Heartsease or Brother's Wife by Charlotte Mary Yonge - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

Chapter III.4


Will you walk into my parlour?' said a spider to a fly.


 And where was Arthur?

 Spending the day with his sporting friends, much to his own satisfaction, till in the evening, greatly against his will, he was taken out to dine with an old Mr. Randall, of Gothlands, the master of the hounds.

 His nieces, the Misses Marstone, were the ladies of the house--well- dressed people, a little 'passees', but apparently not having found it out. Arthur watched the arrivals hoping that the order of precedence might not consign him to the flow of talk, of which he had already had quite a sufficiency, when, to his surprise, two ladies, evidently at home, entered together.

 One--thin, sallow, spectacled--was, as he knew, an inhabitant; but the other-small, slight, and retiring, and, in spite of clinging unfresh muslin and shrinking figure, with the unmistakable air of high breeding, was a most unexpected sight. At least, thought he, here was one lady who would not bore him, and making his way to her, he inquired for Lady Elizabeth. Emma, on the other hand, asked after Violet; and it was curious that both questions were put and answered with constraint, as if each was conscious of being something like a truant. Another surprise. 'Mr. Gardner.' In walked Mark himself, and, after shaking hands with the elder Miss Marstone, came towards Emma and her friend, and was received with cordial familiarity. He entered into conversation with Arthur, drawing a little further from Miss Brandon at each step, till having brought him close to old Mr. Randall, and placed him under the infliction of a long prose about the hounds, he retreated, and was soon again in conversation with the two friends, Emma's face raised and lighted up with eagerness.

 Colonel Martindale had no escape from the head of the table and the eldest of the Misses Marstone. Resigning himself to his fate, he made talk; and, though now broader, redder, and somewhat coarser in feature and complexion than he had been a few years ago, he looked so gay and unencumbered, that his neighbour speculated as to whether he could be the eldest son, and resolved to discover what her sister, Sarah Theresa, knew of him.

 'It is so pleasant when friends meet unexpectedly,' said she. 'I did not know you were acquainted with either of our guests.'

 'Miss Brandon is a near neighbour of my father, and a great friend of Mrs. Martindale.'

 Death to any incipient scheme of Miss Marstone; but she smiled on, and remarked, 'A very amiable girl, and a beautiful place, is it not, Rickworth?' 'Very pretty, a fine property,' said Arthur, talking as if in his sleep, for he had caught Mark Gardner's voice saying something about an oratory.

 'My sister is often staying there,' proceeded the lady. 'You know Miss Brandon's scheme of restoring the Priory?'

 'I did not know that was anything more than talk.'

 'I used to think so,' said Miss Marstone; 'but both she and my sister Sarah treat it quite seriously, and Mr. Gardner is their prime counsellor.'

 Arthur started, and with difficulty refrained from laughing.

 'Ah! I believe he has been a little wild, but that is all over now. He has taken quite a different turn now, and given up everything of that sort--throws himself into all their views.'

 'Indeed!' said Arthur, who knew to his cost that if the reform had taken place at all, it must have been of extremely recent date.

 'O, yes, I assure you. He is staying with the curate, Mr. Silworth.'

 'Ha! that is an old name at school.'

 'Yes; he was an old schoolfellow--a very good man, to whose persuasions everything is owing.'

 She pointed him out, and the first glance was a revelation to Arthur, who recognized him as the boy who, at school, had been the most easily taken in. He soon understood the state of affairs. Mark, clever, gentlemanly in appearance, and apt at catching the tone of the society around him, was making a bold stroke -had persuaded his kind-hearted, simple friend to believe him a sincere penitent, and to introduce him as such to the ladies at Gothlands, from whom he caught the talk most pleasing to them. At present it was all ecclesiastical aesthetics, and discontent with the existing system, especially as regarded penitence; by and by, when his hold should be secure, he would persuade the heiress that she had been the prime instrument in his conversion, and that she had gained his heart. A bit of rhapsody from Miss Sarah Theresa, and poor Emma's embellished and animated countenance, were sufficient indications that they were smoothly gliding into the snare; and accustomed as Arthur was to see Mark Gardner in a very different aspect, he was astonished at his perfect performance of his part-the humility and deference befitting the sense of his errors, and conversation so entirely at home in all their peculiar language and predilections, that Arthur was obliged to feel for the betting-book in his own pocket to convince himself that he was still deeply involved with this most admirable and devoted of penitents. He could not help, as he took leave, giving a knowing look, conveying how easily he could spoil his game.

 However, Arthur was in reality much annoyed. Of late years his easy temper had well-nigh surrendered itself to the ascendency of Mark Gardner; and though dissatisfied, remorseful, and anxious, he had allowed himself to be led farther and farther into extravagance. The sight of his home excited regrets, therefore he shunned it; and though weary and discontented in his chains, he was devoid of force or will to break them, and a sort of torpor seemed to make it impossible for him to resist Mark Gardner. Their money matters were much entangled. They had entered into a partnership for keeping horses for the turf, and there was a debt shared between them, the amount of which Arthur dreaded to investigate. That Gardner should obtain a rich wife would be the greatest relief to Colonel Martindale; but he had rather it should have been any heiress in the world but Emma Brandon. He had a friendly feeling towards her, and a respect for her mother, that made him shrink from allowing her to become a victim, especially when he would himself be the gainer; and, on the other hand, he could not endure to betray a friend,--while he knew that his wife, his father, and his sister would be horrified at his secrecy.

 After a night spent in execrating the dinner-party, he received a call from Mr. Gardner, who, without being aware that he took any interest in Miss Brandon, came to put him upon his guard, but found him less manageable than usual. Arthur made a formidable description of Lady Elizabeth's discretion, underrated the value of Rickworth, and declared that it would be so tied up that Mark would gain nothing but a dull, plain little wife. Not thus deterred, Mark only asked of him discretion; and when, trying to cloak his earnest under faltering jest, he declared that he had a regard for the Brandons, and should get into a scrape with his father, his friend held out the allurement of freedom from his difficulties, but was obliged to touch on this lightly, for Arthur's honour was ready to take fire at the notion of being bought. It ended in Gardner's treating the matter as if he had engaged not to betray him, and being hardly gainsaid, otherwise than by a sort of bantering proviso, that in case of an appeal direct, he could not be expected to vouch for Mark's entire and disinterested reformation.

 With an intense dislike to the world in general, Arthur was considering how to prevent his wife from meeting Lady Elizabeth, and how to be out of the way before the report should spread of Mark's addresses, when everything else was driven from his mind by the arrival of the papers, with the announcement of the fire at Martindale.

 The safety of the infant family of the Honourable Lieutenant-Colonel Martindale was the first news that met his eye; next, that of the death of Mrs. Nesbit,--the chief thought that occupied him in his hasty homeward journey.

 He had been taught to think himself her heir; and though never forgiven for his marriage, hoped that the will might not have been altered, and considered that, whether it were in his favour or not, so large a property coming into the family could not fail to render his circumstances more easy, by enabling his father to augment his allowance, which, though ample in itself, appeared far from sufficient to a man with expensive tastes and an increasing family. The hope of independence, and of not being obliged to wish success to Gardner, was an opening into liberty and happiness.

 By night he was at the parsonage, and Violet in his arms as soon as the door was opened. That moment was perfect--he was so eagerly tender, so solicitous lest she should have been injured by terror or exertion, so shocked at her peril in his absence. In the fulness of her heart she even asked him to come and see the children safely asleep.

 'Now? What should I do that for?'

 There was no unkindness, but the full felicity of the evening was marred. There was no room for him at the parsonage, and an apartment in the empty house had been fitted up for him, so that she only saw him for an hour of confused talk over the events of the fire, and Theodora's condition, which was very uncomfortable; for though the fever was slight, the burns and bruises were in an unsatisfactory state, and eyes, arms, and hands of very little use. She was patient, and resolute as ever, and so grateful to her nurses that waiting on her was a pleasure.

 In fact, attendance on her was the only resource for occupying Lady Martindale, who, when not thus engaged, was listless and dejected, attending to nothing that passed around her, and sometimes giving way to inconsolable bursts of grief. It was as if her aunt had been her one idea in life, and without her she could turn to nothing else. Violet was very anxious to prevent the children from molesting her, and in much dread of their troubling her, now that all were in such close quarters. It was trying to be engaged with Theodora, and to hear the little feet and voices where they were not intended to be.

 But when she was able to hasten to the rescue, she beheld Helen in Lady Martindale's lap, and Johnnie by her side, all three intent on making bouquets; and all apologies and proposals to fetch them away were replied to by assurances of their goodness, and the pleasure afforded by their company. It appeared that while playing in the garden, the little brother and sister had been, as it were, fascinated by watching her fixed melancholy figure in the drawingroom. Again and again they had peeped in at the window, striving to forget, but ever attracted by the sweet compassion of their hearts; till at last, after much pausing and whispering, they had betaken themselves to the corner of the garden where Cousin Hugh had given permission to gather as they liked, and at the expense of his own small fingers, Johnnie had pulled the first bud of sweetbrier. Lady Martindale had felt a soft touch, and heard a little timid, coaxing voice

 -'Grandmamma, may we? Would you like this little, young rose?' while towards her was raised a face delicate and glowing with pale pink like the bud itself. Grandchildren and flower were at once in her bosom. Warm, womanly child-love had been forced down to a far corner of her heart; but there it was, and like the rod piercing to the hidden spring, that fragrant gift of love touched it home, and thenceforth it was such fondling as Violet almost feared might be spoiling, especially of Helen; who, however unruly or exacting she might be, seemed only to endear herself the more, and was visibly far more her grandmother's darling than her gentle, well-behaved brother. This new affection for the children opened her heart to their mother, on whom she leant more than she knew. To her she talked of all her aunt's unwearied fondness and care, ever since she had come into her hands an orphan in her infancy. There had been real and entire devotion to each other on the part of the aunt and niece; and the affection she had been able to inspire, together with the solemn feelings towards the newly dead, gave her memory a softness that almost enabled Violet to think of her in Lady Martindale's point of view, forget her harshness, and the worldly pride for her niece and her family, to which she had sacrificed their best happiness. It was a melancholy retrospect. Mrs. Nesbit might be said to have perfectly succeeded in the object of her life. She had formed her beloved niece, like the fabled image of snow, moulded by the enchanter and animated by no will but his, and had seen her attain the summit of her wishes, universally admired and distinguished for every talent and grace; while still completely under her influence, and as affectionate and devoted as ever. Could any desire be more fully attained? But there had ever been further craving, disappointment, combats, hatred, avarice, disgust; and with all around that could make old age happy and honourable, it had been a querulous melancholy struggle for power, spent in clutching at the toys that had no pleasure in them--in trying to force worldly advantages on those who cared not for them, then revenging their indifference as a personal insult. She had sunk into the grave without any one having the power to regret her save that one fond, faithful niece, the one creature she had always regarded with genuine unselfish affection.

 Lord Martindale, whose wife she had ruled, and whose children had been made unhappy by her, could hardly help owning to himself that her death was a relief to him; and Arthur barely made a fair show of moderate respect, in his anxiety for the property that would free him from embarrassment. His first inquiry was whether the will were burnt. No, it was in the hands of a lawyer, who would bring it on the day of the funeral. Lord Martindale might look reprovingly at Arthur's eagerness, but the matter was no less important to him. He had begun life with an expenditure as large as his income could bear; and as his children had grown up, and unprosperous times had come, he had not been able to contract his expenses. Of late he had almost been in difficulty as to the means of meeting the calls for the year, economy was a thing unknown and uncomprehended by his wife; and the giving up the house in London had been the only reduction he could accomplish. No one else in the family had an idea of self-denial except Theodora, who, perceiving how matters stood, had refused to have a maid of her own, and had begged him no longer to keep a horse for her. Some change ought to be made, but he had gone on in this unsatisfactory manner, trusting that at Mrs. Nesbit's death all would be straight. Her West Indian estates and accumulation of wealth must be bequeathed either to his wife or among his children; and in either case he would be set at ease--either relieved from supporting Arthur, or enabled to do so without difficulty.

 The funeral took place in full grandeur. Lady Martindale had made it a special request that every one would mourn as if for her mother, and it was just one of the occasions when pomp was needed to supply the place of grief. The only real mourner shut herself up in her own room, whither Theodora begged Violet to follow her. She found her stretched on her bed, abandoned to grief. It was the sense of orphanhood; the first time she had come so close to death and its circumstances, and it was overpowering sorrow; but Violet had better learnt how to deal with her, and could venture to caress and soothe-entreat her to remember how much was left to love her--and then listen to what Lady Martindale began as the rehearsal of her aunt's care to shield her from sorrow; but Violet soon saw it was the outpouring of a pent-up grief, that had never dared to come forth. The last time the vault had been opened it had been for the infant she had lost, and just before for the little girls, who had died in her absence. 'My dear,' she said, 'you do not know how it is all brought back to me. It is as if your three darlings were the same I left when we went abroad. Your sweet Helen is exactly like my precious little Anna, whom I little thought I was never to see again! Oh, my babies!'

 Violet was quite relieved to find this excessive grief was not spent on her aunt, but that it was the long-restrained sorrow for an affliction in which she could so much better sympathize. It had been of no avail for Mrs. Nesbit, in mistaken kindness, and ignorance of a mother's heart, to prevent her from ever adverting to her darlings; it had only debarred her from the true source of comfort, and left the wound to ache unhealed, while her docile outward placidity was deemed oblivion. The fear of such sorrow had often been near Violet, and she was never able to forget on how frail a tenure she held her firstborn; and from the bottom of her heart came her soothing sympathy, as she led her on to dwell on the thought of those innocents, in their rest and safety. Lady Martindale listened as if it was a new message of peace; her tears were softer, and she dwelt fondly on little Anna's pretty ways, speaking, and Violet hearing, as if it had been a loss of today, instead of more than thirty long years ago.

 Lady Martindale opened a dressing-box, saying how relieved she had been to find it safe, and from a secret drawer drew out a paper and showed Violet some soft locks of chestnut hair. 'Their papa gave me these,' she said. 'My dear aunt would not let me look at them--she thought it hurt me; but I must see if Anna's hair is not just like Helen's.' And then she begged Violet not to be alarmed at the resemblance, and kissed her for saying she was glad of it, and had no fears on that score. She dwelt on these reminiscences as if they were a solace of which she could never taste enough, and did not cease talking over them till Lord Martindale entered. Violet understood his feeling and the reserve hitherto shown to him sufficiently to attempt breaking it down, and ventured, as she quitted the room, to lay her hand on the little curl, and say, 'Grandmamma thinks Helen like her little Anna.'

 Seeing Arthur leaning on the balusters, looking discomposed, she went down to him. 'Where have you been!' he said, rather sulkily.

 'With your mother; I hope she is growing more calm.'

 'Very absurd of her to take it so much to heart!' said Arthur, entering the drawingroom. 'Have you heard about this will?'

 'No. What?'

 'Never was such a will on this earth! It ought to be brought into court! I verily believe the old hag studied to make it a parting emanation of malice!' 'Oh, hush! hush!' ' cried Violet, shocked.

 'It is all very well saying Hush, hush; but I should like to know what you mean to live upon?'

 'What has she done?'

 'She has gone and left it all to that child!'

 'What child?'

 'My son--your boy John, I tell you; but, mark you, so as to do no good to a living soul. Not a penny is he to touch till we are all dead, if we starve meantime. She has tied it up to accumulate till my eldest son--or John's, if he has one--comes to the title, and much good may it do him!'

 'Poor little dear!' said Violet, inexpressibly pained by his tone.

 'Anything but poor! It is L100,000 to begin with, and what will it be when he gets it? Think of that doing nothing, and of us with no dependence but the trumpery L5000 by the marriage settlements. It is enough to drive one crazy.' 'It is a pity,' said Violet, frightened by his vehemence.

 'It is an end of all chance for me. When she had always taught me to look to it! It is absolute cheating.'

 'Of late she never led us to expect anything.'

 'No; and you never took pains to stand well with her. Some people--' 'O, Arthur, Arthur!'

 'Well, don't be foolish! You could not help it. Her spitefulness was past reckoning. To see her malice! She knew John and Theodora would not let me be wronged, so she passes them over, and my mother too, for fear it should be made up to me. Was ever man served so before? My own son, as if to make it more aggravating!'

 At an unlucky moment Johnnie ran in, and pulled his mother's dress. 'Mamma, may Helen dig in the bed by the garden door!'

 'Go away!' said Arthur, impatiently. 'We can't have you bothering here.' Though inattentive and indifferent to his children, he had never been positively unkind, and the anger of his tone filled the timid child's eyes with tears, as he looked appealingly at his mother, and moved away, lingering, and beginning a trembling, 'but, mamma--'

 'Don't stay here!' cried Arthur, in an indiscriminating fit of anger, striking his hand on the table. 'Did I not order you to go this moment, sir?'

 Poor Johnnie fled, without hearing his mother's consoling 'I'll come;' which only, with her look of grief, further irritated Arthur. 'Ay, ay! That's always the way. Nothing but the boy, whenever I want you.'

 Violet saw defence would make it worse, and tried to give him the attention he required; though quivering with suppressed distress for his harshness to his poor little boy, whom she could hardly help going at once to comfort. She hardly heard his storming on about the unhappy will, it only seemed to her like the apple of discord, and great was the relief when it was ended by Lord Martindale's coming down, asking why Johnnie was crying. She hoped this might cause Arthur some compunction, but he only answered, gruffly, 'He was troublesome, he is always fretting.'

 Violet found the poor little fellow with tear-glazed face trying to suppress the still heaving sobs, and be grateful to his grandmamma, who had brought him into her room, and was trying to console him, though unable to discover the secret of his woe. As he sprung to his mother's lap, his grief broke forth afresh. His affection for his father was a deep, distant, almost adoring worship; and the misery inflicted by those looks and words was beyond what could be guessed, save by his mother. He thought himself naughty, without knowing why, and could hardly be soothed by her caresses and assurances that papa was not really angry, but he must not interrupt another time.

 'But, mamma, Helen wanted to dig up all Cousin Hugh's little green things.' Violet was thus reminded that she must seek after her daughter, whom she found revelling in mischief, and was obliged to sentence to dire disgrace, causing general commiseration, excepting that her papa, ignorant that it was his own fault, declared children to be the greatest plagues in the world.

 She saw him no more in private, but grieved at his moodiness all the evening, and at bed-time watched a red spark moving to and fro in the garden. Her heavy sigh made Theodora ask what was the matter.

 'I wish Arthur would not stay out in the dew. He has a little cough already,' said she, putting forward the care that would best bear mention.

 'You used to be above caring for dews and night airs.'

 'I must for him and Johnnie!' said Violet.

 'Ah! what do you say to your son's prospects?'

 'I don't suppose it will make much difference to him,' was the dejected answer, Violet's eyes still following the red end of the cigar in the darkness. 'Well! that is contempt for wealth! Fancy what will be in his hands. I thought you would be moralizing on the way to bring him up to use it.'

 'I have not thought of that,' said Violet; 'besides, it will be long enough before he has it.'

 'What! will it not be when he is of age!'

 'No, when he comes to the title.'

 'Oh! I see. Mamma did not understand that! She thought it absolutely left to him. How is it, then?'

 'It is put in trust till either he, or John's son, if he should have one, comes to the title.'

 'Then, it does you no good?'

 'Only harm,' Violet could not help saying.

 'How harm? It might be worse for you to have it.'

 'Most likely,' said Violet's submissive voice. 'But it vexes Arthur so much!' and the tears fell unseen.

 'Well it may!' said Theodora. 'One cannot say what one thinks of it NOW, but-- Poor Arthur! I was very much afraid she was going to leave it to me. Now I wish she had.'

 'I wish so too.'

 'It was silly of me to warn her that Arthur should have his share; but after all, I don't regret it. I would not have had it on false pretences. Did you hear when the will was dated?'

 'September, 18--.'

 'When Johnnie was a baby. Ah! I remember. Well, I am glad we all forfeited it. I think it is more respectable. I only wish mamma had come in for it, because she is the right person, and papa is a good deal straitened. That really was a shame! Why did not she let them have it?'

 'Arthur thinks it was for fear we should be helped.'

 'No doubt,' said Theodora. 'Well. I wish--! It is a horrid thing to find people worse after they are dead than one thought them. There! I have had it out. I could not have borne to keep silence. Now, let us put the disgusting money matter out of our heads for good and all. I did not think you would have been distressed at such a thing, Violet.'

 'I don't want it,' said Violet, amid her tears. 'It is Arthur's disappointment, and the knowing I brought it on him.'

 'Nonsense!' cried Theodora. 'If I had Arthur here, I would scold him well; and as to you, he may thank you for everything good belonging to him. Ten million fortunes would not be worth the tip of your little finger to him, and you know he thinks so. Without you, and with this money, he would be undone. Now, don't be silly! You have got your spirits tired out, and sleep will make you a sensible woman.'

 Violet was always the better for an affectionate scolding, and went to bed, trusting that Arthur's disappointment might wear off with the night. But his aunt's inheritance had been too much the hope of his life, for him to be without a strong sense of injury, and his embarrassments made the loss a most serious matter. He applied to his father for an increase of allowance, but he could not have chosen a worse time; Lord Martindale had just advanced money for the purchase of his company, and could so ill afford to supply him as before, that but for the sake of his family, he would have withdrawn part of his actual income. So, all he obtained was a lecture on extravagance and neglect of his wife and children; and thus rendered still more sullen, he became impatient to escape from these grave looks and reproofs, and to return to town before the disclosure of Mr. Gardner's courtship. He made it his pretext that Violet was unwell and overworked in the general service; and she was, in truth, looking very ill and harassed; but he was far more the cause than were her exertions, and it was a great mortification to be removed from his parents and sister when, for the first time, she found herself useful to them, and for such an ungracious reason too, just when they were so much drawn together by the dangers they had shared, and the children seemed to be making progress in their grandmother's affections. Poor Johnnie, too! it was hard to rob him of another month of country air, just as he was gaining a little strength and colour.

 But pleading was useless; the mention of Johnnie revived the grievance, and she was told she must not expect everything to give way to that boy of hers; every one was ready enough to spoil him without his help. He would not stay crammed into this small house, with the children eternally in the way, and his father as black as thunder, with no diversion, and obliged to sleep out in that den of a cottage, in a damp, half-furnished room--an allegation hardly true, considering Violet's care to see the room aired and fitted up to suit his tastes; but he was determined, and she had not even the consolation of supposing care for her the true reason; the only ground she could find for reconciling herself to the measure was, that night walks were not mending his cough, which, though so slight that he did not acknowledge it, and no one else perceived it, still made her uneasy. Especially Violet felt the ingratitude of leaving Theodora in her weak, halfrecovered state; but it was almost as if he had a sort of satisfaction in returning his father's admonitions on the care of his wife, by making it a plea for depriving them of her in their need, and he fixed his day without remorse.