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Heartsease or Brother's Wife by Charlotte M. Yonge

Part 11 out of 15

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tight, oppressed sound. Much alarmed, Violet caressed her, and tried
to soothe her with gentle words, and at last they unlocked her lips.

'It is not myself! Oh, no! I knew I had forfeited him long ago.
I had proved myself unworthy. I had no right to hope. But that he
should have changed--let his clear sense be blinded by her art! He,
to whom I could have looked up all my life!-- who was so noble in
rejecting me!'

The large drops had gathered and flowed, seeming to scald their
course down her cheeks. 'O Violet! I wish your sister had married
him! Then he would have been happy--he would not have degraded
himself. Oh! what change can have come over him?'

'You know Lady Fotheringham was fond of Jane Gardner, and he might
have taken her upon her word.'

'As if Percy would see with any old woman's eyes, when once he came
in contact with her! No, I see but one explanation. It must have
been I who lowered his estimate of woman. Well I might do so, when I
treated like a toy the happiness he had confided to me. I, on whom
he had fixed his ardent soul for so many years past. No wonder he
learnt to hold all women cheap alike! O, that summer of madness! If
I have dimmed the brightness of that noble nature!'

'Dear, dear Theodora, what can I say to comfort you? She may be
altered; he may have improved her.'

'She is not capable of it,' said Theodora; 'there is nothing in her
but time-serving and selfishness. And he, with that large true
heart, so detesting falsehood--he must either be wretched or
deceived--debased! No, there is no comfort--there never will be.'

'Except the best sort,' tenderly whispered Violet. Theodora rested
her head on her hands, and remained perfectly still for some moments,
then looked up, and spoke in a depressed voice.

'I cannot talk any more. I feel shattered from head to foot. I must
be quiet.'

'Then, dearest, pray go to bed at once, and I will come and see you.'

'I cannot. I undertook to give Maria her draught at one o'clock.
May I stay here while you go to bed?'

'Anything, dearest, dearest sister.'

'Only let me be in the room with you, and be quiet.'

She would not, as Violet entreated, lie down on the bed beside her,
but remained seated on the floor, her eyes riveted on the fire, never
looking round, her face stupefied, her hands hanging motionless, like
one stunned; and when Violet's anxious gaze was closed by
irresistible sleep, that dark head was still motionless before the
fire.

Her mind was indeed a blank, sensible of nothing but the effect of
the shock. The phrase now and then occurred, 'Percy is married to
Jane;' but her perceptions were so sluggish that she scarcely knew
that it concerned her. She seemed to have forgotten who Percy was,
and to shrink from recalling the remembrance. There was a repose in
this state of stupor which she was reluctant to break; and after the
great clock, so melancholy in the silence, had tolled half-past
twelve, her sensations were absorbed in the dread of hearing One! the
summons to exertion.

The single note pealed out, and died quivering slowly away; she rose,
lighted her candle, and quitted the room, feeling as if the maid's
illness and the doctor's directions belonged to some period removed
by ages.

CHAPTER 3

This house of splendour and of princely glory
Doth now stand desolated, the affrighted servants
Rush forth through all its doors. I am the last
Therein.

Wallenstein

Theodora was no sooner in the gallery than she was recalled to the
present. There was a strange gleam of light reflected on the avenue.
Roused at once to action, she hurried towards the window. The fire
was within the house. She pushed open the door leading to Mrs.
Nesbit's apartments. Light was flashing at every chink of the bed-
room door. She threw it back. Out rolled a volume of smoke, the
glare of flame burst on her, the curtains were blazing! 'Aunt! Aunt
Nesbit, are you there? she cried, in tones low with horror and choked
with smoke; she plunged between the burning curtains, felt that she
had a hold of something, dragged it out, found it move and gasp, bore
it from the room, and, depositing it on a couch in the gallery, only
then could perceive that it was indeed Mrs Nesbit, uninjured, though
half-suffocated.

Mrs. Garth, who slept in the adjoining room, with the door open, had
been waked by her call, and came running out. An old soldier, she
had full self-possession, and was at once effective, and it was well,
for she exclaimed, 'Miss Martindale, you are on fire,' just as the
light and the scorching were revealing the same to herself. There
was no time for personal terror, barely for pain, the fire was
crushed out between them by the help of a woollen table-cover, they
scarcely knew how, they only saw that the draught had increased the
blaze in the room, and dense clouds of smoke came bursting out upon
them.

Mrs. Nesbit clung terrified to her niece, but Theodora, with a word
or two of encouragement, freed herself from her grasp, and leaving
her to Mrs. Garth's care, flew up the nursery stairs. She must have
the children in their mother's sight before the alarm should reach
her. Sarah's first waking impulse was to growl, that Master Johnnie
would catch his death of cold, but the next moment she was equal to
any emergency; and the little ones were at their mother's door just
as she was opening it, thinking the noise more than Maria's illness
could occasion, and setting forth to see whether there was anything
amiss in the nursery. Theodora put Annie into her arms. 'All safe.
It is only the north wing. Don't be frightened. Stay where you
are.'

Violet could only obey, thankful at having her three around her, and
trying to keep her terror from being visible enough to increase
Johnnie's exceeding alarm, or to frighten Helen out of her happy
state of inquisitive excitement and curiosity.

Theodora had hurried to call her parents. They were already in
motion. Lord Martindale's first care was for Violet and the
children, Lady Martindale's for her aunt, and almost instantly she
was embracing and supporting the pale shrunken figure, now feebly
tottering along the gallery, forsaken by Mrs. Garth, who had gone
back to secure her own valuables.

By this time, the gallery was full of screaming maids, whom Sarah
had, with difficulty, prevented from leaping at once from attic
windows; and staring men, hallooing for water, which no one brought,
except little Helen, who, escaping from her mother's room, ran
barefooted into the midst, holding aloft the water-bottle
triumphantly, and very indignant at being captured, and carried back
in the butler's arms.

The fire was spreading so fast that Lord Martindale decided on
removing all the helpless to the gardener's house at the end of the
pleasure ground. He came himself to call Violet, told her not to be
alarmed, and, taking his grandson in his arms, led the way. Mrs.
Nesbit was carried on a mattress between two of the servants, Lady
Martindale walking beside her, absorbed in trying to guard her from
injury or alarm; Annie, asleep and unconscious, was in her mothers
arms, and Theodora carried the amused and chattering Helen. At the
foot of the stairs, Violet exclaimed, 'My cross, I must not leave
it!' and would have turned, but Theodora prevented her. 'I know
where it is,' she said, 'I am going to see how they are moving
Maria;' and putting Helen into the nearest pair of arms, she ran
back.

Harrison's successor, Mr. Armstrong and his wife were on foot, and
ready to receive them. Their spare bed was for Mrs. Nesbit, in their
own the three children were placed. In all his haste, Lord
Martindale paused till he could lay his little shivering ice-cold
charge in the bed, and see him hide his head in his mother's bosom.
'Good boy!' he said, 'I told him not to cry for you, and he has not
made a sound, though I have felt him trembling the whole way. Take
care of him.'

Little did she need the recommendation, though it sent a thrill of
gladness through her that it should have been made at such a time.
She had great apprehension of the effect of the shock on the child's
tender frame and timid nature, his obedience and self-command seeming
almost to enhance the excess of terror. The shuddering horror and
convulsive clinging were beyond control, and were renewed whenever a
fresh glare broke out from the burning house; to turn him away from
the window, or to put up blinds and curtains made it worse, for the
shadows of the trees, flickering mysteriously, seemed still more
terrific. His sister screamed with excitement and delight at each
brighter burst of flame, till she suddenly laid down her head and
fell fast asleep; but still his nervous trembling continued at
intervals, and his mother could not leave him, nor cease from saying
consoling words of his heavenly Guardian, the only means that soothed
him, especially when his sighing exclamation recurred, 'O, if papa
was but here!' the tune to which her heart was throbbing throughout
that dreadful night. She felt guilty of being useless, but he was
her first care, and her power of real service was small: so she could
only hang over him, and as she watched the healthful sleep of her
little girls, join her prayers and thanksgivings with his, that all
papa's treasures were safe. Not till the flames were dying down,
morning twilight showing cold and gray, and Sarah coming in with
bundles of rescued garments, was Johnnie's mind free enough to
unclasp his hand, and show something fast held in it. 'Aunt Helen's
cross, mamma; I thought I might keep hold of it, because I was
frightened.'

Her caresses lulled him at last to sleep, while she grieved at
Theodora's having gone in search of the cross. She knew of her
safety from Sarah, who reported that she had been working like any
ten; but she had not yet seen her, and the silence and suspense
became oppressive.

Theodora had hardly spent a moment in seeking the cross, she tied on
Violet's bonnet over the hair falling round her, hurried to assist in
carrying the sick maid to a bed made up for her at the stables, and
then, missing the dumb page from among the servants, she rushed back
to look for him, dashed up the stairs through thick smoke, found him
asleep, and crossing a floor that almost burnt her foot, she shook
him awake, and saw him too in safety. She bethought her of her
brother John's possessions, now that the living were all secure; she
hurried into the work, she tore down his prints and pictures, carried
them and his books out,--desks, drawers, weights she would never have
dreamt of lifting, were as nothing to her. Many times did her father
meet her, exclaim and urge her to desist, and to go to Armstrong's;
she said she was just going: he went in one of the thousand
directions in which he was called at once, and presently again
encountered her, where he least expected it, coming out of a cloud of
smoke with a huge pile of books in her arms! On she worked,
regardless of choking, blinding smoke--regardless of the glare of
flame--never driven from the field but by a deluge from a fire-
engine; when stumbling down-stairs, guided by the banisters, she
finally dismayed her father, who thought her long ago in safety, by
emerging from the house, dragging after her a marble-topped chess
table, when half the upper windows were flashing with flame.

Then he locked her arm into his, and would not let her stir from his
side.

Water had been the great deficiency. Fire-engines were slow in
coming, and the supply from the fountains was as nothing, so that the
attempt had necessarily been to carry out property rather than to
extinguish the fire. Sarah, after coolly collecting all that
belonged to her mistress or the children, had taken the command of
Miss Altisidora Standaloft, (who usually regarded her as vulgarity
personified,) scolded away her hysterics, and kept guard over her,
while she packed up her lady's jewels and wardrobe, not until then
allowing her the luxury of shrieking at every jet of flame. The
other servants and the villagers had worked with hearty goodwill
below stairs; and when Theodora had time to look around, the
pleasure-ground presented a strange scene. Among the trodden plants
and shrubs lay heaps of furniture, sofas, chairs lying tumbled here
and there, with plate, pictures, statues, ornaments heaped in wild
confusion, crowds of people, in every variety of strange dishabille,
gathered round; two long lines of them handing bucket after bucket,
with machine-like regularity, from the fountain; others removing the
furniture from the terrace; cushions, ormolu, fine china, handed out
of the lower windows; the whole seen by the wild lurid light that
flashed from the windows above, strangely illuminating the quiet
green trees, and bringing out every tiny leaf and spray by its fierce
brilliancy, that confused every accustomed shadow, while the clouds
of smoke rolled down as if to wither all around.

And above the rushing roaring sound! the thunder of falling ceilings;
the red light within some familiar windows; the gray sky reflected in
others, till, after a few uncertain flickers, the glow awoke in them
also. Then arose the whiter gusts of vapour, when water, hissing and
boiling, contended with fire.

In vain! the flame surmounted! Shouts, cries! Lord Martindale
pushing nearer, calling to all for heaven's sake to come out, leave
all, only come out; men rushing from the doors, leaping from the
lower windows; one dark figure emerging at the moment before a
tremendous crash shook the earth beneath their feet; the fire seemed
for a moment crushed out, then clouds of smoke rose wilder and
denser, yellowed by the light of the morning; the blaze rushed
upwards uncontrolled, and the intensity of brightness, behind and
above the walls, glared on the mass of awe-struck faces. There was
not a movement, not a word, not a sound, save that of the roaring
flame.

The first voice was Lord Martindale's: 'Are all out? Is every one
safe?'

'Yes, my lord, all but the claret of 1826,' said that last to escape,
half-clad, grimy, and singed, only in courteous voice, the butler.

'Thank God!' said Lord Martindale, fervently. 'And, Simmonds, thank
you for what you have done to-night;' and he heartily shook the
butler's hand.

'Oh, my lord, if it had been more! If that claret was but safe, I
should feel I had done my duty,' said Simmonds, almost overcome, but
giving place to Mr. Hugh Martindale, who, just released from a chain
of buckets in the kitchen yard, was coming up to wring his cousin's
hand, say there seemed no more to be done, and repeat his
congratulations on the safety of life and limb. But a fresh alarm
arose, lest the fire might extend to the stabling; and in watching
the horses led out, the spreading of wet tarpaulins on the roof, the
engines playing on the burning mass in the house, and the flames
rising with diminishing fierceness in the intervals of the bursts of
steam, there was such intense excitement that no one could think of
aught but the sight before them.

At last there was a touch on Lord Martindale's arm; a message from
the gardener's house that he must come directly: Mrs. Nesbit was in a
fit.

The morning dewiness and calmness of the garden had a curious effect,
as they walked hastily through it, out of sight of the confusion on
the lawn; everything looked so blue and pale, especially Violet, who
came down to meet them.

'I have sent for Mr. Legh,' she said. 'It is very terrible. She is
quite insensible, but--'

She broke off suddenly. Theodora had sat down, untied her bonnet,
then tried to rise, but tottered, and sank senseless on the floor.

Her father lifted her, so as to place her with her head on Violet's
lap. Violet removed the bonnet, the hair came with it, burnt off in
masses, the very eyelashes and brows were singed, the forehead,
cheeks, and neck frightfully reddened and blistered. Lord Martindale
took her hands to chafe them: they were bleeding, and purple from
bruises, the arms scorched and burnt--injuries overlooked in the
excitement, but ready to repay themselves after her five hours'
violent and incessant exertion. It was a frightfully long swoon; and
her father, almost in despair, had sent a second messenger for
medical aid before Violet could look up consolingly, and direct his
attention to the signs of returning animation. She presently half
opened her eyes, perceived in whose arms she lay, and who was bending
over her--she heard his fond words; but reviving no further, closed
her eyes, without attempting to speak.

Lord Martindale could no longer delay going up-stairs. There the
scene was most distressing; there was complete insensibility, with a
tendency to convulsive movement, a condition so plainly hopeless that
he would fain have removed his wife, hitherto so unaccustomed to any
spectacle of suffering. But Lady Martindale was not to be detached
from her who had absorbed her affection from infancy. Wrapped in
that one idea, she hardly heard his representations of their
daughter's state, and, with piteous looks, repelled his assurances
that her care was unavailing, and ought to be relinquished to Mrs.
Garth and the maids. He was obliged at length to desist, and
returned just as Violet and Mr. Martindale had succeeded in moving
Theodora to a slippery horse-hair sofa. She looked up and replied,
'Better, thank you,' to his first inquiry; but when asked if she was
in pain, was forced to answer, 'Yes, not much,' and closed her eyes,
as if she only wished not to be disturbed.

They held council over her: Mr. Martindale urged taking her at once
to his parsonage; he would find the carriage, and Violet should bring
her, leaving the children to follow under Sarah's charge when they
should awake. Violet only demurred at leaving Lady Martindale; but
Lord Martindale authoritatively told her, that it was not fit for her
to be in Mrs. Nesbit's room, and he should be much obliged to her to
see Theodora properly taken care of.

The transit was serious, every one longed to have it over, but
dreaded the arrival of the carriage, which came before it was
expected. Resolute as ever, Theodora astonished them by springing at
once on her feet, disdaining aid, but she had hardly taken a step,
before she faltered, and was just falling, when her father caught her
in his arms and carried her to the carriage, where Violet was ready
to uphold her sinking head. Mr. Martindale took the short way, and
was at home before them, to lift her out, and transport her at once
to her room. Since the marriage of Pauline, Theodora had given up a
personal attendant, and no ladies' maids were forthcoming, except
Miss Standaloft, whose nerves could not endure the sight of Mrs.
Nesbit, far less of Miss Martindale, so the whole business of
undressing fell upon Violet, and the rector's little under-maid, who,
having been a school-girl, was of course devoted to Miss Martindale.
A difficult task it was, for besides the burns, bruises, and
faintness, every muscle and sinew were so strained and tender from
the violent exertion, and the blows she had unconsciously received,
that the gentlest touch and slightest movement were severely painful.
Violet was most grateful for her never-failing resolution. Every
move was made unhesitatingly the moment it was requisite, and not a
complaint was uttered, scarcely even a confession of suffering; on
anxious inquiry, 'Never mind, it can't be helped,' was the utmost
reply, given in a blunt, almost annoyed manner, as if she could not
bear to be disturbed out of that silence of endurance.

In the same manner, between stupefaction and fortitude, the surgeon's
visit was gone through, and Violet heard from him that there was no
serious consequence to be apprehended, provided fever could be
averted. Violet, much alarmed as to the effect of the tidings of the
previous night, thought it right to mention that she had undergone a
severe shock, and perceived that he thought it greatly increased the
chance of serious illness; but he could do nothing but insist on
tranquillity; and, as Theodora had now fallen into an exhausted
sleep, he returned to his other patient.

The hours seemed to have forgotten their reckoning; it was to Violet
as if she had been years without looking after her children, and when
she found it was only half-past nine, she was dismayed to think of
the length of day yet to come. Leaving Theodora's sleep to be
guarded by the little maid, she ventured down. The dumb boy was
watching, with tearful eyes, at the foot of the stairs, his whole
face one question about Miss Martindale. Answering him reassuringly
on the slate, she opened the dining-room door, and a refreshing sight
met her eyes. Round the breakfast-table sat her own three, from
their glossy heads to their little shining shoes, in order trim, as
if no disaster had ever come near them;--little Annie on Cousin
Hugh's knee; Helen's tongue going as fast as ever; Johnnie in shy
good behaviour. A general cry of joy greeted her, and they were in
an instant around her, telling of the wonders of the lawn, how the
dying gladiator was lying on the blue damask bed, and the case of
stuffed humming-birds on the top of the kitchen dresser, and the poor
peacock so frightened that he hid himself in the laurels, and would
not come near them.

All alarms had gone away like a dream of the night, and the day had
dawned on the happy creatures in all its freshness and newness, which
their elders would fain have shared, but the necessity of attending
to them had something reviving in it, and Violet could not look at
them without renewed thrills of thankfulness. It was like rescued
mariners meeting after a shipwreck, when her father-in-law came in
and embraced her and the children affectionately, with a special
caress for Johnnie, 'the best little boy he ever saw.' He looked
worn and depressed, and Violet hastened to help Mr. Martindale in
setting breakfast before him, while he anxiously bade her rest, hoped
she had not been hurt by all she had undergone; and asked for
Theodora, whose illness, and his wife's despair at her aunt's
condition, were the chief actual distress. For the rest, he was so
thankful that no life had been lost, as to have hardly a thought to
bestow on the ruin and destruction.

There was now time for the question, how did the fire begin? Mrs.
Nesbit, before her attack came on, had said, that wishing to take a
draught, and not liking to call Mrs. Garth, she had drawn the light
near to the curtains, and had, doubtless, left it there. It seemed
as if Mrs. Garth had taught her to dread disturbing her at night, and
now Lady Martindale shrank with horror from letting her even approach
the patient.

But how had Mrs. Nesbit been rescued without the slightest burn, and
what had occasioned Theodora's injuries? Not till Violet began to
explain did it dawn on her what a heroine she was describing. All
had been so simply and fearlessly done, that it had not struck her
till she heard it in her own narration.

Lord Martindale was much affected. 'My brave girl!' he said; 'then
under Providence the safety of every one of us is owing to her. I
wish she was awake that I might tell her so this minute!'

It was delightful to see how this seemed to compensate for
everything; and, indeed, he said it was almost worth while to have
been burnt out for the sake of seeing how nobly every one had
behaved, servants and neighbours, rich and poor, working alike at the
risk of their lives, and he was positively overcome as he spoke of
the warm sympathy that met him on all sides, testifying the universal
respect and affection with which he was regarded. Notes and messages
were coming in from all the neighbourhood to intreat to be allowed to
shelter his family; but it was impossible to move at present, and his
views were fixed on occupying the house which had so long stood
empty.

'Arthur can have a room fitted up there directly,' he said. 'Where
is he, my dear? How soon can he come?'

Violet was obliged to confess her ignorance. He had said be should
be going about, and had given her no address. Much vexed, Lord
Martindale forbore to distress her by remarks, and replied to his
cousin's question whether the house was insured--

'For twenty thousand pounds, but that is nothing like the amount of
damage. I hardly know how we shall meet it. I must have John at
home to settle matters. How strange it is to look back. I remember
as if it was yesterday, when John was born, Mrs. Nesbit insisting on
my pulling down the poor old house, to make the place fit, as she
said, for my son's inheritance, and there is an end of it! Who would
have told her that she would burn it down herself, poor woman? She
always detested the old hall. Don't you remember the stags' antlers,
Hugh? Ay, Johnnie, you would have wondered at those--a dozen stags'
heads with branching horns in the hall.'

'Oh! tell me, grandpapa! Was it where you lived when you were a
little boy?'

'Ay, Johnnie,' said Lord Martindale, pausing to take him on his knee.
'Cousin Hugh could tell you how we went on together there! Such
jackdaws' nests as used to be in the chimneys--'

'I do believe,' said his cousin, 'you have more regret at this moment
for the old house than for this one!'

'Well! when I think of going home, the old red pediment with the
white facings always comes into my mind, as it used to look up the
avenue, when we came back for the holidays. Those old shields with
the martlets--see, Johnnie, like that--' holding up the crest on a
spoon, 'where the martins used to build their nests over the windows,
were such as I never saw anywhere else. I found one of them lying
about at the farm the other day '

'Do you remember the hornet's nest in the wall of the garden--?'

'What a garden that was! They have never found any pear equal to
that jargonelle, where you ate twenty the first day of the holidays.
What do you think of that, Johnnie?'

'Ay, Johnnie, and I can tell you of something grandpapa did,
retorted Mr. Hugh Martindale; and to Violet's diversion, the two old
cousins continued to make Johnnie an excuse for bringing up their
boyish memories, which seemed to rise on them the more vividly, now
that the great mansion no longer obstructed their view. It was
complete oblivion of everything else, and seemed to do infinite good
to Lord Martindale, but soon it was interrupted; Lady Elizabeth had
driven over to beg to carry the whole party back to Rickworth with
her, or at least to take home Violet and the children; but this could
not be; Violet could not leave Theodora, and though Lord Martindale
pressed her to consult her own comfort by removing, he was evidently
gratified by her begging to be allowed to remain at the parsonage.
He then returned to his wife, and Lady Elizabeth, after offers of
every service in her power, took leave, while Violet returned to her
charge.

Theodora awoke with less fever than they had ventured to hope, and
quite composed, though much surprised with her first acquaintance
with illness, and not even comprehending that she could not get up,
till the pain of the attempt corroborated Violet's assurance.

'How base it is,' said she, 'not to be able to do a few hours' work
without having to take to one's bed. I flattered myself I was not so
despicably weak, for a woman.'

'You might be satisfied,' said Violet, her heart too full to say
more.

'Not while your Sarah walks about as if nothing had happened.'

'Where should any of us be but for you?' said Violet, bending over
her.

'There's not an inch of me fit for kissing!' exclaimed Theodora,
turning away.

'Lord Martindale will soon come to tell you what he thinks of it.'

'Papa! Where is he? I don't remember him since we went down to
Armstrong's. Yes, I do though!' she paused, 'but I can't think of
it. Crying would be worse. What a queer thing fainting is! I used
to speculate what it was like.'

'How do you like it?' said Violet, perceiving her mood.

'Tolerably, in some respects; but it makes one's memory hazy. What
has become of mamma? I suppose she is afraid of the sight of my
visage.'

'Oh! no, no!'

'My aunt, of course! How could I forget! Mrs. Armstrong spoke of her
being ill. Was it another stroke!' said Theodora, alarmed as her
recollection returned, and Violet was obliged to tell the whole.

'My poor mother!' said Theodora, gravely, 'I wish I could help--'

There was a knock at the door. Miss Standaloft stood hesitating and
making signs to Violet.

'Is there any news of Mrs. Nesbit?' asked Theodora. 'There can be
only one thing to hear. Is it over?'

It was, and the end had been quiet. Theodora drew a long breath, and
repeated, 'Poor mamma!'

'Do you want me? Do you think I might go to her!' said Violet. 'She
has no one with her but the gentlemen.'

'I should be very glad if you were there. Only don't hurt yourself,
or Arthur will be angry; and to have you to nurse would be more than
could be borne. My poor aunt! I think she softened at the last, and
she loved us all very much at one time.'

'I am glad she was kind to Johnnie,' said Violet.

Miss Altisidora was induced to sit on the other side the curtain,
intending to call Sarah if anything was wanted, and Violet walked
across the park, dreading to enter for the first time the presence of
the shadow of death, fearing in her lowliness to intrude or presume,
but drawn onwards by the warmhearted yearning to perform a daughter's
part, if perchance her husband's mother could derive the least solace
from her attentions.

She crossed the trodden grass, and gazed on the ruin of the abode
that had once almost oppressed her with its grandeur. Past away! and
with it, she whose hopes and schemes were set on the aggrandizement
of the family--she had gone where earthly greatness was weighed in
its true balance! And the lime trees budded, new and young in their
spring greenness, as when the foundation-stone was laid!

Violet thought how she had been taught to look on this as her boy's
inheritance, and therewith came the prayer that he might win his true
inheritance, made without hands, ever spring-like and beyond the
power of the flame! She looked up at the shell, for it was no more,
she only recognized the nursery windows by their bars; the woodwork
was charred, the cement blackened by the fire, where yesterday
Helen's and Annie's faces had been watching her return! A sick
horror passed over her as she thought how much had depended on
Theodora's watchful night, and imagined what might have awaited
Arthur!

Then with hopeful, grateful anticipation, she looked to his coming,
and his greeting after such perils endured in his absence. 'O, will
not thankfulness bring him those thoughts! It must! He must join
with me, when he owns the mercy and sees our children safe. Oh! then
blessings on this night's danger! Let me see, he will learn it from
the paper! When can he come? Oh! how his looks and one word from
him will reward Theodora!'

She felt as if her happy anticipation had been selfish when she came
near the cottage with its blinded windows. Lord Martindale was
speaking to some one, but turned at once to her. 'You here, my dear?
You have heard?'

'Yes, I have; but Theodora and I thought as Lady Martindale has no
maid here, that I had better come and see if I could do anything for
her. Can I?' said she, with her humble sweetness.

'I cannot tell, my dear,' he answered. 'She attends to nothing, and
has not been able to shed tears. We cannot rouse her. Indeed, I am
sorry you came; you ought to be resting.'

'O, no, we both wished it. Should I be troublesome to her?'

'No, indeed, my dear child,' said he, affectionately. 'It is a great
relief to me that you should be with her, for here is much that I
must attend to, and I wish nothing so much as to get her to the
parsonage. The carriage is waiting, but she will not hear of coming
away, and I do not know how to leave her here.'

So saying, he led her into the room; Violet gave one shrinking glance
towards the bed, while the chill of awe shot through her veins; but
the chief thought was needed for her who sat rigid and motionless,
with fixed tearless eyes, and features in cold stillness more than
ever like marble. Violet felt as if that deathly life was more
painful to look upon than death itself, and her hand trembled in Lord
Martindale's grasp; he pressed it closer, and going up to his wife,
said, 'Anna, my dear, here is our child Violet so kind as to come and
see you.'

Lady Martindale made a courteous movement, as if by mechanism, but
without looking up. He was delaying, unable to leave them thus,
though he was much wanted below stairs.

'I will stay while you go,' whispered Violet, though she longed to
keep him, for that presence filled her with trembling, and promising
speedy return, he departed.

For some minutes she could venture nothing, and the silence in which
she heard only the beatings of her own heart seemed more than she
could bear; but at last she collected herself, and an impulse
suddenly occurring to her, she ventured to touch her mother-in-law,
and said, 'Theodora has been asking for you.'

Lady Martindale shook her head. 'I cannot come, I cannot leave her.'

'Poor Theodora is so much hurt!' pleaded Violet; 'you will be
surprised to see how she is scorched! Such arms and hands, that she
cannot help herself--and she wants cold applications continually.'

Lady Martindale once looked attentive, but a glance at her aunt
brought back her face of silent misery. Violet was perplexed, but
strove on--'Poor Theodora! I hope you will come to her. She wants
care very much. Did you know that it was in saving her that she was
so sadly burnt?'

'No: was it?'

'Yes; she snatched her out through the burning curtains. That was
the way Theodora's hair was all burnt off, and her arms are so
blistered!' continued Violet, controlling her trembling, and speaking
as when she was persuading one of the children--'Poor Theodora! Will
you not come and see her?'

'Where is she?'

'She is at the parsonage. They are ready to take us.'

'Oh, no! I cannot go. You go to her.'

'Pray, pray come with me. Theodora is so ill! It would do her so
much good to see you; and we are afraid of her being anxious or
distressed, lest she should have fever. Won't you come?'

A motion, as if she could not bear this, made Violet fear she must
desist, and she paused for a short interval, then said, 'SHE was very
fond of Theodora.'

'Oh! Yes, yes--'

'She would not like her to be left so long.'

'I thought you were taking care of her.'

'Oh, yes! but I cannot be the same as you would. One always wants
one's mother so much in illness.'

'She was always a mother to me!' The tears came at last, and she
wept unrestrainedly; while Violet hung over her with soft caressing
words of sympathy that cannot be detailed, till the first grief had
had its course, and she again tried the experiment of repeating
Theodora's name, and saying how much she was suffering.

Lady Martindale did not reply, but suffered Violet to put on her
cloak, and gradually lead her from the room, saying at each pause
something of 'poor Theodora.'

The deed was done; it might be by importunity, but it was worth
achieving, even at the risk of being vexatious. Lord Martindale
could hardly believe his eyes when he saw his wife on her way to the
carriage, and Theodora was equally astonished when she appeared at
her bedside.

It was a new thing to see one, hitherto healthy and independent, so
completely prostrated; and no more was needed to awaken the natural
affection so long stifled or thrust aside. Lady Martindale was
greatly shocked, and, perhaps magnifying her daughter's illness, had
no room for any other thought. She wished to do everything for her
herself--would hardly admit Violet's assistance--and took every care,
with skilfulness that was marvellous in one trained to
ineffectiveness.

To Theodora her attendance was a new and exquisite repose. It was
the first taste of her mother's love, and made her content to be
helpless; as there she lay, murmuring thanks, and submitting to be
petted with a grateful face of childlike peace, resting in her
mother's affection, and made happy by the depth of warm feeling in
her father's words.

'It is a good speculation to be ill,' said she, with a smile of
strong feeling when they had bidden her good night, and left her to
Violet, who was to sleep on a mattress on the floor.

CHAPTER 4

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

MARY HOWITT

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 drawing-room. 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 sweet-brier. 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 to-day, 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 drawing-room. '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, half-recovered 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.

CHAPTER 5

E'en in sleep, pangs felt before,
Treasur'd long in memory's store,
Bring in visions back their pain,
Melt into the heart again.
By it crost affections taught
Chastened will and sobered thought.--AESCHYLUS.--Anstice

Arthur did not succeed in eluding Lady Elizabeth. She called the day
after the funeral, begging especially to see Mrs. Martindale. She
looked absent and abstracted, while Lord Martindale was talking to
her, and soon entreated Violet to come with her for a short drive.

No sooner were they in the carriage than she said, 'Violet, my dear,
can you or Arthur tell me anything of this Mr. Gardner?'

'I know very little of him personally,' said Violet, for he was too
much an associate of her husband's for her to be willing to expose
him; 'but are you sure we mean the same person?'

'Quite sure. Did you not hear that Arthur met him at Gothlands?'

'No; I have had very little talk with him since he came back, and
this fire has put everything out of our minds.'

'Of course it must, my dear. However, Arthur came with Mr. Herries
to dine there, and met Mr. Gardner as an old friend; so he must be
the same, and I am particularly anxious for some account of him.
I must tell you why--I know I am safe with you--but you will be very
much surprised, after all her declarations--'

'O, Lady Elizabeth, it cannot be that.'

'I have always been prepared for something of the sort. But what, my
dear?' seeing her agitation, and quickly infected by it.

'O, don't let her,' was all Violet could utter.

'Tell me! what is he?--what do you know of him? They spoke of him as
once having been extravagant--'

Violet drew a long breath, and tried to speak with composure. 'He is
a dreadful man, gambling, betting, dissipated--such a person that
Arthur never lets him come near me or the children. How could he
dare think of her?'

'Can it be the same?' said Lady Elizabeth, infinitely shocked, but
catching at the hope. 'This man is Lady Fotheringham's nephew.'

'Yes, he is,' said Violet sadly. 'There is no other cousin named
Mark. Why, don't you remember all the talk about Mrs. Finch?'

So little had Lady Elizabeth heeded scandal, that she had hardly
known these stories, and had not identified them with the name of
Gardner. Still she strove to think the best. 'Arthur will be able
to tell me,' she said; 'but every one seems fully satisfied of his
reformation--the curate of the parish and all. I do not mean that I
could bear to think of her being attached to a person who had been to
blame. Her own account of him alarmed me enough, poor dear child,
but when I hear of the clergyman, and Theresa Marstone, and all
admiring his deep feeling of repentance--'

'How can he be so wicked!' exclaimed Violet.

'You are convinced that he is not sincere?'

'Why, of course, one does not like to say anything uncharitable; but
there is something shocking in the notion of his talking of being
good. If he did repent he would know how horrible it would be for
him to marry Emma--'

'He does affect great humility. He declares that no one can be more
conscious of his unfitness than himself; but he was betrayed into
this confession of his sentiments--Emma's purity and devotedness, as
Theresa writes to me, having been such powerful instruments in
leading him to a better course. If it was not for poor Emma's
fortune, one might trust this more! Oh! Violet, I never so much was
inclined to wish that her brother had been spared!'

'But surely--surely Emma cannot like him?'

'I grieve to say that she and her friend have been in one of their
fits of enthusiasm. He seemed to accord with their idea of a
penitent--only longing for stricter rules than are to be found with
us. From what I have heard, I should have been much less surprised
if he had become a monk of La Trappe; in fact, I was almost afraid of
it.'

'And does not this undeceive them?'

'No; poor Emma's only doubt is because she cannot bear to be
unstable, and to desert the work to which she was almost pledged; but
she says she is ashamed to perceive how much the sacrifice would cost
her. She adds, that decide as she may, he concurs with her in
devoting everything to the restoration of the Priory.'

'Poor Emma! He has debts enough to swallow two-thirds! And Miss
Marstone, what does she say?'

'His becoming a suitor seems to have been a surprise and
disappointment to her; but if she thinks him a pupil of her own, or
expects to govern the Priory in poor Emma's stead, she will be in his
favour. No; I have no hope from Theresa Marstone's discretion.'

'The rest of the family?'

'Theresa despises the others too much to attend to them. Mr. Randall
seems to be startled at the present aspect of affairs, and asks me to
come; and I should have set off this morning, but that I thought I
might learn something from you and Arthur.'

'Every one would tell you the same. He was expelled from the
University, and has gone on shockingly ever since, breaking his
mother's heart! Poor Emma! after dreading every gentleman!'

'I fear she has much to suffer. He made her think him not a marrying
man, and put her off her guard. Did you say he was agreeable?'

'Perhaps I might think so if I knew nothing about him; but I have
always had a repugnance to him, and it is all I can do not to dislike
him more than is right. If I saw him speak to Johnnie, I think I
should!'

'And now tell me, for I ought to have every proof, if you know
anything that would convince Emma that this present repentance is
assumed?'

Violet coloured excessively. 'Arthur could tell' she said, half
choked, and as Lady Elizabeth still waited, she was obliged to add,
He was active in the same way at the last races. I know there are
things going on still that a man who really meant to reform would
have broken off. Arthur could give you proofs.'

Violet could not bear to be more explicit. Her own secret feeling
was that Mr. Gardner was her husband's evil genius, leading him
astray, and robbing her of his affection, and she was not far
mistaken. Sneers, as if he was under her government, were often
employed to persuade him to neglect her, and continue his ruinous
courses; and if she shrunk from Gardner, he in return held her in
malicious aversion, both as a counter influence and as a witness
against him. It was the constant enmity of light to darkness, of
evil to innocence.

The whole drive was spent in conversing on this engrossing theme;
Lady Elizabeth lamenting the intimacy with Sarah Theresa, a clever,
and certainly in many respects an excellent person, but with a strong
taste for singularity and for dominion, who had cultivated Emma's
naturally ardent and clinging nature into an exclusive worship of
her; and, by fostering all that was imaginative in her friends
composition, had led her to so exalted an estimate of their own ideal
that they alike disdained all that did not coincide with it, and
spurned all mere common sense. Emma's bashfulness had been petted
and promoted as unworldly, till now, like the holes in the
philosopher's cloak, it was self-satisfaction instead of humility.
This made the snare peculiarly dangerous, and her mother was so
doubtful how far she would be guided, as to take no comfort from
Violet's assurances that Mr. Gardner's character could be proved to
be such that no woman in her senses could think, a second time, of
accepting him.

'I cannot tell,' said poor Lady Elizabeth; 'they will think all wiped
out by his reform. Emma speaks already of aiding him to redeem the
past. Ah! my dear,' in answer to a look, 'you have not seen my poor
child of late: you do not know how much more opinionative she has
become, or rather, Theresa has made her. I wish she could have been
more with you.'

'I never was enough of a companion to her, said Violet. 'In my best
days I was not up to her, and now, between cares and children, I grow
more dull every day.'

'Your best days! my dear child. Why, how old are you?'

'Almost twenty-two,' said Violet; 'but I have been married nearly six
years. I am come into the heat and glare of middle life. Not that I
mean to complain,' said she, rousing her voice to cheerfulness; 'but
household matters do not make people companions for those who have
their youthfulness, and their readings, and schemes.'

'I wish Emma could have been drawn to take interest in your sound
practical life.'

'If she would make a friend of Theodora!'

'Yes, but the old childish fear of her is not gone; and Emma used to
think her rather wild and flighty, and so indeed did I; but how she
is changed! I have been much pleased with conversations with her of
late. Do you think it is owing to Mr. Hugh Martindale's influence?'

'In great part it is. What a blessing it is to them all to have him
here.'

'Ah! it has been one of the things that made me most dread Theresa,
that she will not like that good man.'

'What can she say against him?'

'I don't exactly understand them. They called him a thorough
Anglican, and said he did not feel the universal pulse! Now, I know
it has been unfortunate for Emma that our own vicar does not enter
into these ways of thinking; but I thought, when Mr. Hugh Martindale
came into the neighbourhood, that there would be some one to appeal
to; but I believe Theresa will trust to no one but of her own
choosing.'

They had come back to the parsonage-gate, and Lady Elizabeth set
Violet down, promising to write as soon as she arrived at Gothlands;
Arthur was sauntering in the garden, and as soon as the carriage was
out of sight, came to meet her.

'O, Arthur, Lady Elizabeth wanted to speak to you. Cannot you catch
her?'

'I? No. Nonsense.'

'She wanted to ask you about Mr. Gardner. Was it he whom you met at
Gothlands?'

'Well, what of that?'

'Poor Lady Elizabeth! Is it not shocking that he has been making an
offer to Emma?'

'He has, has he? Well, and what is she going to do?'

'There can be but one answer,' said Violet. 'Lady Elizabeth came to
hear about him.'

'A fine chance for gossip for you.'

'I was forced to tell her,' said she, trying to hide the pain given
her by his contemptuous tone. 'I would not have spoken if I could
have helped it.'

'Ay!' said Arthur, 'as he says, set on a lady to talk of her
husband's friends.'

'But, oh! Arthur, what could I do? Think of poor Emma.'

'Emma is a fool.'

'Only you must not be angry with me. I would have said nothing
without cause, but when it comes to this,--and he is pretending to be
reformed.'

'Well, so he might be if you would let him.'

'But, Arthur!' then eagerly seizing a new hope, 'you don't mean that
he is really improving? Oh! has he given up those horses, and
released you?

He turned petulantly away. 'How can he? You have taken away any
chance of it now. You have done for him, and it is of no use to go
on any more about it.'

He marched off to his own abode, while she was obliged to sit down
under the verandah to compose herself before Theodora should see her.

Theodora perceived that much was amiss; but was spared much anxiety
by not being with the family, and able to watch her brother. The
cottage was completely furnished from the wreck of Martindale; but
the removal thither was deferred by her slow recovery. Though not
seriously ill, she had been longer laid up than had been anticipated
in a person so healthy and strong; the burns would not heal
satisfactorily, and she was weak and languid. It seemed as if the
unsparing fatigues she had been in the habit of undergoing; her
immoderate country walks--her over late and over early hours, had
told on her frame, and rendered the effects of her illness difficult
to shake off. Or, thought Violet, those tidings might be the secret
cause, although she never referred to them, and continued not merely
patient, but full of vigour of mind, cheerful, and as independent and
enterprising as submission to orders permitted. Her obedience to
irksome rules was so ready and implicit, that Violet marvelled, till
she perceived that it was part of her system of combat with self-
will; and she took the departure of her sister in the same manner,
forbearing to harass Violet with lamentations; and when her mother
deplored it, made answer, 'It is my fault. If I had not persuaded
Arthur out of living at Brogden, we should be staying with them.'

As to the chance of permanent disfigurement, she treated it very
coolly, listening with indifference to her mother's frequent
inquiries of the surgeon. 'Never mind, mamma, you and Violet will
keep up the beauty of the family till Helen comes out.'

The first time she was able to come down-stairs was the last evening
before they were to depart. One of Arthur's sparks of kindly feeling
awoke when he beheld his once handsome, high-spirited sister, altered
and wrapped up, entering the room with an invalid step and air; and
though she tried to look about in a bright degage manner, soon
sinking into the cushioned chair by the window with a sigh of
languor. The change was greater than he had anticipated from his
brief visits to her in her bed-room; and, recollecting the cause of
the injuries, he perceived the ingratitude of depriving her of
Violet; but his contrition came too late, for he had already
exchanged his leave of absence with another officer.

All that was in his power was to wait upon her with that engaging
attention that rendered him so good a nurse. He was his pleasantest
self, and she was so lively as to put every one else into good
spirits. It was pretty to see the universal pleasure in her
recovery--the weeding woman, going home late, and looking up at the
window to see if she was there, as Miss Helen had promised, and
curtseying, hardly able to speak for joy and grief together, when
Theodora beckoned her to the window, and asked after her children.
The dumb page, too, had watched an hour for her crossing the hall and
when Arthur would have taken the tea from him, to hand to her, he
gave such a beseeching glance as was quite irresistible, and the more
affecting as Theodora's hands were not yet in condition to converse
with him, and she was forced to constitute Johnnie her interpreter.

It was long since any of them had spent so happy an evening; and at
night Arthur insisted on helping her up-stairs, and said, 'I declare
it is a shame not to leave you Violet. Suppose you keep her till you
are all right again?'

'O, thank you, Arthur; but--' for Violet looked doubtful.

'Why, I thought you wanted to stay, Violet?' said Arthur.

'If you could.'

'Too late for that; but you must settle it between you before to-
morrow morning. Good night.'

Lady Martindale warmly pressed Violet to stay, and she found it much
worse to have personally to make the choice than to be only a piece
of property at Arthur's disposal. She was, however, firm, saying
that he would be uncomfortable without her; and she was grateful to
Theodora for perceiving her motives, and preventing further
entreaties.

'You are right,' said Theodora, when her mother was gone. 'It would
not be fit to leave him with an empty house, so I must yield you up;
but I cannot bear to think of you in London.'

'I am used to it,' said Violet, with her patient smile.

'And it will not be four years before we meet again. I shall try
hard to come to you in the autumn.'

'How comfortable that would be! But you must not be uneasy about me,
nor put any one out of the way. I can get on very well, as long as
I have Johnnie.'

It was not till both had laid down to rest, and the room was dark,
that Theodora said, 'I understand it now. Her poor sister must have
brought her into some bad foreign society, from which he could only
rescue her by marrying her.'

So abrupt was this commencement that Violet had to recollect who was
meant, and so decided was the tone, that she asked, 'What have you
heard?'

'Nothing fresh; have you?'

'No. Arthur had heard nothing from Mr. Mark Gardner; and I am afraid
we shall hear no more till John answers my letter.'

'No matter; I have found out how it must have been. Lady
Fotheringham, of whom he made a sort of mother, always liked Jane.
Depend upon it, she was anxious about the way in which poor Georgina
was reported to be going on abroad, and told Percy, when she died, to
try if he could do anything to save Jane. You see he goes to Italy,
and there finds, of course, that there is no way of fulfilling his
aunt's wishes but by sacrificing himself.'

'You have arranged it all most fully!'

'See if I am not right--or, rather, you will not see; but I know that
was the way. It is his nature to be fantastically generous, as some
people would call it; and as long as he is the same Percival
Fotheringham, the rest is as nothing. I was unjust at the first
moment. Jane has a better nature, which he can develop. There is a
sense of religion to work on--a power of adaptation to those she is
with, and if what she has seen in Italy has shocked her and made her
turn to him, he may be the making of her. She is clever enough; and
when she finds that nothing but truth and honesty will succeed with
him, she will learn them at last.'

'How glad I am you take it in this way.'

'This quiet time has been good for me,' said Theodora. 'It would
have been maddening to have had no pause before waking to ordinary
life.'

'Then the fire came at the right time for you.'

'Have you not read of men rushing into battle, hoping each shot would
strike them?'

'O, Theodora!'

'It did not last long. Don't be frightened. Woman fear, and the
stifling smell, and burning feel, and the sight of the red-hot gulf,
were enough to drive it off. I shall never forget the touch of the
floor in Charles's room! I thought of nothing but the fire. The
feeling only came back with the fainting. I remember a confused
notion that I was glad to be dying with you holding my head and papa
so kind. How savage I felt when every one would rouse me, and tell
me I was better! I was in hopes the world was all over with me; but
I see I have a great deal to do first, and the comfort of lying
torpid here has been very great. I have had time to be stunned, and
to get a grasp of it and of my own mind.'

'Dear Theodora! It is indeed sometimes a blessing to be laid up.
It brings out so much kindness. It is the easiest of all the
crosses.'

'I should not wonder if my rampant health had helped to make me the
more wayward,' said Theodora. 'I would not but have been ill for the
sake of the kindness from my father and mother. I was sure of you,
but there is-- It has given me spirit to look out upon life.'

'I hope there is peace at least in the look.'

'There is. It is not worse than before, except the vanishing of a
lingering foolish hope, and that is safest. Repentance must always
be there. My life is like myself; the wounds may heal, but the marks
will remain and the freshness and glow will never return here. I am
glad I am so much altered. I should not like to be again within the
pale of attractive people.'

'It is strange to hear you say such things so calmly.'

'I made up my mind long ago. In following poor Georgina--or rather,
my own self-will--I threw away the bloom of life. Percy warned me
that those who reject light crosses have heavy loads imposed. I made
what now seems hardly a cross of reed, into a scourge! Oh, Violet!
would that I had done no harm but to myself by those races!'

'Hush!' said Violet's smothered voice.

'But for that,' said Theodora, recovering steadiness of tone, 'I
should bear everything peacefully. I was unworthy of Percy, and am
better off than I deserve. Oh, Violet! I have wished to thank you
for making me go to Baden, and promising that if I would submit,
guidance would come. There it was, the instant I really sought it.
What would have become of me if I had not been haunted by your look
and your words? How many times they saved me from accepting Lord St.
Erme! And if I had, how my self-will, and pride, and jealousy would
have grown! and how wretched I should be making him now!'

'It is much better as it is.'

'Yes, whatever pain I did give him by my very shameful usage, it
would have been far worse to have gone on. I was thankful that I was
stopped. Now I think I see my own life. There are my home duties;
and oh! how could I have spoken as I once did of papa! How shocking
it must have seemed to you!'

'I do not know what it was, but it was under great provocation, and
you did not understand him then.'

'No, you and Hugh drove me to him, and in seeing him pleased with
anything I can do for him, there is solid happiness. I have learnt
to enter into his affection and deep feeling and anxieties, and I
would not have missed these four years of reciprocity with him for
anything! And I shall get on better with mamma now. I fancy she has
a different nature after all, from what my aunt forced on her. Well,
then, you know I have long set up for a maiden aunt, and there is
John, who might want a housekeeper. Or if I am of no use to my own
folks, there are the poor always. Perhaps I may come to Emma
Brandon's priory. It would be fine discipline to be under Mother
Theresa.

This unexpected pleasantry Violet could only answer by a groan.

'Seriously,' continued Theodora, 'my doubt would be whether it would
be right to turn to such a course only when one has nothing else to
do. It is a different thing from giving the energies and wishes and
visions of youth, as Emma has done. I could only offer the worn-out.
But that is speculation. There is present duty at home and in the
village, and brightness in your children, and my hopes are on John.
I have used him vilely, because he tried to teach me to take to you,
and I do long to see him and ask his pardon, and you will help me, so
that he shall believe in my sorrow, and we will be a sober old
brother and sister together.'

'I believe he wishes for nothing more. He will feel your having
worked for him, instead of saving anything of your own.'

'I had little to care for: my childhood had few recollections, and I
had nothing of Helen's. It was a pleasure to work for him. Do you
know, when I saw that marble chess-table which had belonged to the
parsonage, and which Percy had left in John's charge, a horrid
feeling came that I would not save it for Jane, and I left it. Then
I remembered that was a nasty spiteful bit of revenge, and I hated
myself, and dashed in when I really did know that it was not safe.
I was altogether mad, I believe. I felt desperate, and rather
enjoyed facing danger for it. And then I felt the heat of the fire
from the gallery again, and the spout from the fire-engine came, and
the smoke was so thick that I missed my footing with that great heavy
thing, and fell down-stairs to the first landing, and I believe that
must have been what hurt my hand and side so much.'

Then as she heard Violet's tightened breath at the thought of the
frightful peril,

'Well for me I did not perish with these wild thoughts! I am glad I
have told you at last. I have felt as if I ought to confess it, and
yet I was ashamed. Is the thing safe?'

'Yes, I saw it at Brogden; but oh, to think of it!'

'I am glad it is safe; it was John's charge, and he ought to restore
it: but you will dream of it, like poor little Johnnie, if you take
it so much to heart. I should not have told you at night. Put it
out of your head, and let us sleep in peace.'

'Good night, dear sister. Thank you for talking to me. O, this is
better than the night we parted before.'

'As much better as it is to have found one's anchor than to be tossed
at the will of the waves. That was a frightful time. Thank heaven
that you made me feel for the cable! There is a dreary voyage to
come, but after all, every day we end the Creed with "The life
everlasting."'

CHAPTER 6

What have I? Shall I dare to tell?
A comfortless and hidden well,
A well of love, it may be deep,
I trust it is, and never dry.
What matter if the waters sleep
In silence and obscurity?--WORDSWORTH

Violet experienced the trials to which she knew she was returning.
For some time past her husband's habits had been growing less and
less domestic, and his disappointment alienated him still more. It
was as if Mrs. Nesbit had left behind her a drop of poison, that
perverted and envenomed the pride he used to take in his son, as heir
to the family honours, and made him regard the poor child almost in
the light of a rival, while he seemed to consider the others as
burdens, and their number a hardship and misfortune.

He was so impatient of interruption from them, that Violet kept them
carefully out of his way, while he was in the house, and this was
seldom for a long space of time. All the fancied trials of the first
year of her marriage seemed to have actually come upon her! She
hardly saw him from morning to night, and when he did spend an
evening at home, he was sullen and discontented, and found fault with
everything. She was far from well, but his days of solicitude were
gone by, and he was too much wrapped up in his own concerns to
perceive her failure in strength, and the effort it cost her to be
cheerful. The children were her great solace, but the toil of
attending to them was almost beyond her powers, and if it had not
been for her boy, she felt as if she must have been quite
overwhelmed. Quiet, gentle, and thoughtful, he was a positive
assistance in the care of his sisters; and to read with him, hear his
remarks, watch his sweet obedience, and know herself the object of
his earnest affection, was her chief enjoyment, though even here
there was anxiety. His innocence and lovingness had something
unearthly, and there was a precocious understanding, a grave serious
turn of mind, and a want of childish mirth, which added to the fears
caused by his fragile health. Play was not nearly so pleasant to him
as to sit by her, reading or talking, or to act as her little
messenger; and it was plain that he missed fondness from his father
almost as much as she did for him. To be in the room with papa was
his most earnest desire, and it saddened her to see that little
slight figure silent in the corner, the open book on his lap, but his
pale face, soft dark eyes, and parted lips, intent on every movement
of his father, till the instant a want was expressed, or the least
occasion for a service offered, there was a bound to execute it, and
the inattentive indifferent 'thank you' was enough to summon up the
rosy hue of delight. Would Arthur only have looked, how could he
have helped being touched? But he continued neglectful and
unheeding, while the child's affection seemed to thrive the more
under disregard.

Violet's only satisfaction was in the absence of Mr. Gardner. She
heard constantly from Lady Elizabeth Brandon; but there was little
that was hopeful in that quarter. Emma's heart was more entirely in
the power of her suitor than even their fears had anticipated. She
had kept so entirely aloof from gentlemen, and so suspiciously
repelled the most ordinary attention, that when once she had
permitted any intimacy the novelty gave it a double charm. He had
come upon her at first as one bowed down with sorrow for the follies
of his youth, seeking only for the means of repairing what was past,
and professing that happiness was over, and all he could hope was to
evidence the depth of his repentance by his devotion and self-
sacrifice in the cause of the Church. Then, when at unawares he
allowed it to be discovered by Theresa that the heart, supposed to be
awake only to remorse, had been gained by the earnestness and
excellence of her young friend, and that in her was the most powerful
means of consoling and aiding him, when he seemed sunk in the depths
of despair at having allowed his sentiments to transpire, and only
too much humiliated by the idea of being named together with Miss
Brandon, it was impossible but that Emma's gentle and enthusiastic
spirit should go more than half way to raise him from his
despondency. She could not believe his errors so great, after all;
or even if they were, who would not overlook them, and rejoice to
have the power of comforting such a penitent? Theresa Marstone, with
a woman's latent love of romance, was prime confidante to both,
encouraged all, and delighted in the prospect of being supreme in the
Priory, and moulding the pattern household of the pair formed and
united under her auspices.

In the midst of such a dream as this, what chance had Lady Elizabeth
of convincing the friends that their penitent, scarcely persuaded to
relinquish plans of a hermitage, was a spendthrift adventurer,
seeking to repair his extravagance with the estates of Rickworth?

Emma shed indignant tears, and protested that it was cruel to bring
up his past faults; talked of the Christian duty of forgiving the
returning sinner; and when Lady Elizabeth showed that he had very
recently been engaged in his usual courses, Theresa, with a sensible
face and reasonable voice, argued that ordinary minds could not enter
into the power of the Church's work, and adduced many cases of
equally sudden change of life.

She did not mention whether there was always the heiress of ten
thousand a year ready as a reward.

The list of charges against Mark's character deepened every day, and
added to poor Lady Elizabeth's horror, but he always contrived to
render them as nothing to Emma. He had always confessed them
beforehand, either to her or to Theresa, with strong professions of
sorrow, and so softened and explained away, that they were ready to
receive each fresh accusation as an exaggeration of a fault long
past, and deeply regretted, and only admired their injured Mark the
more. Lady Elizabeth wrote to beg Violet to give her the clue which
she had said Arthur possessed to Mark's actual present character.

In much distress Violet wrote the letter, mentioning some disgraceful
transactions which she knew to have been taking place at the very
time when the good curate believed his friend sincerely repentant.
She had heard them, not from Arthur, but from Mrs Bryanstone, who
always learnt from her brother every such piece of gossip, but still,
after what had passed, and Lady Elizabeth's appeal direct to Arthur,
she thought it her duty to tell him before she sent the letter, and
to ask if the facts were correct.

It was a most unpleasant duty; but Arthur was not in such a mood as
when first she had mentioned the subject to him. He muttered
something about the intense folly of a woman who could believe a word
out of Gardner's mouth; said if Emma desired to be made miserable for
life she could not take a better way; wished he had never set eyes on
the fellow, and then, grumbling at Violet's begging him to read the
letter, he cast his eye over it, and said it was all true, and there
was worse, too, if Lady Elizabeth did but know it; but what this was
he would not tell her. He made no objection to her sending the
letter, saying he supposed it must be done, since she was asked; but
it was all her doing, and Lady Elizabeth might have gone to some one
else; and inconsistently ended with, 'After all, what's the use of
making such an uproar about it? Such things have happened twenty
times before, and will again.'

'Not with my poor Emma, I hope. Imagine her with such a man as
that!'

'Well! there are plenty of such couples. I wonder what would become
of the world if wives were not better than their husbands.'

Every rational person at Gothlands thought this letter conclusive;
Emma herself was shaken; but a walk in the shrubbery with Mark
settled it in her mind that his newly-formed wishes of amendment had
then been weak--he had not then seen her, he had not learnt so much
as at present. He had not been able to confess these deeds, because
others, who had now spoken, were concerned in them; but now it was a
relief to be able to tell all to his Emma! The end of it was, that
Emma herself was almost ready to press forward the marriage, so as to
give him the means of clearing himself from the debts, which, as he
insinuated, were the true cause of Colonel Martindale's accusations.
He forgave him, however, though if all was known of his dealings with
Arthur Martindale--! And then there was a long confidential talk with
Theresa Marstone, after which she told Lady Elizabeth that, though
Mr. Gardner spared Emma's feelings with regard to her friend, there
could be no doubt that Colonel Martindale had done much to lead him
astray.

At last, as a dutiful concession, Emma resolved on a compromise, and
put him on his probation for a year. This was particularly
inconvenient to him, but he was very resigned and humble; 'perhaps he
had hoped more from her affection, but he knew it was his penalty,
and must submit. If there was but some religious house to which he
could retire for the intermediate space; for he dreaded the effect of
being sent back to the world.'

Theresa was wrought upon to counsel haste; but Emma had principle at
the bottom of her effervescence of folly, and was too right-minded,
as well as too timid, to act in direct opposition to her mother,
however she might be led to talk. Therefore they parted, with many
tears on Emma's part, and tender words and promises on Mark's. Lady
Elizabeth had little hope that he would not keep them; but she took
advantage of the reprieve to conduct Emma to make visits amongst her
relations--sober people, among whom sense was more likely to
flourish, and among whom Mr. Gardner could never dare to show

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