'I did not know—' were Theodora's first words, and their dissatisfied sound made Arthur regret his abrupt introduction; though she recovered herself enough to say something of gladness, and of hopes that Violet was comfortable.
'Yes, thank you, quite. I am so thankful! I am so glad of everything. Now I hope Arthur will not lose the 12th of August.'
'Only don't talk now, my sweet one. Come, Theodora,' as if he only wanted to get her out of the room.
'I have not looked at the baby. What a fine one!' and she was going to take her.
'Oh, please don't!' said Violet; 'she will begin screaming again!' Then, seeing the cloud return, 'Presently, dear aunt, when she wakes. Is not she a beauty?'
Arthur, his hand on the door, hurried Theodora again.
'I will come' she said, impatiently, 'I will come and sit with you after breakfast, Violet; I only wish I had been called.'
'Indeed, I know how kind you would have been,' said Violet, holding her hand, and watching to see whether the displeasure was removed: 'but it seemed a pity to disturb you. Please don't be vexed; I'll give you plenty of trouble yet.'
She had, roused herself enough to alarm Arthur and the nurse.
'This will never do,' he said, laying his hand on his sister's arm, and drawing her away almost by force: 'You MUST keep quiet, Violet.'
'I will, indeed, but please, Theodora—'
'She pleases all you wish. Never mind,' said Arthur, fairly putting her out, then stepping back, 'Lie still, and mind your big baby; that is all you have to do.'
'Only don't let her be vexed.'
'No such thing.'
But when out of Violet's hearing he could not refrain from telling Theodora his displeasure. 'I thought you had more sense, or I would never have let you in.'
'I knew nothing of it.'
'Your own fault for marching off at that time in the morning! I had been up to tell you, and could not think where you were.'
'Why was I not allowed to be of use?'
'A pretty specimen of your usefulness, vexing her with your black looks, till she was talking herself into a fever!'
'Surely she is doing well?'
'She was, unless you have undone everything with your humours.'
'I don't know what you mean.'
That was the last word. Theodora sat swelling under the sense of injustice and neglect, where she had intended to be so important; and Arthur was weary enough in mind and body to be more than usually sensible of her ungraciousness, and to miss the refreshment of cheerful sympathy. On going up after breakfast he found Violet weaker and more ill than he had previously thought her, and her solicitous inquiries about his sister made him the more attribute this to distress at those moody looks. He would not hear of again admitting Theodora, and in bitterness of spirit she wrote the letters, and tried to content Johnnie—all in vain; for strive to conceal it as she would, he always seemed to perceive her bad moods, and never would be happy with her when she was in one of them.
Every hour brought fresh mortification. She was jealous of Arthur's being needful to the patient, and jealous of being left by him; angry at being treated as useless, and angry at the work she had to do; certain that her ill temper was Arthur's fancy, yet certain he had caused it; anxious about Violet, yet disdaining his anxiety. She was much annoyed at his keeping aloof from her unpleasing looks, deserting the dinner-table after the first course, and when she had waited long for him, leaving her to discover that he had had a cup of tea in Violet's room, and was gone down to smoke. The kindly affections that had always been the hope of her character were rejected and thwarted, and thus thrown back on herself, the wayward wilful spirit began to rise.
She paced the dull walk in the square gardens in the summer twilight, and thought of the life before her, uncherished at home, an intruder in the family where she had expected to earn fond gratitude, rejected by him who had loved her from childhood!
There was an alternative! One look of encouragement, and Lord St. Erme was at her disposal, ready to rejoice at acceptance, even if she should tell him that she had no heart to bestow. She would be no longer spurned and cast aside; she should be able to befriend Violet, she would live uncontrolled, adored; above all, she would teach Percy Fotheringham that she did not pine for him! She would belie those foolish tears that Violet had seen her shed!
As she opened the gate to leave the gardens, Lord St. Erme rode by with a young lady. Was he passing from her power? The spirit of rivalry prompted a gracious bow and smile. He checked his horse, looked delighted, and introduced 'his sister.'
A fair, delicate, blushing girl of sixteen, a pretty likeness of himself, bent her head low, and Theodora felt that her blue eyes were intently perusing her under their downcast lids, while the brother's tones almost trembled with the pleasure of her unwonted look of encouragement. He said that he was enjoying having his sister alone with him, at his aunt's house in London, for a short time, and added something about calling. She gave one of her bewitching smiles, and they rode on.
There at least she was prized! How unlike this to the treatment she met with from her own family! If she could not love the Earl, she could do very well without that nonsense; and she should escape from her unloving home, begin a new life, reign queen o'er herself and him, idolized, uncontradicted, with ample opportunities of usefulness, triumphant over him who had disdained her.
So she mused while taking off her bonnet, till Sarah brought a message that Mrs. Martindale would be glad to see her. An hour ago and she would have rejoiced; now, Arthur's household was becoming a secondary object, since they had rejected her, and driven her to seek fresh interests.
She was received with hands outstretched. 'Dear Theodora, thank you. Will you stay and take care of baby and me while nurse goes to supper?'
'If I may.'
'Thank you. Nurse, pray give baby to Miss Martindale. You need not hurry; I shall be so comfortable.'
The sweet pale face and languid eyes were as a charm to expel all but kindly thoughts, as Theodora sat down with the living weight warm on her lap, and the gentle mother at intervals softly asking about her boy. 'Poor little man, they would not let him come in: they kept away both the people I wanted.'
'Arthur guards you most jealously.'
'Yes, is not he a wonderful nurse? I had to exercise a little self-will in getting you here. How good we must be to make him forgive us!'
Next. 'You cannot think what a difference it makes to have you here. I never need think about Arthur's being made comfortable.'
Theodora's sincerity longed for confession, and she refrained with difficulty. Those unconscious words set her vile temper before her in its true light. She had resented the being treated with consideration, and had been moody towards her brother, because he was under anxiety!
Self-convicted, she gave a deep sigh; but fearing again to distress Violet, began to admire the baby, who was in truth a remarkably large and handsome child, very dark and like the Martindales, and, both in size and serenity, such a contrast to her brother, that, proud as she was of her, her mamma only half liked praise of her that might be depreciation of him, and began to defend him from the charge of crying before he had had strength for it.
Her name, of course, was to be Helen, and to this Violet softly added, Theodora.
'No, no; that will bring her no good. It is Aunt Nesbit's name.'
'It is one I love the sound of.'
'You won't another time.'
Violet vaguely perceived something amiss; but too weak to think about it, closed her eyes and fell into a doze.
Those few gentle sayings had brought back Theodora's affection and sense of right. She longed to recall her glance. If it had taken effect she must persevere. She could not endure the humiliation of having a third time trifled with a lover; she would not feel herself sunk into a mere coquette. But what would Violet think!
Violet suddenly awoke with a terrified gaze. 'Arthur! Arthur! O, where is he!'
'Down-stairs, dearest; he will come.' But to her extreme alarm, the words had no effect.
'Arthur! O, when will he come? Why did he go away?'
Dismayed out of all presence of mind, Theodora rang with a violent peal, and flew down-stairs, the baby in her arms, rousing Arthur from a slumber in his chair by breathless tidings that Violet was worse—was delirious; Mr. Harding must be sent for—
When Arthur had hurried up-stairs, it proved to be only a frightened wakening, such as had often happened last year. She was perfectly conscious, but so much fluttered and agitated by Theodora's own proceedings, that it was with great difficulty that Arthur could soothe and tranquillize her on her baby's account. The nurse was very angry, and Theodora perceived her delinquency might have serious consequences, especially when she beheld Violet, still tremulous from the alarm, endeavouring to reassure them, to shield her from displeasure, and to take all the blame to herself for her foolish terror.
There was an end of Theodora's grand designs of nursing! She could only enter the room at all by favour of the patient and by sufferance of the nurse; and she could attempt no remonstrance when ordered off by her brother, and even felt unworthy of Violet's kiss.
That little scene of trivialities had been her first true humiliation. It had shown her the vanity of her boast of strength of mind; for when she thought of the morning's unreasonable ill-humour, and unkindness to her brother and his wife at such a moment, and of the coquetry with Lord St. Erme, she was indeed lowered in her own eyes; and it was sorrow, not bitterness.
Her heart was very heavy, but less hard. Slowly had the power of Violet's meekness and lowliness been stealing into her affections and undermining her pride. Perhaps the direct attacks of Percy, though strongly resisted, had in reality given a shock which prepared the way for the silent effect of sweetness and forbearance. At any rate, she was now sincerely sorry for the sin as well as the folly of the past day, and felt that it might bring a penalty in perplexities about Lord St. Erme, if he had really taken her smile for encouragement.
Many were her resolutions of amiability for to-morrow; but she was disappointed. Violet had passed a restless night, and could not be visited; and Arthur, after his experience of yesterday, was in no haste to subject himself to his sister's humours. Her two years of caprice and neglect had told even on his easy temper.
It had long been a scheme of hers to surprise Violet on her recovery with a likeness of Johnnie, taken by a small, humble niece of Mrs. Harrison's, lately started in life as an artist in crayons; and in the midst of yesterday's sullenness she had taken measures which this morning brought the lady to Cadogan-place, at the hour when he was most likely to be in his best looks. Sarah, highly approving of anything that exalted Master John, sedulously traced the one-sided masculine division in his flaxen locks, and tied his best white frock with scarlet ribbons, in honour, as she said, of his being 'a little granny-dear'; and Theodora carried him down, and heard him pronounced 'a lovely interesting darling.'
Sitting well was not, however, one of his perfections; he could not be induced to show his face to a stranger, and turned from toys and pictures, with arms stretched out to his aunt, and piteous calls for mamma: to Theodora's further despair Arthur came in, and stood amazed, so that she had to unfold her plans, and beg him to keep the secret. He smiled, saying she might as well take a picture of a washed-out doll; but that Violet would be sure to like it.
Meantime the child was presenting a golden opportunity; fixed in rapt contemplation of his father, and gazing motionless, with one little foot doubled under him, and one tiny white arm drooping over the crimson sofa cushion. Miss Piper sketched as if for her life. Theodora directed Arthur's attention to his little son. He spoke to him, and was surprised and pleased at the plainness of the reply, and the animated spring of gladness. In another minute he was sitting on the floor, most successfully entertaining the child, while Miss Piper could hardly help drawing that handsome black head in contrast with the small, white creature, whose morsels of hands were coaxing his brown red cheeks; and Theodora looked on, amused to see how papa succeeded in drawing out those pretty, hesitating smiles, so embellishing to the little face, that had generally more than the usual amount of baby gravity.
They were in full debate whether he should be represented smiling or grave; the aunt wishing the latter as the habitual expression, the father declaring that 'the fellow was only fit to be seen smiling like his mother;' when suddenly there was an announcement—
'Lady Lucy Delaval and Lord St. Erme.'
Arthur hardly had time to start up from the ground, his colour deepening with discomfiture as he glanced at the disarray of the room, littered with playthings, displaced cushions, newspapers, with which he had been playing bo-peep, drawing materials, all in as much confusion as the hair, which, in an unguarded moment, he had placed at the mercy of Johnnie's fingers.
Theodora comprehended the sharp click with which he rang the nursery bell, and the half frown with which he watched in dread of a cry, while Lady Lucy tried to make friends with Johnnie.
The drawing was brought under discussion, but he held aloof after one look, which Theodora perceived to be disapproving, though she did not know that the reason was that the smile, somewhat overdone by Miss Piper, had brought out one of old Mr. Moss's blandest looks. Meantime Lord St. Erme talked to the little artist, giving her some valuable hints, which she seized with avidity, and then quietly retreated.
Arthur tried to talk to Lady Lucy; but she was very young, not yet come out, timid, and, apparently, afraid of something that she had to say, watching Miss Martindale as earnestly as she dared; while Lord St. Erme spoke eagerly, yet as if he hardly knew what he was saying, of art, music, books, striving in vain to obtain one of the looks of yesterday.
It warmed Theodora's heart to feel herself the object of such enthusiastic admiration, but she preserved her look of rigid indifference. It was a long visit; but at last the brother made the move, looking at his sister, as if to remind her of something.
'Oh, Miss Martindale,' said she, with an effort, 'we thought you must be staying in a great deal. Would you be so kind, now and then, as to walk with me?'
This was an alarming request, and not very easy to refuse. Theodora said something of seeing about it, and hoping—
'It would be such a treat,' said Lady Lucy, growing bolder, as the two gentlemen were speaking to each other. 'My aunt is gone to her brother's little parsonage, where there is no room for me, and my governess had to go home, luckily, so that we are quite alone together; and St. Erme said perhaps you would be so kind sometimes as to walk with me—'
Theodora smiled. 'I hope we may meet sometimes,' said she. 'If my sister was down-stairs perhaps we might; but I am engaged to her.'
Thus ended the visit, and Arthur, hastily throwing the cushions back into their places, demanded, 'What on earth could possess those folks to come here now!'
'It was an inconvenient time,' said Theodora.
'Dawdling and loitering here!—a man with nothing better to do with his time!'
'Nay,' said Theodora, touched by the injustice; 'Lord St. Erme is no man not to know how to dispose of his time.'
'Whew!' whistled Arthur; 'is the wind gone round to that quarter? Well, I thought better of you than that you would like a fellow that can do nothing but draw, never shoots over his own moors, and looks like a German singer! But do put the room tidy; and if you must have the nursery down here, put it into the back room, for mercy sake!'
He went away, having thus stirred her feelings in the St. Erme direction, and he left them to take their chance for the rest of the day. She took a solitary walk; on her return saw a hat in the hall, and asking whether Mr. Harding was there, was told no, but that Mr. Gardner was with Captain Martindale. And after long waiting till Arthur should come to dinner, he only put in his head, saying, 'Oh, Theodora, are you waiting? I beg your pardon, I am going out to dinner. You can sit with Violet; and if she should want me, which she won't, James knows where to find me.'
Theodora scorned to inquire of the servant whither his master was gone; but her appetite forsook her at the sight of the empty chair, and the recollection of the warning against Mark Gardner.
This was not her last solitary dinner. Arthur had engagements almost every day, or else went to his club; and when at home, if he was not with Violet, he sat in his own room, and would never again assist at the sittings, which were completed under less favourable auspices, soon enough to allow time for the framing before the mamma should come down-stairs. Her recovery proceeded prosperously; and Theodora was quite sufficiently in request in her room to be satisfied, and to make it difficult to find a spare afternoon to go and order one of her favourite oak frames.
However, she was at length able to make the expedition; and she was busy in giving directions as to the width of margin, when from the interior of the shop there came forward no other than the Earl of St. Erme.
They shook hands, and she sent her excuses to Lady Lucy for having been too much occupied to call, asking whether she was still in town.
'Only till Thursday,' he said, 'when I take her to join my aunt, who is to show her the Rhine.'
'Do not you go with them?'
'I have not decided. It depends upon circumstances. Did not I hear something of your family visiting Germany?'
'Perhaps they may,' said Theodora, dryly. He began to study the portrait, and saw some likeness, but was distressed by something in the drawing of the mouth.
'Yes,' said Theodora, 'I know it is wrong; but Miss Piper could not see it as I did, and her alterations only made it worse, till I longed to be able to draw.'
'I wonder if I might venture,' said Lord St. Erme, screwing up his eye, and walking round the picture. 'I am sure, with your artist eye, you must know what it is not to be able to keep your hands off.'
'Not I,' said Theodora, smiling. 'Pencils are useless tools to me. But it would be a great benefit to the picture, and Miss Piper will fancy it all her own.'
'You trust me, then?' and he turned to ask for a piece of chalk, adding, 'But is it not too bold a measure without the subject?'
'He is in the carriage, with his nurse;' and Theodora, unable to resist so material an improvement to her gift, brought him in, and set him up on the counter opposite to a flaming picture of a gentleman in a red coat, which he was pleased to call papa, and which caused his face to assume a look that was conveyed to the portrait by Lord St. Erme, and rendered it the individual Johnnie Martindale, instead of merely a pale boy in a red sash.
Theodora was too much gratified not to declare it frankly, and to say how much charmed his mother would be; and she was pleased by a remark of Lord St. Erme, that showed that his poet mind comprehended that wistful intelligence that gave a peculiar beauty to Johnnie's thin white face.
She thought to pay off her obligations by an immediate visit to his sister, while she knew him to be safe out of the way; and, driving to Mrs. Delaval's, she sent her nephew home, intending to walk back.
Lady Lucy was alone, and she found her a gentle, simple-hearted girl, with one sole affection, namely, for the brother, who was the whole world to her; and taking Miss Martindale, on his word, as an object of reverence and admiration. It was impossible not to thaw towards her: and when Theodora spoke of the embellishment of the portrait, she needed no more to make her spring up, and fetch a portfolio to exhibit her brother's drawings. Admirable they were; sketches of foreign scenery, many portraits, in different styles, of Lady Lucy herself, and the especial treasure was a copy of Tennyson, interleaved with illustrations in the German style, very fanciful and beautiful. Theodora was, however, struck by the numerous traces she saw of the Lalla Rookh portrait. It was there as the dark-eyed Isabel; again as Judith, in the Vision of Fair Women; it slept as the Beauty in the Wood; and even in sweet St. Agnes, she met it refined and purified; so that at last she observed, 'It is strange how like this is to my mother.'
'I think it must be,' said Lady Lucy; 'for I was quite struck by your likeness to St. Erme's ideal sketches.'
Rather annoyed, Theodora laughed, and turning from the portfolio, asked if she did not also draw?
'A little; but mine are too bad to be looked at.'
Theodora insisted, and the drawings were produced: all the best had been done under Lord St. Erme's instruction. The affection between the brother and sister touched her, and thinking herself neglectful of a good little girl, she offered to take the desired walk at once. While Lady Lucy was preparing, however, the brother came home, and oh! the inconvenient satisfaction of his blushing looks.
Yet Theodora pardoned these, when he thanked her for being kind to his sister; speaking with a sort of parental fondness and anxiety of his wish to have Lucy with him, and of his desire that she should form friendships that would benefit her.
Never had he spoken with so much reality, nor appeared to so much advantage; and it was in his favour, too, that Theodora contrasted this warm solicitude for his young sister with the indifference of her own eldest brother. There was evidently none of the cold distance that was the grievance of her home.
'Lady Lucy is almost out of the school-room,' she said. 'You will soon be able to have her with you in the country.'
'There are certainly some considerations that might make me resolve on an English winter,' said Lord St. Erme.
'Every consideration, I should think.'
'Fogs and frosts, and clouds, that hang like a weight on the whole frame,' said Lord St. Erme, shivering.
'Healthy, freshening mists, and honest vigorous frosts to brace one for service,' said Theodora, smiling.
'O, Miss Martindale!' cried Lady Lucy, entering, 'are you persuading St. Erme to stay all the year in England? I do so wish he would.'
'Then you ought to make him,' said Theodora.
'If Miss Martindale were to express a wish or opinion—'
She saw it was time to cut him short. 'Every one's opinion must be the same,' she said.
'O,' cried Lucy, 'of course Italy is pleasanter. It is selfish to wish to keep him here; but if I had my will, we would live together at Wrangerton, and have such nice poor people.'
'A "chateau en Espagne" indeed, my little sister. Wrangerton is a most forlorn place, an old den of the worst period of architecture, set down just beyond the pretty country, but in the programme of all the tourists as a show place; the third-rate town touching on the park, and your nice poor people not even the ordinary English peasantry, but an ill-disposed set of colliers.'
Theodora looked, but did not speak.
'Miss Martindale thinks me a laggard, but she hears my excuse.'
'If they are ill-disposed,' said Theodora, in her low, severe voice (she could not help it), 'it is for want of influence from the right quarter.'
'My agent tells me they are perfectly impracticable.'
'Knights of old liked something impracticable.' She was almost ready to check herself; but there was something inspiriting in the idea of awakening this youth, who seemed to catch at her words as if she were a damsel sending forth a champion. His reply was—
'Those were days worth living for. Then the knight's devoir was poetry in real life.'
'Devoir is always poetry in real life,' said Theodora. 'What is it but the work ready to hand? Shrinking from it is shrinking from the battle. Come, Lady Lucy, I will not detain you.'
Lord St. Erme seemed about to say something as he shook hands, but it did not come. The walk was passed by the simple-hearted Lucy discoursing of the events by which she counted her eras, namely, his visits. Her perfect brother was her only theme.
Yet learn the gamut of Hortensio.
—Taming of the Shrew
Mrs. Nesbit was recommended to spend some months at Baden Baden; and Theodora formed a design, which highly pleased Arthur and Violet, of spending this time, while the family were absent, and while Arthur was in Scotland, as hostess at Martindale to Violet and the children.
After seeing Arthur off to Windsor for the next fortnight, Theodora had begun writing to propose the scheme to her father, when she was interrupted by the announcement of Lord St. Erme.
To visit her alone was a strong measure, and she put on a panoply of dignified formality. He began to say he had brought a German book, to show her a poem of which their conversation had reminded him.
'I understand very little German,' said she, coldly. 'I once had a German governess whom I disliked so much that I took a disgust to the language.'
'There is so much that is beautiful and untranslatable in its literature, that I am sure it would recompense you.'
'I do not like the German tone of mind. It is vapoury and unreal.'
'I should like to show you cause to alter your opinion, but—'
'This is English,' said Theodora, as her eye fell on a paper of verses that marked the place.
'Ah, Lucy made me put it in. A few lines that occurred to me after watching Mrs. Martindale's little boy.'
Thankful that they were not inspired by Venus's little boy, she glanced over them, and saw they were in his best style, simple and pretty thoughts on the child's content, wherever he traced any symbol of his father.
'Poor little Johnnie is highly flattered,' she said. 'His mamma will be delighted.'
He begged her attention to the German poem, she glanced onward as he read, watching for shoals ahead, and spied something about a "hochbeseeltes madchen" inspiring a "Helden sanger geist", and grew hotter and hotter till she felt ready to box his ears for intoning German instead of speaking plain English, and having it over. A cotton umbrella arose before her eyes, she heard the plashing gravel, and an honest voice telling her she was a grand creature in great need of being broken in.
The critical stanza had commenced, the reader's voice trembled; Theodora did not heed, her mind was in the avenue at home. An opening door startled them.
'Mr. and Mrs. Albert Moss.'
Her brother's brother-in-law! the son and partner of Lord St. Erme's steward! Was it thus his suit was to be checked?
There was no recognition; he went on reading his German to himself, while Albert presented Mrs. Albert Moss, resplendent in bridal finery, and displaying her white teeth in a broad smile, as with a nod, half-gracious, half-apologetic, she said, 'I fear we interrupt a lesson; but we will not inconvenience you; we will go at once to our dear convalescent.'
'Thank you, you do not interrupt me, and I do not think my sister is dressed yet. Indeed, I doubt whether I ought to allow her to see any one.'
'O, you cannot be so cruel!' cried Mrs. Moss, holding up her hands; 'one little peep! our only day in town.'
'Yes,' said Albert. 'I could not but gratify my Louisa's anxiety to be introduced to her new relatives.'
'I am afraid you must be disappointed, for my brother is with his regiment at Windsor, and my sister is still so weak that she ought to have no excitement.'
'And we have only a few hours in town. The inexorable claims of business have recalled us to Wrangerton.'
The Earl looked up surprised, as if the word had recalled him from the clouds.
'You have been in Wales, I think,' said Theodora. 'Were you pleased?'
'Oh, I was enraptured!' exclaimed the bride; 'the sublime and romantic could be carried no higher! It makes me quite discontented with our home scenery.
'Your sister would not approve of that,' said Theodora to Albert;' she can bear no slight to Helvellyn.'
'I forget—is there a view of Helvellyn from Wrangerton?' said Lord St. Erme, still somewhat dreamily.
Mrs. Moss started at hearing such good English from the German master, and patronizingly said, 'Yes. Helvellyn is monarch of our picturesque. Do you ever come northwards?'
'Not so often as, perhaps, I ought. I am afraid I know more of the Alps than of Helvellyn.'
'I am sure,' continued the voluble lady, 'if ever you thought of such a scheme when the season is over, it would be well worth your while. I could reckon up many respectable families, who with such introductions—let me see, there are the Joneses, and the Dunlops, and the Evelyns, to say nothing of my new sisters, the Miss Mosses.'
'I have no doubt it is a very good neighbourhood,' said Lord St. Erme, rising. 'I must go, or we shall miss the train. Can you tell me how soon you expect Lord Martindale?'
'About the tenth or eleventh,' said Theodora.
'Thank you. Then I must wish you good-bye—'
'And I must thank you in my sister's name for the pleasure she will take in what you have done for her little boy. Remember me to Lady Lucy.'
That name was a revelation to Albert, and the door had scarcely closed before he exclaimed—'Surely, Miss Martindale, that could not be Lord St. Erme!'
'Yes, it was.'
'Well!' cried Mrs. Moss, 'there was something decidedly the aristocrat in his moustache!'
Albert could not recover from his vexation at having missed such a chance, and was nearly setting off in pursuit of his lordship. Theodora was glad to escape for a moment, on the plea of seeing whether Violet could receive a visit.
In her absence the bride began—'I can't see that she is so handsome, after all! And I should be ashamed to wear such a dress as that!'
'Distinguished people have freaks, my love. Bless me! if I had but known the Earl!'
'I see how it is,' said the wife; 'a proud Countess we shall have.'
'If one of the girls had but been here! Every one of them is prettier than this Miss Martindale. Who knows?'
'Ah! I shall take care in a friendly way to let your sister know how her own family feel at her keeping aloof—'
'I do not believe it is her fault, poor child,' said Albert. 'Martindale has set this haughty young lady to keep guard over her—'
'We shall see,' said the bride. 'I am not used to be refused, and once with your sister, I will discover all her secrets.'
Fortunately for Violet, Theodora had found her so much exhausted by the fatigue of dressing, that she thought it safest, considering what a bride it was, not to divulge her presence in the house; and she came down with this intelligence, trying to compensate for it by civility, and by showing the children.
Mrs. Moss was not easily repulsed, she begged Miss Martindale to reconsider her verdict.
'I must not relent; I am accountable to the doctor and to my brother.'
'It shall not be your fault. You shall know nothing of it. I will find my way. Ah! I'm a giddy young thing. Nothing can stop me!' and she stepped forward, laughing affectedly, and trying to look arch.
'I cannot permit this. It might do serious harm,' said Theodora, obliged to stand in her path, and to put on such a look of haughty command, that she was positively subdued and frightened, and went back to her seat in a meek state of silence, whence she only recovered to overwhelm poor Johnnie with her attentions. He cried and was sent away, and Mrs. Moss was obliged to be satisfied with the baby, though she looked as dignified and as little to be taken liberties with as any Martindale of them all.
They lingered on, hoping to weary out Miss Martindale's patience, or that some chance might reveal their presence to Violet; but in vain; Theodora's politeness was exemplary, and she endured Mrs. Albert Moss's familiarity so well, that when at length they departed, the last words were a parting whisper, 'Good morning, Miss Martindale. If we had known what we interrupted—but ah! I have gone through those things so lately, that I know how to feel for you, and can keep your secret.'
'There is no subject of secrecy that I know of,' said Theodora, more coldly than ever.
Hateful woman! Poor Violet! There, now, it will be all over the country that I am engaged to him! I must take him now, or I hope he will give it up on discovering my connections! Then I can despise him. Foolish man! why could he not say what he wanted? I should have got rid of him then; I was in the mood! However, he is out of the way for the present. Now to make the best of it with Violet.
Violet was grieved, both for her own sake and the vexation at home, but she so sweetly acquiesced in its having been right, and was so sure that her sister meant nothing but kindness, that Theodora, knowing that she herself could not have submitted with anything like patience, admired and loved her more than ever.
The gentleness and quietness of her demeanour were a refreshment to Theodora's tossed and undecided mind; and in administering to her comfort and pleasure, the anxieties and remorse subsided into a calm like her own. How delightful was the day of her introduction to Johnnie's portrait; her admiration, and tearful gratitude to the kind deviser of the gift, were the greatest pleasure Theodora had known for months; the discussion of every feature, the comparison of Johnnie with it, the history of the difficulties, and of his papa's assistance, seemed a never-ending treat to both giver and receiver. The poem, too; it was very amusing to see how she could hardly believe that original verses could possibly be written on her boy, and then when set to guess whose they were, she began with a hesitating 'Miss Marstone is the only person near who makes verses, and these are too pretty to be hers.'
'Ah! if you would follow Emma's advice, and call the baby Osyth, after the first Prioress, you might have a chance from that quarter.'
It could not be Mr. Fotheringham, the only poet she could think of, and she could only beg to be told.
'There is one whom a Wrangerton woman should not forget.'
'Lord St. Erme! You ARE laughing at me, Theodora. He never even saw Johnnie!'
Theodora explained the two meetings, anxious to see her way of thinking. 'It is a wonderful thing!' was her first remark. 'Who would have told me how it would be three years ago? They are very pretty.'
'I do not think you like them the better for being his,' said Theodora.
'I ought,' said Violet; 'no other great man ever seems to me so grand as our own Earl.'
'I want your real feeling.'
'You know,' said Violet, smiling, 'I cannot think them done only for Johnnie's sake—'
'And, therefore, they do not please you.'
'Not exactly that; but—if you don't mind my saying so, I feel as if I had rather—it might be better—I don't want to be ungrateful, but if you were getting into a scrape for the sake of pleasing me, I should be sorry. Forgive me, Theodora, you made me say so.'
'You are consideration itself,' said Theodora, affectionately. 'Never mind, he is out of the way. We will let him go off poetizing to Germany; and under your wing at home, I will get into no more mischief.'
That was a pleasant prospect, and Violet reposed on the thought of the enjoyment of Martindale without its formidable inhabitants; trying in it to forget the pain of parting with her husband for a month, and her longings to spend it at her own home, and see Johnnie strengthened by Helvellyn breezes; while to Theodora it seemed like the opening into peace and goodness.
One forenoon, Violet, on coming down-stairs, found her sister writing extremely fast, and seeing an envelope on the table in Lord Martindale's writing, asked if it was his answer to Theodora's plan.
'Ah!' said Violet, perceiving something was amiss, 'they have spared you to me a long time already.'
'Don't be uneasy,' said Theodora; 'I'll settle it.'
'But,' exclaimed Violet, 'I could not bear that you should be with me if they want you.'
'That is not it; papa has something in his head; I will settle it.'
Violet knew what was indicated by the over-erectness of Theodora's head. To be the cause of family discussion was frightful, but she had a nervous dread of thwarting Theodora.
'I wish you would not look at me,' exclaimed Theodora.
'I beg your pardon,' sighed she.
'What's the use of that when I know you are not satisfied, and do not trust me?'
'Don't be angry with me,' implored Violet, with a quivering voice, and tears of weakness in her eyes. 'I cannot help it. I do not want to interfere, but as it is for me, I must beg you to tell me you are not pressing to stay with me when Lady Martindale wishes for you.'
'No one ever wants me. No, but papa thinks that you and I cannot be trusted together. He says he cannot leave me with one who has so little authority.'
That indignant voice contrasted with the gentle answer, 'I do not wonder; I have always thought if I had been older and better able to manage—'
'No such thing!' exclaimed Theodora; 'you are the only person who ever exercised any control over me.'
'O, hush! you do not know what you are saying.'
'It is the truth, and you know it. When you choose, every one yields to you, and so do I.'
'Indeed, I did not know it,' said Violet, much distressed. 'I am very sorry if I am overbearing; I did not think I was.'
Theodora fairly laughed at such a word being applied to the mild, yielding creature, who looked so pale and feeble. 'Very domineering, indeed!' she said. 'No, no, my dear, it is only that you are always right. When you disapprove, I cannot bear to hurt and grieve you, because you take it so quietly.'
'You are so very kind to me.'
'So, if papa wishes me to come to good, he had better leave me to you.'
'I don't think that ought to be,' said Violet, feebly.
'What, not that you should be my only chance—that you should calm me and guide me when every one else has failed—'
'Theodora, dear, I do not think I ought to like to hear you say so. It cannot be safe for you to submit to me rather than to your father.'
'He never had any moral power over me. He never convinced me, nor led me to yield my will,' said Theodora, proud perhaps of her voluntary submission to her gentle sister-in-law, and magnifying its extent; but Violet was too right-minded, in her simplicity, to be flattered by an allegiance she knew to be misplaced.
'I should not like baby to say so by and by,' she whispered.
'There's an esprit de corps in parents,' cried Theodora, half angrily; 'but Helen will never be like me. She will not be left to grow up uncared for and unloved till one-and-twenty, and then, when old enough for independence, be for the first time coerced and reproached. If people never concern themselves about their children, they need not expect the same from them as if they had brought them up properly.'
'That is a sad thought,' pensively said the young mother.
'I declare you shall hear the letter, that you may own that it is unreasonable—unbearable!' And she read—
'"I have been considering your request to spend the time of our absence at home with Mrs. Martindale, but I cannot think fit to comply with it. Arthur's income is fully sufficient to provide change of air for his family; and he ought not to expect always to leave his wife on other people's hands, while he is pursuing his own diversions."'
Theodora was glad to see that this did rouse Violet's indignation.
'Oh! he does not know. Do tell him it was all your kindness! Tell him that Arthur is not going for long. He must not think such things.'
'He thinks much more injustice,' said Theodora. 'Listen:—"After so long an absence, it is high time you should rejoin us; and, considering what has occurred, you cannot be surprised that I should be unwilling to leave you with one so young and of so little authority over you. Though I acquit her of all blame for your indiscretions—" (There, Violet, I hope you are much obliged to him!) "I should not have consented to your remaining with her up to the present time, if it had not been a case of urgent necessity, as I wish to have you under my own eye." (As if he had ever made any use of it?) "You might as well be alone here as with her; and, after your late conduct, I cannot put the confidence in your prudence that I should desire. Violet has, I have no doubt, acted amiably; and her youth, inexperience, and gentleness fully excuse her in my eyes for having been unable to restrain you; but they are reasons sufficient to decide me on not leaving you with her at present. We shall be in London on Monday, the 11th, and I wish you to be in readiness to join us when we embark for Ostend on the following evening. Give my kind love to Violet, and tell her I am glad she is going on well, and that I am much pleased with my grand-daughter's intended name." There, Violet, what do you think of that?'
'Pray make him understand that Arthur wanted a change very much, and will not be long gone.'
'Arthur! You cannot feel for any one else!'
'I did not mean to be selfish!' said Violet, sorry for having seemed to be wanting in sympathy.
'No, indeed! You never think what would become of you left alone, with two babies that cannot walk!'
'Never mind me, I shall manage very well, I don't like to have a disturbance made on my account. I cannot think how you can hesitate after such a letter as this.'
'That is the very thing. He would never have dared to say these things to my face! Now let me tell you. I know I have been much to blame; you made me feel it. You are taming me; and if he leaves me to you I may be more dutiful when he comes back. But if he strains his new notion of authority too far, and if you throw me off, I shall be driven to do what will grieve and disappoint you.'
'But surely,' said Violet, 'it cannot be the right beginning of being dutiful to resist the first thing that is asked of you.'
'You wish me to go to be fretted and angered! to be without one employment to drown painful thoughts, galled by attempts at controlling me; my mind poisoned by my aunt, chilled by my mother—to be given up to my worse nature, without perhaps even a church to go to!'
'It is very hard,' said Violet; 'but if we are to submit, it cannot be only when we see fit. Would it not be better to make a beginning that costs you something?'
'And lose my hope of peaceful guidance!'
'I do believe,' said Violet, 'that if you go patiently, because it is your duty, that you will be putting yourself under the true guidance; but for you to extort permission to stay with me, when your father disapproves, would be only following your own way. I should be afraid. I will not undertake it, for it would not be right, and mischief would be sure to ensue.'
'Then you give me up?'
'Give you up! dear, dear sister;' and Violet rose and threw her arms round Theodora. 'No, indeed! When I am so glad that I may love you as I always wished! I shall think of you, and write to you, and pray for you,' whispered she. 'All I can I will do for you, but you must not say any more of staying with me now. I can help you better in my right place than out of it.'
Theodora returned the caress and quitted the room, leaving Violet to her regrets and fears. It was a great sacrifice of herself, and still worse, of her poor little pale boy, and she dreaded that it might be the ruin of the beneficial influence which, to her amazement, she found ascribed to her, in the most unexpected quarter. It had gone to her heart to refuse Theodora's kindness, and all that was left for her was to try to still her fluttering, agitated spirits by the consciousness that she had striven to do right, and by the prayer that all might work for good.
Indeed, it was very remarkable how, in this critical period of Theodora's life, when repentance was engaged in so severe a conflict with her long-nourished pride and passion, in all the tossings of her mind she had, as it were, anchored herself to her docile, gentle sister-in-law, treating her like a sort of embodiment of her better mind. Violet's serenity and lowliness seemed to breathe peace on a storm-tossed ocean; and her want of self-assertion to make Theodora proud of submitting to her slightest wish without a struggle. Those vehement affections were winding themselves about her and her children; and the temper that had flown into fierce insubordination at the first control from lawful authority, laid itself at the feet of one whose power was in meekness. It was the lion curbed by the maiden; but because the subjection was merely a caprice, it was no conquest of self-will.
But when the self-abhorring thrill Is past, as pass it must, When tasks of life thy spirit fill Risen from thy tears and dust, Then be the self-renouncing will The seal of thy calm trust.
Arthur quitted London the day after his little girl's christening, talking of being absent only a fortnight, before taking his wife to Windsor; and promising to return at once, if she should find herself in the least unwell or dispirited. She was delighted to be well enough not to spoil his sport, and Theodora was too anxious to have him at a distance from Mr. Gardner to venture on any remonstrance.
It was the day the family were to come to London, and he left orders with the ladies to say 'all that was proper', but the twelfth of August was to him an unanswerable reason for immediate departure.
Theodora and Violet went to receive the party in the house in Belgrave Square, both silent, yet conscious of each other's feelings. Theodora paced the room, while Violet leant back in a great blue damask chair, overcome by the beatings of her heart; and yet, when the carriage arrived, it was she who spoke the word of encouragement: 'Your father is so kind, I know he forgives us!'
Theodora knew Violet thought her own weakness and inefficiency needed pardon, and therefore could bear the saying, and allow it to turn her defiant shame into humility.
Mrs. Nesbit came in, supported between Lord and Lady Martindale, and as Theodora hastened to wheel round the large arm-chair, and settle the cushions for her, her eye glanced in keen inquiry from one niece to the other, and they felt that she was exulting in the fulfilment of her prediction.
Lord Martindale kissed his daughter with grave formality; and, as if to mark the difference, threw much warm affection into his greeting of Violet, and held her hand for some moments, while he asked solicitously if she were well and strong, and inquired for her little ones.
She made Arthur's excuses and explanations, but broke off, blushing and disconcerted, by that harsh, dry cough of Mrs. Nesbit's, and still more, by seeing Lord Martindale look concerned. She began, with nervous eagerness and agitation, to explain that it was an old engagement, he would not be away long, and then would take her out of town—she was hardly yet ready for a journey. From him she obtained kind smiles, and almost fatherly tenderness; from Lady Martindale the usual ceremonious civility. They asked her to dinner, but she was not equal to this; they then offered to send her home in the carriage, and when she refused, Lord Martindale said he would walk back with her, while Theodora remained with her mother.
He was much displeased with his son for leaving her, especially when he saw how delicate and weak she still looked; and he was much annoyed at being unable to prevent it, without giving Arthur a premium for selfishness; so that all he could do was to treat her with a sort of compassionate affection, increased at each of her unselfish sayings.
'My dear,' he said, 'I wish to have a little conversation with you, when it suits you. I am anxious to hear your account of this unfortunate affair.'
'Very well;' but he felt her arm tremble.
'You must not alarm yourself. You are the last person deserving of blame. I am only sorry that you should have had so much to harass you.'
'O, Theodora has been so very kind to me.'
'I rejoice to hear it; but tell me, will this evening or to-morrow morning suit you best?'
'Thank you, to-morrow, if you please,' said Violet, glad to defer the evil day.
At that moment she was astonished by the sudden apparition of Lord St. Erme, and still more by his shaking hands with her. She thanked him for his touches to her little boy's portrait; he smiled, rejoiced that she did not think he had spoilt it, and remarked upon the likeness. Lord Martindale, who knew him but slightly, listened in surprise; and having now come to her own door, she bade them farewell, and entered the house.
Theodora came back much later than Violet had expected, with a flush on her cheek, and hurry and uncertainty in her manner. She had previously made a great point of their spending this last evening alone together, but her mood was silent. She declared herself bent on finishing the volume of Miss Strickland's "Queens", which they were reading together, and went on with it till bed-time without intermission, then wished Violet good night without another word.
But Violet was no sooner in bed than Theodora came in, in her dressing-gown, and sat down at her feet, looking at her, but hardly answering the few words she ventured to speak. It was not till the clock struck twelve that she rose from her seat.
'Well, I must go; but I don't know how to tear myself from the sight of you. I feel as if I was driven from the only place where I ever might be good.'
'No,' whispered Violet; 'wherever our duty lies, we can be good.'
'I could, if you were with me, to calm me, and tell me such things.'
'You do not want me to tell you them. You have the Bible and Prayer Book.'
'I never saw the right way to follow them; till now, when it was gleaming on me, I have to go away.'
'The same grace that has shown you your way so far, dearest, will go on to show you further, if you follow it on, even though the way be hard!'
'The grace may be with you—it is!' said Theodora, in a heavy, hopeless manner; 'but oh! Violet, think how long I have been driving it away!'
Violet sat up, took her hand, pressed it between both hers, and with tears exclaimed: 'You must not speak so. If you had not that grace, should you be sorry now?'
'I don't know. I can hope and see my way to peace when you look at me, or speak to me; but why should I be forced into the desert of my own heart, to loneliness and temptation?'
'If you are really resting on me, instead of on the only true help, perhaps it is better you should be left to it. Theodora, dearest, may I tell you something about myself? When first I saw my difficulties, and could not get at mamma, I felt as if there was no one to help me, but somehow it grew up. I saw how to find out guidance and comfort in the Bible and in such things, and ever since I have been so much happier.'
'How did you find it out?'
'John helped me; but I think it comes without teaching from without, and there is my hope for you, Theodora.'
'Them that are meek shall He guide in judgment, and such as are gentle, them shall He learn His way,' murmured Theodora, hanging over her, with tears fast dropping.
'He shows Himself to those who will follow Him, and yield their own will,' said Violet.
'Good night! Oh! what shall I do when I have not you to send me to bed comforted? I had more to say to you, but you have smoothed it all, and I cannot ruffle it up again.'
A night of broken sleep, and perplexed waking thoughts, was a bad preparation for the morning's conference. Lord Martindale came to breakfast, and, as before, reserved all his kindness for Violet and the children. Theodora disappeared when the little ones were carried away, and he began the conversation by saying to Violet, 'I am afraid you have had a great deal of trouble and vexation.'
She replied by warm assurances of Theodora's kindness; whence he led her to tell the history of the rupture, which she did very mournfully, trying to excuse Theodora, but forbidden, by justice to Percival; and finding some relief in taking blame to herself for not having remonstrated against that unfortunate expedition to the races.
'No, my dear, it was no fault of yours. It was not from one thing more than another. It was owing to unhappy, unbroken temper. Take care of your children, my dear, and teach them submission in time.' Then presently resuming: 'Is it your idea that she had any attachment to poor Fotheringham?'
'Much more than she knew at the time,' said Violet.
'Ha! Then you do not think she has given encouragement to that absurd-looking person, Lord St. Erme?'
'Lord St. Erme!' cried Violet, startled.
'Yes; when I parted with you yesterday, he walked back with me, and proceeded to declare that he had been long attached to her, and to ask my sanction to his following us to Germany to pay his addresses.'
'Surely he has not spoken to her?'
'No; he said something about not presuming, and of having been interrupted. I could only tell him that it must rest with herself. There is no objection to the young man, as far as I know, though he is an idle, loitering sort of fellow, not what I should have thought to her taste.'
'I do not believe she likes him,' said Violet.
'You do not? I cannot make out. I told her that she was at liberty to do as she pleased; I only warned her neither to trifle with him, nor to rush into an engagement without deliberation, but I could get nothing like an answer. She was in one of her perverse fits, and I have no notion whether she means to accept him or not.'
'I do not think she will.'
'I cannot say. No one knows, without a trial, what the notion of a coronet will do with a girl. After all her pretensions she may be the more liable to the temptation. I have not told her aunt, that she may be the more unbiassed. Not that I say anything against him, it is everything desirable in the way of connection, and probably he is an amiable good sort of man. What do you know of him! Are you intimate with him?'
Violet explained the extent of their acquaintance. 'I do not see my way through it,' said Lord Martindale. 'I wish I could be clear that it is not all coquetry. I wish John was at home.'
'I do not think,' said Violet, gathering courage—'I do not think you know how much Theodora wishes to be good.'
'I wish she was half as good as you are, my dear!' said Lord Martindale, as if he had been speaking to a child. And he talked to her warmly of her own concerns, and hopes of her visiting Martindale on their return; trying to divest himself of a sense of inhospitality and harshness, which grew on him whenever he looked at her slender figure, and the varying carnation of her thin cheek.
She felt herself obliged to set forth to call on Lady Martindale. Theodora was busy, packing up, and could not accompany her; unfortunately for her, since Mrs. Nesbit took the opportunity of examining her on the same subject, though far from doing it in the same manner; commenting with short sarcastic laughs, censuring Mr. Fotheringham for trying to domineer, but finding much amusement in making out the grounds of his objection to Mrs. Finch, and taking pleasure in bringing, by her inquiries, a glow of confusion and distress on Violet's cheeks. Next she began to blame her for having visited such an imprudent person; and when Lady Martindale ventured to suggest something about her not knowing, and Mrs. Finch having formerly been a friend of the family, she put her down. 'Yes, my dear, we are not blaming Mrs. Arthur Martindale. We know it is not possible for every one to be fastidious. The misfortune was in Miss Martindale's being brought into society which could not be expected to be select.'
Violet did not think herself called upon to stay to be insulted, and rose to take leave, but did not escape without further taunts. 'So you are to be in London alone for the next month?'
'Perhaps only for a fortnight!'
'I can promise you that it will be a month. Young men are not apt to spend more time at home than they can help. I am sorry to interfere with your scheme of being installed at Martindale, but it is out of the question. Theodora's absence has been much felt by the curate, and our past experience has prepared us for anything. I hope you will take care of yourself.'
Mrs. Nesbit, as she lost her power of self-command and her cleverness, without parting with her bitterness of spirit, had pitiably grown worse and worse, so that where she would once have been courteously sarcastic, she was now positively insolent.
It was too much for Lady Martindale, who, as she saw Violet colour deeply, and tremble as she left the room, followed her to the head of the stairs, and spoke kindly. 'You must not imagine, my dear, that either my aunt, or any of us, find fault with you. We all know that you are inexperienced, and that it is not easy to cope with Theodora's eccentricity of character.'
Violet, still very weak, could have been hysterical, but luckily was able to command herself, though, 'thank you!' was all she could say.
'Of course, though such things are unfortunate, we cannot regret the match; Lord Martindale and I are quite convinced that you acted amiably by all parties. Good-bye, my dear; I am sorry I have not time to call and see the children.'
'Shall I send them to you when they wake?' said Violet, pleased that they were at length mentioned.
'Thank you, my dear,' said Lady Martindale, as if much tempted. 'I am afraid not, it might be too much for my aunt. And yet, I should have liked to see the little girl.'
'She is such a beauty,' said Violet, much brightened. 'So exactly like her papa.'
'I should like to see her! You have your carriage here, of course!'
'No; I walked.'
'Walked, my dear!' said Lady Martindale, dismayed.
Violet explained how short the distance was; but Lady Martindale seemed not to know how to let her go, nor how to relinquish the thought of seeing her grand-daughter. At last she said, as if it was a great resolution, lowering her voice, 'I wonder if I could walk back with you, just to see her.'
She took Violet into her room while she put on her bonnet, much as if she feared being found out; and in passing the drawing-room door, gathered her dress together so as to repress its rustling.
Wonder of wonders, to find Lady Martindale actually on foot by her side! She went up at once to the nursery, where the children were asleep. At Johnnie she looked little, but she hung over the cot where lay the round plump baby face of little Helen. Though dreadfully afraid of being missed, she seemed unable to turn away from the contemplation.
'My dear,' said she, in an agitated voice, as they left the nursery, 'you must not keep these children here in London. You must not sacrifice their health. It is the first consideration. Don't let them stay in that hot nursery! Pray do not.'
'We shall be in the country soon,' said Violet.
'Why not at once? Does expense prevent you? Tell me, my dear, what it would cost. I always have plenty to spare. Would L100 do it? and you need tell no one. I could give you L200,' said Lady Martindale, who had as little idea of the value of money as any lady in her Majesty's dominions. 'I must have that dear little girl in the country. Pray take her to Ventnor. How much shall I give you?'
Much surprised, and more touched, Violet, however, could not accept the offer. She felt that it would be casting a slight on Arthur; and she assured Lady Martindale that she hoped soon to leave London, and how impossible it was for her to move house without Arthur. It seemed to be a great disappointment, and opened to Violet a fresh insight into Lady Martindale's nature; that there was a warm current beneath, only stifled by Mrs. Nesbit's power over a docile character. There seemed to be hopes that they might love each other at last! In the midst there was a knock at the door, and Lord Martindale entered, much surprised, as well as pleased, to find his wife there, though put in some perplexity by her instantly appealing to him to tell Violet that it was very bad for the children to remain in town, and asking if it could not be managed to send them to the sea-side. He made a grave but kind reply, that he was sorry for it himself, but that Violet had assured him it would not be for long; and Lady Martindale (who did not seem able to understand why the lady of the house could not make everything give way to her convenience)—now becoming alive to the fear of her aunt's missing her, and taking to heart her stolen expedition—hurried him off with her at once. It was not till after their departure that Violet discovered that he had been trying to atone for deficiencies, by costly gifts to herself and her children.
All this time Theodora had been in her own room, packing, as she said, but proceeding slowly; for there was a severe struggle of feelings, and she could not bear that it should be seen. In the pain of parting with Violet, she shrank from her presence, as if she could not endure to prolong the space for last words.
They came at last. Theodora sat ready for her journey, holding her god-daughter in her arms, and looking from her to Violet, without a word; then gazing round the room, which had been the scene of such changes of her whole mind.
At last she spoke, and it was very different from what Violet expected,
'Violet, I will try to endure it; but if I cannot—if you hear of me as doing what you will disapprove, will you refrain from giving me up, and at least be sorry for me?'
After what Lord Martindale had said, Violet could guess at her meaning. 'Certainly, dear Theodora. You would not do it if it was wrong?'
'You know what I mean?'
'I think I do.'
'And you are not infinitely shocked?'
'No; for you would not do it unless you could rightly.'
'How do you mean?'
'Not if there was—anything remaining—of the former—'
'You are a good little thing, Violet,' said Theodora, trying to laugh; 'nearly as simple as your daughter. You will save her a great deal of trouble, if you tame her while she is young.'
Then came a pause, lasting till Theodora thought she heard the carriage.
'You will forgive me if I accept him?'
'I shall know it is all right. I trust you, dear sister.'
'Tell me something to help me!'
Violet drew out Helen's cross. 'Be patient, be patient,' she said. 'The worse things are, the more of the cross to be borne.'
Theodora held out her hand for it. 'I hope I am mending,' said she, as she gave it back with a melancholy smile. 'It does not give me the bad jealous thoughts I had when first I knew you possessed it. Tell me something to make me patient.'
'May I tell you what came into my head after you were talking last night of not seeing your way, and wanting to be led. I thought of a verse in Isaiah.' Violet found the place and showed it.
'Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and stay upon his God.'
'Thank you, Violet,' said Theodora, looking on to the next verse. 'I will try to be patient; I will try not to kindle a fire for myself. But if they tease me much, if I am very weary—'
The summons cut her short—Lord Martindale ran up to hasten her; a fervent embrace—she was gone!
And Violet, with worn-out strength and spirits, remained to find how desolate she was—left behind in dreary summer London. There was nothing for it but to be as foolish as in old times, to lie down on the sofa and cry herself to sleep. She was a poor creature, after all, and awoke to weariness and headache, but to no repining; for she had attained to a spirit of thankfulness and content. She lay dreamily, figuring to herself Arthur enjoying himself on the moors and mountains, till Helvellyn's own purple cap came to brighten her dreams.
Sigh no more, lady, lady, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever, One foot on shore and one on land, To one thing constant never.
'So, you say Miss Martindale has left town?'
'Yes; Violet writes me that the family passed through London, and took her to the continent on Tuesday.'
'Then let Annette know she is to be ready to come with me to town on Monday. We shall see if it is the young lady's doing, or whether Mrs. Martindale intends to give herself airs with her father and sister.'
'Poor dear,' sighed the good care-worn mother, 'I do long to hear of her; but may I not write first? I should not like to get the dear child into trouble.'
'On no account write, or we shall have some excuse about pre-engagements. I shall take Annette at once, and see with my own eyes. Martindale can never have the face to hinder her from asking her own sister to stay in the house, when once she is there.'
'I hope he is kind to her!' said Mrs. Moss. 'I long to hear whether she is quite recovered; and she says so little of herself. She will be glad to see her sister, and yet, one does not like to seem pushing.'
'Never you mind,' said the acute, sharp-faced attorney, putting her aside as if she was presuming beyond her sphere; 'only you get Annette ready. Since we found such a match for Violet, she is bound to help off her sisters; and as to Annette, a jaunt is just what is wanting to drive that black coat out of her head. I wish he had never come near the place. The girl might have had the Irish captain, if she had not been running after him and his school. Tell her to be ready on Monday.'
Meek Mrs. Moss never dared to question her husband's decision; and she had suffered too much anxiety on her daughter's account, not to rejoice in the prospect of a trustworthy report, for Violet's letters were chiefly descriptions of her children.
There was much soreness in the Moss family respecting Violet, and two opinions with regard to her; some inclining to believe her a fine lady, willing to discard her kindred; others thinking her not a free agent, but tyrannized over by Miss Martindale, and neglected by her husband. So Annette, who had pined and drooped under the loss of the twin-like companionship of her sister, was sent out as on an adventure, in much trepidation and mysterious dread of Captain Martindale, by no means consistent with the easy good nature of his days of courtship. And thus her first letter was written and received with such feelings as attend that of an explorer of a new country.
'Cadogan-place, August 19th.
'Well, dearest mamma, I am writing from Violet's house. Yes, she is her own sweet self, our precious flower still—nobody must think anything else—she is not changed one bit, except that she is terribly pale and thin; but she calls herself quite well, and says that if I had seen her when Johnny was five weeks old, I should give her credit now. But Matilda will say I cannot write a comprehensible letter, so I will begin regularly.
'We slept at Uncle Christopher's, and after an early breakfast walked here. The man did not think his mistress could see any one, but when he heard who we were, showed us to the drawing-room, and there was Violet, quite alone, breakfasting by herself, for he is gone to Scotland! Poor dear girl! When she saw us, she gave a little scream, and flew up to me, clinging round my neck, and sobbing as she did on her wedding-day; it was as if the two years were nothing. However, in a moment, she composed herself, and said it was silly, but there was still a sob in her throat, and she was shy and constrained as she used to be with papa, in old times. She says she would not tell us Captain Martindale was going to Scotland, because of not tantalizing us with his passing so near, but I fear it is that she will not confess how often she is left alone. I am so glad we are come, now he is out of the way. She has asked us to stay while papa has to be in London, and I shall, but papa finds it more convenient to sleep at Uncle Christopher's. If we are not here oftener, I am sure it is no fault of hers; and her husband cannot be displeased with this little visit—at least he ought not. She sent for the children; the babe was asleep, but Johnnie came, and oh! how curious it seemed to hear the voice calling her mamma, and see the little creature holding out his arms to go to her. I felt, indeed, how long we have been apart—it was our own Violet, and yet some one else. You would have been amused to see how altered she was by having her son in her arms; how the little morsel seemed to give her confidence, and the shy stiffness went away, and she looked so proud and fond, and smiled and spoke with ease. There was the dear little fair fellow standing on her lap, leaning against her shoulder, with his arm round her neck, hiding his face when I looked at him too much. She said he was puzzled not to see the aunt he knew, and how I grudged his knowing any aunt better than me! They do look lovely together, and so much alike; but I could cry to see them both so white and wan; not a shade of her pretty colour on her cheek, and the little darling so very tiny and weak, though he is as clever as possible, and understands all you say to him. If I had but got them both in our fresh north countree!
'Papa could not stay, and as soon as he was gone, she set her boy down on the sofa, and threw her arms round my neck, and we were like wild things—we kissed, and screamed, and laughed, and cried, till poor Johnnie was quite frightened. "Now, Annette, come and see," said Violet, and took me up-stairs to the nursery, and there half-waking, under the archway of her cradle, lay, like a little queen, that beautiful creature, Helen, opening her black eyes just as we came up, and moving her round arms. How I longed for mamma to see her, and to see Violet's perfect look of happiness as she lifted her out and said, "Now, is not she worth seeing?" and then Sarah came up. Violet says Sarah threatened to go away, when there were two to be always racketing, but when it came to the point, could not leave Johnnie, whom she keeps in great order, and treats with much ceremony, always calling him Master John. She believes Sarah disapproves of poor Helen altogether, as an intruder upon Johnnie's comfort; and she is quite savage at admiration of her, as if it was a slight on him; but she has turned out an admirable nurse, in her own queer way. Such a morning as we have had, chattering so fast! all about you all. I am sure she loves us as much as ever, and I do not believe she is unhappy. She talks of her husband as if they were happy, and he has given her such quantities of pretty things, and I hear of so much that seems as if she was on comfortable terms with them all. I am satisfied about her, pray be so too, dear mamma.
'I am writing while waiting for her to drive to fetch my things from Uncle Christopher's—She tells me to finish without minding her visitor—I was interrupted by Sarah's bringing Johnnie down, and he was very good with me, but presently a gentleman was announced, without my catching his name. I feared Johnnie would cry, but he sprang with delight, and the stranger saying, "Ha! master, you recollect me?" took him in his arms. I said my sister would come directly, and he gave a good-natured nod, and muttered half to himself, "Oh! another of the genus Viola. I am glad of it." I cannot make him out; he must be a relation, or one of the other officers. Violet did not know he was there, and came in with the baby in her arms; he stepped towards her, saying, "So you have set up another! Man or woman?" and then asked if she was another flower. Violet coloured, as she spoke low, and said, "Her name is Helen." I must ask Violet the meaning, for he looked gravely pleased, and answered gratefully, "That is very good of you." "I hope she will deserve it," Violet said, and was introducing me, but he said Johnnie had done him that honour. He has been talking of Captain Martindale (calling him Arthur), and telling curious things he has seen in Ireland. He is very amusing, bluff, and odd, but as if he was a distinguished person. Now I see that Violet is altered, and grown older—he seems to have such respect for, and confidence in her; and she so womanly and self-possessed, entering into his clever talk as Matilda would, yet in the simple way she always had. You would be proud to see her now—her manners must be perfection, I should think; so graceful and dignified, so engaging and quiet. I wish Louisa had seen her. What are they talking of now?
'Violet.—How did you find Pallas Athene?
'Unknown.—Alas, poor Pallas! With the judgment of the cockney who buttered his horse's hay, the ragged boy skinned her mice and plucked her sparrows in my absence. The consequence was her untimely end. I was met by my landlady with many a melancholy "Ah, sir!" and actually the good creature had had her stuffed.
'Violet.—Poor Pallas! then the poor boy has lost his employment?
'Unknown.—Happily, his honesty and his grief so worked upon my landlady, that she has taken him as an errand boy. So that, in fact, Minerva may be considered to have been the making of his fortune.
'I leave this for a riddle for the sisters. I am longing to ask Violet who this gentleman is who seems to know all the negroes so well.' (Scratched out.) 'What nonsense I have written! I was listening to some letters they were reading from the Mr. Martindale in the West Indies. Violet tells me to finish with her dearest love.
'Your most affectionate,
'P.S.—He will come to-morrow to take us to a private view of the Royal Academy, before the pictures are removed.'
The same post carried a letter from Violet to her husband, communicating the arrival of her guests, and telling him she knew that he could not wish her not to have Annette with her for these few days, and that it did make her very happy.
Having done this, she dismissed doubts, and, with a clear conscience, gave herself up to the enjoyment of her sister's visit, each minute of which seemed of diamond worth. Perhaps the delights were the more intense from compression; but it was a precious reprieve when Arthur's answer came, rejoicing at Violet's having a companion, and hoping that she would keep her till his return, which he should not scruple to defer, since she was so well provided for. He had just been deliberating whether he could accept an invitation to the Highlands.
If the wife was less charmed than her sister, she knew that, under any circumstances, she would have had to consent, after the compliment had been paid of asking whether she could spare him; and it was compensation enough that he should have voluntarily extended her sister's visit.
Annette, formerly the leader of her younger sister, was often pleasantly surprised to find her little Violet become like her elder, and that not only from situation, but in mind. With face and figure resembling Violet's, but of a less uncommon order, without the beauteous complexion and the natural grace, now enhanced by living in the best society, Annette was a very nice-looking, lady-like girl, of the same refined tone of mind and manners; and having had a longer space of young ladyhood, she had more cultivation in accomplishments and book knowledge, her good taste saving her from being spoilt, even by her acquiescence in Matilda's superiority. She saw, however, that Violet had more practical reflection, and though in many points simple and youthful, was more of a woman than herself; and it was with that sweet, innocent feeling, which ought not to bear the same name as pride, that she exulted in the superiority of her beloved sister. Selfish jealousies or petty vanities were far from her; it was like a romance to hear Violet describe the splendours of Martindale, or the gaieties of London; and laugh over the confession of the little perplexities as to proprieties, and the mistakes and surprises, which she trusted she had not betrayed.
Still Violet missed the power of fully reciprocating her sister's confidence. Annette laid open every home interest and thought, but Violet had no right to disclose the subjects that had of late engrossed her, and at every turn found a separation, something on which she must not be communicative.
The view of the Exhibition was happily performed under Mr. Fotheringham's escort. Annette, thanks to Lord St. Erme's gallery, had good taste in pictures; she drew well, and understood art better than her sister, who rejoiced in bringing out her knowledge, and hearing her converse with Percy. They had the rooms to themselves, and Annette was anxious to carry away the outline of one or two noted pictures. While she was sketching, Percy wandered to another part of the room, and stood fixedly before a picture. Violet came to see what he was looking at. It was a fine one by Landseer of a tiger submitting to the hand of the keeper, with cat-like complacency, but the glare of the eye and curl of the tail manifesting that its gentleness was temporary.
'It may be the grander animal,' muttered he; 'but less satisfactory for domestic purposes.'
'What did you say?' asked Violet, thinking it addressed to her.
'That is a presumptuous man,' he said, pointing to the keeper. 'If he trusts in the creature's affection, some day he will find his mistake.'
He flung himself round, as if he had done with the subject, and his tone startled Violet, and showed her that more was meant than met the ear. She longed to tell him that the creature was taming itself, but she did not dare, and he went back to talk to Annette, till it ended in his promising to come to-morrow, to take them to the Ellesmere gallery.
'That's the right style of woman,' soliloquized Percy, as he saw the carriage drive off. 'Gentleness, meekness, and a dash of good sense, is the recipe for a rational female—otherwise she is a blunder of nature. The same stamp as her sister, I see; nothing wanting, but air and the beauty, which, luckily for Arthur, served for his bait.'
When he came, according to appointment, Annette was in the drawing-room, unable to desist from touching and retouching her copy of her nephew's likeness, though Violet had long ago warned her to put it away, and to follow her up to dress.
He carried the portrait to the light. 'M. Piper,' he read. 'That little woman! That mouth is in better drawing than I could have thought her guilty of.'
'Oh! those are Lord St. Erme's touches,' said unconscious Annette. 'He met Miss Martindale taking it to be framed, and he improved it wonderfully. He certainly understood the little face, for he even wrote verses on it.'
Here Violet entered, and Annette had to hurry away for her bonnet. Percy stood looking at the drawing.
'So, Johnnie has a new admirer,' he said. Violet was sorry that he should hear of this; but she laughed, and tried to make light of it.
'I hear he is in Germany.'
'Yes; with his sister and their aunt.'
'Well,' said Percy, 'it may do. There will be no collision of will, and while there is one to submit, there is peace. A tigress can be generous to a puppy dog.'
'But, indeed, I do not think it likely.'
'If she is torturing him, that is worse.'
Violet raised her eyes pleadingly, and said, in a low, mournful tone: 'I do not like to hear you speak so bitterly.'
'No,' he said, 'it is not bitterness. That is over. I am thankful to have broken loose, and to be able to look back on it calmly, as a past delusion. Great qualities ill regulated are fearful things; and though I believe trials will in time teach her to bring her religious principle to bear on her faults, I see that it was an egregious error to think that she could be led.'
He spoke quietly, but Violet could not divest herself of the impression that there was more acute personal feeling than he was aware of. In the Ellesmere gallery, he led them to that little picture of Paul Potter's, where the pollard willows stand up against the sunset sky, the evening sunshine gleaming on their trunks, upon the grass, and gilding the backs of the cows, while the placid old couple look on at the milking, the hooded lady shading her face with her fan.
'There's my notion of felicity,' said he.
'Rather a Dutch notion,' said Violet.
'Don't despise the Dutch,' said Percy. 'Depend upon it, that respectable retired burgomaster and his vrow never had words, as we Brogden folk say.'
'I think you would find that very stupid,' said Violet.
'Not I,' said Percy. 'When I want to pick a quarrel, I can get it abroad.'
'When?' said Annette, smiling.
'Yes, I like to keep my teeth and claws sharpened,' said Percy; but one wants repose at home. That burgomaster is my model.'
He continued to find sights for them, showing Violet more lions of London than had ever come in her way. One day, when a thunder-storm hindered their going to the Zoological Gardens, he stayed the whole afternoon reading to them. In the midst, Violet thought of last September's storm; she looked up—an idea flashed upon her!
'How delightful! How well they suit! I shall have my Annette close to me! They can marry at once! My father will be satisfied. How happy they will be! It will be the repose he wants. Dear Annette, what will she not be under his training!' The joyous impulse was to keep him to dinner; but she had scruples about inviting him in Arthur's absence, and therefore only threw double warmth into her farewells. Her spirits were up to nonsense pitch, and she talked and laughed all the evening with such merriment as Annette had hardly ever known in her.
But when she was alone, and looked her joy in the face, she was amazed to find how she had been forgetting Theodora, whose affairs had lately been uppermost. Annette might be worth a hundred Theodoras: but that did not alter right and justice.
If Theodora was accepting the Earl! Violet knew he was at Baden; he could not yet have been dismissed: and the sister-in-law had proved a disappointing correspondent, her nature being almost as averse to letter-writing as was Arthur's. Let her marry him, and all would be well. The question, however, really lay between Percy and Annette themselves; and Violet thought he had made a wise discovery in preferring her gentle, yielding sister to the former lady of his choice. Matters might take their course; Arthur would be gratified by this testimony to her family's perfections; John would rejoice in whatever was for his friend's real happiness; to herself, in every way, it would be complete felicity.
Still she hesitated. She had heard of pique driving persons to make a fresh choice, when a former attachment appeared obliterated by indignation, only to revive too late, and to be the misery of all parties. Percy's late words, harsh when he fancied them indifferent, made her doubtful whether it might not be so in his case. In his sound principle she had entire confidence, but he might be in error as to the actual state of his sentiments; and she knew that she should dread, for the peace of mind of all parties, his first meeting, as her sister's husband, with either Miss Martindale, or the Countess of St. Erme.
She decided that Annette ought to hear the whole, so as to act with her eyes open. If she had been engaged, she should never have heard what was past, but she should not encourage him while ignorant of the circumstances, and, these known, Violet had more reliance on her judgment than on her own. The breach of confidence being thus justified, Violet resolved, and as they sat together late in the evening, found an opportunity of beginning the subject. 'We used to expect a closer connection with him, or I should never have learnt to call him Percy—'
'You told me about poor Mr. Martindale.'
'Yes, but this was to have been a live connection. He was engaged to Theodora.'
Violet was satisfied that the responding interjection was more surprised and curious than disappointed. She related the main features of the story, much to Annette's indignation.
'Why, Violet, you speak as if you were fond of her!'
'That I am. If you knew how noble and how tender she can be! So generous when most offended! Oh! no one can know her without a sort of admiring love and pity.'
'I do not understand. To me she seems inexcusable.'
'No, no, indeed, Annette! She has had more excuse than almost any one. It makes one grieve for her to see how the worse nature seems to have been allowed to grow beyond her power, and how it is like something rending her, when right and wrong struggle together for the mastery.'
So many questions ensued, that Violet found her partial disclosure had rendered the curtain over Martindale affairs far less impenetrable; but she had spoken no sooner than was needful, for the very next morning's post brought an envelope, containing a letter for Miss Moss, and a few lines addressed to herself:—
'My Dear Mrs. Martindale,—Trust me. I have discovered my error, and have profited by my lesson. Will you give the enclosed to your sister? I know you will act as kindly as ever by
'A. P. F.'
So soon! Violet had not been prepared for this. She gasped with wonder and suspense, as she laid the letter before the place where Annette had been sitting, and returned to her seat as a spectator, though far from a calm one: that warmhearted note had made her wishes his earnest partisans, and all her pulses throbbed with the desire that Annette might decide in favour of him; but she thought it wrong to try to influence her, and held her peace, though her heart leapt into her mouth at her sister's exclamation on seeing the letter, and her cheeks glowed when the flush darted into Annette's.
She glanced in a sort of fright over the letter, then looked for help to Violet, and held it to her. 'Oh, Violet! do you know?'
'Yes, I have a note myself. My darling Annette!'
Annette threw herself down by her side, and sat on the floor, studying her face while she read the note, which thus commenced:—
'My Dear Miss Moss,—You will say that our acquaintance is too short to warrant my thus addressing you; but your sister knows me as well as most people; and in knowing your sister, and seeing your resemblance to her, I know you. If AM=VM, and VM=Wordsworth's "spirit yet a woman too," then AM=the same.'
From this curious opening he proceeded to a more ordinary and very earnest entreaty for her consent to his applying to her father.