or BROTHER'S WIFE
By Charlotte M. Yonge
And Maidens call them Love in Idleness.
—Midsummer Night's Dream
There are none of England's daughters that bear a prouder presence. ***** And a kingly blood sends glances up, her princely eye to trouble, And the shadow of a monarch's crown is softened in her hair.
—ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
The sun shone slanting over a spacious park, the undulating ground here turning a broad lawn towards the beams that silvered every blade of grass; there, curving away in banks of velvet green; shadowed by the trees; gnarled old thorns in the holiday suit whence they take their name, giant's nosegays of horse-chestnuts, mighty elms and stalwart oaks, singly or in groups, the aristocracy of the place; while in the background rose wooded coverts, where every tint of early green blended in rich masses of varied foliage.
An avenue, nearly half a mile in length, consisted of a quadruple range of splendid lime trees of uniform growth, the side arcades vaulted over by the meeting branches, and the central road, where the same lights and shadows were again and again repeated, conducting the eye in diminishing perspective to a mansion on a broad base of stone steps. Herds of cattle, horses, and deer, gave animation to the scene, and near the avenue were a party of village children running about gathering cowslips, or seated on the grass, devouring substantial plum buns.
Under a lordly elm sat a maiden of about nineteen years; at her feet a Skye terrier, like a walking door-mat, with a fierce and droll countenance, and by her side a girl and boy, the one sickly and poorly clad, the other with bright inquiring eyes, striving to compensate for the want of other faculties. She was teaching them to form that delight of childhood, a cowslip ball, the other children supplying her with handfuls of the gold-coated flowers, and returning a pull of the forelock or a bobbed curtsey to her smiling thanks.
Her dress was of a plain brown-holland looking material, the bonnet she had thrown off was of the coarsest straw, but her whole air declared her the daughter of that lordly house; and had gold and rubies been laid before her instead of cowslips with fairy favours, they would well have become her princely port, long neck, and stately head, crowned with a braid of her profuse black hair. That regal look was more remarkable in her than beauty; her brow was too high, her features not quite regular, her complexion of gypsy darkness, but with a glow of eyes very large, black, and deeply set, naturally grave in expression, but just now beaming and dancing in accordance with the encouraging smiles on her fresh, healthy, red lips, as her hands, very soft and delicate, though of large and strong make, completed the ball, threw it in the little boy's face, and laughed to see his ecstasy over the delicious prize; teaching him to play with it, tossing it backwards and forwards, shaking him into animation, and ever and anon chasing her little dog to extract it from between his teeth.
Suddenly she became aware of the presence of a spectator, and instantly assuming her bonnet, and drawing up her tall figure, she exclaimed, in a tone of welcome:
'Oh, Mr. Wingfield, you are come to see our cowslip feast.'
'There seems to be great enjoyment,' replied the young curate, looking, however, somewhat pre-occupied.
'Look at Charlie Layton,' said she, pointing to the dumb boy. 'That ball is perfect felicity, he had rather not play with it, the delight is mere possession.' She was turning to the boy again, when Mr. Wingfield said, not without hesitation—'You have not heard when to expect your party from Madeira?'
'You know we cannot hear again. They were to sail by the next packet, and it is uncertain how soon they may arrive.'
'And—and—your brother Arthur. Do you know when he comes home?'
'He promised to come this spring, but I fancy Captain Fitzhugh has inveigled him somewhere to fish. He never writes, so he may come any day. But what—is anything the matter?'
'I have a letter here that—which—in Lord Martindale's absence, I thought it might be better—you might prefer my coming direct to you. I cannot but think you should be aware'—stammered Mr. Wingfield.
'Well,'—she said, haughtily.
'Here is a letter from my cousin, who has a curacy in the Lake country. Your brother is at Wrangerton, the next town.'
'Arthur is well?' cried she, starting.
'Yes, yes, you need not be alarmed, but I am afraid there is some entanglement. There are some Miss Mosses—'
'Oh, it is that kind of thing!' said she, in an altered tone, her cheeks glowing; 'it is very silly of him to get himself talked about; but of course it is all nothing.'
'I wish I could think so,' said Mr. Wingfield; 'but, indeed, Miss Martindale,' for she was returning to the children, 'I am afraid it is a serious matter. The father is a designing person.'
'Arthur will not be taken in,' was her first calm answer; but perceiving the curate unconvinced, though unwilling to contradict, she added, 'But what is the story?'
Mr. Wingfield produced the letter and read; 'Fanshawe, the curate of Wrangerton, has just been with me, telling me his rector is in much difficulty and perplexity about a son of your parishioner, Lord Martindale. He came to Wrangerton with another guardsman for the sake of the fishing, and has been drawn into an engagement with one of the daughters of old Moss, who manages the St. Erme property. I know nothing against the young ladies, indeed Fanshawe speaks highly of them; but the father is a disreputable sort of attorney, who has taken advantage of Lord St. Erme's absence and neglect to make a prey of the estate. The marriage is to take place immediately, and poor Mr. Jones is in much distress at the dread of being asked to perform the ceremony, without the consent of the young man's family.'
'He cannot do it,' exclaimed the young lady; 'you had better write and tell him so.'
'I am afraid,' said Mr. Wingfield, diffidently, 'I am afraid he has no power to refuse.'
'Not in such a case as this? It is his duty to put a stop to it.'
'All that is in his power he will do, no doubt, by reasoning and remonstrance; but you must remember that your brother is of age, and if the young lady's parents consent, Mr. Jones has no choice.'
'I could not have believed it! However, it will not come to that: it is only the old rector's fancy. To make everything secure I will write to my brother, and we shall soon see him here.'
'There is still an hour before post-time,' said Mr. Wingfield; 'shall I send the children home?'
'No, poor little things, let them finish their game. Thank you for coming to me. My aunt will, I hope, hear nothing of it. Good evening.'
Calling an elder girl, she gave some directions; and Mr. Wingfield watched her walking down the avenue with a light-footed but decided and characteristic tread, expressing in every step, 'Where I am going, there I will go, and nothing shall stop me.'
'Nonsense!' she said to herself; 'Arthur cannot be so lost to the sense of everything becoming. Such pain cannot be in store for me! Anything else I could bear; but this must not, cannot, shall not be. Arthur is all I have; I cannot spare him; and to see him shipwrecked on a low-bred designing creature would be too much misery. Impossible—so clear-headed as he is, so fastidious about women! And yet this letter spoke decidedly. People talk of love! and Arthur is so easy, he would let himself be drawn on rather than make a disturbance. He might be ensnared with his eyes open, because he disliked the trouble of breaking loose, and so would not think of the consequence. Nothing could save him so well as some one going to him. He can read a letter or not as he chooses. Oh, if papa were at home—oh, if Mr. Wingfield were but Percy Fotheringham—he who fears no man, and can manage any one! Oh! if I could go myself; he heeds me when he heeds no one else. Shall I go? Why not? It would save him; it would be the only effectual way. Let me see. I would take Simmonds and Pauline. But then I must explain to my aunt. Stuff! there are real interests at stake! Suppose this is exaggeration—why, then, I should be ridiculous, and Arthur would never forget it. Besides, I believe I cannot get there in one day—certainly not return the same. I must give way to conventionalities, and be a helpless young lady.'
She reached the house, and quickly dashed off her letter:—
'My Dear Arthur,—I hope and trust this letter may be quite uncalled for, though I feel it my duty to write it. I used to have some influence with you, and I should think that anything that reminded you of home would make you pause.
'Report has of course outrun the truth. It is impossible you should be on the brink of marriage without letting us know—as much so, I should trust, as your seriously contemplating an engagement with one beneath your notice. I dare say you find it very pleasant to amuse yourself; but consider, before you allow yourself to form an attachment—I will not say before becoming a victim to sordid speculation. You know what poor John has gone through, though there was no inferiority there. Think what you would have to bear for the sake, perhaps, of a pretty face, but of a person incapable of being a companion or comfort, and whom you would be ashamed to see beside your own family. Or, supposing your own affections untouched, what right have you to trifle with the feelings of a poor girl, and raise expectations you cannot and ought not to fulfil? You are too kind, when once you reflect, to inflict such pain, you, who cannot help being loved. Come away while it is time; come home, and have the merit of self-sacrifice. If your fancy is smitten, it will recover in its proper sphere. If it costs you pain, you know to whom you have always hitherto turned in your vexations. Dear Arthur, do not ruin yourself; only come back to me. Write at once; I cannot bear the suspense.
'Your most affectionate sister,
'THEODORA A. MARTINDALE.'
She made two copies of this letter; one she directed to 'The Hon. Arthur Martindale, Grenadier Guards, Winchester;' the other, 'Post-Office, Wrangerton.' In rather more than a week she was answered:—
'My Dear Theodora,—You judged rightly that I am no man to trifle, or to raise expectations which I did not mean to fulfil. My wife and I are at Matlock for a few days before joining at Winchester.
'Your affectionate brother,
'ARTHUR N. MARTINDALE,'
She's less of a bride than a bairn, She's ta'en like a colt from the heather, With sense and discretion to learn.
A chiel maun be patient and steady That yokes with a mate in her teens. Woo'd and Married and A'
A gentleman stood waiting at the door of a house not far from the Winchester barracks.
'Is my brother at home, James?' as the servant gave a start of surprise and recognition.
'No, sir; he is not in the house, but Mrs.—; will you walk in? I hope I see you better, sir.'
'Much better, thank you. Did you say Mrs. Martindale was at home?'
'Yes, sir; Mr. Arthur will soon be here. Won't you walk in?'
'Is she in the drawing-room?'
'No, I do not think so, sir. She went up-stairs when she came in.'
'Very well. I'll send up my card,' said he, entering, and the man as he took it, said, with emphasis, and a pleading look, 'She is a very nice young lady, sir,' then opened a room door.
He suddenly announced, 'Mr. Martindale,' and that gentleman unexpectedly found himself in the presence of a young girl, who rose in such confusion that he could not look at her as he shook her by the hand, saying, 'Is Arthur near home?'
'Yes—no—yes; at least, he'll come soon,' was the reply, as if she hardly knew what her words were.
'Were you going out?' he asked, seeing a bonnet on the sofa.
'No, thank you,—at least I mean, I'm just come in. He went to speak to some one, and I came to finish my letter. He'll soon come,' said she, with the rapid ill-assured manner of a school-girl receiving her mamma's visitors.
'Don't let me interrupt you,' said he, taking up a book.
'O no, no, thank you,' cried she, in a tremor lest she should have been uncivil. 'I didn't mean—I've plenty of time. 'Tis only to my home, and they have had one by the early post.'
He smiled, saying, 'You are a good correspondent.'
'Oh! I must write. Annette and I were never apart before.'
'Yes, only a year older. We always did everything together.'
He ventured to look up, and saw a bright dew on a soft, shady pair of dark eyes, a sweet quivering smile on a very pretty mouth, and a glow of pure bright deep pink on a most delicately fair skin, contrasted with braids of dark brown hair. She was rather above the ordinary height, slender, and graceful, and the childish beauty of the form or face and features surprised him; but to his mind the chief grace was the shy, sweet tenderness, happy and bright, but tremulous with the recent pain of the parting from home. With a kindly impulse, he said, 'You must tell me your name, Arthur has not mentioned it.'
'Violet;' and as he did not appear at once to catch its unusual sound, she repeated, 'Violet Helen; we most of us have strange names.'
'Violet Helen,' he repeated, with an intonation as if struck, not unpleasingly, by the second name. 'Well, that is the case in our family. My sister has an uncommon name.'
'Theodora,' said Violet, pausing, as if too timid to inquire further.
'Have you only this one sister?' he said.
'Six, and one brother,' said she, in a tone of exulting fondness. A short silence, and then the joyful exclamation, 'There he is!' and she sprang to the door, leaving it open, as her fresh young voice announced, full of gratulation, 'Here's your brother.'
'Guileless and unconscious of evil, poor child!' thought the brother; 'but I wonder how Arthur likes the news.'
Arthur entered, a fine-looking young man, of three-and-twenty, dark, bright complexioned, tall, and robust. He showed not the least consciousness of having offended, and his bride smiled freely as if at rest from all embarrassment now that she had her protector.
'Well, John,' was his greeting, warmly spoken. 'You here? You look better. How is the cough?'
'Better, thank you.'
'I see I need not introduce you,' said Arthur, laying his hand on the arm of his blushing Violet, who shrank up to him as he gave a short laugh. 'Have you been here long?'
'Only about five minutes.'
'And you are come to stay?'
'Thank you, if you can take me in for a day or two.'
'That we can. There is a tolerable spare room, and James will find a place for Brown. I am glad to see you looking so much better. Have you got rid of the pain in your side?'
'Entirely, thank you, for the last few weeks.'
'How is my mother?'
'Very well. She enjoyed the voyage extremely.'
'She won't concoct another Tour?'
'I don't think so,' said John, gravely.
'There has SHE,' indicating his wife, been thinking it her duty to read the old Italian one, which I never opened in my life. I declare it would take a dictionary to understand a page. She is scared at the variety of tongues, and feels as if she was in Babel.'
John was thinking that if he did not know this rattling talk to be a form of embarrassment, he should take it for effrontery.
'Shall I go and see about the room?' half-whispered Violet.
'Yes, do;' and he opened the door for her, exclaiming, almost before she was fairly gone, 'There! you want no more explanation.'
She is very lovely!' said John, in a tone full of cordial admiration.
'Isn't she?' continued Arthur, triumphantly. 'Such an out-of-the-way style;—the dark eyes and hair, with that exquisite complexion, ivory fairness,—the form of her face the perfect oval!—what you so seldom see—and her figure, just the right height, tall and taper! I don't believe she could be awkward if she was to try. She'll beat every creature hollow, especially in a few years' time when she's a little more formed.'
'She is very young?'
'Sixteen on our wedding-day. That's the beauty of it. If she had been a day older it would have been a different thing. Not that they could have spoilt her,—she is a thoroughbred by nature, and no mistake.'
'How did your acquaintance begin?'
'This way,' said Arthur, leaning back, and twirling a chair on one of its legs for a pivot. 'Fitzhugh would have me come down for a fortnight's fishing to Wrangerton. There's but one inn there fit to put a dog to sleep in, and when we got there we found the house turned out of window for a ball, all the partitions down on the first floor, and we driven into holes to be regaled with distant fiddle-squeak. So Fitzhugh's Irish blood was up for a dance, and I thought I might as well give in to it, for the floor shook so that there was no taking a cigar in peace. So you see the stars ordained it, and it is of no use making a row about one's destiny,' concluded Arthur, in a sleepy voice, ceasing to spin the chair.
'That was your first introduction?'
'Ay. After that, one was meeting the Mosses for ever; indeed, we had to call on the old fellow to get leave for fishing in that water of Lord St. Erme's. He has a very pretty sort of little place out of the town close to the park, and—and somehow the weather was too bright for any sport, and the stream led by their garden.'
'I perceive,' said John.
'Well, I saw I was in for it, and had nothing for it but to go through with it. Anything for a quiet life.'
'A new mode of securing it,' said John, indignant at his nonchalance.
'There you don't display your wonted sagacity,' returned Arthur coolly. 'You little know what I have gone through on your account. If you had been sound-winded, you would have saved me no end of persecution.'
'You have not avoided speculation as it is,' John could not help saying.
'I beg to observe that you are mistaken. Old Moss is as cunning a fox as ever lived; but I saw his game, and without my own good-will he might have whistled for me. I saw what he was up to, and let him know it, but as I was always determined that when I married it should be to please myself, not my aunt, I let things take their course and saved the row at home.'
'I am sure she knew nothing of this.'
'She? Bless you, poor child. She is as innocent as a lamb, and only thinks me all the heroes in the world.'
'She did not know my father was ignorant of it?'
'Not she. She does not know it to this day.' John sat thinking; Arthur twirled the chair, then said, 'That is the fact. I suppose my aunt had a nice story for you.'
'It agreed in the main with yours.'
'I was unlucky,' said Arthur, 'I meant to have brought her home before my aunt and Theodora had any news of it. I could have got round them that way, but somehow Theodora got scent of it, and wrote me a furious letter, full of denunciation—two of them—they hunted me everywhere, so I saw it was no use going there.'
'She is much hurt at your letter. I can see that she is, though she tries to hide her feelings. She was looking quite pale when we came home, and I can hardly bear to see the struggle to look composed when you are mentioned.'
This evidently produced some compunction, but Arthur tried to get rid of it. 'I am sure there was nothing to take to heart in it—was there, John?'
'I don't know. She had burnt it without letting any one see it; and it was only through my aunt that we learnt that she had received it.'
'Well! her temper is up, and I am sorry for it,' said Arthur. 'I forget what I said. I dare say it was no more than she deserved. I got one of these remonstrances of hers at Wrangerton, on the day before, and another followed me a couple of days after to Matlock, so I could not have that going on for ever, and wrote off to put a stop to it. But what does his lordship say?'
'Do you wish him to forgive or not?' said his brother, nearly out of patience.
'Of course—I knew he would, he can't leave us with nothing to live on. There's nothing to be done but to go through the forms, and I am quite ready. Come, what's the use of looking intensely disgusted? Now you have seen her, you don't expect me to profess that I am very sorry, and "will never do so no more."'
'I say nothing against her, but the way of doing it.'
'So much trouble saved. Besides, I tell you I am ready to make whatever apology my father likes for a preliminary.'
His brother looked vexed, and dropped the conversation, waiting to see more of the bride before he should form an opinion.
It was seeing rather than hearing, for she was in much awe of him, blushed more than she spoke, and seemed taken up by the fear of doing something inappropriate, constantly turning wistful inquiring looks towards her husband, to seek encouragement or direction, but it was a becoming confusion, and by no means lessened the favourable impression.
'The next morning Arthur was engaged, and left her to be the guide to the cathedral, whereat she looked shy and frightened, but Mr. Martindale set himself to re-assure her, and the polished gentleness of his manner soon succeeded.
They stood on the hill, overlooking the town and the vale of Itchen, winding away till lost between the green downs that arose behind their crested neighbour, St. Catherine's Hill, and in the valley beneath reposed the gray cathedral's lengthened nave and square tower, its lesser likeness, St. Cross, and the pinnacles of the College tower.
'A very pretty view,' said Mr. Martindale.
'The old buildings are very fine, but it is not like our own hills.'
'No, it is hard on Hampshire downs to compare them to Cumberland mountains.'
'But it is so sunny and beautiful,' said the bright young bride. 'See the sunshine on the green meadows, and the haymaking. Oh! I shall always love it.' John heard a great deal of happiness in those words. 'I never saw a cathedral before,' she added.
'Have you been over this one?'
'Yes, but it will be such a treat to go again. One can't take a quarter of it in at once.'
'No, it takes half a lifetime to learn a cathedral properly.'
'It is a wonderful thing,' she said, with the same serious face; then, changing her tone to one of eagerness, 'I want to find Bishop Fox's tomb, for he was a north-country bishop.'
John smiled. 'You are perfect in the cathedral history.'
'I bought a little book about it.'
Her knowledge was, he found, in a girlish state of keen interest, and not deficient, but what pleased him best was that, as they entered and stood at the west door, looking down the whole magnificent length of nave, choir, and chapel, the embowed roof high above, sustained on massive pillars, she uttered a low murmur of 'beautiful!' and there was a heart-felt expression of awe and reverence on her face, a look as of rapt thought, chased away in a moment by his eye, and giving place to quiet pensiveness. After the service they went over the building; but though eager for information, the gravity did not leave her, nor did she speak at once when they emerged into the Close.
'It is very impressive,' said John.
'I suppose you have seen a great many cathedrals?'
'Yes, many foreign ones, and a few English.'
'I wonder whether seeing many makes one feel the same as seeing one.'
'How do you mean?'
'I do not think I could ever care for another like this one.'
'As your first?'
'Yes; it has made me understand better what books say about churches, and their being like—'
She changed her sentence. 'It makes one think, and want to be good.'
'It is what all truly beautiful things should do' said John.
'Oh! I am glad you say so,' exclaimed Violet. 'It is like what Annette and I have wondered about—I mean why fine statues or pictures, or anything of that kind, should make one feel half sad and half thoughtful when one looks at them long.'
'Perhaps because it is a straining after the only true beauty.'
'I must tell Annette that. It was she that said it was so,' said Violet; 'and we wondered Greek statues gave one that feeling, but I see it must be the reason.'
'What statues have you seen?'
'Those at Wrangerton House. Lord St. Erme is always sending cases home, and it is such a festival day to go up and see them unpacked, and Caroline and Annette go and take drawings, and I like to wander about the rooms, and look at everything,' said Violet, growing talkative on the theme of home. 'There is one picture I like above all, but that is a sacred subject, so no wonder it should have that feeling in it.'
'What is it?'
'It is a Madonna,' she said, lowering her voice. 'A stiff old-fashioned one, in beautiful, bright, clear colouring. The Child is reaching out to embrace a little cross, and his Mother holds him towards it with such a sad but such a holy face, as if she foreboded all, and was ready to bear it.'
'Ah! that Ghirlandajo?'
'That is the name!' cried Violet, enchanted. 'Have you seen it?'
'I saw Lord St. Erme buy it.'
'Do you know Lord St. Erme?' said Violet, rather awe-struck.
'I used to meet him in Italy.'
'We wish so much that he would come home. We do so want to see a poet.'
John smiled. 'Is he never at home?'
'O, no, he has never been at Wrangerton since his father died, twelve years ago. He does not like the place, so he only comes to London when he is in England, and papa goes up to meet him on business, but he is too poetical to attend to it.'
'I should guess that.'
'I have done wrong, said Violet, checking herself; 'I should not have said that. Mamma told us that we ought never to chatter about his concerns. Will you, please, not remember that I said it?'
As far as the outer world is concerned, I certainly will not,' said John kindly. 'You cannot too early learn discretion. So that picture is at Wrangerton?'
'I am so glad you liked it.'
'I liked it well enough to wish for a few spare hundreds, but it seems to have afforded no more pleasure to him than it has given to me. I am glad it is gone where there is some one who can appreciate it.'
'Oh, said Violet,' Matilda knows all about the best pictures. We don't appreciate, you know, we only like.'
'And your chief liking is for that one?'
'It is more than liking,' said Violet; 'I could call it loving. It is almost the same to me as Helvellyn. Annette and I went to the house for one look more my last evening at home. I must tell her that you have seen it!' and the springing steps grew so rapid, that her companion had to say, 'Don't let me detain you, I am obliged to go gently up-hill.' She checked her steps, abashed, and presently, with a shy but very pretty action, held out her arm, saying timidly, 'Would it help you to lean on me? I ought not to have brought you this steep way. Matilda says I skurry like a school-girl.'
He saw it would console her to let her think herself of service and accepted of the slender prop for the few steps that remained. He then went up-stairs to write letters, but finding no ink, came to the drawing-room to ask her for some. She had only her own inkstand, which was supplying her letter to Annette, and he sat down at the opposite side of the table to share it. Her pen went much faster than his. 'Clifton Terrace, Winchester,' and 'My dear father—I came here yesterday, and was most agreeably surprised,' was all that he had indited, when he paused to weigh what was his real view of the merits of the case, and ponder whether his present feeling was sober judgment, or the novelty of the bewitching prettiness of this innocent and gracious creature. There he rested, musing, while from her pen flowed a description of her walk and of Mr. Martindale's brother. 'If they are all like him, I shall be perfectly happy,' she wrote. 'I never saw any one so kind and considerate, and so gentle; only now and then he frightens me, with his politeness, or perhaps polish is the right word, it makes me feel myself rude and uncourteous and awkward. You said nothing gave you so much the notion of high-breeding as Mr. Martindale's ease, especially when he pretended to be rough and talk slang, it was like playing at it. Now, his brother has the same, without the funny roughness, but the greatest gentleness, and a good deal of quiet sadness. I suppose it is from his health, though he is much better now: he still coughs, and he moves slowly and leans languidly, as if he was not strong. He is not so tall as his brother, and much slighter in make, and fairer complexioned, with gray eyes and brown hair, and he looks sallow and worn and thin, with such white long hands.'
Here raising her eyes to verify her description, she encountered those of its subject, evidently taking a survey of her for the same purpose. He smiled, and she was thereby encouraged to break into a laugh, so girlish and light-hearted, so unconscious how much depended on his report, that he could not but feel compassionate.
Alarmed at the graver look, she crimsoned, exclaiming, 'O! I beg your pardon! It was very rude.'
'No, no,' said John; it was absurd!' and vexed at having checked her gladsomeness, he added, 'It is I rather who should ask your pardon, for looks that will not make a cheerful figure in your description.'
'Oh, no,' cried Violet; 'mamma told me never to say anything against any of Mr. Martindale's relations. What have I said?'—as he could not help laughing—'Something I could not have meant.'
'Don't distress yourself, pray,' said John, not at all in a bantering tone. 'I know what you meant; and it was very wise advice, such as you will be very glad to have followed.'
With a renewed blush, an ingenuous look, and a hesitating effort, she said, 'INDEED, I have been telling them how very kind you are. Mamma will be so pleased to hear it.'
'She must have been very sorry to part with you,' said he, looking at the fair girl sent so early into the world.
'Oh, yes!' and the tears started to the black eyelashes, though a smile came at the same time; 'she said I should be such a giddy young housekeeper, and she would have liked a little more notice.'
'It was not very long?' said John, anxious to lead her to give him information; and she was too young and happy not to be confidential, though she looked down and glowed as she answered, 'Six weeks.'
'And you met at the ball!'
'Yes, it was very curious;' and with deepening blushes she went on, the smile of happiness on her lips, and her eyes cast down. 'Annette was to go for the first time, and she would not go without me. Mamma did not like it, for I was not sixteen then; but Uncle Christopher came, and said I should, because I was his pet. But I can never think it was such a short time; it seems a whole age ago.'
'It must,' said John, with a look of interest that made her continue.
'It was very odd how it all happened. Annette and I had no one to dance with, and were wondering who those two gentlemen were. Captain Fitzhugh was dancing with Miss Evelyn, and he—Mr. Martindale—was leaning against the wall, looking on.'
'I know exactly—with his arms crossed so—'
'Yes, just so,' said Violet, smiling; 'and presently Grace Bennet came and told Matilda who they were; and while I was listening, oh, I was so surprised, for there was Albert, my brother, making me look round. Mr. Martindale had asked to be introduced to us, and he asked me to dance. I don't believe I answered right, for I thought he meant Matilda. 'But,' said she, breaking off, 'how I am chattering and hindering you!' and she coloured and looked down.
'Not at all,' said John; 'there is nothing I wish more to hear, or that concerns me more nearly. Anything you like to tell.'
'I am afraid it is silly,' half-whispered Violet to herself; but the recollection was too pleasant not to be easily drawn out; and at her age the transition is short from shyness to confidence.
'Not at all silly,' said John. 'You know I must wish to hear how I gained a sister.'
Then, as the strangeness of imagining that this grave, high-bred, more than thirty-years-old gentleman, could possibly call her by such a name, set her smiling and blushing in confusion, he wiled on her communications by saying, 'Well, that evening you danced with Arthur.'
'Three times. It was a wonderful evening. Annette and I said, when we went to bed, we had seen enough to think of for weeks. We did not know how much more was going to happen.'
'No, I suppose not.'
'I thought much of it when he bowed to me. I little fancied—but there was another odd coincidence—wasn't it? In general I never go into the drawing-room to company, because there are three older; but the day they came to speak to papa about the fishing, mamma and all the elder ones were out of the way, except Matilda. I was doing my Roman history with her, when papa came in and said, we must both come into the drawing-room.'
'You saw more of him from that time?'
'O yes; he dined with us. It was the first time I ever dined with a party, and he talked so much to me, that Albert began to laugh at me; but Albert always laughs. I did not care till—till—that day when he walked with us in the park, coming home from fishing.'
Her voice died away, and her face burnt as she looked down; but a few words of interest led her on.
'When I told mamma, she said most likely he thought me a little girl who didn't signify; but I did not think he could, for I am the tallest of them all, and every one says I look as if I was seventeen, at least. And then she told me grand gentlemen and officers didn't care what nonsense they talked. You know she didn't know him so well then,' said Violet, looking up pleadingly.
'She was very prudent.'
'She could not know he did not deserve it,' said the young bride, ready to resent it for her husband, since his brother did not, then again excusing her mother. 'It was all her care for me, dear mamma! She told me not to think about it; but I could not help it! Indeed I could not!'
'No, indeed,' and painful recollections of his own pressed on him, but he could not help being glad this tender young heart was not left to pine under disappointment. 'How long ago was this?'
'That was six weeks ago—a month before our wedding-day,' said she, blushingly. 'I did wish it could have been longer. I wanted to learn, how to keep house, and I never could, for he was always coming to take me to walk in the park. And it all happened so fast, I had no time to understand it, nor to talk to mamma and Matilda. And then mamma cried so much! I don't feel to understand it now, but soon perhaps I shall have more quiet time. I should like to have waited till Lord Martindale came home, but they said that could not be, because his leave of absence would be over. I did wish very much though that Miss Martindale could have left her aunt to come to our wedding.'
John found reply so difficult, that he was glad to be interrupted by Arthur's return. He soon after set out to call upon Captain Fitzhugh, who had been at Wrangerton with Arthur.
From him more of the circumstances were gathered. Mr. Moss was the person universally given up to reprobation. 'A thorough schemer,' said the Irish captain. As to the Miss Mosses, they were lady-like girls, most of them pretty, and everywhere well spoken of. In fact, John suspected he had had a little flirtation on his own account with some of them, though he took credit to himself for having warned his friend to be careful. He ended with a warm-hearted speech, by no means displeasing to John, hoping he would make the best of it with Lord Martindale, for after all, she was as pretty a creature as could be seen, one that any man might be proud of for a daughter-in-law; and to his mind it was better than leaving the poor girl to break her heart after him when it had gone so far.
Arthur himself was in a more rational mood that evening. He had at first tried to hide his embarrassment by bravado; but he now changed his tone, and as soon as Violet had left the dining-room, began by an abrupt inquiry, 'What would you have me do?'
'Why don't you write to my father!'
Arthur writhed. 'I suppose it must come to that,' he said; 'but tell me first the state of things.'
'You could not expect that there would not be a good deal of indignation.'
'Ay, ay! How did you get the news? Did Theodora tell you?'
'No; there was a letter from Colonel Harrington; and at home they knew the circumstances pretty correctly through a cousin of Wingfield's, who has a curacy in that neighbourhood.'
'Oh! that was the way Theodora came by the news. I wish he had let alone telling her,—I could have managed her alone;—but there! it was not in human nature not to tell such a story, and it did not much matter how it was done. Well, and my aunt is furious, I suppose, but I'll take care of her and of my lady. I only want to know how my father takes it.'
'He cannot endure the notion of a family feud; but the first step must come from you.'
'Very well:—and so you came to set it going. It is very good-natured of you, John. I depended on you or Theodora for helping me through, but I did not think you would have come in this way. I am glad you have, for now you have seen her you can't say a word against it.'
'Against her, certainly not. I have made acquaintance with her this morning, and—and there is everything to interest one in her:' and then, as Arthur looked delighted, and was ready to break into a rhapsody—'Her simplicity especially. When you write you had better mention her entire ignorance of the want of sanction. I cannot think how she was kept in such unconsciousness.'
'She knows nothing of people's ways,' said Arthur. 'She knew you were all abroad, and her own family told her it was all right. Her father is a bit of a tyrant, and stopped the mother's mouth, I fancy, if she had any doubts. As to herself, it was much too pretty to see her so happy, to let her set up her little scruples. She did just as she was told, like a good child.'
'O Arthur! you have undertaken a great responsibility!' exclaimed John.
But Arthur, without seeming to heed, continued, 'So you see she is quite clear; but I'll write, and you shall see if it is not enough to satisfy my father, before he sets us going respectably.'
'I can't answer for anything of that sort.'
'Something he must do,' said Arthur, 'for my allowance is not enough to keep a cat; and as to the ninth part of old Moss's pickings and stealings, if I meant to dirty my fingers with it, it won't be to be come by till he is disposed of, and that won't be these thirty years.'
'Then, he let you marry without settling anything on her!'
'He was glad to have her off his hands on any terms. Besides, to tell you the truth, John, I am convinced he had no notion you would ever come home again. He knew I saw his game, and dreaded I should be off; so he and I were both of one mind, to have it over as soon as possible.'
'I only hope you will make her happy!' said John, earnestly.
'Happy!' exclaimed Arthur, surprised, 'small doubt of that! What should prevent me?'
'I think you will find you must make some sacrifices.'
'It all depends on my father,' said Arthur, a little crossly, and taking his writing-case from another table.
He was so well pleased with his performance that, as soon as he was alone with Violet, he began, 'There, I've done it! John said it could not be better, and after the impression you have made, no fear but he will pacify the great folks.'
She was perplexed. 'Who?' said she; 'not Lord and Lady Martindale? Oh! surely I have not done anything to displease them.'
'You must have been ingenious if you had.'
'Pray, do tell me! Why are they to be pacified? What is the matter? Do they think they shan't like me? Ought I to do anything?'
'My little bird, don't twitter so fast. You have asked a dozen questions in a breath.'
'I wish you would tell me what it means,' said Violet, imploringly.
'Well, I suppose you must know sooner or later. It only means that they are taken by surprise.'
Violet gazed at him in perplexity, then, with a dawning perception, 'Oh! surely you don't mean they did not approve of it.'
'Nobody asked them,' said Arthur, carelessly, then as she turned away, covering her face with her hands, 'But it is nothing to take to heart in that way. I am my own master, you know, you silly child, and you had plenty of consent, and all that sort of thing, to satisfy you, so you are quite out of the scrape.'
She scarcely seemed to hear.
'Come, come, Violet, this won't do,' he continued, putting his arm round her, and turning her towards him, while he pulled down her hands. 'This is pretty usage. You can't help it now if you would.'
'Oh! Mr. Martindale!'
'Ah! you don't know what I have saved you. I was not going to see all that pink paint worn off those cheeks, nor your life and my own wasted in waiting for them to bring their minds to it. I have seen enough of that. Poor John there—'
'How?—what?' said Violet, with alarmed curiosity.
'She died,' said Arthur.
'How long ago? What was her name?'
'Helen Fotheringham. She was our old parson's daughter. They waited eight years, and she died last summer. I see he wears his mourning still.'
Violet looked aghast, and spoke low. 'How very sad! Helen! That was the reason he looked up when he heard it was my name. Poor Mr. John Martindale! I saw the crape on his hat. Was that what made him so ill?'
'It nearly killed him last year, but he never had lungs good for anything. First, my aunt set my father against it, and when he gave in, she had a crabbed decrepit old grandfather, and between them they were the death of her, and almost of him. I never thought he would rally again.'
'Only last year?' exclaimed Violet. 'O dear! and there have I been telling him all about—about this spring. I would not have done it, if I had known. I thought he looked melancholy sometimes. Oh! I wish I had not.'
'You did, did you?' said Arthur, much amused. 'You chatterbox.'
'Oh! I am so sorry. I wish—'
'No, no, he only liked you the better for it. I assure you, Violet, he almost said so. Then that was what made him lay such stress on your being an innocent little victim.'
'Would you be so kind as to explain it to me?' said Violet, in such serious distress that he answered with less trifling than usual, 'There is nothing to tell. I knew how it would be if I asked leave, so I took it. That's all.'
'And—and surely they didn't know this at home?'
'The less said about that the better, Violet,' said Arthur. 'You are all right, you know, and in great favour with John. He can do anything with my father, and I have written. We shall be at home before the end of another month, and set going with a decent income in London. A house—where shall it be? Let me see, he can't give me less than L1000 a year, perhaps L1600. I vow I don't see why it should not be L2000. John wants no more than he has got, and will never marry now, and there is only Theodora. I was always my aunt's favourite, and if you mind what you are about we shall have our share of the old sugar-planter's hoards, better than the Barbuda property—all niggers and losses. I wash my hands of it, though by rights it should come to the second son.'
Neither understanding nor heeding all this, Violet interrupted by gasping out, 'Oh! I am so grieved.'
'Grieved!—say that again. Grieved to be Mrs. Arthur Martindale?'
'O no, no; but—'
'Grieved to have found such a fool as to risk everything, and run counter to all his friends for the sake of that silly little ungrateful face?'
She was coaxed out of vexation for the present; but she awoke the next morning with a feeling of culpability and dread of all the Martindale family.
John could not understand her altered manner and the timid bashfulness, greater than even at their first meeting. In fact, the history of his grief inspired her with a sort of reverential compassion for him, and the perception of the terms on which she stood, made her laugh of yesterday seem to her such unbecoming levity, that upon it she concentrated all her vague feelings of contrition.
When he came as before, to borrow some ink, as she gave it to him her hand shook, and her colour rose. After standing musing a little while, she said, mournfully, 'I am very sorry!'
'What is the matter?' said he, kindly.
'I am so vexed at what I did yesterday!'
'What do you mean?'
'For laughing,' said she, in a tone of distress. 'Indeed, indeed, I did not know,' and though she averted her face, he saw that the crimson had spread to her neck. He did not at once reply, and she went on incoherently. 'I did not know—I could not guess. Of course—I wondered at it all. I knew I was not fit—but they never told me—O, I am so much grieved.'
Most soothingly did John say, coming towards her, 'No, no, you need not distress yourself. No one can blame you.'
'But Lord Martindale'—she murmured.
'He will look on you like a daughter. I know I may promise you that. Yes, indeed, I have no doubt of it, my dear little sister,' he repeated, as she looked earnestly at him. 'I have told him how entirely you deserve his kindness and affection, and Arthur has written, such a letter as will be sure to bring his forgiveness.'
'Ah!' said Violet, 'it is all for my sake. No wonder they should be angry.'
'Don't fancy that any one is angry with you. We all know that you were ignorant how matters stood.'
'But I should have done the same if I had known. I could not have helped it,' said Violet.
'I know,' said John, 'no one could expect it of you. Arthur told me at once that you were free from any shadow of blame, and no one thinks of imputing any.'
'But are they very much displeased?' said poor Violet.
'Of course,' said John, after a little consideration, 'it was a shock to hear of such an important step being taken without my father's knowledge; but he is very anxious there should be no estrangement, and I am sure he will behave as if things had gone on in the usual course. You may have great confidence in his kindness, Violet.'
She was somewhat reassured, and presently went on—'I don't wonder they are vexed. I know how much beneath him I am, but I could not help that. Oh! I wish Matilda was here to tell me how to behave, that every one may not be ashamed of me and angry with him.'
'Don't be frightened' said John, 'you have pleased two of the family already; you know, and depend upon it, you will make them all like you in time as much as I do.'
'If YOU can overlook that laugh!' said Violet.
'I could say I liked you the better for it,' said John, pleasantly; 'only I don't know whether it would be a safe precedent. It has made us feel well acquainted, I hope. Don't make a stranger of me,' he continued, 'don't forget that we are brother and sister.
'I'm sure,'—and she broke off, unable to express herself; then added, 'Lady Martindale! I was frightened before at the thought of her, but it is much worse now.'
'You must not frighten yourself. You will find out how kind she is when you come to know her, and soon get over your first strangeness and shyness.'
'And there is your sister,' said Violet; 'Theodora—I do long to see her. Is she most like you or your brother?'
'Remarkably like him. She always makes children very fond of her,' he added, pausing to find something safe and yet encouraging; 'but I don't know half as much of her as Arthur does. We have not been as much together as I could wish.'
'I see now why she never wrote,' said Violet, with some shame, and yet glad to have it accounted for. 'But she will be sure to help me, and tell me how to behave. She will want them to be able to bear me for his sake.'
Without much reply, he applied himself to his letter, feeling that he could hardly give an impartial judgment. It had been a great effort to come to visit the bridal pair, but he found himself rewarded in a way he had not expected by the new pleasure given him by her engaging ways, her freshness and artlessness rousing him from long-continued depression of spirits.
After some pondering, she suddenly looked up, and exclaimed, 'Well, I'll try!'
'Try what, Violet!'
'I'll try to do my very best!' said she, cheerfully, though the tears still were in her eyes. 'I know I shall make mistakes, and I can never be like a great lady; but I'll do the best I can, if they will only bear with me, and not be angry with him.'
'I am sure you will do well, with such resolutions.'
'One thing I am glad of,' added she, 'that we came here just now. That old cathedral! I did not think much before—it was all strange and new, and I was too happy. But I shall never be so thoughtless now—or if I am! O, I know,' she exclaimed, with renewed energy, 'I'll buy one of those pretty white cups with views of the cathedral on them. Did you not see them in the shop-window? That will put me in mind if I am going to be careless of all my resolutions.'
'Resolutions so made are likely to be kept,' said John, and she presently left the room, recollecting that her store of biscuits needed replenishing before luncheon. She was putting on her bonnet to go to order them, when a doubt seized her whether she was transgressing the dignities of the Honourable Mrs. Martindale. Matilda had lectured against vulgarity when Arthur had warned her against ultra-gentility, and she wavered, till finding there was no one to send, her good sense settled the question. She walked along, feeling the cares and troubles of life arising on her, and thinking she should never again be gay and thoughtless, when she suddenly heard her husband's voice—'Ha! whither away so fast!' and he and Captain Fitzhugh overtook her.
'I was going into the town on an errand.'
'Just the moment I wanted you. There's a cricket match in the College Meads. Come along.'
And with her arm in his, Violet's clouds vanished, and she had no recollection of anxieties or vexations. The summer sky was overhead, the river shone blue and bright, the meadows smiled in verdure, the whole scene was full of animation, and the game, of which she knew nothing, was made charming by Arthur's explanations. Nearly an hour had passed before she bethought herself of suggesting it was almost time to go home.
'Presently,' said Arthur, 'let us see this fellow out.'
Another ten minutes. 'Would you look at your watch please? There's your brother waiting for his luncheon.'
'O, ay, 'tis nearly time,' and he was again absorbed. She thought he would not be pleased if she went home alone, nor was she sure of the way; so she waited in much annoyance, till at length he said, 'Now, Violet,' and they walked briskly home, all that she had endured passing entirely out of her mind.
She rejoiced to find Mr. Martindale unconscious that it was not far from two o'clock. He said he had been glad of time to finish his letters, and Arthur, as his eye fell on one of them, asked, 'What is Percy doing now?'
'He has been in Anatolia, going over some of the places we saw together. He has made some discoveries about the Crusades, and is thinking of publishing some of his theories.'
'Did I not hear of his writing something before this?'
'Yes; he sent some curious histories of the eastern Jews to some magazine. They are to be published separately, as they have been very successful; but I am glad this book is to be what he calls "self-contained." He is too good to be wasted upon periodicals.'
Violet, curious to know who was this literary correspondent, glanced at the letter, and read the address, to 'Antony Percival Fotheringham, Esquire, British Embassy, Constantinople.' She started to find it was the surname of that lost betrothed of whom she thought with an undefinable reverent pity.
All speculations were put to flight, however, by the entrance of the luncheon tray, containing nothing but slices of cold mutton and bread and butter. With a grievous look of dismay, and lamentable exclamation, she began to pour out explanations and apologies, but the gentlemen seemed too intent on conversing about Mr. Fotheringham either to hear her or to perceive anything amiss.
She remembered black looks and sharp words at home; and feeling dreadfully guilty at having failed immediately after her resolutions, she retreated to her room, and there Arthur found her in positive distress.
'Oh, I am so much concerned! It was so wrong to forget those biscuits. Your brother ate nothing else yesterday at luncheon!'
'Is that all?' said Arthur, laughing; 'I thought something had happened to you. Come, on with your bonnet. Fancy! John will actually walk with us to St. Cross!'
'Let me first tell you how it happened. There are a couple of ducks—'
'Let them be. No housekeeping affairs for me. Whatever happens, keep your own counsel. If they serve you up a barbecued puppy dog, keep a cool countenance, and help the company round. No woman good for anything mentions her bill of fare in civilized society. Mind that.'
Violet was left imagining her apologies a breach of good manners. What must Mr. Martindale think of her? Silly, childish, indiscreet, giggling, neglectful, underbred! How he must regret his brother's having such a wife!
Yet his pleasant voice, and her husband's drawing her arm into his, instantly dispelled all fear and regret, and her walk was delightful.
She was enchanted with St. Cross, delighted with the quadrangle of gray buildings covered with creepers, the smooth turf and gay flowers; in raptures at the black jacks, dole of bread and beer, and at the silver-crossed brethren, and eager to extract all Mr. Martindale's information on the architecture and history of the place, lingering over it as long as her husband's patience would endure, and hardly able to tear herself from the quiet glassy stream and green meadows.
'If Caroline were only here to sketch it!' she cried, 'there would be nothing wanting but that that hill should be Helvellyn.'
'You should see the mountain convents in Albania,' said John; and she was soon charmed with his account of his adventures there with Mr. Fotheringham. She was beginning to look on him as a perfect mine of information—one who had seen the whole world, and read everything. All that was wanting, she said, was Matilda properly to enter into his conversation.
Another day brought letters, inviting Arthur to bring home his bride for a fortnight's visit, as soon as he could obtain leave of absence.
Who is the bride? A simple village maid, Beauty and truth, a violet in the shade. She takes their forced welcome and their wiles For her own truth, and lifts her head and smiles. They shall not change that truth by any art, Oh! may her love change them before they part. She turns away, her eyes are dim with tears, Her mother's blessing lingers in her ears, 'Bless thee, my child,' the music is unheard, Her heart grows strong on that remembered word.
'Here we are!' said Arthur Martindale. 'Here's the lodge.' Then looking in his wife's face, 'Why! you are as white as a sheet. Come! don't be a silly child. They won't bite.'
'I am glad I have seen Mr. John Martindale,' sighed she.
'Don't call him so here. Ah! I meant to tell you you must not "Mr. Martindale" me here. John is Mr. Martindale.'
'And what am I to call you?'
'By my name, of course.'
'Arthur! Oh! I don't know how.'
'You will soon. And if you can help shrinking when my aunt kisses you, it will be better for us. Ha! there is Theodora.'
'Gone! Fled in by the lower door. I wish I could have caught her.'
Violet held her breath. The grand parterre, laid out in regularly-shaped borders, each containing a mass of one kind of flower, flaming elscholchias, dazzling verbenas, azure nemophilas, or sober heliotrope, the broad walks, the great pile of building, the innumerable windows, the long ascent of stone steps, their balustrade guarded by sculptured sphinxes, the lofty entrance, and the tall powdered footmen, gave her the sense of entering a palace. She trembled, and clung to Arthur's arm as they came into a great hall, where a vista of marble pillars, orange trees, and statues, opened before her; but comfort came in the cordial brotherly greeting with which John here met them.
'She is frightened out of her senses,' said Arthur.
John's reply was an encouraging squeeze of the hand, which he retained, leading her, still leaning on her husband's arm, into a room, where an elderly gentleman was advancing; both her hands were placed within his by her supporters on either side, and he kissed her, gravely saying, 'Welcome, my dear.' He then presented her to a formal embrace from a tall lady; and Arthur saying, 'Well, Theodora! here, Violet,' again took her hand, and put it into another, whose soft clasp was not ready, nor was the kiss hearty.
Presently Violet, a little reassured by Lord Martindale's gentle tones, ventured on a survey. She was on the same sofa with Lady Martindale; but infinitely remote she felt from that form like an eastern queen, richly dressed, and with dark majestic beauty, whose dignity was rather increased than impaired by her fifty years. She spoke softly to the shy stranger, but with a condescending tone, that marked the width of the gulf, and Violet's eyes, in the timid hope of sympathy, turned towards the sister.
But, though the figure was younger, and the dress plainer, something seemed to make her still more unapproachable. There was less beauty, less gentleness, and the expression of her countenance had something fixed and stern. Now and then there was a sort of agitation of the muscles of the face, and her eyes were riveted on Arthur, excepting that if he looked towards her, she instantly looked out of the window. She neither spoke nor moved: Violet thought that she had not given her a single glance, but she was mistaken, Theodora was observing, and forming a judgment.
This wife, for whose sake Arthur had perilled so much, and inflicted such acute pain on her, what were her merits? A complexion of lilies and roses, a head like a steel engraving in an annual, a face expressing nothing but childish bashfulness, a manner ladylike but constrained, and a dress of studied simplicity worse than finery.
Lady Martindale spoke of dressing, and conducted her meek shy visitor up a grand staircase, along a broad gallery, into a large bed-room, into which the western sun beamed with a dazzling flood of light.
The first use Violet made of her solitude was to look round in amaze at the size and luxury of her room, wondering if she should ever feel at home where looking-glasses haunted her with her own insignificance. She fled from them, to try to cool her cheeks at the open window, and gaze at the pleasure-ground, which reminded her of prints of Versailles, by the sparkling fountain rising high in fantastic jets from its stone basin, in the midst of an expanse of level turf, bordered by terraces and stone steps, adorned with tall vases of flowers. On the balustrade stood a peacock, bending his blue neck, and drooping his gorgeous train, as if he was 'monarch of all he surveyed.'
Poor Violet felt as if no one but peacocks had a right here; and when she remembered that less than twelve weeks ago the summit of her wishes had been to go to the Wrangerton ball, it seemed to be a dream, and she shut her eyes, almost expecting to open them on Annette's face, and the little attic at home. But then, some one else must have been the fabric of a vision! She made haste to unclose them, and her heart bounded at thinking that he was born to all this! She started with joy as his step approached, and he entered the room.
'Let us look at you,' he said. 'Have you your colour? Ay, plenty of it. Are you getting tamer, you startled thing?'
'I hope I have not been doing wrong. Lady Martindale asked me to have some tea. I never heard of such a thing before dinner, but I thought afterwards it might have been wrong to refuse. Was it!'
He laughed. 'Theodora despises nothing so much as women who drink tea in the middle of the day.'
'I am so afraid of doing what is unladylike. Your mother offered me a maid, but I only thought of not giving trouble, and she seemed so shocked at my undoing my own trunk.'
'No, no,' said he, much diverted; 'she never thinks people can help themselves. She was brought up to be worshipped. Those are her West Indian ways. But don't you get gentility notions; Theodora will never stand them, and will respect you for being independent. However, don't make too little of yourself, or be shy of making the lady's maids wait on you. There are enough of them—my mother has two, and Theodora a French one to her own share.
'I should not like any one to do my hair, if that is not wrong.'
'None of them all have the knack with it you have, and it is lucky, for they cost as much as a hunter.'
'Indeed, I will try to be no expense.'
'I say, what do you wear this evening?'
'Would my white muslin be fit?'
'Ay, and the pink ribbons in your hair, mind. You will not see my aunt till after dinner, when I shall not be there; but you must do the best you can, for much depends on it. My aunt brought my mother up, and is complete master here. I can't think how my father'—and he went on talking to himself, as he retreated into his dressing-room, so that all Violet heard was, 'wife's relations,' and 'take warning.'
He came back to inspect her toilette and suggest adornments, till, finding he was overdoing them, he let her follow her own taste, and was so satisfied with the result, that he led her before the glass, saying, 'There. Mrs. Martindale, that's what I call well got up. Don't you?'
'I don't mind seeing myself when I have you to look at.'
'You think we make a handsome couple? Well, I am glad you are tall—not much shorter than Theodora, after all.'
'But, oh! how shall I behave properly all dinner-time? Do make a sign if I am doing anything wrong.'
'I know I shall make mistakes. Matilda says I shall. I had a letter from her this morning to warn me against "solecisms in etiquette," and to tell me to buy the number of the "Family Friend" about dinner-parties, but I had not time, and I am sure I shall do wrong.'
'You would be much more likely, if you had Matilda and her prig of a book,' said Arthur, between anger and diversion. 'Tell her to mind her own business—she is not your mistress now, and she shall not teach you affectation. Why, you silly child, should I have had you if you had not been "proper behaved"? You have nothing to do but to remember you are my wife, and as good as any of them, besides being twenty times prettier. Now, are you ready?'
'Yes, quite; but how shall I find my way here again?'
'See, it is the third door from the stairs. The rest on this side are spare rooms, except where you see those two green baize doors at the ends. They lead to passages, the wings on the garden side. In this one my aunt's rooms are, and Miss Piper, her white nigger, and the other is Theodora's.'
'And all these opposite doors?'
'Those four belong to my father and mother; these two are John's. His sitting-room is the best in the house. The place is altogether too big for comfort. Our little parlour at Winchester was twice as snug as that overgrown drawing-room down-stairs.'
'Dear little room! I hope we may go back to it. But what a view from this end window! That avenue is the most beautiful thing I have seen yet. It looks much older than the house.'
'It is. My father built the house, but we were an old county family long before. The old Admiral, the first lord, had the peerage settled on my father, who was his nephew and head of the family, and he and my Aunt Nesbit having been old friends in the West Indies, met at Bath, and cooked up the match. He wanted a fortune for his nephew, and she wanted a coronet for her niece! I can't think how she came to be satisfied with a trumpery Irish one. You stare, Violet; but that is my aunt's notion of managing, and the way she meant to deal with all of us. She has monstrous hoards of her own, which she thinks give her a right to rule. She has always given out that she meant the chief of them for me, and treated me accordingly, but I am afraid she has got into a desperately bad temper now, and we must get her out of it as best we can.'
This not very encouraging speech was made as they stood looking from the gallery window. Some one came near, and Violet started. It was a very fashionably-dressed personage, who, making a sort of patronizing sweeping bend, said, 'I was just about to send a person to assist Mrs. Martindale. I hope you will ring whenever you require anything. The under lady's maid will be most happy to attend you.'
'There,' said Arthur, as the lady passed on, 'that is the greatest person in the house, hardly excepting my aunt. That is Miss Altisidora Standaloft, her ladyship's own maid.'
Violet's feelings might somewhat resemble those of the Emperor Julian when he sent for a barber, and there came a count of the empire.
'She must have wanted to look at you,' proceeded Arthur, 'or she would never have treated us with such affability. But come along, here is Theodora's room.'
It was a cheerful apartment, hung with prints, with somewhat of a school-room aspect, and in much disorder. Books and music lay confused with blue and lilac cottons, patterns, scissors, and papers covered with mysterious dots; there were odd-looking glass bottles on the mantel-shelf with odder looking things in them, and saucers holding what Violet, at home, would have called messes; the straw-bonnet lay on the floor, and beside it the Scotch terrier, who curled up his lips, showed his white teeth, and greeted the invaders with a growl, which became a bark as Arthur snapped his fingers at him. 'Ha! Skylark, that is bad manners. Where's your mistress? Theodora!'
At the call, the door of the inner room opened, but only a little dark damsel appeared, saying, in a French accent, that Miss Martindale was gone to Miss Gardner's room.
'Is Miss Gardner here?' exclaimed Arthur.
'She is arrived about half an hour ago,' was the reply. Arthur uttered an impatient interjection, and Violet begged to know who Miss Gardner was.
'A great friend of Theodora's. I wish she would have kept further off just now, not that she is not a good-natured agreeable person enough, but I hate having strangers here. There will be no good to be got out of Theodora now! There are two sisters always going about staying at places, the only girls Theodora ever cared for; and just now, Georgina, the youngest, who used to be a wild fly-away girl, just such as Theodora herself, has gone and married one Finch, a miserly old rogue, that scraped up a huge fortune in South America, and is come home old enough for her grandfather. What should possess Theodora to bring Jane here now? I thought she would never have forgiven them. But we may as well come down. Here's the staircase for use and comfort.'
'And here is the hall! Oh!' cried Violet, springing towards it, 'this really is the Dying Gladiator. Just like the one at Wrangerton!'
'What else should he be like!' said Arthur, laughing. 'Every one who keeps a preserve of statues has the same.'
She would have liked to linger, recognizing her old friends, and studying this museum of wonders, inlaid marble tables, cases of stuffed humming birds, and stands of hot-house plants, but Arthur hurried her on, saying it was very ill-contrived, a draught straight through it, so that nothing warmed it. He opened doors, giving her a moment's glimpse of yellow satin, gilding and pictures, in the saloon, which was next to the drawing-room where she had been received, and beyond it the dining-room. Opposite, were the billiard-room, a library, and Lord Martindale's study; and 'Here,' said he, 'is where Theodora and I keep our goods. Ha!' as he entered, 'you here, Theodora! Hallo! what's this? A lot of wooden benches with their heels in the air. How is this? Have you been setting up a charity school in my room?'
'I found the children by the wood were too far from school, so I have been teaching them here. I came to see about taking the benches out of your way. I did not expect you here.'
'I was showing her our haunts. See, Violet, here's my double barrel, and here are the bows. I forget if you can shoot.'
'Matilda and Caroline do.'
'You shall learn. We will have the targets out. Where's the light bow you used to shoot with, Theodora?'
'It is somewhere,' said Theodora, without alacrity; 'no, I remember, I gave it to Mr. Wingfield's little nephew.'
'Unlucky! Yours will never do for those little fingers.' Theodora abruptly turned to Violet, and said,' She must be tired of standing there.' Violet smiled with pleasure at being addressed, thanked, and disclaimed fatigue.
'She is of your sort, and does not know how to be tired,' said Arthur. 'I wondered to hear your bosom friend was here. What brings her about now?'
'If you call her my bosom friend, you answer the question,' was the proud reply, and it provoked him to carry on the teasing process.
'I thought she was not THE friend,' he continued; 'I ought to have congratulated you on THE friend's capture. A goldfinch of the South American breed is a rare bird.'
Theodora drew up her head, and impetuously heaped some school-books together. 'Have you seen the pretty caged bird?'
In a soft tone, contrasting with the manner of his last sayings, Arthur invited his wife to come out on the lawn, and walked away with her. She was surprised and uneasy at what had taken place, but could not understand it, and only perceived he would prefer her not seeming to notice it.
It was all the strange influence of temper. In truth, Theodora's whole heart was yearning to the brother, whom she loved beyond all others; while on the other hand his home attachments centred on her, and he had come to seek her with the fixed purpose of gaining her good-will and protection for his young bride. But temper stepped between. Whether it began from Theodora's jealousy of the stranger, or from his annoyance at her cold haughty manner to his wife, he was vexed, and retaliated by teasing; she answered coldly, in proud suffering at being taunted on a subject which gave her much pain, and then was keenly hurt at his tone and way of leaving her, though in fact she was driving him away. She stood leaning against a pillar in the hall, looking after him with eyes brimming with tears; but on hearing a step approach, she subdued all signs of emotion, and composedly met the eye of her eldest brother. She could not brook that any one should see her grief, and she was in no mood for his first sentences: 'What are you looking at?' and seeing the pair standing by the fountain, 'Well, you don't think I said too much in her favour?'
'She is very pretty,' said Theodora, as if making an admission.
'It is a very sweet expression. Even as a stranger, it would be impossible not to be interested in her, if only for the sake of her simplicity.'
Theodora glanced at Violet's dress, and at the attitude in which she was looking up, as Arthur gathered some roses from a vase; then turned her eyes on John's thoughtful and melancholy countenance, and thought within herself, that every man, however wise, can be taken in by a fair face, and by airs and graces.
'Poor thing,' continued John, 'it must be very trying; you don't see her to advantage, under constraint, but a few kind words will set her at ease.'
He paused for an answer, but not obtaining one, said, 'I did not know you expected Miss Gardner to-day.'
She surprised him, by answering with asperity, prompted by a second attack on this subject, 'I can't help it. I could not put her off,—what objection can there be?'
'Nothing, nothing,—I meant nothing personal. It was only that I would have avoided having spectators of a family meeting like this. I am afraid of first impressions.'
'My impressions are nothing at all.'
'Well, I hope you will make friends—I am sure she will repay your kindness.'
'Do you know that you are standing in a tremendous draught?' interrupted Theodora.
'And there's my mother on the stairs. I shall go and call them in; come with me, Theodora.'
But she had turned back and joined her mother.
He found Violet all smiles and wonder: but she relapsed into constraint and alarm as soon as she entered the drawing-room. Miss Gardner presently came down,—a lady about five or six and twenty, not handsome, but very well dressed, and with an air of ease and good society, as if sure of her welcome. As Violet listened to her lively conversation with Lord Martindale, she thought how impossible it was that she should ever be equally at home there.
The grandeur of the dining-room was another shock, and the varieties of courses revived her remorse for the cold mutton. She sat between Lord Martindale and John, who talked to her as soon as he thought she could bear the sound of her own voice, and, with Arthur opposite, her situation was delightful compared to the moment when, without either of her protectors, she must go with the imperial Lady Martindale to encounter the dreaded aunt.
When the time came, Arthur held open the door, and she looked up in his face so piteously, that he smiled, and whispered 'You goose,' words which encouraged her more than their tenor would seem to warrant.
Warm as it was, the windows were shut, and a shawl was round Mrs. Nesbit's tall, bending, infirm figure. Violet dared not look up at her, and thought, with mysterious awe, of the caution not to shrink if she were kissed, but it was not needed, Lady Martindale only said, 'My aunt, Mrs. Arthur Martindale,' and Mrs. Nesbit, half rising, just took her hand into her long skinny fingers, which felt cold, damp, and uncertain, like the touch of a lizard.
Violet was conscious of being scanned from head to foot—nay, looked through and through by black eyes that seemed to pierce like a dart from beneath their shaggy brows, and discover all her ignorance, folly, and unfitness for her position. Colouring and trembling, she was relieved that there was another guest to call off Mrs. Nesbit's attention, and watched the readiness and deference with which Miss Gardner replied to compliments on her sister's marriage; and yet they were not comfortable congratulations, thought Violet; at least they made her cheeks burn, and Theodora stood by looking severe and melancholy; but Miss Gardner seemed quite to enter into the sarcastic tone, and almost to echo it, as if to humour the old lady.
'Your sister acted very sensibly,' said Mrs. Nesbit, with emphasis. 'Very good management; though Theodora was somewhat taken by surprise.'
'Yes, I know we used her very ill,' said Miss Gardner; 'but people have unaccountable fancies about publishing those matters. Mr. Finch was in haste, and we all felt that it was best to have it over, so it was talked of a very short time previously.'
'Speed is the best policy, as we all know,' said Mrs. Nesbit; and Violet felt as if there was a flash of those eyes upon her, and was vexed with herself for blushing. She thought Miss Gardner's answer good-naturedly unconscious:
'Oh, people always shake together best afterwards. There is not the least use in a prolonged courtship acquaintance. It is only a field for lovers' quarrels, and pastime for the spectators.'
'By the bye,' said Mrs. Nesbit, 'what is become of your cousin, Mrs. George Gardner's son?'
'Mark! Oh, he is abroad. Poor fellow, I wish we could find something for him to do. Lady Fotheringham asked her nephew, Percival, if he could not put him in the way of getting some appointment.'
'Failed, of course,' said Mrs. Nesbit.
'Yes; I never expected much. Those diplomats are apt to be afraid of having their heels trodden upon; but it is a great pity. He is so clever, and speaks so many languages. We hope now that Mr. Finch may suggest some employment in America.'
'I assure you poor Mark would be glad of anything. He is entirely steadied now; but there are so few openings for men of his age.'
An interruption here occurring, Miss Gardner drew off to the window. Theodora sat still, until her friend said, 'How lovely it is! Do you ever take a turn on the terrace after dinner?'
Theodora could not refuse. Violet wished they had asked her to join them; but they went out alone, and for some moments both were silent. Miss Gardner first spoke, remarking, 'A beautiful complexion.'
There was a cold, absent assent; and she presently tried again, 'Quite a lady,' but with the same brief reply. Presently, however, Theodora exclaimed, 'Jane, you want me to talk to you; I cannot, unless you unsay that about Percy Fotheringham. He is not to be accused of baseness.'
'I beg your pardon, Theodora, dear; I have no doubt his motives were quite conscientious, but naturally, you know, one takes one's own cousin's part, and it was disappointing that he would not help to give poor Mark another chance.'
'That is no reason he should be accused of petty jealousies.'
'Come, you must not be so very severe and dignified. Make some allowance for poor things who don't know how to answer Mrs. Nesbit, and say what first occurs. Indeed, I did not know you were so much interested in him.'
'I am interested in justice to the innocent.'
'There! don't annihilate me. I know he is a very superior person, the pride of Lady Fotheringham's heart. Of course he would have recommended Mark if he had thought it right; I only hope he will find that he was mistaken.'
'If he was, he will be the first to own it.'
'Then I am forgiven, am I? And I may ask after you after this long solitary winter. We thought a great deal of you.'
'I needed no pity, thank you. I was well off with my chemistry and the parish matters. I liked the quiet time.'
'I know you do not care for society.'
'My aunt is a very amusing companion. Her clear, shrewd observation is like a book of French memoirs.'
'And you are one of the few not afraid of her.'
'No. We understand each other, and it is better for all parties that she should know I am not to be interfered with. Positively I think she has been fonder of me since we measured our strength.'
'There is a mutual attachment in determined spirits,' said Miss Gardner.
'I think there must be. I fancy it is resolution that enables me to go further with her than any one else can without offending her.'
'She is so proud of you.'
'What is strange is, that she is prouder of me than of mamma, who is so much handsomer and more accomplished,—more tractable, too, and making a figure and sensation that I never shall.'
'Mrs. Nesbit knows better,' said Miss Gardner, laughing.
'Don't say so. If John's illness had not prevented my coming out last year, I might have gone into the world like other girls. Now I see the worth of a young lady's triumph—the disgusting speculation! I detest it.'
'Ah! you have not pardoned poor Georgina.'
'Do you wish for my real opinion?'
'Pray let me hear it.'
'Georgina had a grand course open to her, and she has shrunk from it.'
'A grand course!' repeated Jane, bewildered.
'Yes, honest poverty, and independence. I looked to her to show the true meaning of that word. I call it dependence to be so unable to exist without this world's trash as to live in bondage for its sake. Independence is trusting for maintenance to our own head and hands.'
'So you really would have had us—do what? Teach music?—make lace?'
'If I had been lucky enough to have such a fate, I would have been a village school-mistress.'
'Not even a governess?'
'I should like the village children better; but, seriously, I would gladly get my own bread, and I did believe Georgina meant to wait to be of age and do the same.'
'But, Theodora, seriously! The loss of position.'
'I would ennoble the office.'
'With that head that looks as if it was born in the purple, you would ennoble anything, dear Theodora; but for ordinary—'
'All that is done in earnest towards Heaven and man ennobles and is ennobled.'
'True; but it needs a great soul and much indifference to creature comforts. Now, think of us, at our age, our relations' welcome worn out—'
'I thought you were desired to make Worthbourne your home.'
'Yes, there was no want of kindness there; but, my dear, if you could only imagine the dulness. It was as if the whole place had been potted and preserved in Sir Roger de Coverley's time. No neighbours, no club-books, no anything! One managed to vegetate through the morning by the help of being deputy to good Lady Bountiful; but oh! the evenings! Sir Antony always asleep after tea, and no one allowed to speak, lest he should be awakened, and the poor, imbecile son bringing out the draught-board, and playing with us all in turn. Fancy that, by way of enlivenment to poor Georgina after her nervous fever! I was quite alarmed about her,—her spirits seemed depressed for ever into apathy!'
'I should think them in more danger now.'
'Oh! her Finch is a manageable bird. Her life is in her own power, and she will have plenty of all that makes it agreeable. It is winning a home instead of working for it; that is the common sense view—'
'Winning it by the vow to love, honour, and obey, when she knows she cannot?'
'Oh, she may in the end. He is tame, and kind, and very much obliged. My dear Theodora, I could feel with you once; but one learns to see things in a different light as one lives on. After all, I have not done the thing.'
'If you did not promote it, you justify it.'
'May I not justify my sister to her friend?'
'I do no such thing. I do not justify Arthur. I own that he has acted wrongly; but—No, I cannot compare the two cases. His was silly and bad enough, but it was a marriage, not a bargain.'
'Well, perhaps one may turn out as well as the other.'
'I am afraid so,' sighed Theodora.
'It has been a sad grief to you, so fond of your brother as you were.'
'Not that I see much harm in the girl,' continued Theodora; 'but—'
'But it is the loss of your brother! Do you know, I think it likely he may not be as much lost to you as if he had chosen a superior person. When the first fancy is over, such a young unformed thing as this cannot have by any means the influence that must belong to you. You will find him recurring to you as before.'
Meanwhile, Violet sat formal and forlorn in the drawing-room, and Lady Martindale tried to make conversation. Did she play, or draw? Matilda played, Caroline drew, she had been learning; and in horror of a request for music, she turned her eyes from the grand piano. Was she fond of flowers? O, yes! Of botany? Caroline was. A beautifully illustrated magazine of horticulture was laid before her, and somewhat relieved her, whilst the elder ladies talked about their fernery, in scientific terms, that sounded like an unknown tongue.
Perceiving that a book was wanted, she sprang up, begging to be told where to find it; but the answer made her fear she had been officious. 'No, my dear, thank you, do not trouble yourself.'
The bell was rung, and a message sent to ask Miss Piper for the book. A small, pale, meek lady glided in, found the place, and departed; while Violet felt more discomposed than ever, under the sense of being a conceited little upstart, sitting among the grand ladies, while such a person was ordered about.
Ease seemed to come back with the gentlemen. Lord Martindale took her into the great drawing-room, to show her Arthur's portrait, and the show of the house—Lady Martindale's likeness, in the character of Lalla Rookh—and John began to turn over prints for her, while Arthur devoted himself to his aunt, talking in the way that, in his schoolboy days, would have beguiled from her sovereigns and bank-notes. However, his civilities were less amiably received, and he met with nothing but hits in return. He hoped that her winter had not been dull.
Not with a person of so much resource as his sister. Solitude with her was a pleasure—it showed the value of a cultivated mind.
'She never used to be famous for that sort of thing,' said Arthur.
'Not as a child, but the best years for study come later. Education is scarcely begun at seventeen.'
'Young ladies would not thank you for that maxim.'
'Experience confirms me in it. A woman is nothing without a few years of grown-up girlhood before her marriage; and, what is more, no one can judge of her when she is fresh from the school-room. Raw material!'
Arthur laughed uneasily.
'There is Mrs. Hitchcock—you know her?'
'What, the lady that goes out with the hounds, and rides steeple-chases? I saw her ride through Whitford to-day, and she stared so hard into the carriage, that poor Violet pulled down her veil till we were out of the town.'
'Well, she was married out of a boarding-school, came here the meekest, shyest, little shrinking creature, always keeping her eyelids cast down, and colouring at a word.'
Arthur thought there was a vicious look at his bride's bending head, but he endured by the help of twisting the tassel of the sofa cushion, and with another laugh observed, 'that all the lady's shyness had been used up before he knew her.'
'Then there was Lord George Wilmot, who ran away with a farmer's daughter. She made quite a sensation; she was quite presentable, and very pretty and well-mannered—but such a temper! They used to be called George and the Dragon. Poor man! he had the most subdued air—'
'There was a son of his in the Light Dragoons—' began Arthur, hoping to lead away the conversation, 'a great heavy fellow.'
'Exactly so; it was the case with all of them. The Yorkshire farmer showed in all their ways, and poor Lord George was so ashamed of it, that it was positively painful to see him in company with his daughters. And yet the mother was thought ladylike.'
Arthur made a sudden observation on John's improved looks.
'Yes. Now that unhappy affair is over, we shall see him begin life afresh, and form new attachments. It is peculiarly important that he should be well married. Indeed, we see every reason to hope that—' And she looked significant and triumphant.
'Much obliged!' thought Arthur. 'Well! there's no use in letting oneself be a target for her, while she is in this temper. I'll go and see what I can make of her ladyship. What new scheme have they for John? Rickworth, eh?'