she appeared not: but at twelve on Saturday, Percy's tread hurried up-stairs and entered the back drawing-room, where Theodora was sitting.
Sounds of voices followed—the buzz of expostulation; tones louder and louder—words so distinct that to prevent her anxious ears from listening, Violet began to practise Johnnie in all his cries of birds and beasts.
All at once the other room door was opened, and Theodora's stately march was heard, while one of the folding leaves was thrown back, and there stood Percy.
Before a word could be spoken, he snatched up the child, and held him up in the air to the full reach of his arms. Doubtful whether this was to be regarded as play, Johnnie uttered 'Mamma,' in a grave imploring voice, which, together with her terrified face, recalled Mr. Fotheringham to his senses. With an agitated laugh he placed the boy safely beside her, saying, 'I beg your pardon. What a good little fellow it is!'
Violet asked him to ring for the nurse; and by the time Johnnie had been carried away, he had collected himself sufficiently to try to speak calmly.
'Do her parents know what is going on?' he said. 'I do not speak for my own sake. That is at an end.'
'Oh!' exclaimed Violet.
'I told her I could not be made a fool of any longer, and when she answered "Very well," what could that mean?'
'I am very much grieved that it has come to this,' sighed Violet.
'How could it come to anything else?' he said, his face full of sorrow and severity. 'I was mad to suppose there was any hope for such a temper of pride and stubbornness. Yet,' he added, softening, and his quick, stern eyes filling with tears, 'it is a noble nature,—high-minded, uncompromising, deeply tender, capable of anything. It has been a cruel wicked thing to ruin all by education. What could come of it? A life of struggle with women who had no notion of an appeal to principle and affection—growing up with nothing worthy of her love and respect—her very generosity becoming a stumbling-block, till her pride and waywardness have come to such an indomitable pitch that they are devouring all that was excellent.'
He paused; Violet, confused and sorrowful, knew not how to answer; and he proceeded, 'I have known her, watched her, loved her from infancy! I never saw one approaching her in fine qualities. I thought, and still think, she needs but one conquest to rise above all other women. I believed guidance and affection would teach her all she needed; and so they would, but it was presumption and folly to think it was I who could inspire them.'
'O, Mr. Fotheringham, indeed—'
'It was absurd to suppose that she who trifles with every one would not do so with me. Yet, even now, I cannot believe her capable of carrying trifling to the extent she has done.'
'She was in earnest,—oh! she was!'
'I would fain think so,' said he, sadly. 'I held to that trust, in spite of the evidence of my senses. I persuaded myself that her manners were the effect of habit—the triumph of one pre-eminent in attraction.'
'That they are! I don't even think she knows what she does.'
'So I believed; I allowed for her pleasure in teasing me. I knew all that would come right. I ascribed her determination to run after that woman to a generous reluctance to desert a friend.'
'Indeed, indeed it is so!'
'But how am I to understand her neglect of my aunt—the one relation whom I have tried to teach her to value—my aunt, who was the comfort of my sister and of her brother—who had suffered enough to give her a claim to every one's veneration! To run away from her to the races, and the society of Mark Gardner and Mrs. Finch! Ay, and what do you think we heard yesterday of her doings there, from Gardner's own mother? That she is giving him decided encouragement! That was the general remark, and on this, poor Mrs. George Gardner is founding hopes of her son settling down and becoming respectable.'
'Oh! how terrible for you to hear! But it cannot be true. It must be mere report. Arthur would have observed if there had been more than her usual manner.'
'A pretty manner to be usual! Besides, Jane Gardner did not deny it.'
'Yes. My aunt called at Mrs. Finch's, but saw neither of them; but this morning, before she went, Miss Gardner called. I did not see her. I was out with Pelham, and my aunt spoke to her about all this matter. She answered very sensibly, regretted her sister's giddy ways, but consoled my aunt a good deal on that score, but—but as to the other, she could not say, but that Mark was a great admirer of—of Miss Martindale, and much had passed which might be taken for encouragement on Wednesday by any one who did not know how often it was her way!'
'It is a pity that Miss Gardner has had to do with it,' said Violet. 'When I have been talking to her, I always am left with a worse impression of people than they deserve.'
'You never have a bad impression of any one.'
'I think I have of Miss Gardner. I used to like her very much, but lately I am afraid I cannot believe her sincere.'
'You have been taught to see her with Theodora's eyes. Of course, Mrs. Finch despises and contemns prudence and restraint, and the elder sister's advice is thrown aside.'
'You never saw Jane Gardner?'
'Never;—but that is not the point here. I am not acting on Jane Gardner's report. I should never trouble myself to be jealous of such a scoundrel as Mark. I am not imagining that there is any fear of her accepting him. Though, if such a notion once possessed her, nothing would hinder her from rushing on inevitable misery.'
'Oh, there is no danger of that.'
'I trust not. It would be too frightful! However, I can look on her henceforth only as John's sister, as my little playmate, as one in whom hopes of untold happiness were bound up.' He struggled with strong emotion, but recovering, said, 'It is over! The reason we part is independent of any Gardner. She would not bear with what I thought it my duty to say. It is plain I was completely mistaken in thinking we could go through life together. Even if there was reason to suppose her attached to me, it would be wrong to put myself in collision with such a temper. I told her so, and there is an end of the matter.'
'It is very, very sad,' said Violet, mournfully.
'You don't think I have used her ill.'
'Oh, no! You have borne a great deal. You could do no otherwise; but Arthur and John will be very much vexed.'
'It is well that it is known to so few. Let it be understood by such as are aware of what has been, that I bear the onus of the rupture. No more need be known than that the break was on my side. We both were mistaken. She will not be blamed, and some day'—but he could not speak calmly—' she will meet one who will feel for her as I do, and will work a cure of all these foibles. You will see the glorious creature she can be.'
'The good will conquer at last,' said Violet, through her tears.
'I am convinced of it, but I fear it must be through much trial and sorrow. May it only not come through that man.'
They shook hands with lingering regret, as if unwilling to resign their relationship. 'You will explain this to Arthur, and give him my thanks for his friendliness; and you—accept my very best thanks for your great kindness and sympathy. If she had known you earlier—But good-bye. Only, if I might venture to say one thing more—you and Arthur will not give me up as a friend, will you?'
'Oh!' exclaimed Violet, as well as her tears would permit, 'I am sure we are but too glad—'
He pressed her hand gratefully, and was gone; while overwhelmed with the agitation she sank weeping on the sofa, only conscious that they all were in some sort guilty of a great injury to Mr. Fotheringham. In this state of distress she was found by Theodora, who came down so lofty and composed, that no one could have divined who was the party chiefly concerned in what had taken place.
Without comment, she treated Violet as for a nervous attack, taking great care of her till the sobs subsided, and there only remained a headache which kept her on the sofa for the rest of the day. Theodora read aloud, but which of them marked the words? Late in the afternoon she put down the book, and wrote a note, while Violet silently marvelled at the unconcern of her countenance.
'There, I shall take it to the post. You may read it if you like, while I put on my bonnet.' Violet read.
'MY DEAR MAMMA,—Our engagement is at an end. Mr. Fotheringham tried to exercise a control over my actions to which I could not submit; and in especial was affronted by my going to Epsom with Arthur, instead of staying at home for the chance of seeing Lady Fotheringham. We came to high words, perceived the error of thinking our tempers accorded, and agreed to part. I have no cause of complaint, though I am at this moment much displeased with him; for when he had done with me he went and stormed to poor Violet till he brought on one of her hysterical affections. No one can have acted with kinder or more conscientious intentions than she has done throughout the affair. I do not mean to come away till after her confinement. London is wide enough for him and for me, and I would not leave her on any account. 'Your affectionate daughter,
'THEODORA A. MARTINDALE.'
Violet glowed with indignation at such mention of Percy. She never loved him! It is as John thought!
Theodora, returning, took the note, and began to put it into its envelope without a word.
'Thank you,' said Violet; 'it is very kind in you to stay with me. It is a great comfort to Arthur.'
'Is it no comfort to you?' said Theodora. 'If I am in your way, I will go.'
'Oh! what should I do without you? It makes such a difference to me. I rely upon you to take care of Arthur, and Johnnie, and everything. Only don't do what is not pleasant to you.'
'I wish to live to be useful. I had rather be useful to you and Arthur than to any one. If you will keep me, I stay.'
All the rest of the day Violet could only feel that she could not be displeased with one so devoted to her. She wondered what Arthur would say. His comment was—
'Well, I always expected it. It is a pity! She has thrown away her only chance of being a reasonable woman.'
'You saw no cause for that horrid report?'
'Not a bit. She is not so frantic as that comes to. She went on in her old way, only a little stronger than usual; but Percy was quite right not to stand it, and so I shall tell her.'
However, Theodora kept him from the subject by the force of her imperturbability, and he could only declaim against her to his wife.
'I don't believe she cared a farthing for him.'
'I almost fear not. Yet how could she accept him?'
'He was the biggest fish that had ever come to her bait. She could not have played her pranks on him without hooking him; but he has broken the line, and it serves her right. I only wish she took it to heart! It is a lucky escape for him. What will his lordship think of it?'
Lord Martindale wrote, evidently in much annoyance, to desire Arthur to send him a full history of the transaction, and after much grumbling, he was obeyed. What he said to his daughter did not transpire, but Violet gathered that the opinion at Martindale was, that she had not age or authority sufficient for the care of the young lady. In this she fully acquiesced, and, indeed, had some trouble in silencing repining speculations on what might have happened if she had been older, or in stronger health, or more judicious.
It was a universal failure, and she felt as if they were all to blame, while it terrified her to recollect John's predictions as to the effect on Theodora's disposition.
Another question was, how Mrs. Finch would feel on the matter. Theodora had written to her, and received one of her warm impulsive answers, as inconsistent as her whole nature; in one place in despair that her friend's happiness had been sacrificed—in another, rejoicing in her freedom from such intolerable tyranny, and declaring that she was the noblest creature and the naughtiest, and that she must see her at once.
But she never came, and when Theodora called was not at home. Violet had Jane to herself for an unpleasing hour of condolence and congratulation, regrets and insinuations, ending with the by no means unwelcome news that Mr. Finch was tired of London, and that they were going into the country—and not Mark—going to set off in a week's time. Two more calls failed, and Theodora only received a note, in which Mrs. Finch declared herself "abimee desolee" that her husband would drag her off into the country at such short notice, that her world of engagements had hindered her from meeting her best of friends. Then, with a sudden transition to slang, she promised excellent fun in riding, boating, &c., if Theodora would come to see her, and plenty of admirers ready to have their heads turned, ending rather piteously with 'Who knows but I might take a turn for good? I know I wish I could, if it was not so horridly tiresome. You won't forget your poor G. F.'
Oh! woman is a tender tree, The hand must gentle be that rears, Through storm and sunshine, patiently, That plant of grace, of smiles and tears.
—A. CLEVELAND COX
The height of the season was over, and London was beginning to thin. Lady Elizabeth Brandon had accepted invitations for a round of visits to her friends and relations, and Violet thought with regret how little she had seen of her and Emma.
In fact, that unfortunate party at Mrs. Bryanstone's had been a sacrifice of the high esteem in which she had once been held. Emma, with the harshness of youthful judgments, could not overlook the folly that had hazarded so much for the sake of gaiety; and was the more pained because of the enthusiasm she had once felt for her, when she had believed her superior to all the world. She recollected her love-at-first-sight for the pretty bride, and well-nigh regarded the friendship as a romance of her girlhood. She did not blame poor Violet, for no more could have been expected than that so simple a girl would be spoiled by admiration, and by such a husband. She should always be interested in her, but there could be no sympathy for deeper visions and higher subjects in one devoted to the ordinary frivolities of life. Violet owned she could not understand her; what could be more true?
So Emma betook herself more and more to her other friend, lamented over present evils, made visionary amendments and erected dreamy worlds of perfection, till she condemned and scorned all that did not accord with them.
Lady Elizabeth would rather have seen her daughter intimate with Violet. Mistaken though that party was, it was hard measure, she thought, utterly to condemn a girl hardly eighteen. She could understand Violet—she could not understand Miss Marstone; and the ruling domineering nature that laid down the law frightened her. She found herself set aside for old-fashioned notions whenever she hinted at any want of judgment or of charity in the views of the friends; she could no longer feel the perfect consciousness of oneness of mind and sufficiency for each other's comfort that had been such happiness between her and her daughter; and yet everything in Theresa Marstone was so excellent, her labours among the poor so devoted, and her religion so evidently heartfelt, that it was impossible to consider the friendship as otherwise than an honour to Emma.
Lady Elizabeth could only feel that she should be more at ease when she was not always in dread of interrupting a tete-a-tete, and when there was no longer any need to force Emma into society, and see her put on that resigned countenance which expressed that it was all filial duty to a mother who knew no better. Moreover, Lady Elizabeth hoped for a cessation of the schemes for the Priory, which were so extravagant as to make her dread Emma's five-and-twentieth year.
Desirous as she was of leaving London, she would not consent to go to her brother in the end of June, until she had certified herself that Violet did not wish for her attendance.
Violet did think that it would have been a great comfort, but perceived that it would be at some inconvenience; and further divined that to be extremely useful and important was Theodora's ruling desire. She was afraid of heart-burnings, and, as usual, yielded her own wishes, begged Lady Elizabeth not to disturb her plans, made many declarations of Theodora's kindness and attention; and in return, poor thing! was judged by Emma to be in dread of lectures!
So the Brandons left London, and Violet sighed over the disappointment their stay had been, knew she had given up the chance of a renewal of intimacy, and thought Emma's estrangement all her own fault.
Arthur, likewise, had a fit of restlessness. Some of his friends were intending to go grouse shooting to Scotland, and it was evident that he was desirous of joining them if Violet could only recover in time to spare him. Theodora also wished that he should go, for she had a strong suspicion that he was gliding fast into frequent intercourse with Mr. Gardner, and hoped that absence would put a stop to it.
Not a word, not a look, ever referred to Mr. Fotheringham. Violet thought it inexplicable, and could only suppose that Theodora had been under some delusion, and had never known the meaning of love, for there was nothing like sorrow or disappointment; she almost seemed to be glad of her release.
It was a trial when the Review was published, containing the critique upon modern poetry. For a whole day it was left unopened, because neither sister liked to touch it in the presence of the other; but when, in the morning, Violet took it to read, she found the leaves cut. Lord St. Erme had been treated with some censure, but with a fair amount of praise, and her own favourite pieces were selected for commendation; but there was sufficient satire and severity to cause the universal remark that it was hard on poor Lord St. Erme.
Often was the observation made, for the article excited much attention—it was so striking and able, keenly and drolly attacking absurdity and affectation, good-humoured and lively, and its praise so cordial and enthusiastic. Every visitor was sure to begin, 'Have you read the paper on modern poetry?' 'Do you know who wrote it?' or, 'Is it true it is by Mr. Fotheringham?'
Violet, though much confused, could not help having a sort of satisfaction in seeing that neither could Theodora defend herself from blushes, nor so preserve her equanimity as always to know what she was saying, though she made heroic efforts, and those ignorant of the state of affairs might not, perhaps, detect her embarrassment. If there had been affection, surely this calmness must have given way!
One day Theodora was in a shop, and Violet waiting for her when Mr. Fotheringham passed, and instantly coming to the carriage door, shook hands warmly, seemed rejoiced at the meeting, spoke of his last letter from John in high approval of Mr. Fanshawe, and told her that in two days' time he was going to take a walking tour in Ireland. At that instant the signal was made for taking up Miss Martindale, and with a hasty farewell he disappeared, as Violet thought, unseen. On coming home, Theodora went at once up-stairs; Violet some little time after chanced to go to her room to ask her a question on her way to dress, found her knock unanswered, but heard sounds which caused her gently to open the door.
Theodora was kneeling by the bed; her face buried in her hands, her neck crimson, sobbing and weeping in such violent grief as Violet had never witnessed. She stood terrified, unnoticed, hardly able to bear not to offer comfort; but she understood that nature too well not to be convinced that no offence would be so great as to break into her grief and to intrude upon what she chose to hide.
Violet, therefore, retreated, hoping that now there might be an opening for sympathy, some depression that would allow her to show her fellow-feeling; but no: when they met again Theodora was as cheerful and disengaged as ever, and she could almost have persuaded herself that these tears had been a dream.
Perhaps they so appeared to Theodora. She had been surprised into them, and was angry at having been overcome—she who cared so little; but she had woman's feelings, though she had proved to be unfit for the dominion of man, and was henceforth ready to stand alone, and use her strength for the benefit of the weak. She would be the maiden aunt, the treasure of the family, and Arthur's house should be the centre of her usefulness and attachments.
Therefore, so far from struggling against Violet, she delighted in the care of one so tender and caressing; looked on her as the charm and interest of her life, and rejoiced in being valuable at present, and likely to render most important services, attaining in fact the solid practical usefulness she had always coveted.
Everything that could please or amuse Violet she did, even to the length of drawing her out about Wrangerton, and suppressing a certain jealousy of Annette that was ready to spring up on discovering how strong was the affection bestowed on that sister. Violet was especially happy in being able to talk of home just now, when she was continually hearing of Albert's marriage, and the arrangements consequent thereon, and would have felt it blank, indeed, to have no one but Sarah to share her interest.
Uncle Christopher went to the wedding, and was invited to dinner in Cadogan-place the Sunday after his return. Theodora condescended to be frankly entertained with his dry humorous account of the magnificent doings that had diverted him extremely, and caused Arthur and Violet to congratulate themselves that, in their case, Matilda had not been allowed her own way.
'What a sensible, agreeable person your uncle is,' said Theodora, as Violet lay down to rest on the sofa, after dinner, and to turn over and fondle one by one the little presents sent to her from Wrangerton.
Violet smiled thanks and pleasure in the praise, and Theodora set to work to gratify her, by admiring each gift as much as her conscience would let her, and was well pleased to find that she was not at all wanted to commend a wonderful embroidered sachet from the bride, nor a pair of gorgeous screens from Matilda; but that what was dwelt upon were some sketches in Wrangerton Park, and the most prized of all was a little pair of socks, in delicate fancy knitting, for Johnnie.
'Dear, dear mamma! her own pretty rose-leaf pattern. Think of her knitting for my Johnnie! He will soon know grandmamma's socks!' and she put her fingers into one to judge of the size, and admire the stitch. Theodora could see her do such things now, and not think her foolish.
'Theodora, dear,' said she, after a long pause, 'there is something I have been wanting to say to you for a long time. If I should be as ill as I was before, if I should not live, I should like one thing—'
Theodora took her hand between both hers, for she could not answer.
'I should like to know that his grandmamma would see my Johnnie, if it was only for once. I know poor Arthur could not bear to hear me talk of this, and he is anxious enough already, but you would tell him. You will manage for mamma to see my boy, won't you?'
'I would take him to her at Wrangerton myself.'
'I am quite content that you should chiefly take care of him, you know. I am glad you have been here so long that he has grown fond of you. It makes it much better to think of leaving him and his dear papa, to know they have you.'
'But, Violet, you must not talk so!' cried Theodora, in a half-choked voice.
'No; I must not make myself cry,' said Violet, quietly. 'I will not go on, when I have asked you one thing more, and that is, to write to John, and tell him that I thank him for all he has done for me, and that this has been a very happy year. You and John will comfort—'
Violet checked herself, for the tears could only be restrained by silence, and she had made many resolutions against agitation.
'All you wish!' exclaimed Theodora; 'but, indeed, you must not think there is any fear—'
'I will not talk about it,' said Violet, in her submissive voice.
'No; nor think about it.'
'I try not to do so more than I ought. I am glad you are here!'
It was dark enough for Theodora to allow her eyes to fill with soft tears, without a struggle to keep them back. The pleasure of being valued was very great, and the entire trust Violet reposed on her gave her as deep delight as she had ever experienced. What would it not be after having nursed her and been everything to Arthur! With Violet and Arthur depending on her, she could feel herself good for something, and filling a place in the world.
The lowliest flowers the closest cling to earth, And they first feel the sun; so violets blue, So the soft star-like primrose drenched in dew, The happiest of spring's happy fragrant birth, To gentlest touches, sweetest tones reply; So humbleness, with her low-breathed voice, Can steal o'er man's proud heart, and win his choice.
'She is ready to see you,' said Arthur, meeting Theodora, as she came down at nine the next morning after church.
Violet's face, white as a lily, was on the pillow, and a little dark downy head was beside her.
A sense of being too late, of neglect and disappointment, rushed over Theodora, and made her looks not what the mother expected, as with smiling eyes and feeble voice she said, 'Your niece, dear Theodora.'