Heartsease or Brother's Wife by Charlotte Mary Yonge - HTML preview
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Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice.
When Arthur went with his regiment to Windsor, the ladies intended to spend their evenings at home, a rule which had many exceptions, although Violet was so liable to suffer from late hours and crowded rooms, that Lady Elizabeth begged her to abstain from parties, and offered more than once to take charge of Theodora; but the reply always was that they went out very little, and that this once it would not hurt her.
The truth was that Theodora had expressed a decided aversion to going out with the Brandons. 'Lady Elizabeth sits down in the most stupid part of the room,' she said, 'and Emma stands by her side with the air of a martyr. They look like a pair of respectable country cousins set down all astray, wishing for a safe corner to run into, and wondering at the great and wicked world. And they go away inhumanly early, whereas if I do have the trouble of dressing, it shall not be for nothing. I ingeniously eluded all going out with them last year, and a great mercy it was to them.'
So going to a royal ball was all Theodora vouchsafed to do under Lady Elizabeth's protection; and as her objections could not be disclosed, Violet was obliged to leave it to be supposed that it was for her own gratification that she always accompanied her; although not only was the exertion and the subsequent fatigue a severe tax on her strength, but she was often uneasy and distressed by Theodora's conduct. Her habits in company had not been materially changed by her engagement; she was still bent on being the first object, and Violet sometimes felt that her manner was hardly fair upon those who were ignorant of her circumstances. For Theodora's own sake, it was unpleasant to see her in conversation with Mr. Gardner; and not only on her account, but on that of Lord St. Erme, was her uncertain treatment of him a vexation to Violet. Violet, to whom Theodora's lovers were wont to turn when suffering from her caprice, was on very friendly terms with the young Earl. He used to come and stand by her, and talk to her about Wrangerton, and seemed quite amused and edified by her quiet enthusiasm for it, and for Helvellyn, and her intimacy with all the pictures which he had sent home and almost forgotten. His sister was another favourite theme; she was many years younger than himself, and not yet come out; but he was very desirous of introducing her to Mrs. and Miss Martindale; and Violet, who had heard of Lady Lucy all her life, was much pleased when a day was fixed for a quiet dinner at Mrs. Delaval's, the aunt with whom she lived. How Mrs. Moss would enjoy hearing of it!
The day before was one of the first hot days of summer, and Violet was so languid that she looked forward with dread to the evening, when they were to go to a soiree at Mrs. Bryanstone's, and she lay nursing herself, wishing for any pretence for declining it. Theodora coming in, declared that her going was out of the question; but added, 'Georgina Finch is to be there, she will call for me.' 'I shall be better when the heat of the day is over.'
'So you may, but you shall not go for all that. You know Arthur is coming home; and you must save yourself for your Delavals to-morrow.'
'I thank you, but only'--she hesitated--'if only you would be so kind as to go with Lady Elizabeth.'
'I will manage for myself, thank you. I shall not think of seeing you go out to-night. Why, I went out continually with Georgina last summer'--as she saw Violets look of disappointment.
'Yes, but all is not the same now.'
'The same in effect. I am not going to attend to nonsensical gossip. Georgina is what she was then, and the same is right for me now as was right last year. I am not going to turn against her--'
'But, Theodora,' said Violet's weak voice, 'Percy said he hoped you never would go out with her; and I said you never should, if I could help it.'
Never was Theodora more incensed than on hearing that Percy and this young girl had been arranging a check on her actions, and she was the more bent on defiance.
'Percy has nothing to do with it,' she began; but she was interrupted by a message to know whether Lady Elizabeth Brandon might see Mrs. Martindale. Her entrance strengthened Theodora's hands, and she made an instant appeal to her, to enforce on Violet the necessity of resting that evening. Lady Elizabeth fully assented, and at once asked Theodora to join her.
'I thank you, I have another arrangement,' she said, reckless of those entreating eyes; 'I am to go with Mrs. Finch.'
'And I believe I shall be quite well enough by and by,' said Violet.
'My dear, it is not to be thought of for you.'
'Yes, Lady Elizabeth, I trust her to you to make her hear reason,' said Theodora. 'I shall leave her to you.'
Poor Violet, already in sufficient dread of the evening, was obliged to endure a reiteration of all its possible consequences. Lady Elizabeth was positively grieved and amazed to find her, as she thought, resolutely set upon gaieties, at all risks, and spared no argument that could alarm her into remaining quietly at home, even assuring her that it was her duty not to endanger herself for the sake of a little excitement or amusement. Violet could only shut her eyes to restrain the burning tears, and listen, without one word in vindication, until Lady Elizabeth had exhausted her rhetoric, and, rising, with some coolness told her she still hoped that she would think better of it, but that she wished her husband was at home.
Violet would fain have hid her face in her good friend's bosom, and poured out her griefs, but she could only feel that she was forfeiting for ever the esteem of one she loved so much. She held out, however. Not till the door had closed did she relax her restraint on herself, and give way to the overwhelming tears. Helpless, frightened, perplexed, forced into doing what might be fatal to her! and every one, even Arthur, likely to blame her! The burst of weeping was as terrified, as violent, as despairing as those of last year.
But she was not, as then, inconsolable; and as the first agitation spent itself she resumed her self-command, checked her sobs by broken sentences of prayer, growing fuller and clearer, then again soft and misty, till she fairly cried herself to sleep.
She slept only for a short interval, but it had brought back her composure, and she was able to frame a prayer to be directed to do right and be guarded from harm; and then to turn her mind steadily to the decision. It was her duty, as long as it was in her power, to be with her husband's sister, and guard her from lowering herself by her associates. She was bound by her promise to Percy, and she could only trust that no harm would ensue.
'If it should,' thought poor Violet, 'I may honestly hope it is in the way of what I believe my duty; so it would be a cross, and I should be helped under it. And if the Brandons blame me--that is a cross again. Suppose I was to be as ill again as I was before-- suppose I should not get through it--Oh! then I could not bear to have wilfully neglected a duty! And the next party? Oh! no need for thinking of that! I must only take thought for the day.'
And soon again she slept.
Theodora had gone out so entirely convinced that Violet would relinquish her intention, that, meeting Mrs. Finch, she arranged to be taken up at eleven o'clock.
On returning home she heard that Mrs. Martindale was asleep; and, as they had dined early, she drank coffee in her own room, and read with the Brogden girl, as part of her system of compensation, intending to spare further discussion by seeing Violet no more that night. She proceeded to dress her hair--not as helplessly as at first, for the lessons had not been without fruit; but to-night nothing had a good effect. Not being positively handsome, her good looks depended on colour, dress, and light; and the dislike to failure, and the desire to command attention, made it irritating to find her hair obstinate and her ornaments unbecoming; and she was in no placid state when Violet entered the room, ready dressed.
'Violet! This is too foolish!'
'I am a great deal better now, thank you.'
'But I have settled it with Georgina; she is coming to call for me.'
'This is not out of her way; it will make no difference to her.'
'But, Violet, I will not let you go; Arthur would not allow it. You are not fit for it.' 'Yes, thank you, I believe I am.'
'You believe! It is very ridiculous of you to venture when you only believe,' said Theodora, never imagining that those mild weary tones could withstand her for a moment. 'Stay at home and rest. You know Arthur may come at any time.' 'I mean to go, if you please; I know I ought.'
'Then remember, if you are ill, it is your fault, not mine.'
Violet attempted a meek smile.
Theodora could only show her annoyance by impatience with her toilette. Her sister tried to help her; but nothing suited nothing pleased her--all was untoward; and at last Violet said, 'Is Percy to be there?'
'Not a chance of it. What made you think so?'
'Because you care so much.'
Somehow, that saying stung her to the quick, and the more because it was so innocently spoken.
'I do not care,' she said. 'You are so simple, Violet, you fancy all courtships must be like your own. One can't spend six years like six weeks.'
The colour rushed painfully into Violet's face, and she quitted the room. It was a moment of dire shame and grief to Theodora, who had not intended a taunt, but rather to excuse her own doings; and as the words came back on her, and she perceived the most unmerited reproach they must have conveyed, she was about to hurry after her sister, explain, and entreat her pardon. Almost immediately, however, Violet returned, with her hands full of some beautiful geraniums, that morning sent to her by Mrs. Harrison.
'See!' said she; 'I think a wreath of these might look well.'
Theodora trusted the blush had been the work of her own guilty fancy, and, recollecting how often Mrs. Nesbit's innuendoes had glanced aside, thought it best not to revive the subject. She did not estimate even the sacrifice it was to part with the glowing fragrant flowers, the arrangement of which had freshened Violet's spirits that evening when not in tune for other occupation; and she did not know that there was one little sigh of fellow-feeling at their destiny of drooping and fading in the crowd and glare. Their brilliant hues had great success, and set off the deep black eyes and hair to unusual advantage when woven by those dexterous fingers. The toilette was complete, and Theodora as kind as she could be, between shame at her own speech and dislike to being softened by little female arts.
'I only wish you looked better yourself,' she said. 'You are too pale for that old white dress.'
'It is the coolest I have ready. It must do.'
Theodora could not accuse her of over-carefulness of her renown as a beauty. Her dress was, of course, appropriate, but aimed at no more; and her worn, languid appearance did not cause her a moment's thought, since Arthur was not there to see.
They found the room very warm and crowded. Theodora saw Violet lodged on an ottoman, and then strayed away to her own friends. Mrs. Finch soon arrived, and attacked her for having let them go on a fool's errand.
'I could not help it,' said Theodora; 'she would come.'
'She looks very unwell,' said Mrs. Finch; 'but, poor thing, it would be too hard to miss everything this year.'
'Or does she come as your trusty knight's deputy?' asked Jane.
There was dancing; but when Captain Fitzhugh brought Theodora back to her seat, Violet whispered, 'I am sorry, but would you dislike coming home now?' 'Oh! I am engaged to Lord St. Erme, and then to Mr. Gardner, and-- but you go home; you have done your duty, my dear. Go home, and to sleep. Georgina will bring me. Captain Fitzhugh will find you the carriage.'
She walked off with Lord St. Erme, and came no more that way. Presently there was some confusion.
'A lady fainting,' said her partner, and she saw Emma looking dreadfully frightened. Conscience was enough, without the name passing from mouth to mouth. Theodora sprang forward, and following the movement, found herself in a room where Violet's insensible figure had just been placed on a bed. Lady Elizabeth was there, and Emma, and Mrs. Bryanstone. Theodora felt as if no one but herself should touch Arthur's wife; but she had never before witnessed a fainting fit, and, in her consternation and guiltiness, knew not how to be serviceable, so that all that was required was done by the other ladies. She had never experienced such alarm and remorse as now, while standing watching, until the eyes slowly opened, looked round uneasily till they fell on her, then closed for a few moments, but soon were again raised, while the soft low words were heard, 'Thank you, I beg your pardon!' then, with an imploring, deprecating gaze on her, 'I am sorry; indeed I could not help it!'
Theodora was almost overcome; but Lady Elizabeth gave a warning squeeze to her arm, whispering, 'Take care, don't agitate her:' and this, recalling the sense that others were present, brought back her self-possession, and she only kissed Violet, tenderly bade her lie still, and hoped she was better.
She smiled, and declared herself refreshed, as the wind blew on her from the open window, and she felt the cold water on her face, and there was no silencing her thanks and apologies for giving trouble. She said she was well enough to go home; and, as soon as the carriage was found, sat up, looking shivering and forlorn, but still summoning up smiles. 'Good night, dear Lady Elizabeth,' she said; 'thank you very much. You see you were right.'
Lady Elizabeth offered to go home with her; but she could not bear to occasion further sensation, and, besides, understood Theodora's face. She refused, and her friend kissed her, and promised to come early to-morrow to see her; but, mingled with all this care and kindness there was something of 'I told you so.' She trembled so much when she stood up, that Theodora put her strong arm round her, and nearly carried her down-stairs, gratified to find her clinging to her, and refusing all other support. Scarcely a word was spoken as they went home; but Theodora held the hand, which was cold, limp, and shaking, and now and then she made inquiries, always answered by 'Better, thank you.'
Theodora had her directions from Lady Elizabeth, and intended to make up for her misdeeds by most attentive care; but, on coming home, they found that Arthur had arrived, and gone to bed, so that nothing was in her power but to express more kind wishes and regrets than she could stay to hear or to answer in her extinguished voice.
Theodora was a good deal shocked, but also provoked, at having been put in the wrong. She felt as if she had sustained a defeat, and as if Violet would have an advantage over her for the future, managing her by her health, just as she ruled Arthur.
'But I will not submit,' thought Theodora. 'I will not bear with interference, if not from Percy, certainly not from his deputy--a mere spoilt child, a very good child, but spoilt by her position, by John's over-estimate of her, and by the deference exacted by her weakness and her engagingness. She has very sweet, winning ways, and I am very fond of her in reason, but it will be very good for her to see I can be kind to her without being her slave.'
In this mind Theodora went to sleep, but was wakened in the early morning by Arthur's voice on the stairs, calling to Sarah. She threw on her dressing-gown, and half-opening her door, begged to know what was the matter.
'Only that you have done for her with your freaks and your wilfulness,' answered Arthur, roughly.
'She is not ill?' exclaimed the terrified sister.
'Of course she is. I can't think what possessed you.'
'I tried hard to keep her at home. But, oh! Arthur, where are you going?' 'To fetch Harding.'
'Can I do anything? Can I be of use? Let me go to her. Oh! Arthur, pray let me.' He went into the room, and brought back word that Violet wanted no one but Sarah, and was a little more comfortable; only begging Theodora would be so kind as to go to the nursery, lest little Johnnie should awake.
Thither she repaired, but without the satisfaction of usefulness, for the child slept soundly till his nurse returned. Mr. Harding had been there, and Mrs. Martindale was better, needing only complete quiet; but Sarah was extremely brief, scornful, and indignant, and bestowed very few words on Miss Martindale. 'Yes, ma'am-no, ma'am,' was all that hard pumping could extract, except funereal and mysterious sighs and shakes of the head, and a bustling about, that could only be understood to intimate that she wished to have her nursery to herself. It was still so early that Theodora had time to go to church; as usual, she met the Brandons; and Lady Elizabeth, much concerned at her tidings, came home with her to see how the patient was going on.
Lady Elizabeth forbore to reproach Violet, but she lectured Arthur on allowing her to be imprudent. He took it in very good part, not quite disagreeing when told they were all too young together, and made a hearty protest that she should be well looked after for the future.
He was certainly doing his part. All the morning he was in and out, up and down stairs, effectually preventing any rest, as his sister thought.
Theodora's time passed in strange variations of contrition, jealousy, and perverseness. She was hurt at his displeasure,--she was injured by her exclusion from Violet's room,--she was wounded even by her little nephew, who cried down-stairs for mamma, and up-stairs for Sarah, and would not be content with her best endeavours to make him happy. And yet, when, after carefully looking to see that he could come to no harm, Sarah was obliged to place him on the floor and leave him for the first time alone with his father, he sat motionless, fixed in earnest, intent contemplation, like a sort of distant worship of him, keeping him likewise in a silent amused wonder, what would come next; and when it ended in a gravely, distinctly pronounced, 'Papa!' Arthur started as if it had been a jackdaw speaking, then picked up the little fellow in his arms and carried him off to show, as a natural curiosity, to his mother! At any other time, Theodora would have been charmed at the rare sight of Arthur fondling his little boy; now she only felt that nobody wanted her, and that she was deprived of even the dignity of a nursery-maid.
Her chief occupation was answering inquiries, and writing notes to decline their evening engagements--the dinner at Mrs. Delaval's among the rest; for she and Arthur were equally resolved to remain at home that evening, and she wished to persuade herself that they were Violet's friends, not her own.
In the midst, Mrs. Finch and Miss Gardner called, and in her state of irritation the smooth tongue of the latter was oil to the flame.
'Poor thing, no doubt she thinks she has been making a heroic exertion. Well, she has her reward! It must be delightful to have caused such a sensation. Your brother is a most devoted husband.'
'And did she really go because she would not trust you without her?' said Mrs. Finch. 'Well, that is a good joke!'
'I think you must be glad they do not live at Brogden,' quietly added Jane, in the midst of her sister's laughter.
'It has been put into her head,' said Theodora, 'that she ought to look after me, and a great mistake it is.'
'Yes, you are not come here to be less free than last year, when Lord and Lady Martindale had you in their own hands, said Georgina. 'If I were you I would do something strong all at once, and settle that matter. That was the way you used to dispose of the governesses.'
'I am not quite what I was then, Georgina.'
'But what is it that she objects to? I see,' as Jane made a sign, as if to advise her not to inquire. 'Is it to your coming out with me? Well! I declare, that is pretty well, considering who she was. I thought better things of her, with her soft voice, as if she was thankful to be spoken to, after all the notice I have taken of her.' 'Hush, hush! I tell you, she would never have originated the notion, but it has been put into her, and when she thinks a thing right nothing will stop her.' 'We will see that!' said Georgina. 'Come and dine with us to-night, and then we are going to "Der Freischutz". Come--'
'That is impossible, thank you. We have given up the dinner at the Delavals', and I do not intend to go out in the evening any more. I came here to take care of her, and I mean to do so thoroughly.'
'Not to go out any more!' cried Georgina, horrified. 'I honour Theodora,' said Jane. 'Such devotion is like her, and must win her brother's gratitude.' 'No devotion at all. I like a rational evening with her much better than a cram like last night's.'
'With her alone?' said Jane, slyly.
Theodora crimsoned. Percy had instigated Violet's opposition, and she was in no charity with him. Jane saw there was annoyance, and turned the subject before her sister could open on it. With all her quiet ways, Jane had the mastery over the impetuous Georgina, whom she apparently flattered and cherished as a younger sister, but in reality made subservient to her own purposes. Indeed, Jane was like the Geraldine of Christabel; without actually speaking evil she had the power of insinuating her own views, so that even the lofty and sincere nature of Theodora was not proof against her. Poor Violet! while she perilled herself, and sacrificed her friend's good opinion, her sister's mind was being hardened and poisoned against her.
'I am afraid,' said Jane, 'that it is of no use then to talk to you of what Georgina and I have been planning.'
'Oh! Theodora must come to that at any rate,' cried Georgina, 'or I will never forgive her nor Mrs. Martindale neither. Do you remember our old birthday treat to Richmond?'
'To be sure I do!' cried Theodora. 'It was one of the most delightful days I ever had in my life. I have loved cowslips doubly for the treat the sight of them was, in the midst of London and masters, seven years ago. Why, you will be twenty-four next week, Georgina.'
'Growing to an unmentionable age,' said Georgina. 'Well, I have set my heart on a picnic to Richmond again. Mark is to take a steamer for us, and I know of plenty of people who will make a charming party!'
'I should like it better without the people,' said Theodora.
'Oh, nonsense; one can't babble of green fields and run after cowslips, at our age, unless one is in love,' said Georgina. 'If you were going to bring your Percy, perhaps we would not interfere with your sweet rural felicity, my dear.' 'We will bring some one else,' said Jane. 'After poor Mrs. Martindale had carried you off', Theodora, I found the author of "Pausilippo" looking extremely disconsolate, and hinting to him that such a scheme was in agitation, and that you were included in it, he looked so eager, that he will be for ever beholden to Georgina for an invitation.'
'Poor Lord St. Erme!' said Georgina. 'It really is a shame, Theodora. I rather take him under my protection. Shall he come, or shall he not?'
'It makes no difference to me,' said Theodora, coolly.
'Whatever it does to him, eh?'
'But, Georgina, you are not in the least secure of Theodora,' said Jane, satirically. 'She is devoted to Mrs. Martindale.'
'If my sister-in-law is not well I shall not leave her, if she is, you may depend upon me.'
'I shall do no such thing, whatever Georgina does,' said Jane.
'I am sure Mrs. Martindale has ways and means.'
'I shall not stay without real reason.'
'And bring the Captain,' entreated Mrs. Finch.
'Still more doubtful,' suggested Jane.
'Yes, I think you will not get him,' said Theodora; 'but I will certainly join you, provided Violet is not really ill.'
'I am very good friends with that pretty sister of yours,' said Jane. 'I will call some day, and try to get her permission for him.'
'Once--twice--you have failed us,' said Mrs. Finch, rising to take leave. 'This third time, and I shall believe it is some one else in the shape of Theodora Martindale.' 'I will not fail,' repeated Theodora.
They departed, and presently Arthur came down. 'How long those women have been here! Have they been hatching treason? I want you to go up and sit with Violet; I am going out for an hour.'
It was a tame conclusion to the morning's alarms when a brisk voice answered, 'Come in,' at her knock, and Violet lay very comfortably reading, her eyes bright and lively, and her cheeks with almost their own colour. Her sweet smile and grateful face chased away ill humour; and Theodora was so affectionate and agreeable as to surprise herself, and make her believe herself subject to the fascination Violet exercised over her brothers.
She told Arthur, on his return, that Violet was just ill enough to make waiting on her pretty pastime; but was something between alarmed and angry to find him still uneasy.