Heartsease or Brother's Wife by Charlotte Mary Yonge - HTML preview
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Is it that they have a fear
Of the dreary season near,
Or that other pleasures be
Sweeter even than gaiety?--WORDSWORTH
Were they to leave the country? This was still under consideration. The next fortnight made some difference in Theodora's wishes respecting Brogden Cottage. Violet becoming less timid, ventured to show that she took interest in poor people; and Theodora was pleased by finding her able to teach at school, and to remember the names of the children. Especially her sweet looks and signs gained the heart of little Charley Layton, the dumb boy at the lodge--the creature on whom Theodora bestowed the most time and thought. And on her begging to be shown the dumb alphabet, as the two sisters crossed fingers, they became, for one evening, almost intimate.
Theodora began to think of her as not only harmless, but likely to be useful in the parish; and could afford to let Arthur have her for a plaything, since he made herself his confidante. She withdrew her opposition; but it was too late. Arthur had declared that he could not live there without L2500 a year, and this his father neither could nor would give him. The expense of building the house, and the keeping up of such a garden and establishment, did not leave too much available of the wealth Lady Martindale had brought, nor was the West Indian property in a prosperous state; the demand was preposterous; and Theodora found herself obliged to defend poor Violet, who, her aunt declared, must have instigated it in consequence of the notice lavished upon her; while, as Theodora averred with far more truth, 'it was as much as the poor thing did to know the difference between a ten-pound note and a five.' Twelve hundred pounds a year, and the rent of a house in London, was what his elder brother would have married upon; and this, chiefly by John's influence, was fixed as the allowance, in addition to his pay; and as his promotion was now purchased for him, he had far more than he had any right to expect, though he did not seem to think so, and grumbled to Theodora about the expense of the garden, as if it was consuming his patrimony. How the income would hold out, between his carelessness and her inexperience, was a question over which his father sighed, and gave good advice, which Arthur heard with the same sleepy, civil air of attention, as had served him under the infliction many times before.
John gave only one piece of advice, namely, that he should consign a fixed sum for household expenses into his wife's hands; so that he might not be subject to continued applications.
On this he acted; and subtracting to himself, wine, men, and horses, the full amount of his bachelor income, he, for the first time, communicated to Violet the result of the various consultations.
'So the upshot of it all is, that we are to have a house somewhere in Belgravia,' he began.
'That is near Lord Martindale's London house, is it not?'
'Yes; you will be in the way of all that is going on.'
'Do we go there next month?'
'I suppose so.'
'Oh! I am glad.'
'Are you? I thought you liked being here.'
'Yes, yes, of course, that I do; but it will be so pleasant to be at home, and to have you all to myself.'
She repented the next moment, as if it had been a complaint; but he was gratified, and called her a little monopolist.
'Oh, I don't mean to be troublesome to you,' said she, earnestly; 'I shall have so much more to do in our own house, that I shall not miss you so much when you are out; besides, we can have Annette to stay with us.'
'We'll see about that. But look here,' laying a paper with some figures before her; 'that's all my father leaves me for you to keep house with. I put it into your hands, and you must do the best you can with it.'
'You don t mean to put all that into my hands!' exclaimed Violet in alarm. 'What a sum!'
'You won't think so by the end of the year; but mind, this must do; it will be of no use to come to me for more.'
'Then is it little?' asked Violet.
'See what you think of it by and by; you won't find it such an easy thing to make both ends meet.'
'I will write and ask mamma to tell me how to manage.'
'Indeed,' said Arthur, with sharpness such as she had never seen in him before, 'I beg you will not. I won't have my affairs the town talk of Wrangerton.' But seeing her look frightened, and ready to cry, he softened instantly, and said, affectionately, 'No, no, Violet, we must keep our concerns to ourselves. I don't want to serve for the entertainment of Matilda's particular friends.' 'Mamma wouldn't tell--'
'I'll trust no house of seven women.'
'But how am I to know how to manage?'
'Never mind; you'll get on. It comes as naturally to women as if it was shooting or fishing.'
'I wonder how I shall begin! I don't know anything.'
'Buy a cookery book.'
'Aunt Moss gave me one; I didn't mean that. But, oh, dear, there's the hiring of servants, and buying things!'
'Don't ask me: it is woman's work, and always to be done behind the scenes. If there's a thing I mortally hate, it is those housekeeper bodies who go about talking of their good cooks.'
Violet was silenced, but after much meditation she humbly begged for answers to one or two questions. 'Was she to pay the servants' wages out of this?' 'Your maids--of course.'
'And how many are we to have?'
'As many as will do the work.'
'A cook and housemaid--I wonder if that would be enough?'
'Don't ask me, that's all'
'I know you don't like to be teased,' she said, submissively; 'but one or two things I do want to know. Is James to be in the house?'
'Why, yes; he is a handy fellow. We will have him down for Simmonds to give him some training.'
'Then ought we to have two maids or three?'
He held up his hands, and escaped.
That morning John, happening to come into the drawing-room, found Violet disconsolately covering a sheet of paper with figures.
'Abstruse calculations?' said he.
'Yes, very,' said she, sighing, with the mystified face of a child losing its way in a long sum.
He did not like to leave her in such evident difficulties, and said, with a smile, 'Your budget? Are you good at arithmetic?'
'I can do the sums, if that was all, but I don't know what to set out from, or anything about it. Mamma said she could not think how I should keep house.' 'She would be the best person to give you counsel, I should think.' 'Yes, but--' and she looked down, struggling with tears, 'I must not write to ask her.'
'Arthur says the Wrangerton people would gossip, and I should not like that,' said she; 'only it is very hard to make out for myself, and those things tease Arthur.' 'They are not much in his line,' said John; 'I don't know,' he added, hesitating, 'whether it would be of any use to you to talk it over with me. There was a time when I considered the management of such an income; and though it never came to practice, mine may be better than no notions at all.'
'Oh, thank you!' said Violet, eagerly; then, pausing, she said, with a sweet embarrassment, 'only--you can't like it.'
'Thank you,' replied he, with kind earnestness; 'I should like to be of use to you.' 'It is just what I want. I am sure Arthur would like me to do it. You see this is what he gives me, and I am to buy everything out of it.'
'The best plan,' said John; 'it never answers to be always applying for money.' 'No,' said Violet, thoughtfully, as she recollected certain home scenes, and then was angry with herself for fancying Arthur could wear such looks as those which all the house dreaded.
Meanwhile John had perceived how differently Arthur had apportioned the income from what his own intentions had been. He had great doubts of the possibility of her well-doing, but he kept them to himself. He advised her to consider her items, and soon saw she was more bewildered than helpless. He knew no more than Arthur on the knotty point of the number of maids, but he was able to pronounce her plan sensible, and her eyes brightened, as she spoke of a housemaid of mamma's who wanted to better herself, and get out of the way of the little ones, 'who were always racketing.'
'And now,' said John, 'we passed over one important question--or is that settled otherwise?--your own pocket-money!'
'Oh! I have plenty. Arthur gave me fifty pounds when we went through London, and I have twelve left.'
'But for the future! Is it included here?'
'I should think so. Oh!' shocked at the sum he set down, 'a quarter of that would be enough for my dress.'
'I don't think Miss Standaloft would say so,' said John, smiling.
'But Arthur said we must economize, and I promised to be as little expense as possible. Please let me write down half that.'
'No, no,' said John, retaining the pencil, 'not with my consent. Leave yourself the power of giving. Besides, this is to cover all the sundries you cannot charge as household expenses. Now let me mark off another hundred for casualties, and here is what you will have for the year. Now divide.'
'Surely, two people and three servants can't eat all that in one week.' 'Fires, candles,' said John, amused, but poor Violet was quite overpowered. 'Oh, dear! how many things I never thought of! Mamma said I was too young! These coals. Can you tell me anything about them?'
'I am afraid not. You are getting beyond me. If you wanted to know the cost of lodgings in Italy or the south of France, I could help you; but, after all, experience is better bought than borrowed.'
'But what shall I do? Suppose I make Arthur uncomfortable, or spend his money as I ought not when he trusts me?'
'Suppose you don't,' said John. 'Why should you not become an excellent housewife? Indeed, I think you will' he proceeded, as she fixed her eyes on him. 'You see the principle in its right light. This very anxiety is the best pledge. If your head was only full of the pleasure of being mistress of a house, that would make me uneasy about you and Arthur.'
'Oh! that would be too bad! Mamma has talked to me so much. She said I must make it a rule never to have debts. She showed me how she pays her bills every week, and gave me a great book like hers. I began at Winchester.' 'Why, Violet, instead of knowing nothing, I think you know a great deal!' She smiled, and said something about mamma. 'I don't say you will not make mistakes,' he continued, 'but they will be steps to learn by. Your allowance is not large. It seems only fair to tell you that it may not be sufficient. So, if you find the expenses exceed the week's portion, don't try to scramble on; it will only be discomfort at the time, and will lead to worse. Go boldly to Arthur, and make him attend; it is the only way to peace and security.'
'I see,' said Violet, thoughtfully. 'Oh, I hope I shall do right. One thing I should like. I mean, I thought one ought to set apart something for giving away.' 'That is one use in reserving something for yourself,' said John, in his kindest manner. 'Of the rest, you are only Arthur's steward.'
'Yes, I hope I shall manage well.'
'You will if you keep your present frame of mind.'
'But I am so young and ignorant. I did not think enough about it when I was married,' said Violet, sorrowfully, 'and how it seems all to come on me. To have all his comfort and the well-being of a whole house depending on such as I am.' 'I can only say one thing in answer, Violet, what I know was the best comfort to one who, without it, would have sunk under the weight of responsibility.' His whole countenance altered, his voice gave way, a distressing fit of coughing came on, the colour flushed into his face, and he pressed his hand on his chest. Violet was frightened, but it presently ceased, and after sitting for a few moments, exhausted, with his head resting on his hand, he took up the pencil, and wrote down-- 'As thy day, so shall thy strength be'--pushed it towards her, and slowly left the room.
Violet shed a few tears over the paper, and was the more grieved when she heard of his being confined to his room by pain in the side. She told Arthur what had passed. 'Ah! poor John,' he said, 'he never can speak of Helen, and any agitation that brings on that cough knocks him up for the rest of the day. So he has been trying to "insense" you, has he? Very good-natured of him.' 'I am so grieved. I was afraid it would be painful to him. But what was the responsibility he spoke of?'
'Looking after her grandfather, I suppose. He was imbecile all the latter part of his life. Poor John, they were both regularly sacrificed.'
John took the opportunity of a visit from his father that afternoon to tell him how much good sense and right feeling Violet had shown, and her reluctance to appropriate to herself what he had insisted on as absolutely necessary. 'That is only inexperience, poor girl,' said Lord Martindale. 'She does not know what she will want. If it is not confidential, I should like to know what she allows herself.'
John mentioned the sum.
'That is mere nonsense!' exclaimed his father. 'It is not half as much as Theodora has! And she living in London, and Arthur making such a point about her dress. I thought you knew better, John!'
'I knew it was very little, but when I considered the rest, I did not see how she could contrive to give herself more.'
'There must be some miscalculation,' said Lord Martindale. 'There is not the least occasion for her to be straitened. You thought yourself the allowance was ample.' 'That it is; but you know Arthur has been used to expensive habits.' 'More shame for him.'
'But one can hardly expect him to reduce at once. I do think he is sincere in his promises, but he will be careless, even in ordinary expenditure. I don't say this is what ought to be, but I fear it will be. All the prudence and self-denial must be upon her side.'
'And that from a girl of sixteen, universally admired! What a business it is! Not that I blame her, poor thing, but I don't see what is to become of them.' The conversation was not without results. Lord Martindale, some little time after, put into Violet's hand an envelope, telling her she must apply the contents to her own use; and she was astounded at finding it a cheque for L100. He was going to London, with both his sons, to choose a house for Arthur, and to bid farewell to John, who was warned, by a few chilly days, to depart for a winter in Madeira. Violet was, during her husband's absence, to be left at Rickworth; and in the last week she had several other presents, a splendid dressing- case from Lady Martindale, containing more implements than she knew how to use, also the print of Lalla Rookh; and even little Miss Piper had spent much time and trouble on a very ugly cushion. Theodora declared her present should be useful, and gave all the household linen, for the purpose of having it hemmed by her school-children;
-and this, though she and Miss Piper sat up for three nights till one o'clock to hasten it, was so far from ready, that Captain and Mrs. Martindale would have begun the world without one table-cloth, if old Aunt Moss had not been hemming for them ever since the day of Arthur's proposal.
Theodora was weary and impatient of the conflict of influence, and glad to be left to her own pursuits, while she thought that, alone with Violet, Arthur must surely be brought to a sense of his mistake.
Violet's heart bounded at the prospect of a renewal of the happy days at Winchester, and of a release from the restraint of Martindale, and the disappointment of making no friends with the family,--Mr. Martindale was the only one of them with whom she was sorry to part; and she had seen comparatively little of him. Indeed, when the three gentlemen set out, she thought so much of Arthur's being away for a week, that she could not care for John's voyage to Madeira, and looked preoccupied when he affectionately wished her good-bye, telling her to watch for him in the spring,--her house would be his first stage on his return. Then, as he saw her clinging to Arthur to the last moment, and coming down with him to the bottom of the long steps, he thought within himself, 'And by that time there will be some guessing how much strength and stability there is with all that sweetness, and she will have proved how much there is to trust to in his fondness!'
There was not much time for bewailing the departures before Emma Brandon came to claim her guest; and the drive was pleasant enough to make Violet shake off her depression, and fully enjoy the arrival at Rickworth, which now bore an aspect so much more interesting than on her former drive.
The wooded hills in the first flush of autumn beauty sloped softly down to the green meadows, and as the carriage crossed the solid-looking old stone bridge, Violet exclaimed with transport, at a glimpse she caught of a gray ruin--the old priory! She was so eager to see it that she and Emma left the carriage at the park gate, and walked thither at once.
Little of the building remained, only a few of the cloister arches, and the stumps of broken columns to mark the form of the chapel; but the arch of the west window was complete, and the wreaths of ivy hid its want of tracery, while a red Virginian creeper mantled the wall. All was calm and still, the greensward smooth and carefully mown, not a nettle or thistle visible, but the floriated crosses on the old stone coffin lids showing clearly above the level turf, shaded by a few fine old trees, while the river glided smoothly along under the broad floating water-lily leaves, and on its other side the green lawn was repeated, cattle quietly grazing on the rich pasture, shut in by the gently rising woods. The declining sun cast its long shadows, and all was peace,--the only sounds, the robin's note and the ripple of the stream.
Violet stood with her hands resting on Emma's arm, scarcely daring to break the silence. 'How lovely!' said she, after a long interval. 'O Emma, how fond you must be of this place!'
'Yes, it is beautiful,' said Emma, but with less satisfaction than Violet expected. 'It is worth all the gardens at Martindale.'
'To be sure it is,' said Emma, indignantly.
'It puts me in mind of St. Cross.'
'But St. Cross is alive, not a ruin,' said Emma, with a sigh, and she asked many questions about it, while showing Violet the chief points of interest, where the different buildings had been, and the tomb of Osyth, the last prioress. Her whole manner surprised Violet, there was a reverence as if they were actually within a church, and more melancholy than pleasure in the possession of what, nevertheless, the young heiress evidently loved with all her heart. Turning away at length, they crossed the park, and passed through the garden, which was gay with flowers, though much less magnificent than Mr. Harrison's. Emma said, mamma was a great gardener, and accordingly they found her cutting off flowers past their prime. She gave Violet a bouquet of geranium and heliotrope, and conducted her to her room with that motherly kindness and solicitude so comfortable to a lonely guest in a strange house.
Not that the house could long seem strange to Violet. It was an atmosphere of ease, where she could move and speak without feeling on her good behaviour. Everything throughout was on an unpretending scale, full of comfort, and without display, with a regularity and punctuality that gave a feeling of repose. Violet was much happier than she had thought possible without Arthur, though her pleasures were not such as to make a figure in history. There were talks and walks, drives and visits to the school, readings and discussions, and the being perfectly at home and caressed by mother and daughter. Lady Elizabeth had all the qualities that are better than intellect, and enough of that to enter into the pursuits of cleverer people. Emma had more ability, and so much enthusiasm, that it was well that it was chastened by her mother's sound sense, as well as kept under by her own timidity.
It was not till Violet was on the point of departure that she knew the secret of Emma's heart. The last Sunday evening before Arthur was to fetch her away, she begged to walk once more to the Priory, and have another look at it. 'I think,' said she, 'it will stay in my mind like Helvellyn in the distance.'
Emma smiled, and soon they stood in the mellow light of the setting sun, beside the ruin. 'How strange,' said Violet, 'to think that it is three hundred years since Sunday came to this chapel.'
'I wonder' said Emma, breaking off, then beginning, 'O Violet, it is the wish of my heart to bring Sundays back to it.'
'Emma! but could it be built up again?'
'Mamma says nothing must be done till I am twenty-five--almost six years hence. Not then, unless I am tame and sober, and have weighed it well.'
'Restore it?--build a church?'
'I could have a sort of alms-house, with old people and children, and we could look after them ourselves.'
'That would be delightful. Oh, I hope you will do it.'
'Don't think of it more than as a dream to myself and mamma. I could not help saying it to you just then; but it is down too deep generally even for mamma. It must come back somehow to God's service. Don't talk of it any more, Violet, dearest, only pray that I may not be unworthy.'
Violet could hardly believe a maiden with such hopes and purposes could be her friend, any more than Prioress Osyth herself; and when, half-an- hour afterwards, she heard Emma talking over the parish and Sunday- school news in an ordinary matter-of-fact way, she did not seem like the same person.
There were many vows of correspondence, and auguries of meeting next spring. Lady Elizabeth thought it right that her daughter should see something of London life, and the hope of meeting Violet was the one thing that consoled Emma, and Violet talked of the delight of making her friend and Annette known to each other. To this, as Lady Elizabeth observed, Arthur said not a word. She could not help lecturing him a little on the care of his wife, and he listened with a very good grace, much pleased at their being so fond of her.
She wished them good-bye very joyously, extremely happy at having her husband again, and full of pleasant anticipations of her new home.