[Transcriber's Note: The form of this e-text is predicated upon an assumption about the editorial practices that obtained in Canadian publishing around the year 1874. It is presumed that the authoress had the opportunity to review pre-publication galley proofs and make any changes or corrections she deemed appropriate, and that the published book is therefore an accurate reflection of her wishes and intentions.]
"Twist ye, twine ye, even so, Mingled threads of joy and woe, Hope and fear, peace and strife, In the cord of human life."
HAMILTON: SPECTATOR PRINTING HOUSE. 1874.
In a spacious apartment superbly furnished, and surrounded by every luxury that could please the most fastidious taste, sat Isabel Leicester, attired in deep mourning, with her head resting upon her hand, her face almost as white as the handkerchief she held. Isabel's Father had failed in business, and the misfortune had so preyed upon his mind, that he sank under it and died. The funeral had taken place that day, and she was to leave the house on the day following—the house where she was born and had always lived, except when at school. The servants had all been discharged but two, who were to leave next day. A friend had offered Isabel a home until she could procure a situation as a governess, which that friend Mrs. Arnold was endeavouring to obtain for her, in the family of a lady who had been one of Mrs. Arnold's school-fellows. Mrs. Arnold was the widow of a clergyman, with a very limited income, and Isabel was unwilling to trespass upon the kindness of one whose means she knew to be so small. But she had no alternative at the time and trusted that it would not be long before she would be able to procure the situation she had in view, or some other. The tea remained untasted on the table, for Isabel was absorbed by the melancholy thoughts that filled her heart. She tried to feel resigned, but her pride was wounded at the idea of becoming a 'governess.' She had been the spoiled petted daughter of a wealthy merchant of the city of New York, whose chief delight had been to indulge her in every way. But still Mr. Leicester had been a truly good and christian man, and had taught his daughter not to set her affections on earthly things, and to remember that wealth was given to us for the benefit of others, as well as for our own enjoyment. And he was rewarded as she grew up to find that her chief aim was to do good to the many poor families whose necessities came to her knowledge. Great also was his satisfaction to find that after two seasons in New York, where she had been the Belle, she was still the same loving, unassuming, pure-minded girl she had ever been, tho' the admiration and attention her beauty and accomplishments had excited, had she been less carefully trained, might have rendered her haughty and vain.
During her Father's illness, when her time and thoughts were occupied with attending upon him, and in anxiety for his recovery she had thought and felt that the loss of property was an evil of little moment, and tried to persuade her Father not to think so much about the reverse, urging that he could get some employment, and they would still live very happily together in a cottage.
But now that he was gone, and she had no one left to look too, her lonely and self-dependant position was felt severely, and the tears she could not restrain, fell unheeded. The fire sank low, and finally went out, and still Isabel sat thinking of the miserable prospect the future presented. At last she rose with a shudder, and rang for the tea-things to be removed, then retiring to her own room, she threw herself upon the bed in an agony of grief.
She had remained there some time, when she felt a kind hand laid upon her shoulder, and turning her head she saw the old housekeeper, Mrs. Stewart, with a cup of hot tea. "Come my dear young lady," said she, while the tears streamed down her aged cheeks, "You must take this, it will never do for you to go without your tea."
"I know you attach great virtue to a cup of tea" replied Isabel, "so to please you I will take it."
"Oh dear, dear," muttered the old woman as she descended the stairs, "how pale and ill she looks, and no wonder poor lamb, if she goes on like this she will be laid up. Oh, how I wish Mrs. Mornington had not gone to Europe. Poor child, poor child."
After Mrs. Stewart had left her, Isabel knelt down and prayed for strength to do her duty, however trying she might find it, and for the holy spirit to comfort her in affliction, after which she retired to rest, and was soon in a calm sleep.
Next morning she arose much refreshed, and having sought divine aid and protection, she commenced to arrange for her departure. Her Father's creditors knowing him to be a man of strict integrity, and that his failure was not attributable to any want of prudence on his part, had kindly arranged that she should retain whatever she particularly wished. This was a great gratification to Isabel, tho' she was too honorable to take an undue advantage of this benevolent intention, indeed she was almost too conscientious upon this point.
The task before her was a sad one, and although she strove very hard she could not restrain her tears as she made her selections. She was soon joined by Mrs. Arnold, who told her she had come to help her to pack, and that she should not leave until Isabel accompanied her. "Come" she said, kissing her affectionately, "the sooner this painful task is over my love the better. I have good news for you. I have heard from Mrs. Arlington, and she says that she shall be most happy to obtain the services of any one recommended by me. The salary I find is only two hundred dollars a year, it is indeed less than I expected, but you must remember that this is your first engagement, no doubt if you remain there a year or two, you will be able to obtain a much more remunerative one."
This announcement of Mrs. Arnold's brought to Isabel's mind in full force all the annoyances to which she would be subjected in her new position, and clasping her hands, she gave way to uncontrollable emotion.
"I do not wonder, dear, at your being disappointed, after what you have been used to, two hundred dollars must seem a very paltry sum. I dare say you gave nearly as much to your maid Harris, but my dear, as a governess your requirements will be less, so with the wardrobe you now possess, you will be able to manage very nicely."
"Oh, Mrs. Arnold, I was not thinking about the salary, I am sure I can make that do very well," sobbed Isabel. "You are very kind indeed to trouble yourself so much about me."
"You need not go to Elm Grove at present, my love, you are quite welcome to stay with me until you get over your loss a little, and feel better able to conform to circumstances," said Mrs. Arnold kindly.
Isabel made an effort to respond gratefully to her kind friend, and expressed a hope that she would shortly be able to undertake the duties of her new situation.
"I have no doubt you will be very comfortable at Elm Grove, it is a lovely place. Of course it will seem strange at first, but people soon get used to a place you know if they only try. I am very happy now, but I am sure at one time, I thought I never should be again," continued Mrs. Arnold, "but we will say no more on that subject now, we must get on with our work." And she began to give advice about what Isabel should take, and said that whatever she did not like to take with her to her new home, she could leave at her house.
Fortunately the housekeeper then came to ask if she should pack.
"Certainly," exclaimed Mrs. Arnold, "the very person I wanted," and off they went to Isabel's great relief.
Being left to herself, Isabel soon concluded her selection, and ordering Mary to take them to be packed, she went into the library to get a little rest, and time to think, tho' the latter she could scarcely do, as her temples throbbed violently. Laying her head on the old familiar couch, she endeavoured to calm the tumult of her feelings, the bright sunshine, and the merry sound of the sleigh bells outside, only made her feel her desolation more acutely.
"Luncheon is ready dear, and the packing all done," said Mrs. Arnold, throwing herself in an easy chair.
"You have indeed been quick," replied Isabel, heartily wishing they had been longer.
"It is all due to Mrs. Stewart, she is really the most clever person at packing I ever saw, tho' poor soul she was nearly blinded with tears. Come love, we must have luncheon now, and after that we will send for a sleigh."
"Indeed, dear Mrs. Arnold, I cannot go until evening, I am sure Mr. Macdermott will be here presently, for he knows that I am going to-day."
"Ah, I know, you want to be alone to muse of things in your dreamy way, but my love, it is better not to do so, it only makes things harder to bear. Try to banish disagreeable subjects as much as possible, that is my maxim. But I cannot refuse you anything just now, so after luncheon I will go home, and will come back for you in the evening."
Soon after Mrs. Arnold's departure, Mr. Macdermott the clergyman, called as Isabel had expected, and his sympathy, and advice, tended greatly to soothe the pain she felt at leaving the home she loved so well. He said that Mrs. Macdermott was still too ill to visit her, but that if she felt able she would try to see her at Mrs. Arnold's. He told her also that he had that morning received a letter from Louis, in which he desired to be kindly remembered. Mr. Macdermott remarked the rich crimson that suffused her cheeks, at the mention of his nephew's name, but the remotest idea of their engagement never entered his mind. He remained with her about an hour, then after enquiring if he could be of any service to her, he took his leave.
At last the dreaded hour arrived, and Mrs. Arnold with it. After bidding the housekeeper and Mary a kind farewell, (they had both been with her a great many years,) Isabel accompanied her friend to Rose Cottage.
The setting sun shed its bright tints over the snow which lay thick upon the ground, making it glisten like diamonds, the cold was intense, and a bitter wind howled through the leafless trees, when the train arrived at M——, and Isabel almost benumbed with cold, procured a conveyance from the station to the Rock Hotel, where Mrs. Arlington had promised to send for her.
On arriving at the hotel, she found the sleigh waiting punctual to the time appointed. Isabel would gladly have partaken of some refreshment, but Mrs. Arnold had informed her, that Mrs. Arlington was very particular, and to have kept the horses standing, Isabel felt would have offended her, which she was very anxious to avoid although she was shivering with cold.
It was a long drive of twelve miles to Elm Grove, but the horses went at a great speed, and in less than an hour they arrived at their destination. As they drew up at the door, it was opened by a footman, and a woman who seemed to be an upper servant met her in the hall, and conducted her to her room.
"I suppose you would like some tea Miss," she said "I will order it while you are taking off your things, and then I will show you the school-room. Mrs. Arlington and the young ladies are dressing for a ball, so they cannot see you to-night."
When Norris had left the room, Isabel sat down with a sigh, and looked about to see what kind of accommodation she was to have. It was a nice sized room, with a bay window having an eastern aspect, at which the wind was now howling with great violence. It was neatly, but plainly furnished, the fire had burnt low, and the room was cold. She took off her things as quickly as possible, and sincerely hoped that the school-room would be more comfortable.
Norris soon returned, and Isabel desiring her to have more fuel put upon the fire descended to the school-room, which she found very bright and pleasant looking, the large fire and lamp making it look quite attractive.
The tea was on the table, and Norris after saying "if you want anything Miss, please ring for Susan," left the room. Isabel was very glad to have some refreshment after her cold drive, and when she rang to have the things removed, the bell was answered by a neat, pleasant looking girl, who had such a sunny face that it did one good to look at her, and presently a sweet little girl of about seven years old came running into the room, and going up to Isabel, said "you are our new governess are you not. I think I shall like you very much, but I can't stay now, for Eliza is waiting to put me to bed, but I did so want to see you to-night. Good night!" and throwing her arms round Isabel's neck, she gave her a hearty kiss, and disappeared as quickly as she came. When Isabel returned to her room she had no cause to complain of the fire which was piled to the top of the grate.
When she awoke next morning it seemed very strange to be where she had not the least idea what any of the family were like. After dressing and arranging some of her things, she sat down to contemplate her situation, which she found anything but pleasant, so she determined to descend to the school-room.
The door was open, and as she approached she overheard little Amy saying "she is the prettiest lady I ever saw, only she looks so pale and sad." Isabel found three little girls in the room, of whom Amy was the youngest. Amy greeted her in the same cordial manner she had done on the preceding evening, the other two rose saying "good morning Miss Leicester," but when she stooped to kiss them, Alice sulkily put up her face, and Rose laughed. "Fancy, Miss Manning kissing us" she whispered to her sister. "Hush!" returned Alice, "she will hear."
Isabel spoke kindly to them, but Alice only returned unwilling, and Rose pert answers, so the breakfast was a dull unpleasant affair, and Isabel perceived they regarded the governess in the light of an enemy; even little Amy became shy and uneasy.
After breakfast Rose informed her that they always had half an hour before school for a run out of doors. As they were departing little Amy ran back, and coming close up to Isabel whispered "don't cry Miss Leicester, I love you, indeed I do," for Amy had noticed the tears that would come in spite of her efforts to repress them. Isabel drew the child to her, and kissing her pretty upturned face, told her to go with the others.
Amy had scarcely gone, when Mrs. Arlington entered. She was tall and stately, rather cold and haughty, and very dignified and patronizing in her manner. She hoped Miss Leicester had been made comfortable, and was sure that she would like the children. She then informed her that the school hours were from nine until four, with an hour for dinner, then she would have to take them for a walk, after that her time was her own. She would take her meals with the children, but she would be happy to have her come into the drawing-room occasionally in the evening. She said that her own time was so much occupied with her elder daughters, that she was forced to leave the children entirely to the governess, but, that as Mrs. Arnold had so strongly recommended her she felt sure she should be satisfied, then bidding Miss Leicester a polite good morning, she swept majestically from the room.
Poor Isabel, she had not expected quite so much dignity, and was excessively annoyed. "Take the children for walks," that was a thing she had not thought of, and she did not relish the idea and as to going into the drawing-room, she could very well dispense with that. She was not aware that Mrs. Arlington intended her accomplished young governess to help to amuse her guests. Excessively annoyed, Isabel repaired to her own room to calm her ruffled feelings.
At nine o'clock she went to the school-room and found her pupils there already, also a very pretty girl of about seventeen, whom they were coaxing to tell them about the ball. As Isabel entered the room, Amy exclaimed, "Miss Leicester this is Emily!" Then Emily laughed merrily, and held out her hand saying, "I hope we shall be good friends Miss Leicester, I'm sorry we were out last night."
"Oh! Emily, I'm sure you wanted very much to go to the ball, and you just now said that you enjoyed yourself exceedingly," said Alice gravely.
"I didn't mean that you silly child, returned Emily, but I am intruding upon school hours I fear, so if you will allow me Miss Leicester I will come for a chat before dinner."
Isabel bowed assent and Emily retired, rather annoyed that her advances had not met with a warmer reception. Shortly after Emily's departure, a tall and very elegant looking girl of about twenty entered the room, and bowing condescendingly to Isabel, said, "have the goodness to try these songs Miss Leicester, I wish to know if there are any pretty ones among them, I would not trouble you only I am so excessively tired" she added, taking the most comfortable seat the room afforded; this was done in the most easy manner possible, precluding of course the idea that it was by design. Miss Arlington upon entering any room, immediately perceived the nicest place, and having seen, at once took possession with an easy indifference, as if totally unconscious that she was monopolizing the best place. Isabel complied with her request, tho' not best pleased with the interruption.
"You sing very nicely Miss Leicester," Miss Arlington said patronizingly.
Isabel's lip curled contemptuously, she presumed so when the crowded room had been hushed to perfect silence whenever she approached the piano, and when she ceased singing, the murmured praise and applause on all sides had sent the hot blood to her cheeks, and this not once or twice, but scores of times—she needed not to be told that she sang nicely.
"She sings much better than you do Grace," said Rose pertly.
"Don't be rude, Rose," replied Grace, haughtily, "Miss Leicester will have some trouble with you I imagine," then thanking Isabel, she left the room excessively annoyed with Rose.
The lessons proceeded, and Isabel thought that Alice and Rose must alter their manners greatly before she could take any interest in teaching them. It was evident that they had not been treated kindly by their last governess. Alice sulked so much, and Rose was so pert, that Isabel found it difficult to keep her temper, and when tea was over, her head ached so severely, and she felt so tired and miserable, that she retired to her room, and locking herself in gave way to irrepressible emotion, while she thought that she should indeed be unhappy in her new position.
Presently some one knocked at the door, but vexed at the interruption, and not wishing to be seen giving way to her feelings, Isabel took no notice. As the knocking continued unanswered, a soft voice pleaded for admittance. On opening the door, she found it was Emily, and not Amy, as she expected.
"I hope you will excuse me," she said, "but not finding you in the school-room I came after you, as I knew that I should not have any other opportunity this evening."
Isabel was very much confused, but Emily sat down by her side, telling her how very much she felt for her, and how she hoped she would consider her a friend. "Mrs. Arnold wrote and told me all about you" she said, "and dear Isabel I will do all in my power to make you happy."
But Isabel only sobbed, "I can never be happy again—never."
"You must not say that, you must not think so," exclaimed Emily. "You must come into the drawing-room with us, and that will cheer you up a bit. I know you will like papa. Elm Grove looks dreary now, but in summer it is delightful. Then, I always get up early and go for a ramble before breakfast, if I can only get any one to go with me, and I feel sure you will go with me next summer. I think I shall breakfast with you, I can't wait for mama's late breakfast, but I would sooner have gone without altogether, than have taken it with Miss Manning. I only left school you know a few weeks ago, and I like a little fun. I know I make the children very outrageous sometimes, but then, you know I could not behave at all like a fashionable young lady in the evening, if I did not get rid of some of my wild spirits before hand. By-the-bye," she cried, laughing, "I believe you will have to teach me manners, Miss Massie pronounced me quite incorrigible, my sister is a perfect model according to her idea, but I could never be like Grace, I think mamma has given up all thought of it."
"I don't know about teaching you manners, but I must try what I can do with Alice and Rose, they are sadly deficient even in politeness."
"Ah, you have found that out already have you," cried Emily laughing.
Isabel colored, and murmured something about forgetting who she was speaking to. "O you needn't mind, I like people who say what they think" said Emily, "besides that is just what papa says about them, but you must own that Amy is a nice little thing, I don't think she could be rude or unkind."
"Yes Amy is a sweet child."
"It will not be quite so dull here next week, for Everard is coming home. I do wish so much for you to see him, he is my idea of perfection as far as attainable in human nature. Oh! he's so handsome, and such a dear nice fellow, I'm sure you will like him."
"Perhaps you are not an impartial judge, I may not be able to see his perfections so clearly."
"You can't help seeing them, they are as clear as daylight," returned Emily, warmly. "What do you think he asked me in his last letter—to tell him what sort of a gorgon the new governess was, so as I wrote to-day, I said she was beyond all description, and not to be compared with Miss Manning, so if he does not imagine something awful its very strange, (Isabel did not look well pleased) I hope you wont mind; it was such a nice opportunity for a trick, but it is time I dressed for dinner, dear me how tiresome, and away she bounded. What a funny girl, thought Isabel, I wonder if I shall like her, at all events she means to be kind.
Isabel was not happy in her new home, it was no easy task to teach such unruly girls as Alice and Rose, whose chief object was to get as much fun as possible at the expense of their governess, but she trusted in time to be able to bring them to better order by the exercise of firmness and kindness combined. With Amy, however it was quite different, she seemed never so happy as when with Isabel.
It was Sunday afternoon, the children did not seem to know how to employ themselves, but sat sullenly each with a book, tho' it was very evident that they were not reading. Indeed, Isabel had seen by their manners all day, that they had not been accustomed to have Sunday made pleasant.
"Come here Amy dear," said Isabel, "would you like me to read to you."
"Yes please, for it makes my head ache to read all the afternoon."
So Isabel read a portion of scripture and several nice little hymns. Very soon as she had expected, Alice and Rose, drew near. Then she read them part of the 'chief's daughter,' and after that she played several sacred pieces and sang a hymn to the tune tranquility. The children all gathered round her asking her to teach them to sing it. She promised to do so if they would learn the words, which they immediately commenced to do.
After tea they had a most unexpected and very welcome visitor. "Oh! Everard, when did you come home," they all exclaimed.
"While you were at church," he returned.
"What a shame you didn't come to see us before," said Alice reproachfully.
"O then, I suppose it was you who shut the door when we were singing this afternoon," interposed Rose, "why didn't you come in."
"I did not wish to disturb you" he answered, "but why don't some of you have the politeness to introduce me to your new governess."
Isabel colored deeply as he used the distasteful appellation, and bent lower over her book, and when Rose said, Mr. Everard Arlington, Miss Leicester," her bow was more haughty and dignified than she was aware of. He seated himself at the window with Amy on his knee, while the others stood one on either side. Isabel heard a great deal being said about Miss Leicester in an under tone, and was about to leave the room, when Everard interposed, saying "I shall go, unless you stay Miss Leicester, I'm not going to turn you out of the room."
"Indeed I would rather go," said Isabel.
"Indeed I would rather you stayed." returned Everard.
"I do not wish to be any restraint on the children, it would be better for me to go."
"Well," said Everard putting his hand on the door, "I may as well have it out with you at once, as I did with Miss Manning, I am very fond of my little sisters, and often come to see them here."
"I have no objection, only let me go."
"But that is just what I don't want you to do, and I always have my own way at Elm Grove. You must not run away whenever I come, or I shall think you consider me an intruder."
"Never mind what I think," said Isabel looking up, about to insist upon going, for she was very indignant at his behaviour, but the face she beheld quite disarmed her wrath. Such a calm, kind, earnest expression in the mild blue eyes, such a winning smile played round the handsome mouth, a more prepossessing countenance Isabel had never seen, there was something about it irresistibly attractive. "What is it you wish me to do," she asked as her eyes met his.
"Stay where you are, and do just the same as if I was not here he said, and not run off as if I was going to eat you."
"Then don't talk about me," she returned stiffly.
"I'm sure. I never said a word about you."
"But the children did," she replied coloring deeply as she returned to her seat.
"Please Everard wont you read to us?" asked Amy.
When he had finished, Amy asked Isabel if she would play the hymn she promised.
"Not to-night dear," replied Isabel.
"Oh please, Miss Leicester," coaxed Rose.
"If I am the cause of their disappointment I will go, but indeed I should like to join," said Everard.
"As you please" said Isabel, ashamed of being so much out of temper.
"You know you promised, Miss Leicester," interposed Alice, gravely.
"So I did, dear," returned Isabel, going to the piano: and she was quite repaid, as they all sang very sweetly, and quite correctly.
"Good night," said Everard, when the hymn was ended.
"Forgive me, Miss Leicester if I seemed rude, I did not intend to be."
Isabel was distressed to find how much the children had been neglected; true they were tolerably proficient in their studies, but in all religious instruction they were miserably deficient.
Left entirely to the care of Miss Manning, who was a very frivolous, worldly minded woman, they were led, (tho' perhaps unintentionally) to regard all religious subjects as dry and tedious, and to be avoided as much as possible. Isabel determined to try and remedy this evil by the exercise of patient gentleness, and by striving to make religious instruction a pleasure and a privilege. No easy task did this appear considering the dispositions she had to deal with, nor was it without a struggle that she put aside her own wishes and devoted her Sunday afternoons to this purpose. She certainly did not meet with much encouragement at first; again and again did the question recur to her mind, what good am I doing, why should I deprive myself of so many pleasant hours for the benefit of these thankless children; but the selfish thought was conquered, and she persevered. On week days also, she had morning prayer and read a portion of scripture, then they sung a hymn, always taking for the week the one they learnt on the Sunday afternoon. Nor was her perseverance unavailing, for the children became interested, and requested her to have evening service as they termed it, which of course Isabel was only too glad to do. After a while their morning numbers were increased, as Emily and her papa joined them, and so on until at last without any special arrangement they all assembled in the school-room every morning as a matter of course.
Isabel was very different from what Mrs. Arlington had expected, so refined in her manners and tastes, so totally unfitted to combat with all the mortifications of a governess's career. True, she had expected a rather superior person, when Mrs. Arnold wrote that Miss Leicester was the indulged daughter of a wealthy merchant, who on account of her father's losses and subsequent death, was forced to gain her living by teaching. Still, she was not prepared to find her new governess such a lovely and sweet tempered girl, and Isabel had not been long at Elm Grove, before Mrs. Arlington found that she was becoming quite attached to her. And as Mr. Arlington found that her father was the same Mr. Leicester from whom he had formerly experienced great kindness, they decided Isabel should teach the children, and receive her salary, but that in all other respects she should be as one of the family, and Isabel was very glad of the change.
The winter was past, and it was now June—bright, sunny June—and Elm Grove was decked in its richest hues. Down from the house sloped a beautiful lawn, studded with shrubs, and adorned with flower-beds of different sizes and shapes; while in the centre there was a pond and fountain, with a weeping willow shading the sunny side, which gave an appearance of coolness quite refreshing. Beyond was the shrubbery and fruit garden; and to the left the meadow, bounded by a coppice.
The house was of the gothic order: on the right side of it was a beautiful conservatory, filled with the choicest plants; on the left a colonnade and terrace, shaded by a group of acacia trees. In front a piazza and large portico, around which honeysuckle, clematis and roses, shed their sweet perfume. The grounds were tastefully laid out, with due regard to shade; and a grove of elm trees completely hid the house from the avenue: so that in approaching it from the main road, the house seemed still in the distance—even out of sight—until, on taking a half turn round a thick clump of elms, one would unexpectedly come out right in front of the house, almost at the door. It was, as Emily had said, a delightful place.
The children had greatly improved under Isabel's care. Emily was quite like a sister, and even Miss Arlington treated her as an equal. Isabel knew that governesses were not usually so fortunate as to meet with such nice people, and appreciated their kindness accordingly. The walks, too, that she had so much dreaded, had become a pleasure,—not a disagreeable duty. Emily usually joined them, and not unfrequently Everard also. He performed almost impossibilities to get Isabel wild-flowers, of which, Rose had informed him, she was exceedingly fond. These, to his great annoyance, were always carefully deposited in a glass on the dining-room table; for Isabel had remarked in his manner toward her more than mere politeness, and endeavored as much as possible to check his growing attentions. But all his acts of kindness were done with so much tact and consideration, as to leave her no alternative, and oblige her to receive them. Neither was there anything in his behaviour or conversation that she could complain of, or that others would remark. All this made it very difficult for her to know how to act, as she did not wish to hurt his feelings by unnecessary particularity, or by the assumption of unusual formality lead him to suspect the true cause; and thus perhaps lay herself open to the possibility of being supposed to have imagined him to be in love with her, without due cause. Isabel knew that she was not deceived; she knew also that she must be very careful to conceal that she was so well aware of the state of his feelings towards her.
"The Morningtons are coming to stay at Ashton Park: are you not glad, Emmy?" said Everard, as he joined Isabel, Emily, and the children, in their ramble, one bright day in the midsummer holidays. "Glad, I should think so!" returned Emily; "but when do they come?"
"Very soon, I believe; and I expect we shall have jolly times. Harry's so full of life, and that merry little Lucy is the spirit of fun. May will be here shortly. And the Harringtons have friends with them, so we shall be able to get up some nice picnics."
"But is not Ada coming?" asked Emily.
"Why, of course she is," returned Everard; "but if you have not heard the 'latest,' I shall not enlighten you sister mine."
"O Everard! I'm all curiosity," cried Emily, opening her blue eyes very wide.
"You mean that Ada is engaged to Mr. Ashton," said Isabel.
"Yes; but how on earth did you know it?" he returned.
"Do you know the Morningtons?" asked Emily. "Have you known them long?"
"Longer than you have, I fancy," replied Isabel. "I have known them as long as I can remember. Ada and I had the same room at school. She is my dearest and most intimate friend."
"I suppose you know Harry and the rest very well?"
"O yes, we were quite like brothers and sisters,"
"When are they expected?" asked Emily.
"They may be there already, for all I know. It was last Sunday Sir John told papa they were coming."
At this moment Charles Ashton, with Ada and Lucy Mornington, emerged from a bridle path through the woods that separated Elm Grove from Ashton Park. Greetings were warmly exchanged, and then amid a cross-fire of questions and small talk, they proceeded to the house, where they found Mrs. Mornington and Lady Ashton. The latter insisted upon the young ladies and Everard returning with them to spend a few days at the Park.
Isabel declined to accompany them. At which, Lucy fairly shed tears, and every one seemed so much annoyed, that she finally consented.
Her position of friend and governess combined, when alone, was pleasant enough; but with strangers, of course, she was still only Mrs. Arlington's governess, and was treated accordingly. That is, when it was known; as people at first did not usually suppose that the beautiful and attractive Miss Leicester was only the governess. And Isabel was sometimes amused, as well as annoyed, to find people who had been very friendly, cool off perceptibly. This she attributed to the circumstance that she was 'only the governess.' Lady Ashton, especially, had been very anxious to be introduced to that "charming Miss Leicester;" and Isabel had afterwards heard her saying to a friend: "Well! you surprise me! So she is 'only the governess,' and yet has the air of a princess. I'm sure I thought she was 'somebody.' But then, you know, there are persons who don't seem to know their proper place." All this had made Isabel cold and reserved in company; for her high spirit could ill brook the slights and patronising airs of those who in other days would have been glad of her acquaintance.
Thus Isabel was deemed haughty and cold; few, if any, perceiving that this cold reserve was assumed to hide how deeply these things wounded her too sensitive feelings. So it was with more pain than pleasure that she made one of the party to Ashton Park, having a presentiment that vexation and annoyance would be the result; as she was quite sure that it was only to please Ada, that Lady Ashton had included her in the invitation.
Nor did it tend to disperse these gloomy apprehensions, when Isabel found that the room assigned her was at the extreme end of the corridor, scantily, even meanly furnished, and had apparently been long unoccupied, as, although it was now June, there was something damp, chilly, and uncomfortable about it. During the whole of this visit, she was destined to suffer from annoyances of one kind or another. If there was a spooney, or country cousin, among the guests, Lady Ashton would be sure to bring him to Miss Leicester, and whisper her to amuse him if possible, and she would greatly oblige. So that Isabel scarcely ever enjoyed herself. Or just as some expedition was being arranged, Lady Ashton would, by employing Isabel about her flowers, or some other trivial thing, contrive to keep her from making one of the party. Isabel, though intensely disgusted, was too proud to remonstrate. And even when Charles, once or twice, interfered to prevent her being kept at home, she felt almost inclined to refuse, so annoyed and angry did Lady Ashton appear.
True, she might have had some enjoyment from the society of Harry and Everard. But so surely as Lady Ashton observed either of them in conversation with her, she invariably wanted to introduce them to some 'charming young ladies.' And she took good care that Isabel should not join any of the riding parties. Once Arthur Barrington had particularly requested her to do so, and even offered his own horse (as Lady Ashton had assured them that every horse that could carry a lady had already been appropriated), but his aunt interposed: "O my dear Arthur, if you would only be so good as to lend it to poor little Mary Cleavers! Of course I would not have ventured to suggest your giving up your horse; but as you are willing to do so, I must put in a claim for poor little Mary, who is almost breaking her heart at the idea of staying at home. And Miss Leicester is so good-natured, that I am sure she will not object."
"Excuse me, aunt, but"—began Arthur.
"Here! Mary, dear," cried Lady Ashton; and before Arthur could finish the sentence, his aunt had informed Mary that he had kindly promised his horse. Mary turned, and overwhelmed the astonished Arthur with her profuse thanks.
"Confound it," muttered Arthur (who was too much a gentleman to contradict his aunt and make a scene); then bowing politely to Miss Cleaver, he turned to Isabel, saying, "Will you come for a row on the lake, Miss Leicester, as our riding to-day is now out of the question, as my aunt has monopolized 'Archer' so unceremoniously. I feel assured that Miss Lucy will join us, as she is not one of the riding party."
Isabel assented, and Arthur went in search of Lucy.
Lady Ashton followed him, and remonstrated: "You know you were to be one of the riding party, Arthur."
"Impossible, my dear aunt. After what has passed, I can't do less than devote my time this morning to the service of Miss Leicester."
"Nonsense; she is 'only a governess.'"
"So much the more would she feel any slight."
"You talk absurdly," she returned with a sneer. "You can't take her alone, Arthur. I will not allow it."
"My dear aunt, I am much too prudent for that. Lucy Mornington goes with us."
"But who will ride with Mary?"
"Oh, you must get her a cavalier, as you did a horse, I suppose," he returned carelessly. At all events, I am not at her service, even though no other be found;" and he passed on toward Lucy, regardless of his aunt's displeasure. And he carried the day in spite of her, for she put in practice several little schemes to prevent Isabel going. But Lady Ashton was defeated; and Isabel remembered this morning as the only really pleasant time during her stay at the Park.
Lady Ashton was greatly perplexed as to how to procure a beau for Mary, and, as a last resource, pressed Sir John into service; but as he was a very quiet, stately old gentleman, the ride, to poor Mary's great chagrin, was a very formal affair.
On the last evening of her stay at Ashton Park, Isabel was admiring the beautiful sunset from her window, and as she stood lost in reverie, someone entered hastily and fastened the door. Turning to see who the intruder might be, she beheld a very beautiful girl, apparently about fourteen years of age, her large eyes flashing with anger, while her short, quick breathing, told of excitement and disquietude. "I have had such a dance to get here without observation," she panted forth. "Please let me stay a little while." And before Isabel could recover from her momentary surprise, Louisa had thrown herself into her arms, exclaiming, "I knew that you were kind and good, or I would not have come, and I felt sure that you would pity me." All anger was now gone from the eager, earnest face, raised imploringly, and Isabel's sympathy was aroused by the weary, sad expression of her countenance.
"Who are you; what makes you unhappy; and why do you seek my sympathy?" asked Isabel.
"I am Lady Ashton's grand-daughter, Louisa Aubray," she replied. "You don't know what a life I lead, boxed up with old Grumps, and strictly forbidden all other parts of the house. I have been here two years, and during all that time I have not had any pleasure or liberty, except once or twice when I took French leave, when I was sure of not being found out. Ah, you don't know how miserable I am! no one cares for poor Louisa;" and burying her face in her hands, she cried bitterly. "I sometimes watch the company going to dinner, and that was how I came to see you; and I liked you the best of them all, and I wished so much to speak to you. So I managed to find out which was your room; but it was only to-day that I could get here, unknown to Miss Crosse. Won't you please tell me which of those young ladies Uncle Charles is going to marry. I want so much to know; because Uncle Charles is nice, and I like him. He is the only one here that ever was the least bit kind to me. As for grandpapa and grandmamma, I know they hate me; and Eliza says, that the reason grandpapa can't bear the sight of me, is because I am like papa. Oh, I know that dear mamma would not have been so glad when they promised to take care of me, if she had known how unkind they would be."
"But how can I help you, dear?" inquired Isabel.
"Why, I thought if I told you, you would be sorry for me, and persuade grandmamma to send me to school; for then, at least, I should have someone to speak to. I don't mind study,—only old Miss Crosse is so unkind. I think perhaps she might, if you were to coax her very much—do please," said Louisa, warmly.
Isabel smiled at the idea that she should be thought to have any influence with Lady Ashton. "You err greatly, dear child, in thinking that I have any power to help you. I can only advise you to try and bear your present trials, and wait patiently for better times," she said.
"Ah, it's all very well for you to tell me this. You have all you can wish, and everything nice, so it is easy to give advice; but you wouldn't like it, I can tell you."
"I don't expect you to like it, Louisa. I only want you to make the best of what can't be helped."
"Oh, but it might be helped, if you would only try," urged Louisa.
"It is getting late," returned Isabel, "and I must now dress for dinner; but if you like you may remain here while I do so, and I will tell you about a young lady that I know, and then perhaps you will not be so annoyed with me for giving you the advice I have."
"Thanks," returned Louisa, "I should like it very much."
"This young lady's parents were very rich, and indulged her in every way. Her mother died when she was only eight years old. Her father had her taught every accomplishment, and instructed in almost every branch of learning. And she lived in a beautiful house, surrounded by every luxury, until the age of nineteen, when her father died; and as he lost all his property shortly before, she was forced to gain her living as a governess. Think what she must have suffered, who never in her life had had a harsh or unkind word, and scarcely ever had a wish ungratified; but had been spoilt and petted at home, and courted and flattered abroad. Think what it must have been to go alone and friendless among strangers; to earn, by the irksome task of teaching, no more a year than she had been accustomed to receive in a birthday present or Xmas gift. She was fortunate enough to meet with very kind people, who made her as comfortable as it was possible for her to be under the circumstances. But still she found her position a very trying one, and was often placed in very unpleasant circumstances, and sometimes met with great mortifications. And that young lady, Louisa,—is myself."
"Oh! I'm sorry, so sorry," exclaimed Louisa. "And I thought you so happy, and so much to be envied. And I'm sorry also for what I said about it being so easy to give advice. But why don't you marry some rich gentleman? and then, you know, you needn't be a governess any more. I would."
"I didn't say that I was unhappy, Louisa, and I try not to let these things trouble me so much, for I know it is wrong to care so much about them, but I can't help it. I have not told you this to excite your pity; but that you may know that others have their daily trials as well as yourself. Do not think, dear child, that I do not compassionate your sad lot; only try to remember the comforts which you do enjoy, notwithstanding the ills you are called upon to endure. Think how much worse your fate might have been, if your grandparents had refused to provide for you; and be sure if you have patience, and do what is right, in due time you will have your reward."
Louisa was now weeping violently. "Ah, you don't, you can't know, what it is to live as I do. And I felt so sure that—you—could help me; but you can't, I know now, for grandmamma wouldn't listen to 'a governess.' She is so bitter against anyone that teaches, because of papa. But I can't, and won't, stand this miserable life much longer—I will not!" she continued passionately, as with compressed lips and clenched hands she started to her feet, while the angry flashing eyes and determined countenance told of strong will and firm resolution. "If I was a boy," she said, "I would run away and go to sea; but I am only a girl, and there is so little that a girl can do. But I will find some way to escape before long, if things continue like this—that I will!" and she stamped her foot impatiently upon the ground. Isabel could scarcely believe that the passionate girl before her was indeed the same child who had sat at her side so meekly not a moment before. She no longer paid any attention to Louisa's complaints. Her thoughts were far away with the only one in whom she had ever seen this sudden transition from persuasive gentleness to stormy anger; for the proud, passionate girl brought him vividly to her mind, though the wide ocean rolled between them. She saw again the proud curling lip, and the dark expressive eyes, which one moment would beam on her in love, and the next flash with angry light and stern displeasure; the haughty mien and proud defiance, blended with a strange fascinating gentleness, that had won her heart. The time was present to her imagination, when with passionate entreaty he had urged upon her the necessity for a secret marriage, and in fondest accents implored her not to refuse, as he was positive that her father would never consent to their union; and his fearful burst of passion when she most entirely, though tearfully, refused to accede to his request. Even now she trembled as she recalled the angry terms in which he reproached her, and the indignant manner in which he had expressed his conviction that she did not love him; and that all henceforth was at an end between them. How he left her in great wrath; but soon after returned, and in the most humble manner deplored his cruelty and hateful temper, and in gentlest strains implored her forgiveness. But her musings were rather abruptly terminated by Louisa exclaiming: "Oh! tell me what is the matter. Your hand is quite cold, and you are trembling all over. What have I done? what shall I do?" she continued, wringing her hands in despair.
"I cannot talk to you any more now, Louisa dear," replied Isabel, "but I will tell Ada about you, and perhaps she may be able to help you; but you really must not get into such dreadful passions. I can't have you stay any longer, as I wish to be alone."
"But why do you tremble and look so pale?" asked Louisa, mournfully. "Is it so dreadful to be a governess?"
"I was not thinking of that dear," answered Isabel, kissing her "good-night. Mind you try to be a good girl."
So Louisa was dismissed, fully persuaded in her own mind that she had nearly frightened Isabel to death by her passionate behaviour.
After waiting a moderate time to recover herself, Isabel joined the others in the drawing-room. Fortunately, they went to dinner almost immediately, as she felt anything but inclined to make herself agreeable; and as Lady Ashton, as usual, was kind enough to furnish her with a companion who appeared to be a quiet, inoffensive individual, she treated him with polite indifference. She was deceived, however, in her opinion regarding Mr. Lascelles. The man was an 'ass,' and a 'magpie,' and appeared to like nothing better than to hear his own voice. However, this suited Isabel tolerably on this occasion, as an 'indeed,' or 'really,' was all that was needed by way of reply; and he was forced sometimes to stop to enable him to eat, and this kept him from being oppressive. But as he found her so good a listener, there was no getting rid of him; for when the gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing-room, he devoted himself entirely to Miss Leicester—to Lucy's intense amusement. At last Ada grew compassionate, and got Charles to ask Isabel to sing, and to introduce Mr. Lascelles to Miss Cleaver. It was a tedious evening, and Isabel was heartily glad that they were to return to Elm Grove. Life there was at all events endurable, which the life she had spent for the last week was certainly not. She was sick and tired of hearing the oft-repeated question and answer, "Who is that young lady?"—"Oh, the governess at Elm Grove;" and most emphatically determined that she would never stay at the Park again, let who might be offended.
Neither could she help drawing comparisons between this and her former life, nor deny that she felt it severely. But the warm welcome she received from the children on her return to the Grove, went far towards dispersing these gloomy thoughts.
A pic-nic was decided upon for Emily's birthday—the fourth of August. It was a lovely day, and every thing seemed propitious. And a merrier party seldom started on a pleasure excursion, than the one which now was assembled under the trees at Elm Grove. The guests were Sir John and Lady Ashton, Charles, and the Morningtons, Lilly and Peter Rosecrain, May Arlington (a cousin), the Harringtons and the Hon. Arthur Barrington, the latter had not arrived, but had promised to meet them at their destination. Emily was in ecstasy, and the children quite wild with delight. All Isabel's endeavors to keep them in order were useless, and Lucy announced, that every one must be allowed to do just as he or she pleased, or there would be no fun. Lucy volunteered to go with the children if they could procure a driver. "Any one would do, excepting Mr. Everard Arlington, as of course the children would be too much in awe of him, as he could be awefully grave."
Peter immediately offered his services, unless he was too stern and sedate. This caused a laugh, as Peter was renowned for fun.
The place chosen for the pic-nic was a delightful spot, (quite romantic Emily declared) situated at the bottom of a beautiful ravine, within a short distance of a splendid water fall yclept the "old roar," the dashing spray of its gurgling waters making quite refreshing music.
"Now Emily, you are queen to-day, and all that you say is law," cried the laughing Lucy, when they arrived at their destination. "Now master Bob, be on your P's and Q's, and find a nice place to spread the royal feast."
"I think that you are making yourself queen on this occasion and no mistake," returned the saucy Bob.
"Well, I am prime minister you know, so make haste and obey my commands."
"Self constituted I fancy," returned Bob with a shrug.
"May I ask what important office is to be assigned me on this festive occasion," asked Peter.
"That of queen's jester, of course," replied Lucy gravely.
"You do me too much honor Miss Lucy," he said, bowing with mock humility.
"I'm quite aware of that," answered Lucy demurely.
A desirable place was soon found in a shady nook, and the repast was spread, to which it is almost needless to add they all did ample justice.
Just as they sat down, Arthur made his appearance, bringing Louisa Aubray with him. If a look could have done it Lady Ashton would have annihilated him, so fearfully angry was she at his daring to bring her grand daughter in this manner, upon his own responsibility.
"I found Louisa very disconsolate and unhappy, and I thought a little recreation would be good for her, Aunty. I feel sure that Mrs. Arlington will excuse the liberty I have taken," he added with a smile and bow.
"Pray don't mention it, replied Mrs. Arlington thus appealed to, I am only too happy to have Miss Aubray join us. Alice my dear, make room for Miss Aubray."
Louisa sat with her large mournful eyes cast down, tho' occasionally she threw furtive glances at her grandmother's darkened countenance, and seemed to be doing anything but enjoying herself. And no wonder poor child, for she was sure of a terrible scolding sooner or later. Arthur paid attention to the ladies generally, with whom he was a great favorite.
Louisa ate her dinner almost in silence, tho' Alice did her best to draw her out. But poor girl, she was calculating the chances of being left alone with her angry grandmother when they dispersed after dinner, and almost wished she had not yielded to Arthur's persuasions, as he had apparently deserted her. But he was much too considerate and kind hearted for that, he had brought her there to enjoy herself, and it would not be his fault if she didn't. They began dispersing by twos and threes to explore the beauties of the place, and Louisa's heart sank within her, as she saw their numbers diminishing fast, and that Arthur too had disappeared.
The children asked Isabel to come and see Rose's bower, and after a short consultation, Alice invited Louisa to join them, but Lady Ashton interposed.
"I had much rather you remained with me my dear," she said curtly. And Louisa reseated herself with a great sigh as the others started on their ramble. For the children had much too great an awe of Lady Ashton, to attempt to intercede on Louisa's behalf, and if the truth must be told, they didn't much care for her company. So Louisa was left alone with the elders, who were not in such haste to move after their repast as the young people.
"Come Louisa, let us follow the example of the rest," said Arthur reappearing.
"I have ordered Louisa to remain here, interposed Lady Ashton sternly."
"Oh! Aunt," remonstrated Arthur.
"I don't approve of her coming at all, but as she is here she—"
"May as well enjoy herself," put in Arthur.
"Arthur," ejaculated Lady Ashton, in her most freezing tone.
"But Aunt," you see that she is the only young lady left, and you wouldn't be so cruel as to condemn me to wander alone through these picturesque ravines."
"You can stay here, and amuse us old people," returned Lady Ashton grimly.
Arthur shrugged his shoulders and elevated his eye-brows, by way of reply.
"Oh! that is too much to expect," interposed Mrs. Arlington kindly, "I think you should relent Josephine."
"But you know that I refused to let her go with Miss Leicester and the children."
"Oh! did you," interrupted Arthur, "that was too bad."
"Come Louisa, we will try and find them," and off he marched her from under Lady Ashton's very nose, as Louisa felt bold with Arthur to back her, and she knew that she could not increase the weight of censure already incured—she also longed to get out of her grandmother's presence on any terms.
Rose's bower (so called from Rose having been the first to discover it) was some distance up the winding path. It was a nice little nook, thickly shaded on all sides, having a small aperture in the west, and was completely covered with wild flowers of every description. The ascent was very difficult, for they had quite to force their way through the underwood. They arrived at last, tired and breathless, but the wild secluded beauty of the spot quite repaid them for their trouble. Isabel was in raptures, and expressed her admiration in no measured terms to the delighted children.
"Oh! Everard, how did you find us," exclaimed Alice, as that gentleman made his appearance, "I thought no one knew of this place but ourselves."
"Oh I followed just to see to what unheard of spot you were taking Miss Leicester," replied Everard good-naturedly.
"Then you might have joined us, and not have crept after us in that mean way." said Rose angrily.
"Rose, my dear Rose, you must not speak in that way." interposed Isabel authoritatively.
"Oh Rose, don't you like Everard to come," asked Amy reproachfully.
"I don't like him to come in that way." returned Rose.
"Wouldn't you like to gather some of those black berries," asked Everard, after they had rested a while.
"O yes," they all exclaimed, "what beauties," and off they scampered. Isabel was about to follow, but Everard interposed, "Stay, Miss Leicester, I have long sought an opportunity to address you, and can no longer delay—I must speak—"
Isabel would have made her escape, but that Everard stood between her and the only available opening. She knew that he was about to propose, and would gladly have prevented it if possible, but as it was, there was no reprieve—he would do it.
How signally had she failed, notwithstanding all her efforts, for she could not but feel, that she had not succeeded in making clear to him, her own ideas on the subject, or this would not have been. How sorry she was now, that she had allowed the fear of being unnecessarily cool to influence her conduct,—yet at the same time, she could not accuse herself of having given him any encouragement. Yet, how far was he from anticipating a refusal, and how unprepared to receive it. She saw it, there was no doubt manifested in the eager expressive eyes, in the warm impulsive manner blended with a gentle earnestness that might have won the heart of a girl whose affections were disengaged. He looked so handsome, so loveable, that Isabel felt she might indeed have been content to take him, had not her affections been given to another, and she grieved to think of the pain she must inflict.
It might have been easier if he had not looked so bright and hopeful about it, or if she could have told him of her engagement, but that was out of the question, he seemed so certain of success, so utterly unconscious of the fate that awaited him, that she could have wept, but resolutely repressing her tears, she waited with heightening color to hear the words that were to be so kindly, yet so vainly spoken.
"Dearest Isabel," he said in accents soft and winning. "I have loved you ever since I first saw you on that Sunday afternoon, and all that I have seen of you since, has only increased my esteem. But of late you have been more retiring than formerly, and I have even thought that you avoided me sometimes, thinking I fear, that my attentions (to use a common phrase) meant nothing, but that is not the case, I am not one of those, who merely to gratify their own vanity, would endeavor to win affection, which they do not,—cannot return. No dearest, I love you truly, unalterably,—will you then accept my love, and give me the right and the inexpressibly pleasure to share all your joys and sorrows. Tell me dear Isabel, will you be my wife."
She was trembling—almost gasping, and he would have aided her with his supporting arm, but she sank away from him sobbing "It can never, never be."
"Why do you say that Isabel," he asked reproachfully, while the expression of his countenance became that of unmitigated sorrow.
"Even could I return your affection," she answered more calmly, "It would not be right to accept you under the circumstances. Your parents would consider, that as their governess, I ought to know my duty better."
"What difference could your being the governess make," he asked.
"Every difference in their opinion."
"But as I am the only son, of course they would raise no objection."
"That makes it the more certain that they would do so," she replied.
"Oh! Isabel" he exclaimed passionately, "do not reason in this cool way, when my whole life will be happy or miserable as you make it. I am not changeable, I shall not cease to love you while I live."
"Oh! do not say that I have so much influence upon your happiness Mr. Arlington," returned Isabel much affected. "You must not think of me otherwise than as a friend, a kind friend—a dear friend if you will, but I can never be anything more."
"Oh! Isabel, dear Isabel, do not refuse me thus, you do not know, indeed you do not, how true a heart you are crushing, what fervent love you are rejecting. Only let me hope that time may change your feelings."
"Do not think that I undervalue the love you offer, but it is impossible—quite impossible that we can ever be more to each other than at present. I would not raise false hopes or allow you to indulge them. I do not, cannot return your affections, I can never be your wife, it is utterly impossible."
"You love another Isabel, else why impossible. Perhaps, even now you are the promised bride of another, tell me if this is the case," he said tho' his voice faltered.
"You are presuming Mr. Arlington, you have no right to ask this question," she replied with glowing cheeks.
"Pardon me if I have offended," he said.
"I think that this interview has lasted long enough—too long in fact. I will now join the children if you please."
"One moment more, say that we do not part in anger."
"In anger, no, we are good friends I trust," she answered, smiling very sweetly.
"My dream of happiness is over," he said sadly, almost tearfully as he took her offered hand.
Isabel had some difficulty in finding the children on such a wild place. When she did so, she found Arthur and Louisa with them. Louisa was looking bright and animated, very different to what she had done during dinner, and was laughing and joining in the general conversation.
"We are taking Mr. Barrington and Louisa to the bower," cried Rose as they drew near.
"I'm afraid we shall be rather late," answered Isabel.
"But you surely wouldn't have us return without seeing this wonderful bower, after undergoing all this fatigue," inquired Arthur.
"Certainly not, but I would rather be excused climbing up there again to-day. I will wait here until you come back." returned Isabel.
"Where is Everard." asked Alice.
"I left him at the bower,"
"I think I will wait with Miss Leicester," said Amy, "I'm so very tired."
"Yes do," cried Rose, "for then we shall not be half so long gone."
Isabel sat down on the lovely green sward, and the tired child reclined beside her. Amy was so thoroughly worn out that she lay perfectly quiet, and Isabel was left to her own reflections, and these were by no means pleasant. Her conversation with Everard had cast a gloom over her spirits, she no longer took pleasure in the ramble or in the beautiful scenery around her, all the brightness of the day was gone, and why, he was not the first rejected suitor, but she had never felt like this with regard to the others. But then she had been the rich Miss Leicester, and it was so easy to imagine that she was courted for her wealth, but in the present instance it was different. Nothing but true disinterested love could have prompted him, and she felt hurt and grieved to think that she was the object of such warm affection to one who she esteemed so highly, when her affections were already engaged. She had seen how deeply her answer pained him, yet had not dared to answer his question. Could she tell him what she had not dared to reveal to her dying father? No; tho' could she have done so, it might have made it easier for Everard to forget her. When they reached the place of rendezvous, they found the rest of the party including Everard, already assembled, and Peter was declaring that it was utterly impossible to return without having some refreshments, after the immense fatigue they had all undergone in exploring the beauties of the surrounding country. Most of the party were of the same opinion, so forthwith he and Bob Mornington proceeded to ransack the hampers, and distributed the contents in the most primitive manner imaginable, to the amusement of the company generally, and to the extreme disgust of Grace Arlington in particular. And then there was a general move to the carriages. After they arrived at Elm Grove, Lady Ashton insisted upon Louisa returning to the park at once. Several voices were raised in her behalf, but in vain, Lady Ashton was inexorable, and telling Louisa to say good bye to Mrs. Arlington, she hurried her away, and desired Sunmers the coachman to drive Miss Aubray home and return for her at twelve.
Arthur followed and remonstrated.
"Arthur, say no more," returned Lady Ashton decisively. "I consider you took a great liberty in bringing her, and I will not allow her to remain."
"Since you are quite sure that it is best for her to go, I will drive her home, she need not go alone in the great carriage, like a naughty child sent home in disgrace," he answered laughing.
"Nonsense, Arthur, don't be so absurd," said Lady Ashton tartly.
"Indeed my dear Aunt, as I persuaded her to come I positively could not have her treated so unceremoniously," he replied. "Here Thomson," he called to the man who was about to take Archer to the stable, and the next moment he had handed the mistified Louisa into the chaise, leaving the astonished Lady Ashton crimson with rage.
"Adieu Aunty" he cried, gathering up the ribbons, "I must trust to you to make my apologies to Mrs. Arlington, and off he drove. Lady Ashton re-entered the house, inwardly vowing vengeance against the unlucky Louisa, tho' she met Mrs. Arlington with a smile, saying, "that Arthur had begged her to apologize, as he had thought it incumbent upon him to drive his cousin home, as it was entirely his fault that she had come, and you know," she added with a little laugh, "how scrupulously polite he is to every one—."
To Lady Ashton's great chagrin, this was the last that was seen of Arthur at Elm Grove that night, and she would have been still more annoyed had she known how thoroughly he and Louisa were enjoying themselves over their game of chess, notwithstanding Miss Crosse's exemplary vigilance.
The evening was spent in various amusements, and the company dispersed at a late hour, all highly satisfied, and voting the pic-nic a complete success.
After the guests had departed, Isabel had occasion to go into the school-room for a book, and as the beautiful harvest moon was shining so brightly, she stood a moment at the open window to enjoy the lovely prospect. Hearing some one enter the room, she turned and encountered Everard. She would have retreated, but Everard gently detained her, "promise me Miss Leicester," he said, "that what passed between us this afternoon shall make no difference to your arrangements, you will not think of leaving, for I should never forgive myself for having deprived my sisters of the benefit of your society if you do."
"I could scarcely do so if I wished," she replied with a sigh.
"Only say that you do not wish it," returned Everard earnestly.
"I do not, you have all been so kind, so very kind to me, that I should be very sorry to leave, nor could I do so very easily as I have no home."
"Dear Isabel, why not accept the home I offer you?"
"Stay Mr. Arlington, say no more. You must promise not to recur to that subject again, or however unpleasant it may be to do so, I shall have no alternative, but must seek another situation."
"I will make it a forbidden subject while you remain at Elm Grove if you wish it," he said doubtfully.
"It must be so Mr. Arlington; good night."
When Isabel entered her own room she found Emily there.
"Dear Isabel," she said, after seating herself on a low stool at Isabel's feet, "what a delightful day this has been, O I'm so happy," and she hid her face in Isabel's lap. "I cannot go to Grace, so I come to you," she continued, "You are more sympathetic and seem to understand me better. Not but what Grace has always been kind enough, but I always am rather in awe of her, and you have just been the friend I always wanted. Oh! Isabel, you don't know how much good you have done me. You have taught me to think more of right and wrong, and to consider duty as well as pleasure, and to think of others as well as myself. I know now, that Miss Massie was right when she said that I was wilful and selfish, and had no consideration for others, tho' at the time she said it I thought her severe and unjust. Before you came here, I made up my mind to be kind to you, and to try to like you, (tho' I own that I thought it very improbable that I should do so in reality) but you know, my Godmother Mrs. Arnold had written me, that I must be kind to you and love you, under pain of her displeasure, but when I saw how pretty you were, I thought it would not be a difficult task. Now I have learned to love you for yourself, because you are good as well as beautiful."
"Oh! stop, you little flatterer, you will make me vain," said Isabel kissing her. "If I have done you any good, I am very glad indeed," she added in a more serious tone, "I have endeavored to do my duty, but I am afraid that I have not succeeded very well."
"O yes, indeed you have, but what do you think that I came here to tell you dear."
Isabel confessed that it was useless to attempt to guess as the day had been such an eventful one, and offered so large a scope for the imagination.
"Well if you won't guess I must tell you deary, I'm engaged to Harry Mornington."
"May you be very, very happy dear Emily," said Isabel returning her embrace. Then, unable any longer to sustain the composure she had forced herself to assume, she laid her head upon Emily's shoulder and wept passionately.
"What can make this affect you thus," asked the amazed and astonished Emily, greatly distressed, "Oh! Isabel is it possible that you love him, how unfortunate that I should have chosen you for my confidant, but I didn't know, I never thought, or believe me I would not have pained you thus. You said that he had always been like a brother to you, how could I know that you ever thought he would be anything more. Indeed, she added as if to vindicate Harry, "I never saw anything in his manner to lead you to suppose so."
"You are quite mistaken dear Emily," interposed Isabel, as soon as she could control her sobs sufficiently to give utterance to the words "I never thought or wished that Harry should ever be more to me than the dear friend he has ever been. But I have many sources of trouble that you are not aware of dear Emily, and to-day, while others laughed, I could have wept, and would gladly have exchanged that gay scene, for the quiet of my own room. But this could not be, and I was forced to assume a serenity of feeling I was far from experiencing. Had you not been here, I should have given vent to my grief in solitude, and none would have been the wiser. As it is I must entreat that you will forgive me for (tho' unintentionally) making you suppose I do not sympathize in your happiness, but I do indeed, for I know that Harry is all that is good, and is worthy of your best affections."
"Dear Isabel, will you not tell me your troubles," inquired Emily, "for ills lose half their weight by being shared with another."
"I cannot tell you dear, but for the present I will forget my uneasiness in sharing your happiness."
Then after a long and pleasant conversation they parted, both amazed at the late, or rather early hour which at that moment struck.
"By-the-bye," said Emily, coming back after a few minutes "papa gave me this letter for you two days ago, but I quite forgot it until I saw it just now."
"O you naughty, naughty girl," cried Isabel, looking very bright as she beheld the familiar epistle.
"No more tears to-night I fancy, eh Isabel," said Emily saucily. "Don't sit up to read it to-night, it is so very late," she added wickedly, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
All else was soon forgotten as Isabel eagerly perused the welcome letter from her own Louis, whose silence had been one source of her disquietude. But Louis accounted for his silence to her entire satisfaction, and promised to send an extra one at an early date.
Isabel was to spend this Xmas with the Morningtons, who with with the exception of Harry, were to return to Europe in February. It was very rough weather, and Isabel had much such a journey as that to Elm Grove, and was in a very similar condition to what she had been on that occasion. On her arrival at Eastwood, Ada embracing her exclaimed "Oh! here you are at last my own darling Isabel, I have been watching for you all day, papa was sadly afraid of accidents this stormy weather, and Bob kept bringing such dreadful accounts of trains being snowed up, that he nearly frightened me to death. Papa has been to the depot three times, and Harry twice, and missed you after all. But do come and warm yourself dearest, for you seem half frozen," she continued as she hurried Isabel into the cosy little breakfast-room, where the bright fire was indeed a pleasant sight on such a bitterly cold day.
"We met with several disagreeable stoppages, but nothing worse" replied Isabel, her teeth chattering with cold. "I am sadly chilled with this piercing wind, Oh! this is nice" she added going to the fire, "and it is so very pleasant to be at 'Eastwood' once more."
"Why here is Isabel I declare," cried the impulsive Lucy, as she bounded into the room, "how delightful, you will help me to arrange the gim-cracks on the Xmas tree, won't you my pet," said the merry girl as she threw her arms round her friend, and hugged her unmercifully.
"To be sure I will, when I recover the use of my fingers," returned Isabel laughing.
"Well, I don't want you to come now, for if I am a little madcap as papa says, I'm not quite so unreasonable as that," Lucy answered, seating herself upon an ottoman. "Here I am your humble servant to command what orders for your slave, most noble Isabel of Leicester. You have but to speak and I obey."
"Do be sensible Lucy and let mamma know that Isabel has come," said Ada reprovingly.
"I go," answered Lucy with mock gravity, "to usher my illustrious mother to the presence of the noble Isabel of Leicester."
"Oh! Lucy, just the same nonsensical," laughed Isabel.
"Alas, I fear that it will be the same to the end of the chapter," sighed the incorrigible Lucy as she left the room. She soon returned bringing the other members of the family with her, and Isabel received a very warm welcome. She could not help shedding tears of happiness and gratitude, when Mrs. Mornington embracing her said, "ever look upon this as your home dear child, whenever you like to come you will always find us glad to see you," and Mr. Mornington added in his kindly tone "yes, yes, always remember Isabel my dear, that while I have a roof over my head, you have still a home, and kind friends to welcome you."
On being conducted to her room, she found the best was given her as of old; it was evident that her altered circumstances made no difference at Eastwood.
Happy days were these which Isabel spent with her dearest friends. Bob's party went off with great eclat, and the perfect success of the Xmas trees was owing to Isabel's tasteful arrangement.
The Ashtons arrived on New Year's Eve, for Ada was to be married on twelfth day. Lady Ashton was very much surprised to find how very partial the Morningtons were to Isabel, they consulted her on all occasions, and her advice was almost invariably taken. This annoyed Lady Ashton extremely, and she often succeeded in vexing her, and making her feel very uncomfortable. But Lady Ashton's disagreeable behaviour did not annoy Isabel so much as at Ashton Park. Here among her best friends, she could even think of herself as a governess without experiencing the same degree of mortification as formerly, but she was still very sensitive upon that point.
Lady Ashton had noticed that her nephew, The Honorable Arthur Barrington was very attentive to Miss Leicester, this raised her ire, and she was determined to prevent it—she resolved to put a stop to it, so seeing him seated next Isabel at dinner, she asked her across the table how her little pupils were when she left them, and if Mrs. Arlington had granted extra holidays, as she could scarcely get back by the end of the usual Xmas vacation."
Isabel grew scarlet as she replied "that they were quite well when she left them, and that she did not return until the first of February."
Lady Ashton was gratified to see that she was successful so far. Isabel was no longer the same attentive listener to all Arthur's stories of marvellous adventures, (for she was both hurt and angry, as the question was evidently intended to annoy—for as Emily had come to Eastwood with the Ashtons, Lady Ashton had later intelligence from Elm Grove than she could possibly give) and Arthur finding her pre-occupied, transferred his attention to Mabel Ainsley, so that Isabel was left to the mercy of a queer old gentleman who sat next her on the other side, who was exceedingly deaf, and stuttered dreadfully. Nor did Lady Ashton's evident satisfaction tend to make her feel more at ease, so that she was heartily glad when this to her most tedious dinner was over. But she had a worse attack to endure, for when the ladies reached the drawing-room, Lady Ashton said in the most annoying tone, "I should not have mentioned your pupils if I had had any idea that you would have been so painfully affected by my doing so, at the same time rest assured my dear Miss Leicester——."
"Pray don't mention it Lady Ashton," replied Isabel coldly, "any apology is quite unnecessary."
"You mistake my meaning Miss Leicester," replied Lady Ashton stiffly, "I am not aware of having anything to apologize for," she added with a contemptuous little laugh, "I was about to say" she continued, "that the sooner you overcome this feeling the better. You ought not to be ashamed of earning an honest living——."
"Nor am I ashamed of it," replied Isabel with dignity, "at least I hope not."
"I am glad that you qualify your denial, as your crimson cheeks both now and during dinner are ample proof that I am right. But (as I was about to say, when you interrupted me so rudely) from my observations, I thought it high time that Mr. Barrington should be reminded of your position, as I know that his father would never allow him to marry a governess, of course it is no disgrace to be a governess, still, it is not from that class of persons that Arthur should choose a wife."
"I'm afraid that you have taken unnecessary trouble, Lady Ashton," returned Isabel, "I am convinced that my position is of no consequence to Mr. Barrington, any more than his is to me. I assure you that you have made a great mistake."
"It is nonsense for a girl in your circumstances to pretend such indifference, I am not deceived, I know that you would be only too glad to make such a match, and he is just foolish enough to take a fancy to a pretty face. But I warn you not to encourage him, as it will only end in misery to you both, as Lord Barrington would never consent."
"Really, Lady Ashton, I do not know what right you have to insult me in this manner, I cannot permit it," said Isabel, and then with dignified composure she crossed the room to Ada, who was scarcely less annoyed than herself, at Lady Ashton's unprovoked attack.
This little scene had afforded no little amusement to the party generally, tho' all agreed that it was too bad of Lady Ashton, and very ill-natured.
Lady Ashton, however, had miscalculated the effect of the course she had pursued, for Arthur Barrington was annoyed at her interference, and being really good-natured he was even more than ever attentive to Isabel, and endeavored as much as possible to atone for his aunt's disagreeable behaviour, while Isabel (being convinced that Lady Ashton had nothing to warrant her conjecture, but her own surmises,) made no alteration in her manners. She found him a very agreeable companion, and imagined that he too found her society pleasant, as indeed he did, beautiful, accomplished, and good-natured, how could she be otherwise than attractive. But Lady Ashton's chagrin knew no bounds, and she told Isabel that she should certainly let Mrs. Arlington know how very unfit a person she was to have the care of her daughters. She had always been surprised at her having such a very young person, but she had heard that it was out of charity, but there was such a thing as carrying that much abused virtue too far.
Stooping lower over her tatting, Isabel only smiled at the harmless threat, for whatever her failings might be, Mrs. Arlington was not over ready to believe evil of any one, and seldom did so without due cause. Moreover, she was not easily influenced by others, and her decisions were usually just. But the hot blood suffused her cheeks as Lady Ashton concluded. Fortunately Lucy entered the room, and then her ladyship was or appeared to be deeply engaged with her book, as having before been worsted in a combat of sharp speeches with that young lady, she by no means wished for a renewal of hostilities.
Isabel was invariably made low spirited by one of Lady Ashton's ill-natured attacks, especially so to-day, as the insults she had received were particularly painful, being both unfeeling and uncalled for. However, upon retiring to her own room at night, she found upon the dressing table a letter, the contents of which soon dispersed all gloomy thoughts, and Lady Ashton's rudeness was quite forgotten.
Louis, her own dear Louis, wrote that he would return in the early spring. My uncle he said, has or is about to purchase for me a practice in H——, so that I trust dearest, the period of your teaching will not be of long duration, as there will then be no cause to delay our union. I already in perspective, seem to see you my own dearest, presiding over my bright fireside in H——, the joy of my heart, and the good angel of my home.
I trust that you have made no arrangement with Mrs. Arlington but such as can easily terminate upon a short notice. I would not advise your taking any steps at present, as my uncle does not say positively that the purchase is absolutely made. But at all events you may depend upon seeing me in the early spring, as I have his orders to return.
The darkest hour is just before dawn. She had been so truly wretched an hour ago, and now how radiantly happy she was. Ah, with what sweet visions of a bright unclouded future did she fall asleep, to dream of her loved one far away, soon to be distant no longer.
When Isabel descended to the breakfast-room next morning, she looked so bright and happy, that Lady Ashton could account for it in no other way than that Arthur had proposed, and that she had accepted him, so she taxed him with it accordingly. Arthur was excessively amused, and so archly evaded giving a direct answer, that she became the more convinced of the truth of her own surmises, and grew so wrathy that Arthur fearing that in her anger she might annoy Miss Leicester, at length assured her that she need be under no apprehension, as nothing was farther from his thoughts.
"Oh, Isabel, mama says I may stay until the first, and then we can return together, won't that be charming," said Emily, as she came into Isabel's room on the following day, holding an open letter in her hand. "You can't think how glad I am to escape the escort of that tiresome Lady Ashton."
"I certainly should not imagine that she would make a very pleasant travelling companion," returned Isabel, laughing. "Don't mention it pray," exclaimed Emily, "you have no idea what I endured coming down. Poor Charles, he must have been almost worried to death, she is such a horrid tease, and the old gentleman too, is an awful fidget. I think Arthur Barrington knew what he was about, when he refused to be of our party, and went on by express. Talking of Lady Ashton, how abominably she behaves to you. I was saying so to Harry the other day, and he really seemed quite hurt about it. He said that he saw what she was at the other day at dinner, and was very much annoyed. Then I told him that was nothing to what took place afterwards, and related what she said to you in the drawing room."