Heartsease or Brother's Wife by Charlotte Mary Yonge - HTML preview
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She's less of a bride than a bairn,
She's ta'en like a colt from the heather,
With sense and discretion to learn.
A chiel maun be patient and steady
That yokes with a mate in her teens.
Woo'd and Married and A'
A gentleman stood waiting at the door of a house not far from the Winchester barracks.
'Is my brother at home, James?' as the servant gave a start of surprise and recognition.
'No, sir; he is not in the house, but Mrs.--; will you walk in? I hope I see you better, sir.'
'Much better, thank you. Did you say Mrs. Martindale was at home?' 'Yes, sir; Mr. Arthur will soon be here. Won't you walk in?'
'Is she in the drawing-room?'
'No, I do not think so, sir. She went up-stairs when she came in.'
'Very well. I'll send up my card,' said he, entering, and the man as he took it, said, with emphasis, and a pleading look, 'She is a very nice young lady, sir,' then opened a room door.
He suddenly announced, 'Mr. Martindale,' and that gentleman unexpectedly found himself in the presence of a young girl, who rose in such confusion that he could not look at her as he shook her by the hand, saying, 'Is Arthur near home?' 'Yes--no--yes; at least, he'll come soon,' was the reply, as if she hardly knew what her words were.
'Were you going out?' he asked, seeing a bonnet on the sofa.
'No, thank you,--at least I mean, I'm just come in. He went to speak to some one, and I came to finish my letter. He'll soon come,' said she, with the rapid illassured manner of a school-girl receiving her mamma's visitors.
'Don't let me interrupt you,' said he, taking up a book.
'O no, no, thank you,' cried she, in a tremor lest she should have been uncivil. 'I didn't mean--I've plenty of time. 'Tis only to my home, and they have had one by the early post.'
He smiled, saying, 'You are a good correspondent.'
'Oh! I must write. Annette and I were never apart before.'
'Yes, only a year older. We always did everything together.'
He ventured to look up, and saw a bright dew on a soft, shady pair of dark eyes, a sweet quivering smile on a very pretty mouth, and a glow of pure bright deep pink on a most delicately fair skin, contrasted with braids of dark brown hair. She was rather above the ordinary height, slender, and graceful, and the childish beauty of the form or face and features surprised him; but to his mind the chief grace was the shy, sweet tenderness, happy and bright, but tremulous with the recent pain of the parting from home. With a kindly impulse, he said, 'You must tell me your name, Arthur has not mentioned it.'
'Violet;' and as he did not appear at once to catch its unusual sound, she repeated, 'Violet Helen; we most of us have strange names.'
'Violet Helen,' he repeated, with an intonation as if struck, not unpleasingly, by the second name. 'Well, that is the case in our family. My sister has an uncommon name.'
'Theodora,' said Violet, pausing, as if too timid to inquire further.
'Have you only this one sister?' he said.
'Six, and one brother,' said she, in a tone of exulting fondness. A short silence, and then the joyful exclamation, 'There he is!' and she sprang to the door, leaving it open, as her fresh young voice announced, full of gratulation, 'Here's your brother.'
'Guileless and unconscious of evil, poor child!' thought the brother; 'but I wonder how Arthur likes the news.'
Arthur entered, a fine-looking young man, of three-and-twenty, dark, bright complexioned, tall, and robust. He showed not the least consciousness of having offended, and his bride smiled freely as if at rest from all embarrassment now that she had her protector.
'Well, John,' was his greeting, warmly spoken. 'You here? You look better. How is the cough?'
'Better, thank you.'
'I see I need not introduce you,' said Arthur, laying his hand on the arm of his blushing Violet, who shrank up to him as he gave a short laugh. 'Have you been here long?'
'Only about five minutes.'
'And you are come to stay?'
'Thank you, if you can take me in for a day or two.'
'That we can. There is a tolerable spare room, and James will find a place for Brown. I am glad to see you looking so much better. Have you got rid of the pain in your side?'
'Entirely, thank you, for the last few weeks.'
'How is my mother?'
'Very well. She enjoyed the voyage extremely.'
'She won't concoct another Tour?'
'I don't think so,' said John, gravely.
'There has SHE,' indicating his wife, been thinking it her duty to read the old Italian one, which I never opened in my life. I declare it would take a dictionary to understand a page. She is scared at the variety of tongues, and feels as if she was in Babel.'
John was thinking that if he did not know this rattling talk to be a form of embarrassment, he should take it for effrontery.
'Shall I go and see about the room?' half-whispered Violet.
'Yes, do;' and he opened the door for her, exclaiming, almost before she was fairly gone, 'There! you want no more explanation.'
She is very lovely!' said John, in a tone full of cordial admiration.
'Isn't she?' continued Arthur, triumphantly. 'Such an out-of-the-way style;--the dark eyes and hair, with that exquisite complexion, ivory fairness,--the form of her face the perfect oval!--what you so seldom see--and her figure, just the right height, tall and taper! I don't believe she could be awkward if she was to try. She'll beat every creature hollow, especially in a few years' time when she's a little more formed.'
'She is very young?'
'Sixteen on our wedding-day. That's the beauty of it. If she had been a day older it would have been a different thing. Not that they could have spoilt her,--she is a thoroughbred by nature, and no mistake.'
'How did your acquaintance begin?'
'This way,' said Arthur, leaning back, and twirling a chair on one of its legs for a pivot. 'Fitzhugh would have me come down for a fortnight's fishing to Wrangerton. There's but one inn there fit to put a dog to sleep in, and when we got there we found the house turned out of window for a ball, all the partitions down on the first floor, and we driven into holes to be regaled with distant fiddlesqueak. So Fitzhugh's Irish blood was up for a dance, and I thought I might as well give in to it, for the floor shook so that there was no taking a cigar in peace. So you see the stars ordained it, and it is of no use making a row about one's destiny,' concluded Arthur, in a sleepy voice, ceasing to spin the chair. 'That was your first introduction?'
'Ay. After that, one was meeting the Mosses for ever; indeed, we had to call on the old fellow to get leave for fishing in that water of Lord St. Erme's. He has a very pretty sort of little place out of the town close to the park, and--and somehow the weather was too bright for any sport, and the stream led by their garden.'
'I perceive,' said John.
'Well, I saw I was in for it, and had nothing for it but to go through with it. Anything for a quiet life.'
'A new mode of securing it,' said John, indignant at his nonchalance. 'There you don't display your wonted sagacity,' returned Arthur coolly. 'You little know what I have gone through on your account. If you had been sound-winded, you would have saved me no end of persecution.'
'You have not avoided speculation as it is,' John could not help saying. 'I beg to observe that you are mistaken. Old Moss is as cunning a fox as ever lived; but I saw his game, and without my own good-will he might have whistled for me. I saw what he was up to, and let him know it, but as I was always determined that when I married it should be to please myself, not my aunt, I let things take their course and saved the row at home.'
'I am sure she knew nothing of this.'
'She? Bless you, poor child. She is as innocent as a lamb, and only thinks me all the heroes in the world.'
'She did not know my father was ignorant of it?'
'Not she. She does not know it to this day.' John sat thinking; Arthur twirled the chair, then said, 'That is the fact. I suppose my aunt had a nice story for you.' 'It agreed in the main with yours.'
'I was unlucky,' said Arthur, 'I meant to have brought her home before my aunt and Theodora had any news of it. I could have got round them that way, but somehow Theodora got scent of it, and wrote me a furious letter, full of denunciation--two of them--they hunted me everywhere, so I saw it was no use going there.'
'She is much hurt at your letter. I can see that she is, though she tries to hide her feelings. She was looking quite pale when we came home, and I can hardly bear to see the struggle to look composed when you are mentioned.'
This evidently produced some compunction, but Arthur tried to get rid of it. 'I am sure there was nothing to take to heart in it--was there, John?'
'I don't know. She had burnt it without letting any one see it; and it was only through my aunt that we learnt that she had received it.'
'Well! her temper is up, and I am sorry for it,' said Arthur. 'I forget what I said. I dare say it was no more than she deserved. I got one of these remonstrances of hers at Wrangerton, on the day before, and another followed me a couple of days after to Matlock, so I could not have that going on for ever, and wrote off to put a stop to it. But what does his lordship say?'
'Do you wish him to forgive or not?' said his brother, nearly out of patience. 'Of course--I knew he would, he can't leave us with nothing to live on. There's nothing to be done but to go through the forms, and I am quite ready. Come, what's the use of looking intensely disgusted? Now you have seen her, you don't expect me to profess that I am very sorry, and "will never do so no more."' 'I say nothing against her, but the way of doing it.'
'So much trouble saved. Besides, I tell you I am ready to make whatever apology my father likes for a preliminary.'
His brother looked vexed, and dropped the conversation, waiting to see more of the bride before he should form an opinion.
It was seeing rather than hearing, for she was in much awe of him, blushed more than she spoke, and seemed taken up by the fear of doing something inappropriate, constantly turning wistful inquiring looks towards her husband, to seek encouragement or direction, but it was a becoming confusion, and by no means lessened the favourable impression.
'The next morning Arthur was engaged, and left her to be the guide to the cathedral, whereat she looked shy and frightened, but Mr. Martindale set himself to re-assure her, and the polished gentleness of his manner soon succeeded. They stood on the hill, overlooking the town and the vale of Itchen, winding away till lost between the green downs that arose behind their crested neighbour, St. Catherine's Hill, and in the valley beneath reposed the gray cathedral's lengthened nave and square tower, its lesser likeness, St. Cross, and the pinnacles of the College tower.
'A very pretty view,' said Mr. Martindale.
'The old buildings are very fine, but it is not like our own hills.'
'No, it is hard on Hampshire downs to compare them to Cumberland mountains.' 'But it is so sunny and beautiful,' said the bright young bride. 'See the sunshine on the green meadows, and the haymaking. Oh! I shall always love it.' John heard a great deal of happiness in those words. 'I never saw a cathedral before,' she added.
'Have you been over this one?'
'Yes, but it will be such a treat to go again. One can't take a quarter of it in at once.'
'No, it takes half a lifetime to learn a cathedral properly.'
'It is a wonderful thing,' she said, with the same serious face; then, changing her tone to one of eagerness, 'I want to find Bishop Fox's tomb, for he was a northcountry bishop.'
John smiled. 'You are perfect in the cathedral history.'
'I bought a little book about it.'
Her knowledge was, he found, in a girlish state of keen interest, and not deficient, but what pleased him best was that, as they entered and stood at the west door, looking down the whole magnificent length of nave, choir, and chapel, the embowed roof high above, sustained on massive pillars, she uttered a low murmur of 'beautiful!' and there was a heart-felt expression of awe and reverence on her face, a look as of rapt thought, chased away in a moment by his eye, and giving place to quiet pensiveness. After the service they went over the building; but though eager for information, the gravity did not leave her, nor did she speak at once when they emerged into the Close.
'It is very impressive,' said John.
'I suppose you have seen a great many cathedrals?'
'Yes, many foreign ones, and a few English.'
'I wonder whether seeing many makes one feel the same as seeing one.' 'How do you mean?'
'I do not think I could ever care for another like this one.'
'As your first?'
'Yes; it has made me understand better what books say about churches, and their being like--'
She changed her sentence. 'It makes one think, and want to be good.' 'It is what all truly beautiful things should do' said John.
'Oh! I am glad you say so,' exclaimed Violet. 'It is like what Annette and I have wondered about--I mean why fine statues or pictures, or anything of that kind, should make one feel half sad and half thoughtful when one looks at them long.' 'Perhaps because it is a straining after the only true beauty.'
'I must tell Annette that. It was she that said it was so,' said Violet; 'and we wondered Greek statues gave one that feeling, but I see it must be the reason.' 'What statues have you seen?'
'Those at Wrangerton House. Lord St. Erme is always sending cases home, and it is such a festival day to go up and see them unpacked, and Caroline and Annette go and take drawings, and I like to wander about the rooms, and look at everything,' said Violet, growing talkative on the theme of home. 'There is one picture I like above all, but that is a sacred subject, so no wonder it should have that feeling in it.'
'What is it?'
'It is a Madonna,' she said, lowering her voice. 'A stiff old- fashioned one, in beautiful, bright, clear colouring. The Child is reaching out to embrace a little cross, and his Mother holds him towards it with such a sad but such a holy face, as if she foreboded all, and was ready to bear it.'
'Ah! that Ghirlandajo?'
'That is the name!' cried Violet, enchanted. 'Have you seen it?'
'I saw Lord St. Erme buy it.'
'Do you know Lord St. Erme?' said Violet, rather awe-struck.
'I used to meet him in Italy.'
'We wish so much that he would come home. We do so want to see a poet.' John smiled. 'Is he never at home?'
'O, no, he has never been at Wrangerton since his father died, twelve years ago. He does not like the place, so he only comes to London when he is in England, and papa goes up to meet him on business, but he is too poetical to attend to it.' 'I should guess that.'
'I have done wrong, said Violet, checking herself; 'I should not have said that. Mamma told us that we ought never to chatter about his concerns. Will you, please, not remember that I said it?'
As far as the outer world is concerned, I certainly will not,' said John kindly. 'You cannot too early learn discretion. So that picture is at Wrangerton?' 'I am so glad you liked it.'
'I liked it well enough to wish for a few spare hundreds, but it seems to have afforded no more pleasure to him than it has given to me. I am glad it is gone where there is some one who can appreciate it.'
'Oh, said Violet,' Matilda knows all about the best pictures. We don't appreciate, you know, we only like.'
'And your chief liking is for that one?'
'It is more than liking,' said Violet; 'I could call it loving. It is almost the same to me as Helvellyn. Annette and I went to the house for one look more my last evening at home. I must tell her that you have seen it!' and the springing steps grew so rapid, that her companion had to say, 'Don't let me detain you, I am obliged to go gently up-hill.' She checked her steps, abashed, and presently, with a shy but very pretty action, held out her arm, saying timidly, 'Would it help you to lean on me? I ought not to have brought you this steep way. Matilda says I skurry like a school-girl.'
He saw it would console her to let her think herself of service and accepted of the slender prop for the few steps that remained. He then went up-stairs to write letters, but finding no ink, came to the drawing-room to ask her for some. She had only her own inkstand, which was supplying her letter to Annette, and he sat down at the opposite side of the table to share it. Her pen went much faster than his. 'Clifton Terrace, Winchester,' and 'My dear father--I came here yesterday, and was most agreeably surprised,' was all that he had indited, when he paused to weigh what was his real view of the merits of the case, and ponder whether his present feeling was sober judgment, or the novelty of the bewitching prettiness of this innocent and gracious creature. There he rested, musing, while from her pen flowed a description of her walk and of Mr. Martindale's brother. 'If they are all like him, I shall be perfectly happy,' she wrote. 'I never saw any one so kind and considerate, and so gentle; only now and then he frightens me, with his politeness, or perhaps polish is the right word, it makes me feel myself rude and uncourteous and awkward. You said nothing gave you so much the notion of high-breeding as Mr. Martindale's ease, especially when he pretended to be rough and talk slang, it was like playing at it. Now, his brother has the same, without the funny roughness, but the greatest gentleness, and a good deal of quiet sadness. I suppose it is from his health, though he is much better now: he still coughs, and he moves slowly and leans languidly, as if he was not strong. He is not so tall as his brother, and much slighter in make, and fairer complexioned, with gray eyes and brown hair, and he looks sallow and worn and thin, with such white long hands.'
Here raising her eyes to verify her description, she encountered those of its subject, evidently taking a survey of her for the same purpose. He smiled, and she was thereby encouraged to break into a laugh, so girlish and light-hearted, so unconscious how much depended on his report, that he could not but feel compassionate.
Alarmed at the graver look, she crimsoned, exclaiming, 'O! I beg your pardon! It was very rude.'
'No, no,' said John; it was absurd!' and vexed at having checked her gladsomeness, he added, 'It is I rather who should ask your pardon, for looks that will not make a cheerful figure in your description.'
'Oh, no,' cried Violet; 'mamma told me never to say anything against any of Mr. Martindale's relations. What have I said?'--as he could not help laughing-'Something I could not have meant.'
'Don't distress yourself, pray,' said John, not at all in a bantering tone. 'I know what you meant; and it was very wise advice, such as you will be very glad to have followed.'
With a renewed blush, an ingenuous look, and a hesitating effort, she said, 'INDEED, I have been telling them how very kind you are. Mamma will be so pleased to hear it.'
'She must have been very sorry to part with you,' said he, looking at the fair girl sent so early into the world.
'Oh, yes!' and the tears started to the black eyelashes, though a smile came at the same time; 'she said I should be such a giddy young housekeeper, and she would have liked a little more notice.'
'It was not very long?' said John, anxious to lead her to give him information; and she was too young and happy not to be confidential, though she looked down and glowed as she answered, 'Six weeks.'
'And you met at the ball!'
'Yes, it was very curious;' and with deepening blushes she went on, the smile of happiness on her lips, and her eyes cast down. 'Annette was to go for the first time, and she would not go without me. Mamma did not like it, for I was not sixteen then; but Uncle Christopher came, and said I should, because I was his pet. But I can never think it was such a short time; it seems a whole age ago.' 'It must,' said John, with a look of interest that made her continue. 'It was very odd how it all happened. Annette and I had no one to dance with, and were wondering who those two gentlemen were. Captain Fitzhugh was dancing with Miss Evelyn, and he--Mr. Martindale--was leaning against the wall, looking on.'
'I know exactly--with his arms crossed so--'
'Yes, just so,' said Violet, smiling; 'and presently Grace Bennet came and told Matilda who they were; and while I was listening, oh, I was so surprised, for there was Albert, my brother, making me look round. Mr. Martindale had asked to be introduced to us, and he asked me to dance. I don't believe I answered right, for I thought he meant Matilda. 'But,' said she, breaking off, 'how I am chattering and hindering you!' and she coloured and looked down.
'Not at all,' said John; 'there is nothing I wish more to hear, or that concerns me more nearly. Anything you like to tell.'
'I am afraid it is silly,' half-whispered Violet to herself; but the recollection was too pleasant not to be easily drawn out; and at her age the transition is short from shyness to confidence.
'Not at all silly,' said John. 'You know I must wish to hear how I gained a sister.' Then, as the strangeness of imagining that this grave, high-bred, more than thirty-years-old gentleman, could possibly call her by such a name, set her smiling and blushing in confusion, he wiled on her communications by saying, 'Well, that evening you danced with Arthur.'
'Three times. It was a wonderful evening. Annette and I said, when we went to bed, we had seen enough to think of for weeks. We did not know how much more was going to happen.'
'No, I suppose not.'
'I thought much of it when he bowed to me. I little fancied--but there was another odd coincidence--wasn't it? In general I never go into the drawing-room to company, because there are three older; but the day they came to speak to papa about the fishing, mamma and all the elder ones were out of the way, except Matilda. I was doing my Roman history with her, when papa came in and said, we must both come into the drawing-room.'
'You saw more of him from that time?'
'O yes; he dined with us. It was the first time I ever dined with a party, and he talked so much to me, that Albert began to laugh at me; but Albert always laughs. I did not care till--till--that day when he walked with us in the park, coming home from fishing.'
Her voice died away, and her face burnt as she looked down; but a few words of interest led her on.
'When I told mamma, she said most likely he thought me a little girl who didn't signify; but I did not think he could, for I am the tallest of them all, and every one says I look as if I was seventeen, at least. And then she told me grand gentlemen and officers didn't care what nonsense they talked. You know she didn't know him so well then,' said Violet, looking up pleadingly.
'She was very prudent.'
'She could not know he did not deserve it,' said the young bride, ready to resent it for her husband, since his brother did not, then again excusing her mother. 'It was all her care for me, dear mamma! She told me not to think about it; but I could not help it! Indeed I could not!'
'No, indeed,' and painful recollections of his own pressed on him, but he could not help being glad this tender young heart was not left to pine under disappointment. 'How long ago was this?'
'That was six weeks ago--a month before our wedding-day,' said she, blushingly. 'I did wish it could have been longer. I wanted to learn, how to keep house, and I never could, for he was always coming to take me to walk in the park. And it all happened so fast, I had no time to understand it, nor to talk to mamma and Matilda. And then mamma cried so much! I don't feel to understand it now, but soon perhaps I shall have more quiet time. I should like to have waited till Lord Martindale came home, but they said that could not be, because his leave of absence would be over. I did wish very much though that Miss Martindale could have left her aunt to come to our wedding.'
John found reply so difficult, that he was glad to be interrupted by Arthur's return. He soon after set out to call upon Captain Fitzhugh, who had been at Wrangerton with Arthur.
From him more of the circumstances were gathered. Mr. Moss was the person universally given up to reprobation. 'A thorough schemer,' said the Irish captain. As to the Miss Mosses, they were lady-like girls, most of them pretty, and everywhere well spoken of. In fact, John suspected he had had a little flirtation on his own account with some of them, though he took credit to himself for having warned his friend to be careful. He ended with a warm-hearted speech, by no means displeasing to John, hoping he would make the best of it with Lord Martindale, for after all, she was as pretty a creature as could be seen, one that any man might be proud of for a daughter-in-law; and to his mind it was better than leaving the poor girl to break her heart after him when it had gone so far. Arthur himself was in a more rational mood that evening. He had at first tried to hide his embarrassment by bravado; but he now changed his tone, and as soon as Violet had left the dining-room, began by an abrupt inquiry, 'What would you have me do?'
'Why don't you write to my father!'
Arthur writhed. 'I suppose it must come to that,' he said; 'but tell me first the state of things.'
'You could not expect that there would not be a good deal of indignation.' 'Ay, ay! How did you get the news? Did Theodora tell you?'
'No; there was a letter from Colonel Harrington; and at home they knew the circumstances pretty correctly through a cousin of Wingfield's, who has a curacy in that neighbourhood.'
'Oh! that was the way Theodora came by the news. I wish he had let alone telling her,--I could have managed her alone;--but there! it was not in human nature not to tell such a story, and it did not much matter how it was done. Well, and my aunt is furious, I suppose, but I'll take care of her and of my lady. I only want to know how my father takes it.'
'He cannot endure the notion of a family feud; but the first step must come from you.'
'Very well:--and so you came to set it going. It is very good-natured of you, John. I depended on you or Theodora for helping me through, but I did not think you would have come in this way. I am glad you have, for now you have seen her you can't say a word against it.'
'Against her, certainly not. I have made acquaintance with her this morning, and-and there is everything to interest one in her:' and then, as Arthur looked delighted, and was ready to break into a rhapsody--'Her simplicity especially. When you write you had better mention her entire ignorance of the want of sanction. I cannot think how she was kept in such unconsciousness.' 'She knows nothing of people's ways,' said Arthur. 'She knew you were all abroad, and her own family told her it was all right. Her father is a bit of a tyrant, and stopped the mother's mouth, I fancy, if she had any doubts. As to herself, it was much too pretty to see her so happy, to let her set up her little scruples. She did just as she was told, like a good child.'
'O Arthur! you have undertaken a great responsibility!' exclaimed John. But Arthur, without seeming to heed, continued, 'So you see she is quite clear; but I'll write, and you shall see if it is not enough to satisfy my father, before he sets us going respectably.'
'I can't answer for anything of that sort.'
'Something he must do,' said Arthur, 'for my allowance is not enough to keep a cat; and as to the ninth part of old Moss's pickings and stealings, if I meant to dirty my fingers with it, it won't be to be come by till he is disposed of, and that won't be these thirty years.'
'Then, he let you marry without settling anything on her!'
'He was glad to have her off his hands on any terms. Besides, to tell you the truth, John, I am convinced he had no notion you would ever come home again. He knew I saw his game, and dreaded I should be off; so he and I were both of one mind, to have it over as soon as possible.'
'I only hope you will make her happy!' said John, earnestly.
'Happy!' exclaimed Arthur, surprised, 'small doubt of that! What should prevent me?'
'I think you will find you must make some sacrifices.'
'It all depends on my father,' said Arthur, a little crossly, and taking his writingcase from another table.
He was so well pleased with his performance that, as soon as he was alone with Violet, he began, 'There, I've done it! John said it could not be better, and after the impression you have made, no fear but he will pacify the great folks.' She was perplexed. 'Who?' said she; 'not Lord and Lady Martindale? Oh! surely I have not done anything to displease them.'
'You must have been ingenious if you had.'
'Pray, do tell me! Why are they to be pacified? What is the matter? Do they think they shan't like me? Ought I to do anything?'
'My little bird, don't twitter so fast. You have asked a dozen questions in a breath.' 'I wish you would tell me what it means,' said Violet, imploringly.
'Well, I suppose you must know sooner or later. It only means that they are taken by surprise.'
Violet gazed at him in perplexity, then, with a dawning perception, 'Oh! surely you don't mean they did not approve of it.'
'Nobody asked them,' said Arthur, carelessly, then as she turned away, covering her face with her hands, 'But it is nothing to take to heart in that way. I am my own master, you know, you silly child, and you had plenty of consent, and all that sort of thing, to satisfy you, so you are quite out of the scrape.'
She scarcely seemed to hear.
'Come, come, Violet, this won't do,' he continued, putting his arm round her, and turning her towards him, while he pulled down her hands. 'This is pretty usage. You can't help it now if you would.'
'Oh! Mr. Martindale!'
'Ah! you don't know what I have saved you. I was not going to see all that pink paint worn off those cheeks, nor your life and my own wasted in waiting for them to bring their minds to it. I have seen enough of that. Poor John there--' 'How?--what?' said Violet, with alarmed curiosity.
'She died,' said Arthur.
'How long ago? What was her name?'
'Helen Fotheringham. She was our old parson's daughter. They waited eight years, and she died last summer. I see he wears his mourning still.' Violet looked aghast, and spoke low. 'How very sad! Helen! That was the reason he looked up when he heard it was my name. Poor Mr. John Martindale! I saw the crape on his hat. Was that what made him so ill?'
'It nearly killed him last year, but he never had lungs good for anything. First, my aunt set my father against it, and when he gave in, she had a crabbed decrepit old grandfather, and between them they were the death of her, and almost of him. I never thought he would rally again.'
'Only last year?' exclaimed Violet. 'O dear! and there have I been telling him all about--about this spring. I would not have done it, if I had known. I thought he looked melancholy sometimes. Oh! I wish I had not.'
'You did, did you?' said Arthur, much amused. 'You chatterbox.'
'Oh! I am so sorry. I wish--'
'No, no, he only liked you the better for it. I assure you, Violet, he almost said so. Then that was what made him lay such stress on your being an innocent little victim.'
'Would you be so kind as to explain it to me?' said Violet, in such serious distress that he answered with less trifling than usual, 'There is nothing to tell. I knew how it would be if I asked leave, so I took it. That's all.'
'And--and surely they didn't know this at home?'
'The less said about that the better, Violet,' said Arthur. 'You are all right, you know, and in great favour with John. He can do anything with my father, and I have written. We shall be at home before the end of another month, and set going with a decent income in London. A house--where shall it be? Let me see, he can't give me less than L1000 a year, perhaps L1600. I vow I don't see why it should not be L2000. John wants no more than he has got, and will never marry now, and there is only Theodora. I was always my aunt's favourite, and if you mind what you are about we shall have our share of the old sugar-planter's hoards, better than the Barbuda property--all niggers and losses. I wash my hands of it, though by rights it should come to the second son.'
Neither understanding nor heeding all this, Violet interrupted by gasping out, 'Oh! I am so grieved.'
'Grieved!--say that again. Grieved to be Mrs. Arthur Martindale?'
'O no, no; but--'
'Grieved to have found such a fool as to risk everything, and run counter to all his friends for the sake of that silly little ungrateful face?'
She was coaxed out of vexation for the present; but she awoke the next morning with a feeling of culpability and dread of all the Martindale family.
John could not understand her altered manner and the timid bashfulness, greater than even at their first meeting. In fact, the history of his grief inspired her with a sort of reverential compassion for him, and the perception of the terms on which she stood, made her laugh of yesterday seem to her such unbecoming levity, that upon it she concentrated all her vague feelings of contrition.
When he came as before, to borrow some ink, as she gave it to him her hand shook, and her colour rose. After standing musing a little while, she said, mournfully, 'I am very sorry!'
'What is the matter?' said he, kindly.
'I am so vexed at what I did yesterday!'
'What do you mean?'
'For laughing,' said she, in a tone of distress. 'Indeed, indeed, I did not know,' and though she averted her face, he saw that the crimson had spread to her neck. He did not at once reply, and she went on incoherently. 'I did not know--I could not guess. Of course--I wondered at it all. I knew I was not fit--but they never told me--O, I am so much grieved.'
Most soothingly did John say, coming towards her, 'No, no, you need not distress yourself. No one can blame you.'
'But Lord Martindale'--she murmured.
'He will look on you like a daughter. I know I may promise you that. Yes, indeed, I have no doubt of it, my dear little sister,' he repeated, as she looked earnestly at him. 'I have told him how entirely you deserve his kindness and affection, and Arthur has written, such a letter as will be sure to bring his forgiveness.' 'Ah!' said Violet, 'it is all for my sake. No wonder they should be angry.' 'Don't fancy that any one is angry with you. We all know that you were ignorant how matters stood.'
'But I should have done the same if I had known. I could not have helped it,' said Violet.
'I know,' said John, 'no one could expect it of you. Arthur told me at once that you were free from any shadow of blame, and no one thinks of imputing any.' 'But are they very much displeased?' said poor Violet.
'Of course,' said John, after a little consideration, 'it was a shock to hear of such an important step being taken without my father's knowledge; but he is very anxious there should be no estrangement, and I am sure he will behave as if things had gone on in the usual course. You may have great confidence in his kindness, Violet.'
She was somewhat reassured, and presently went on--'I don't wonder they are vexed. I know how much beneath him I am, but I could not help that. Oh! I wish Matilda was here to tell me how to behave, that every one may not be ashamed of me and angry with him.'
'Don't be frightened' said John, 'you have pleased two of the family already; you know, and depend upon it, you will make them all like you in time as much as I do.'
'If YOU can overlook that laugh!' said Violet.
'I could say I liked you the better for it,' said John, pleasantly; 'only I don't know whether it would be a safe precedent. It has made us feel well acquainted, I hope. Don't make a stranger of me,' he continued, 'don't forget that we are brother and sister.
'I'm sure,'--and she broke off, unable to express herself; then added, 'Lady Martindale! I was frightened before at the thought of her, but it is much worse now.'
'You must not frighten yourself. You will find out how kind she is when you come to know her, and soon get over your first strangeness and shyness.' 'And there is your sister,' said Violet; 'Theodora--I do long to see her. Is she most like you or your brother?'
'Remarkably like him. She always makes children very fond of her,' he added, pausing to find something safe and yet encouraging; 'but I don't know half as much of her as Arthur does. We have not been as much together as I could wish.'
'I see now why she never wrote,' said Violet, with some shame, and yet glad to have it accounted for. 'But she will be sure to help me, and tell me how to behave. She will want them to be able to bear me for his sake.'
Without much reply, he applied himself to his letter, feeling that he could hardly give an impartial judgment. It had been a great effort to come to visit the bridal pair, but he found himself rewarded in a way he had not expected by the new pleasure given him by her engaging ways, her freshness and artlessness rousing him from long-continued depression of spirits.
After some pondering, she suddenly looked up, and exclaimed, 'Well, I'll try!' 'Try what, Violet!'
'I'll try to do my very best!' said she, cheerfully, though the tears still were in her eyes. 'I know I shall make mistakes, and I can never be like a great lady; but I'll do the best I can, if they will only bear with me, and not be angry with him.' 'I am sure you will do well, with such resolutions.'
'One thing I am glad of,' added she, 'that we came here just now. That old cathedral! I did not think much before--it was all strange and new, and I was too happy. But I shall never be so thoughtless now--or if I am! O, I know,' she exclaimed, with renewed energy, 'I'll buy one of those pretty white cups with views of the cathedral on them. Did you not see them in the shop-window? That will put me in mind if I am going to be careless of all my resolutions.' 'Resolutions so made are likely to be kept,' said John, and she presently left the room, recollecting that her store of biscuits needed replenishing before luncheon. She was putting on her bonnet to go to order them, when a doubt seized her whether she was transgressing the dignities of the Honourable Mrs. Martindale. Matilda had lectured against vulgarity when Arthur had warned her against ultragentility, and she wavered, till finding there was no one to send, her good sense settled the question. She walked along, feeling the cares and troubles of life arising on her, and thinking she should never again be gay and thoughtless, when she suddenly heard her husband's voice--'Ha! whither away so fast!' and he and Captain Fitzhugh overtook her.
'I was going into the town on an errand.'
'Just the moment I wanted you. There's a cricket match in the College Meads. Come along.'
And with her arm in his, Violet's clouds vanished, and she had no recollection of anxieties or vexations. The summer sky was overhead, the river shone blue and bright, the meadows smiled in verdure, the whole scene was full of animation, and the game, of which she knew nothing, was made charming by Arthur's explanations. Nearly an hour had passed before she bethought herself of suggesting it was almost time to go home.
'Presently,' said Arthur, 'let us see this fellow out.'
Another ten minutes. 'Would you look at your watch please? There's your brother waiting for his luncheon.'
'O, ay, 'tis nearly time,' and he was again absorbed. She thought he would not be pleased if she went home alone, nor was she sure of the way; so she waited in much annoyance, till at length he said, 'Now, Violet,' and they walked briskly home, all that she had endured passing entirely out of her mind.
She rejoiced to find Mr. Martindale unconscious that it was not far from two o'clock. He said he had been glad of time to finish his letters, and Arthur, as his eye fell on one of them, asked, 'What is Percy doing now?'
'He has been in Anatolia, going over some of the places we saw together. He has made some discoveries about the Crusades, and is thinking of publishing some of his theories.'
'Did I not hear of his writing something before this?'
'Yes; he sent some curious histories of the eastern Jews to some magazine. They are to be published separately, as they have been very successful; but I am glad this book is to be what he calls "self- contained." He is too good to be wasted upon periodicals.'
Violet, curious to know who was this literary correspondent, glanced at the letter, and read the address, to 'Antony Percival Fotheringham, Esquire, British Embassy, Constantinople.' She started to find it was the surname of that lost betrothed of whom she thought with an undefinable reverent pity.
All speculations were put to flight, however, by the entrance of the luncheon tray, containing nothing but slices of cold mutton and bread and butter. With a grievous look of dismay, and lamentable exclamation, she began to pour out explanations and apologies, but the gentlemen seemed too intent on conversing about Mr. Fotheringham either to hear her or to perceive anything amiss. She remembered black looks and sharp words at home; and feeling dreadfully guilty at having failed immediately after her resolutions, she retreated to her room, and there Arthur found her in positive distress.
'Oh, I am so much concerned! It was so wrong to forget those biscuits. Your brother ate nothing else yesterday at luncheon!'
'Is that all?' said Arthur, laughing; 'I thought something had happened to you. Come, on with your bonnet. Fancy! John will actually walk with us to St. Cross!' 'Let me first tell you how it happened. There are a couple of ducks--' 'Let them be. No housekeeping affairs for me. Whatever happens, keep your own counsel. If they serve you up a barbecued puppy dog, keep a cool countenance, and help the company round. No woman good for anything mentions her bill of fare in civilized society. Mind that.'
Violet was left imagining her apologies a breach of good manners. What must Mr. Martindale think of her? Silly, childish, indiscreet, giggling, neglectful, underbred! How he must regret his brother's having such a wife!
Yet his pleasant voice, and her husband's drawing her arm into his, instantly dispelled all fear and regret, and her walk was delightful.
She was enchanted with St. Cross, delighted with the quadrangle of gray buildings covered with creepers, the smooth turf and gay flowers; in raptures at the black jacks, dole of bread and beer, and at the silver- crossed brethren, and eager to extract all Mr. Martindale's information on the architecture and history of the place, lingering over it as long as her husband's patience would endure, and hardly able to tear herself from the quiet glassy stream and green meadows. 'If Caroline were only here to sketch it!' she cried, 'there would be nothing wanting but that that hill should be Helvellyn.'
'You should see the mountain convents in Albania,' said John; and she was soon charmed with his account of his adventures there with Mr. Fotheringham. She was beginning to look on him as a perfect mine of information--one who had seen the whole world, and read everything. All that was wanting, she said, was Matilda properly to enter into his conversation.
Another day brought letters, inviting Arthur to bring home his bride for a fortnight's visit, as soon as he could obtain leave of absence.