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Heartsease or Brother's Wife by Charlotte M. Yonge

Part 6 out of 15

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'There, that will do. I knew you would be good at last,' said Percy,
patting her shoulder, while Theodora signified her pardon, and they
turned homewards, but had made only a few steps before the gallop of
clumsy shoes followed, and there stood Ellen, awkwardly presenting a
bunch of the willow herb. Theodora gave well-pleased thanks, and
told her she should take them as a sign she was really sorry and
meant to do better.

'And as a trophy of the force of Percy's pathetic picture of Miss
Martindale's seven flounces among the nettles on Farmer Middleton's
tombstone,' said Arthur.

'You certainly are very much obliged to him,' said her father.

'And most ungratefully she won't confess it,' said Arthur.

'I despise coaxing,' said Theodora.

'The question is, what you would have done without it,' said John.

'As if I could not subdue a little sprite like that!'

'You certainly might if it was a question of physical force,' said
Percy, as he seemed to be measuring with his eye the strength of
Theodora's tall vigorous person.

'I spoke of moral force.'

'There the sprite had decidedly the advantage. You could "gar her
greet," but you could not "gar her know." She had only to hold out;
and when Miss Martindale found it time to go home to dinner, and
began to grow ashamed of her position, the victory was hers.'

'He has you there, Theodora,' said Arthur.

'I don't know what he is driving at,' said Theodora.

'I am trying to find out whether Miss Martindale has the power of
confessing that she was in a scrape.'

'That you may triumph,' said Theodora.

'No, not for the sake of triumph, but of old times,' he answered, in
a lower, more serious tone.

Theodora's face softened, and drawing nearer, she asked, 'How are old
times to be satisfied by such an admission?'

'Because then candour used to boast of conquering pride,' said Percy,
now speaking so as to be heard by her alone.

'Well. It was becoming a predicament, and you rescued me very
ingeniously. There, will that content you?' said Theodora, with one
of the smiles the more winning because so rare. I am perfectly
ready to own myself in the wrong when I see it.'

'When you see it,' said Percy, drily.

'I was wrong just now not to confess my obligation, because Arthur
teased and triumphed; but I don't see why you all treat me as if I
was wrong to set myself to subdue the child's obstinacy.'

'Not wrong, but mistaken,' said Percy. 'You forgot your want of
power to enforce obedience. You wanted victory, and treated her with
the same determination she was treating you with. It was a battle
which had the hardest will and could hold out longest.'

'And if I had conquered she would have gone away angry with me, only
having yielded because she could not help it. You softened her and
made her sorry. I see. She really is a good child on the whole, and
I dare say I shall do something with her now.'

'Is old Benson alive?'

And a long conversation on village matters ensued. Theodora was
happier that evening than she had been for more than a year. That
home-thrust at her pride, astonishing as it was that any one should
venture it, and the submission that followed, had been a positive
relief. She thought the pleasure was owing to the appeal to old
times, recalling happy days of wild frolics, sometimes shared,
sometimes censured by her grown-up playfellow; the few hours with his
sister that had influenced her whole life; and the lectures, earnest,
though apparently sportive, by which he had strengthened and carried
on the impression; that brief time, also, of their last spending
together, when his sorrow for his sister was fresh, and when John was
almost in a hopeless state, and when she had been the one of the
family to whom he came to pour out his grief, and talk over what his
sister had been.

It was a renewal of happiness to her heart, wearied with jealousy, to
find one to whom old times were precious, and who took her up where
he had last seen her. His blunt ways, and downright attacks, were a
refreshment to a spirit chafing against the external smoothness and
refinement of her way of life, and the pleasure of yielding to his
arguments was something new and unexampled. She liked to gain the
bright approving look, and with her universal craving for attention,
she could not bear not to be engrossing him, whether for blame or
praise, it did not matter; but she had the same wish for his notice
that she had for Arthur's.

Not that she by any means always obtained it. He was in request with
every one except Mrs. Nesbit. Even Lady Martindale took interest in
his conversation, and liked to refer questions about prints and
antiques to his decision, and calls on his time and attention were
made from every quarter. Besides, he had his own manuscript to
revise, and what most mortified Theodora was to hear Violet's
assistance eagerly claimed, as she knew her way better than John did
through the sheets, and could point to the doubtful passages. Never
was work more amusing than this, interspersed with debates between
the two friends, with their droll counter versions of each other's
anecdotes, and Mr. Fotheringham's quizzings of John, at whom he
laughed continually, though all the time it was plain that there was
no one in the world whom he so much reverenced.

The solitary possession of her own mornings was now no boon to
Theodora. She was necessary to no one, and all her occupations could
not drive away the ever-gnawing thought that Violet attracted all the
regard and attention that belonged to her. If the sensation went
away when she was down-stairs, where Percy's presence obliged her to
be amiable against her will, it came back with double force in her
lonely moments.

One day, when they had dispersed after luncheon, her father came in,
inquiring for Violet. He was going to Rickworth, and thought she
would like to go with him. He wished to know, as otherwise he should
ride instead of driving; and, as she was up-stairs, desired Theodora
to go and find out what would suit her.

'Papa, too!' thought Theodora, as with some reluctance she for the
first time knocked at her sister's door, and found her with the baby.

'How very kind!' said she. 'I should be delighted, but I don't know
whether Arthur does not want me. Is he there?'

'I think he is in the library.'

'If I could but go down! But I must not take baby, and Sarah is at
dinner. Should you mind holding him for one minute?'

Theodora held out her arms, but Johnnie, though usually delighted to
come to her from Sarah, turned his head away, unwilling to leave his
mother. He did not quite cry, but was so near it that she had to do
her utmost to amuse him. She caught up something bright to hold
before him, and was surprised to see it was a coral cross, which
Violet, in changing her dress, had laid for a moment on the dressing-
table. The coincidence was strange, thought Theodora.

Violet was coming back, and she would have laid it down, but Johnnie
had grasped it in his little fingers. As his mother appeared, his
merriest smile shone out, and his whole little person was one spring
of eagerness to return to her.

'Little man! Is he glad to come back to his mamma?' Violet could
not help saying, as he nestled joyously on her neck; but the cold
face of Theodora made her sorry that the words had escaped her, and
she began to express her thanks.

Theodora was stooping to pick up the cross, and a concerned
exclamation passed Violet's lips on observing its fall.

'It is safe,' said Theodora. 'I beg your pardon, I took it up to
amuse him.'

'Thank you,' said Violet. 'I am sorry I seemed vexed. There's no
harm done; but I was frightened, because it was Helen's.'

'Helen's' exclaimed Theodora, extremely amazed. 'Did John give it to
you?'

'Yes, a little while ago,' said Violet, colouring. 'He--'

But Theodora was gone, with bitterer feelings than ever. This girl
was absorbing every one's love! John had never given her anything
that had belonged to Helen; he had never even adverted to his
engagement, when she almost adored her memory! She had never
supposed him capable of speaking of his loss; and perhaps it was the
hardest blow of all to find Violet, whose inquiries she had treated
as mere curiosity, preferred to such confidence as this. She did not
remember how she had once rejected his sympathy. She forgot whose
fault it was that she had not been in the Isle of Wight; she laid it
all on the proneness of men to be interested by sweetness of manner,
and thought of herself as a strong-minded superior woman, who could
never be loved, and who could only suffer through her woman's heart.

Yet she could not entirely harden herself as she intended, while
combats with Percy cast brightening gleams across her existence.
She thought she should again settle into the winter's life of hard
work and indifference, which was on the whole most comfortable to
her.

When the party should be broken up, Percy was to be the first to
depart; he was going to publish The Crusaders, take a lodging in
London, and there busy himself with literature while awaiting the
fulfilment of a promise of further diplomatic employment. Arthur and
Violet were also to return home after paying a visit at Rickworth,
and John would soon after sail for Barbuda. In the meantime he was
much engaged in going over accounts, and in consulting with his
father and the man of business.

One morning, towards the end of September, he came down to Violet in
the drawing-room, looking much flushed and extremely annoyed.

'Well,' he said, 'I have often declared I would never let my aunt
have a discussion with me again. I have been obliged to submit to
this. I hope it will be the last.'

'About the West Indian property,' said Violet.

'Yes. She does give me power to act for her; but it is dearly
bought! I wish I had never asked her! Every subject that she knew
to be most unpleasant to me has she stirred up! How a woman of her
age can go on with her eyes fixed on these matters I cannot guess.
I am sure it is a warning what one sets one's heart upon!'

'You are quite worried and tired. Oh! it has made you cough! You
had better lie down and rest.'

'I want you to put me into good humour,' said he, half reclining on
the sofa. 'I feel as if I had been under a nutmeg-grater! What do
you think of her taking me to task for having Fotheringham here, for
fear he should marry Theodora! I wish there was any such chance for
her; but Percy has far too much sense!'

'Why, how could Mrs. Nesbit think it? They are always disputing!'

'I should not take that as a reason for thinking it impossible. But
Percy knows her far too well. No, it is only one of my aunt's
fancies. She has set her hopes on Theodora now; but it is of no use
to talk of it. I don't want to dwell on it. It is too pitiable to
be angry about. What are you reading?'

Violet was as glad to talk to him of her book as he was to lose the
thought of his vexatious conversation, which had been even more
annoying that he had chosen to tell her.

Mrs. Nesbit had taken occasion to speak of the reversion of an
estate, which she said she wished to go to augment the property of
the title; and now she should have no hesitation in bequeathing it to
him, provided she could see him, on his side, make such a connection
as would be for the consequence of the family.

John tried silence, but she drove him so hard that he was obliged to
reply that, since she had begun on the subject, he had only to say
that he should never marry; and, with thanks for her views, the
disposal of her property would make no difference to him.

She interrupted him by reproaches on a man of his age talking
romantic nonsense, and telling him that, for the sake of the family,
it was his duty to marry.

'With such health as mine,' replied John, quietly, 'I have long made
up my mind that, even if I could enter on a fresh attachment, it
would not be right. I am not likely to live many years, and I wish
to form no new ties. You will oblige me, ma'am, by not bringing
forward this subject again.'

'Ay, I know what you are intending. You think it will come to Arthur
and his wife; but I tell you what, Mr. Martindale, no attorney's
daughter shall ever touch a sixpence of mine.'

'That is as you please, ma'am. It was not to speak of these matters
that I came here; and if you have told me all you wish with regard to
the property, I will leave the papers for your signature.'

She was above all provoked by his complete indifference to the
wealth, her chief consideration throughout her life, and could not
cease from reproaching him with absurd disregard to his own interest,
at which he very nearly smiled. Then she revived old accusations,
made in the earlier days of her persecution about his engagement,
that he was careless of the consequence and reputation of the family,
and had all his life been trying to lower it in the eyes of the
world; otherwise why had he set himself to patronize that wife of
Arthur's, or why bring Percy Fotheringham here, just to put his
sister in the way of marrying beneath her? And when he had answered
that, though he saw no probability of such an event, opinions might
differ as to what was beneath Theodora, she took the last means that
occurred to her for tormenting him, by predicting that Arthur's
sickly little child would never live to grow up--he need not fix any
hopes on him.

He escaped at last, leaving her much irritated, as Theodora presently
found her. She began to complain bitterly of the ingratitude of her
great-nephews, after all her labours for the family! John treating
her whole fortune as if it was not worth even thanks, when she had
been ready to settle the whole on him at once, as she would have
done, since (and she looked sharply at Theodora) he was now free from
that Fotheringham engagement; for none of that family should ever
have a share in her property.

Theodora looked, if possible, more indifferent than John, as she
answered,

'John could not want it. I always thought you meant it for Arthur.'

'Arthur! as if you did not know he had forfeited all claim upon me!'

'His marriage is a reason for his needing it more,' said Theodora.

'It is of no use to speak of him. No, Theodora, you alone have acted
as I could wish; and if you continue to deserve my regard--'

'Don't say that, Aunt Nesbit,' said Theodora. 'I shall act as, I
hope, may deserve regard; but I don't want anybody's fortune, and if
you left me yours it would be very unfair, and I certainly should
give at least half of it to Arthur. I give you fair warning; but I
did not come to talk of such hateful things, but to read to you.'

That afternoon Mrs. Nesbit wrote a letter to her lawyer, and
surprised Miss Piper by asking if that puny child up-stairs had any
name but John.

CHAPTER 10

Unschooled affections, strong and wild,
Have been my playmates from a child,
And strengthening in the breast unseen,
Poisoned the fount within.--Thoughts in Past Years

The morning of the next day had been fine, and was spent in shooting
by Arthur and Mr. Fotheringham; but the latter came home in time to
ride with John, to make a call on some old friends, far beyond what
had long been John's distance.

The afternoon closed in a violent storm of wind and rain, which drove
Arthur indoors, and compelled Violet to resort for exercise to the
gallery, where she paced up and down with Johnnie in her arms,
watching for the return of the others, as each turn brought her to
the end window. As Lord Martindale came up-stairs, he paused at the
sight of the slender young figure--her head bent over her little one.
Perhaps he was thinking what might have been, if his own children had
ever been as much to their mother; for when Violet turned towards him
he sighed, as he roused himself, and asked whether she saw John
coming. Then joining her, he looked at his grandson, saying, 'He is
improving very fast. How like you he grows!'

'Poor little fellow, he was not at all well yesterday, and I began to
think of asking whether I should send for Mr. Legh.'

'Whatever you do, beware of doctoring!' was Lord Martindale's rather
hasty answer. 'Of doctoring and governessing!--I have seen enough of
it, and I resolved my two youngest should run wholesomely wild, never
be dosed, and never learn a lesson till they were six years old.'

'But this poor little man is really delicate, and I have no
experience,' pleaded Violet.

'Depend upon it, my dear,' said Lord Martindale, with sorrowful
emotion in his voice, as he saw the little fair head resting
caressingly on her neck, 'you are doing more for him than all the
physicians in England. You must not tease him and yourself with
fretting and anxiety.'

'I know it is my duty not to be over-anxious,' said Violet, with her
heart full, as she clasped her hands close round her tiny treasure.

'You must not,' said his grandfather. 'It was the notion that mine
could never have enough teaching or doctoring-as if that was what
they wanted! Some system or other was always being tried on them,
and they were never left to healthy action of mind or body, till the
end was that I lost my two pretty little girls! And poor John, I
never saw a more wretched-looking child than he was when I took him
to Dr.--.'

'And what was his advice?'

'His advice was this. "Throw away lessons and physic. Give him
other children to play with, make him wear a brown holland pinafore,
and let him grope in the dirt." I believe it saved his life! I
begged Mrs. Fotheringham to let him do just like her children, little
thinking what was to come of that.' Then catching himself up, as if
fearing to give Violet pain, 'Not that I should have regretted that
connection. She was all that could be wished, and I judged by
personal merits.' He hesitated, but spoke warmly, as if applying the
words to Violet. 'Their youth was my only objection from the first.
Nothing would have rejoiced me more than their marriage.'

'O, yes,' said Violet, 'he says so much of your kindness.' She
feared she had said too much, but Lord Martindale caught at her
words. 'Has he ever adverted to that affair!'

'Sometimes,' said Violet, shyly.

'What! Actually spoken of poor Helen! I am heartily glad to hear
it. How is he bearing it? Does he speak calmly?'

'Yes, calmly and cheerfully, as if he liked to dwell on the thought.'

Lord Martindale laid his hand on her arm, and said, gratefully, 'You
have done him a great deal of good.'

Seldom had she been more gratified, but at that moment a dripping
figure burst on them, and Theodora's voice impetuously exclaimed,
'Violet! you must know something of babies! What shall I do for the
child at the lodge? She will die if something is not done quickly.'

She was in an agony of breathless agitation; the motherless baby at
the lodge had been taken violently ill, the parish doctor was not at
home, and she feared that Mr. Legh could not arrive from Whitford in
time!

Violet shared in her distress, and gathering from her description
that it might be such an attack as Johnnie's at Ventnor, longed to be
on the spot, and tried to believe the rain lessening enough for her
to go. Theodora seized on her proposal, but Lord Martindale
interfered. 'How can you be so thoughtless?' said he, in a far more
decided manner than usual.

'The child's life depends on it!' said Theodora, vehemently.

'Pshaw!' said Lord Martindale, 'Violet has her own life and her
child's to think of.'

'Then you won't come!'

'I am afraid I ought not,' said Violet, mournfully.

Theodora flung away in passionate despair and contempt, and was
rushing off, when Violet pursued her, and implored her to listen one
moment, and she could not let go her last hope. Violet offered some
medicine that had been prepared for Johnnie--which she was sure could
at least do no harm, and she could give some advice. Perhaps she
mingled it with too many excuses and lamentations at being forced to
stay at home; at least, Theodora thought her fanciful, rejoicing in
the self-importance of imaginary ill-health.

'Why! there's the carriage!' she exclaimed, as it drove down the
avenue.

'Yes, it is gone for John,' said Theodora, bluntly.

'Where is he?'

'At the Goldingsby turnpike. He took shelter there, and Percy came
back to order the carriage to fetch him. Percy is gone on to
Whitford for Mr. Legh.'

'What a pity! I could have gone to the lodge in the carriage.

Theodora was provoked that her impatience had made her miss this
chance: so, without answering, she ran down the steps, and was almost
whirled along the avenue by the wild wind that roared in the
branches, tearing the leaves from the trees, and whirling them round
and round. She hardly felt it--her whole soul was set upon the
little orphan; the misery of watching the suffering she could not
relieve, joined with passionate resentment at her father and sister-
in-law, who she fancied made light of it. Only Mr. Fotheringham,
when stopping at the lodge on his way, had shown what she thought
tolerable humanity. He had shared her concern, consoled her despair,
suggested asking counsel of Mrs. Martindale, and finally rode off
five miles to Whitford in quest of the doctor.

Violet's advice proved not to be despicable; the measures she
recommended relieved the little one, and by the time Percy and the
apothecary made their appearance, it was asleep on Theodora's lap,
and Mr. Legh pronounced that it was in a fair way to do well. She
wished she could have watched it all night, but it was late, and Mr.
Fotheringham stood waiting at the door. So she laid it in the
cradle, gave her directions to the old woman who had charge of it,
and resumed her brown cloak and hood, in which she walked about in
all weathers, without umbrella, for which, as for parasols, she had a
supreme aversion.

Mr. Legh wished to prevail on her to let him drive her home, but she
would not hear of it. Percy put up his umbrella, and offered to
shelter her, but she held aloof.

'No, no. Where did you get that elegant cotton machine?'

'I borrowed it at the turnpike.'

'And rode home with it on Arthur's mare?'

'Of course I did. I was not going to get wet through.'

'But how did you get her to let you carry it. She objects to his
taking out his handkerchief.'

'I am not going to be beaten by a mare, and she soon found that out.'

'What have you done with her?'

'I took her home, and came back again. I wonder what Arthur will say
to me for taking his gallant gray on to Whitford. I must get up a
pathetic appeal to the feelings of a father!'

'Well, I did not recollect you had the gray, or I would have told you
to take my horse. However, there's no harm done, and it saved time.'

'Whoo--h!' as the gust came roaring down furiously upon them, pelting
fiercely with rain, flapping and tearing at Theodora's cloak, like
the wind in the fable, trying to whirl her off her feet, and making
vehement efforts to wrench the umbrella out of Percy's hand. A
buffet with wind and weather was a frolic which she particularly
enjoyed, running on before the blast, then turning round to walk
backwards and recover breath to laugh at him toiling with the
umbrella. Never had she looked brighter, her dark eyes, lately so
sad and soft, now sparkling and dancing with mirth, her brown cheek
glowing with fresh red from the rain and wind that had loosened her
hair, and was sporting with a long black tress that streamed beyond
her bonnet, and fluttered over her face--life, strength, and activity
in every limb, and her countenance beaming with sportiveness and
gaiety, the more charming because so uncommon. It was a rare chance
to catch Theodora at play.

'Ha! you'll be beat! You will have to shut up the miserable
invention unknown to our forefathers.'

'Not I. I shall not give up the distinction between man and beast in
the rain.'

'Man! Why even ants carry parasols.'

'That is in the sun. Parasols belong to an epoch of earlier
civilization. Vide Ninevite carvings--Persian satraps!'

'So you reduce yourself to a Persian satrap!'

'No; it was reserved for modern times to discover the true
application of the umbrella. Were you rational enough to come back
in the carriage?'

'No, indeed. To do justice to Violet, she would have come down in
it, if I had not forgotten to tell her of it.'

'I am glad you do her justice for once.'

She would not answer, and took advantage of another combat with the
wind to cover her silence.

'Theodora,' said he, abruptly, 'I cannot help it; I must say it!'

'Well?'

'I do not think you feel as you ought towards your brothers wife.'

'John has told you this?'

'No; I have observed it. You had set your affections on Arthur; and
thinking he had thrown himself away, you do not resist the common
propensity to hate a sister-in-law.'

'You like to provoke me,' said Theodora; 'but,' and her voice
trembled, 'it is unkind to bring this up--the pain and grief of my
life, when I was happy and forgetful for once.'

'Far, far from unkindness. It is because I cannot bear to see you
unhappy.'

'I trusted no one saw that.'

'I have known you too long, and thought of you too much, not to be
grieved at the sight of your forced spirits and suppressed sorrow.'

It would have angered her from another; from him it touched her to
find how closely and kindly he had watched her.

'I cannot help it,' she said. 'He was my all.'

'Have you striven with it?'

'Of course I have. I have lived in a tumult of occupation, but--'

'But you have not conquered yourself, and grappled with the serpents
that poison your life.'

'Pray what do you call those serpents?'

'If you look them in the face, I believe you will find they are pride
and jealousy.'

'You like to find generic names,' said Theodora, trying for a cold
smile.

'Because it is safer to know and crush a venomous beast than to dally
with it.'

'If I find there are such serpents, I will crush them and thank you.'

'No other woman would so have answered,' cried Percy, exultingly.

'Because,' said she, her throat swelling, 'no other man is true and
downright friend enough to warn me honestly.'

'Theodora, Theodora, you are a grand creature, nearly thrown away for
want of breaking in.'

'Too true,' said she, sadly.

'I must say it. Will you let me? Will you trust yourself and your
happiness to me? It has been the vision and hope of my solitude to
see you what you might be! the flaws in that noble nature corrected,
its grandeur and devotedness shining forth undimmed. Together we
would crush the serpents--bring out all that is excellent.'

'I think there might be a chance for me with you,' said she, in an
odd sort of tone.

'You mean it?' he exclaimed, trying to see her face, but her hood
flapped over it.

'I do. You appreciate me.'

She let him walk beside her, and hold the umbrella over her; but not
a word was spoken till they were ascending the steps, when she said,
'Don't tell papa till night. I do not choose to look foolish.'

'Good luck to thee, umbrella!' said Percy, holding it on high, ere
closing it. 'Thy sea-green dome has been a canopy of bliss. Honour
to thy whalebones!' Then, in a very different manner, 'Oh! Theodora,
could you but guess how you have mingled in every scheme or wish of
mine; how often I have laughed myself to scorn for dreaming, as if
there could be any chance!'

'Ah! what an uproar my aunt will make!' exclaimed Theodora, somewhat
exultingly. Some one crossed the hall, and she ran away, but stepped
back from the foot of the stairs, laid her hand on his arm, and with
a face inexpressibly sweet and brilliant, said, 'We shall get on very
well together. We need have no nonsense. But I did not know how
happy you had made me.'

She escaped again; she would not have said thus much if she had not
known there could be no reply, for Lady Martindale was sailing down
the grand staircase.

She met him no more till dinner, when he was silent, and she
talkative and flighty, so that Violet suspected there had been a
quarrel.

The next morning, the first tidings were that John had a cold and was
confined to his bed by cough and pain in the chest; while something
too was said of his having been kept up late at night talking.
Theodora paid a visit to the sick child in the early morning, and
after breakfast accompanied Violet to the lodge, where Violet found
the poor little thing nursed with more goodwill than skill by its old
aunt and Theodora, took it into her own motherly arms, gave it food
and medicine, and hushed it to sleep so successfully, that Theodora
respected what she called the feminine element.

The two sisters walked back happily together; but at the door Lord
Martindale met them, exclaiming, 'Where have you been, Theodora?
Come here.'

Violet wished to be certified that John was not worse, but could find
no one but Mr. Fotheringham, who, with a little twist of the corner
of his mouth, assured her that there was no cause for uneasiness on
that account.

Some time had gone by; she was writing letters, while Percy stood in
the deep window, reading the newspapers, and making a great rustling
with them. Suddenly Arthur entered, exclaiming,

'Well, Violet, here is a piece of news! Guess!'

'That is the way people always tell wedding news.'

'Right. Now then for the victims.'

'Your sister? What really? And who? Oh, not Lord St. Erme?'

'The very antipodes, as Harrison would say! Guess again.'

'Help me, Mr. Fotheringham,' she began; but Arthur, with a tremendous
start, exclaimed, 'Hollo! if that is not a shame! How I wish I had
said what a shocking bad match it is!'

'You think so, do you?' said Percy, advancing, and heartily shaking
Arthur's ready hand.

'Oh! that is your look-out,' said Arthur, shrugging his shoulders.

'But, do you really mean it?' said Violet, looking from one to the
other, as Percy's hand seemed to claim the same welcome from her.

'Indeed, I do,' said Percy, earnestly. 'O, how glad John will be!'
was her congratulation.

'So, I must say nothing about the gray,' proceeded Arthur. 'What is
it some one says about Cupid's steeds? I vow I will call her Psyche,
if it is only to make Theodora savage!'

'Where is your father?' said Percy.

'With John. That was where I heard it.' Then, as Percy was leaving
the room, 'Well, you are a bold man! I hope you mean to kill the cat
on the wedding-day. That is all.'

'I am obliged for your experience,' said Percy.

'If you make her like this one by the end of a year--'

'O, hush, Arthur!'

Percy hastened from the room. Violet could not recover from her
astonishment. 'Could Lord Martindale actually have consented?'

'Makes no difficulty at all. He has grown wiser since poor John's
time. I have taught him one may be trusted to choose for oneself.'

'But your aunt?'

'Ah! there is nothing she hates like a Fotheringham; but she has not
the power over my father she once had. She will have to take up with
us for very spite. But what they are to live on I do not know,
unless my father keeps them.'

'I thought he was heir to a baronetcy.'

'Yes; but there is a half-witted son of old Sir Antony in the way,
who will keep Percy out of the property for the term of his natural
life, as well as if he was a wise man.'

After luncheon, Violet had a message from John to ask for a visit
from her. She found him on the sofa in the sitting-room, apparently
oppressed and uncomfortable; but he looked brightened by her
entrance, and pleased when she offered to stay and read to him.

'The very thing I have been figuring to myself as most agreeable.
I don't want to talk or think. I have been overdoing both.'

So she had to repress her curiosity, and give him the repose of her
pleasant reading, till he dropped asleep; and after waiting some
time, in the fear of awakening him, she gently left the room, and had
time for another visit to the lodge, where she fell in with the
lovers, and found them disputing about the cotton umbrella. Percy
announced that he should give his own in exchange, and retain it for
ever, as a trophy of what could be accomplished with both horse and
woman. Theodora was a little cross. If he wished to keep it out of
sentiment, that was all very well; but to give it the turn of
glorying over her was displeasing. He wanted to make her confess
that she had submitted to its shelter.

'No, you only walked by me, and held it up.'

'I appeal to you, Mrs. Martindale. Is not that the popular view of
being under an umbrella?'

Theodora would not speak, and Violet thought him wrong in teasing
her. Silence ensued, but ended in his saying, as they came to the
steps, 'Well, Theodora, shall I restore the umbrella as a hated
object?'

'No, no,' said she; 'do what you please with it, only don't talk
nonsense about it.'

Then, when Violet was gone,--'You must not triumph over me, Percy;
I cannot bear it. If it is pride, have patience with me.'

'I should have asked you to forgive me,' said Percy, affected by the
tone of humility.

'No, no, indeed!' said Theodora, smiling; 'but I warn you, my serpent
is dealt with more safely by treading on it than by irritating it,'
and there was an indignant gleam in her dark eye. 'Now I am going to
tell my aunt.'

'I would wish you well through it; but I believe you are eager for
the battle. Only let me say one thing, Theodora--be forbearing, or
you will be fostering the enemy.'

'I can deal with her,' said Theodora.

But she was met in a manner she had not expected. Mrs. Nesbit
beckoned her to her side, laid her hand on hers, and peered up in her
face with witch-like eyes, that disconcerted her usually ready
speech, and called up a blush.

'I see,' said Mrs. Nesbit. 'I do not blame you for the fault of your
father and brother. I knew how it would be.'

'Has mamma told you?' said Theodora. 'Papa promised that I should be
the first to tell!'

'Your mamma does not know what will mortify her so extremely.'

'Then how have you heard it?'

'I have seen it. I knew what you had to tell from the instant you
entered. And your father has given you his consent?' raising her
hand, as if to say, 'I give up all hopes of him.'

'Yes, he highly approves.'

Here Lady Martindale came into the room.

'You need not be vexed, my dear,' began Mrs. Nesbit. 'It will not be
made public, and there will be no harm done.'

'What will not, dear aunt? you alarm me.'

'This foolish affair into which Lord Martindale and John have drawn
this poor child.'

'Aunt! aunt!' cried Theodora, 'you do not know what you say. It is
of my own free will--uninfluenced. I would choose him, and hold fast
to him through worlds of opposition.'

'Yes, yes; we understand all that,' said Mrs. Nesbit, with a
contemptuous accent; 'but as it cannot be at once, you will soon have
enough of that overbearing temper. At twenty, there is plenty of
time to get over such an affair, and form a more suitable
connection.'

'Never!' cried Theodora.

'What, my dear!' said astonished Lady Martindale. 'You engaged, and
you have not told me!'

'Only since yesterday, mamma. He spoke to papa only this morning.'

'But who is it? Nothing that your aunt disapproves, I trust, my
dear.'

'Percy Fotheringham,' said Theodora, standing firm, and exulting in
defiance; but her aunt continued that same provoking disregard.

'Yes, you see it is of no use to oppose her. For my part, I think
her papa has acted wisely in permitting the engagement.
Contradiction would embellish her hero; while, left to him, she will
soon find him out. I do not concern myself, for Miss Martindale can
get over a little matter of this kind.'

'It is of no use to make protestations,' said Theodora; and she left
the room much more annoyed than she could have been by the violent
opposition for which she was prepared. Cool contempt was beyond
everything irritating, especially where reply was impossible, and
argument undignified.

Mrs. Nesbit continued to behave as if the engagement did not exist,
and Violet could not suppose her informed of it. Lady Martindale
looked melancholy and distressed, especially after having been with
John, whom, however, she declared to be better, and desirous of
seeing his sister. Theodora went to him, but remained a very short
time.

Violet ventured in with his mother, to wish him good night, and he
thanked her warmly for having read him to sleep. 'When I am laid up
again, you will know where to find a nurse for me,' added he to his
mother; a speech which obtained for Violet a positively cordial and
affectionate good night from Lady Martindale.

Though mending, he did not leave his room the next day, as it was
damp and chilly; and he again asked for Violet's company in the
afternoon, since he supposed she was not thinking of going out.

'O, no; no one does, except Theodora. I saw something brown half-way
across the park, which must be either her cloak, or the old cow-man's
worst round frock.'

'And Percy not in attendance?'

'No; he and Arthur are lingering at luncheon, talking about the
Austrian army. When did you hear about this?'

'As soon as I came in. He marched into my room, sat down, and said,
"There! I've done it." I thought he had broken the knees of
Arthur's gray, till he explained--"No; I have taken your sister on my
hands."'

'So you were watching them all the evening!'

'Yes; I was very anxious as to how my father might view it.'

'I suppose that hurt you more than the rain?'

'Excitement, as Brown would say. Perhaps it might. We talked long
and late, and afterwards I fell into the old strain of thought. From
what Percy tells me, his sister must have influenced Theodora far
more than I thought possible. To her he ascribes her religious tone.
If he is right, my mistake in neglecting her has been worse than I
supposed.'

'Then this is all the better! Do you remember saying you despaired
of a Petruchio?'

'It is on the Petruchio principle that he takes her, and avowedly.
None but Katharina was ever so wooed or so won!'

'That is very much to her honour.'

'If she realizes his being in earnest. She would make one doubt
whether she has any earnest. Yesterday evening she so treated, the
subject that I was on the point of saying, "Reply not to me with a
fool-born jest." And how do you think she answered my father, when
he asked her if she knew what she undertook? As my namesake said,
"I shall wash all day and ride out on the great dog at night."

'Was not that a sort of shyness?'

'I would fain hope so. If I had ever seen anything like deep earnest
feeling I should be satisfied. Yet Percy declares, I trust he may be
right, that she has the very strongest affections, and much
tenderness of character. He says her nature came straight from the
tropics, and must not be judged by sober English rules.'

'If you had seen her distress about the child at the lodge!'

'Ah! he said those tears settled the matter, and showed him that she
had the woman's heart as well as the candour that would conquer her
waywardness. It sounds a little too like a lover's self-
justification.'

'Do you think so?' said Violet. 'You do not know what she is with
the dumb boy, and with Johnnie.'

'I was just going to have instanced her neglect of Johnnie.'

'I assure you,' cried Violet, eagerly, 'that is only because she does
not like me. You cannot think how fond she is of him. When I am out
of the way she goes to the nursery and pets him till Sarah is almost
jealous of his fondness for her.'

'I have no patience with her,' exclaimed John.

'I thought you would have been glad.'

'I do not like Percy to make a mistake, and get his feelings trifled
with. He deserves a wife like himself.'

'Did you hear of Arthur's advice to him?'

'To kill the cat on the wedding-day. That might answer if it were to
be at once; but it is a cat with nine lives, and I do not think she
will bear to have it killed before the wedding-day.'

'Then it is not to be soon?'

'No, my father thinks her not fit for a poor man's wife, and cannot
give her more than L5000, so they must wait till they can begin on an
income equal to yours.'

'And I suppose that will be when he gets some appointment.'

'And there is the Worthbourne estate as a provision for the future,
so that there is no imprudence. For my part, I regret the delay;
Theodora would shine if she had to rough it, provided always she was
truly attached to her husband.'

'She would bear poverty beautifully.'

'But it is not a thing to advise. I am accused already of being
romantic and imprudent, yet I would urge it on my father if I saw
them desirous to hasten it. I do not understand them, and perhaps I
am unreasonable. I do not like his happiness to be in such perverse
hands, yet I am uneasy at the delay. It suits my aunt's predictions,
and they are far too apt to come true. I feel them like a spell.
She always foretold that Helen and I should never marry. And it
cannot be denied that she has great insight into character, so that
I am alarmed at her declaring this will not come to good. If not,
I have no hope for Theodora! She will either be hard and unfeminine,
or turn to worldliness, and be such another as my aunt. She has it
in her.'

'You are taking to horrid predictions yourself.'

'Well, I acknowledge her capabilities, but there has been woful
mismanagement, and my father feels it.'

'I was surprised at his consenting so readily.'

'He has once been too much grieved to be led to act against his own
judgment again. He thinks very highly of Percy, and is glad Theodora
should be in safe keeping; she was so wilful this last season in
London as to make him very uneasy.'

Mr. Fotheringham came in, and Violet was going, but was claimed for
some more work upon the Crusaders, and told that Arthur was gone out
to inspect his gray.

Arthur found the weather better than it appeared from indoors, and
strolled into the park to indulge in a cigar. Ere long he perceived
the brown waterproof cloak, and throwing away the end of his cigar,
called out, 'Halloa! a solitary ramble. Have you given Earl Percy
the slip?'

'You do not expect him to be always philandering after me?'

'There's a popular delusion with regard to lovers.'

'We are not such ninnies.'

'But seriously, Theodora, what can induce Fotheringham to have you?'

'I expected you to ask what induced me to have him.'

'That in its own time! Tell me, first, why he takes you.'

'The same reason that you took Violet.'

'As if you and Violet were to be named together!'

'Or you and Percy!'

They laughed, and Theodora then spoke with deep feeling. 'It does
surprise me, Arthur, but it is the more pleasure. He has known me
all my life, and sees there is less humbug in me than in other women.
He knows I have a heart.'

'That scientific discovery is his reason. Now for yours.'

'Because he understands me.'

'So your partnership is founded on a stock of mutual understanding!
I devoutly hope it is; for my notion is that Percy will stand no
nonsense.'

'Of course not.'

'It remains to be proved how you will like that.'

'I am not given to nonsense.'

Arthur whistled.

'That means that I will not yield when I am not convinced.'

'And he will make you.'

'He will never be unreasonable,' exclaimed Theodora.

'It does not follow that you will not.'

'That is unjust. I yield where duty, good sense, or affection make
it needful.'

'Oho! Affection! That is like other people. Now I see some hope of
you.'

'Did you think I would have had him without it?'

'Certainly, it is the only explanation. You will not find being wife
to a scrub of an attache the same thing as being Miss Martindale.'

'I am glad of it. My mind revolts at the hollowness of my present
life.'

'Well done!' ejaculated Arthur.

'I do,' said Theodora, vehemently. 'Ours has never been a home; it
was all artificial, and we had separate worlds. You and I
amalgamated best; but, oh! Arthur, you never cared for me as I did
for you. The misery of my life has been want of affection. Any one
who loved me could have guided me at will. You doubt! You don't
know what is in me! How I felt as if I would work night and day at
my lessons, if they were ever to be heard by mamma! I remember once,
after a day's naughtiness, lying awake, sobbing, and saying, again
and again, half aloud, "I would be good if they would love me!"'

'No one would have thought such fancies were in a wild colt like
you.'

'I would not have had them guessed for worlds. Then came that one
gleam of Helen. It was a new life; but it could not last. She went
back, and I cannot say things in letters. She told me to talk to
John, but he was of no use. He has always despised me.'

'I don't think you are right there.'

'He would help me in trouble, but I am nothing to him. You were all
I had, and when you gave yourself away from me I was left alone with
the heart-ache, and began to think myself born to live without love.'

'In spite of the lovers you had in London?'

'You know better. That was the Honourable Miss Martindale. What did
they know of the real Theodora?'

'Poor critturs, what indeed! They would have run far enough if they
had.'

'I knew it. It is the soft, gentle, feminine mould that attracts
men.'

'Another curious discovery.'

'I cannot change my nature. But when he comes, superior to them all,
understanding my true self, seeing me high-spirited and cold-
mannered, but able to look into me, and perceive there is warmth and
soundness--oh! is not that a new well-spring of happiness!'

'Yes, he is as much out of the common run of folks as you are.
You'll go as well together as Smithson's pair of piebalds. I am
satisfied; I only wanted to know whether you cared for him, for you
don't "act as sich."'

'I can't talk stuff. I managed pretty well with papa, but I could
not bear it with John. He began to praise Percy, which made me ready
to cry, and that provoked me: besides, I know he does not believe in
me. He cares for Helen's brother far more than for his own sister,
and does not think me good enough for him. I saw he thought I should
trifle, and meant to give me a lecture; and I could not stand that,
you know, so I got away as fast as I could.'

'John does not lecture as you might expect, if you give him his full
swing. He is the best and kindest fellow in the world.'

'I know how Percy looks up to him. The only thing I don't like is,
that I believe one cause of Percy's attachment is my being his
sister.'

'I tell you, Theodora, if you are so outrageously jealous, you will
never get through the world in peace.'

'I shall have no reason for jealousy.'

'And for fear he should, had you not better give a hint to Wingfield?
You are turning the poor fellow's head with your confabulations over
the dirty children, and you'll have him languishing in an unrequited
attachment.'

'He understands me too well,' said Theodora.

'You reckon a great deal on understanding! And you put yourselves to
the test. Why don't you marry out of hand, and trust to the fates?'

'We have talked it over,' said Theodora. 'As to our income being
equal to yours, that is nonsense. We have no expensive habits; but
Percy says L450 a year is too little, so we shall wait for the
appointment, or till he has made it up to L700. But I own I did not
expect such ready consent from papa.'

'Ha! You would have liked a little opposition? You would sing a
different song if he had set his face against it. It is very knowing
of my aunt to take the line she does.'

'I wish my aunt was twenty years younger!'

'That you might fight it out, eh!'

'One comfort is, she will never leave me her money now! But I must
go in, and send Miss Piper for a walk with Harrison. My aunt must be
repaying herself on her.'

'Then I shall take another cigar, to get the damp out of my throat.'

'You wretch, you like to boast of it!'

'Ah! you don't know what Percy learnt in Turkey.'

'I know he always abominated smoking.'

'Perhaps he'll let you think so till you are married.'

'For shame, Arthur! That's the way you served your wife.'

'Not I. She is duly grateful to me for only smoking at fit times and
places, wherein I don't resemble her precious brother.'

Arthur thus reported this conversation to his wife. 'I met Theodora
in the park. She is as remarkable an article as ever I saw.'

'What do you think?--is she really attached to him?'

'I know as little as she does.'

It was determined that the secret should be strictly kept; it was the
one point on which Lady Martindale was anxious, being thereto
prompted by her aunt. Theodora declared she had no one to tell, and
Mr. Fotheringham only desired to inform his uncle and aunt, Sir
Antony and Lady Fotheringham. He was now going to pay them a visit
before settling in his lodgings in London. Theodora's engagement
certainly made her afford to be kinder to Violet, or else it was
Percy's influence that in some degree softened her. She was pleased
at having one of her favourite head girls taken as housemaid under
Sarah's direction, her only doubt being whether Violet was a
sufficiently good mistress; but she had much confidence in Sarah,
whose love of dominion made her glad of a young assistant.

The party was now breaking up, Violet in high spirits at returning
home, and having Arthur all to herself, as well as eager to put her
schemes of good management into practice. The sorrow was the parting
with John, who was likely to be absent for several years.

Before going he had one last conversation with his sister, apropos to
some mention of a book which she wished to send to London to be
returned to Miss Gardner.

'Does Violet visit her?' he asked.

'There have been a few calls; Jane Gardner has been very good-natured
to her.'

'Is that cousin of theirs, that Gardner, still abroad?'

'Yes, I believe so.'

'I hope he will stay there. He used to have a most baneful influence
over Arthur. Theodora, if by any chance it should be in your power,
you ought to do your utmost to keep them from coming in contact. It
may be a very superfluous fear, but your intimacy with those ladies
might be the means of bringing them together, and there is nothing I
should so much dread.'

'Surely Arthur may be trusted to choose his own friends.'

'You don't know what happened in their school days! No, you were too
young. It was discovered that there was a practice of gambling and
drinking wine in the boys' rooms, and Arthur was all but expelled;
but it turned out that he had been only weak, and entirely led by
this fellow, and so he was spared. Percy could tell you many
histories of Gardner's doings at Cambridge. Arthur's worst scrape
since he has been in the Guards was entirely owing to him, and it was
evident he still had the same power over him.'

'Arthur is no boy now.'

'I doubt,' said John, half smiling.

'No one can make the least charge against him since his marriage.'

'It has done much for him,' answered John, 'and she has improved
wonderfully. Theodora, now that I am going away, let me once more
tell you that you are throwing away a source of much happiness by
disregarding her.'

'Her romantic friendship with Emma Brandon is a proof that she cannot
have much in common with me.'

'There is one thing you have not in common with either,' exclaimed
John, 'and that is an unassuming temper.'

'Yes, I know you all think me prejudiced. I do not want you to go
away misunderstanding me,' answered Theodora. 'She has good
principles, she is amiable and affectionate; but there are three
points that prevent me from esteeming her as you do. She has a weak
fretful temper.'

'I am sure you have seen no sign of it.'

'It is just what is never shown; but I am convinced poor Arthur
suffers from it. Next, she thinks a great deal of her appearance;
and, lastly, she is fond of power, and tries to govern, if not by
coaxing, by weakness, tears, hysterics--all the artillery of the
feeble. Now, a woman such as that I can pity, but cannot love, nor
think a fit wife for my brother.'

'I can't tell, I don't know,' said John, hesitating in displeasure
and perplexity; 'but this once I must try whether it is of any use to
talk to you. Her spirits and nerves are not strong, and they were
cruelly tried last spring; but Arthur only saw her cheerful, and
never guessed at the tears she shed in secret, till we found her
papers blistered with them, when her never complaining and letting
him go his own way had almost cost her her life! and if you knew her,
you would see that the tendency to over-anxiety is the very failing
with which she struggles. I wish I could make you see her in her
true light.'

'I cannot help it, John,' said Theodora, 'I must speak the truth.
I see how it is. Men are not clear-sighted in judging of a pretty
woman of engaging manners. They are under a fascination. I don't
blame you--it is exactly the same with papa and Percy.'

'Indeed?'

And for the last time baffled, John parted with his sister in much
anxiety and disappointment, such as made it repose to turn to that
other gentle, open-hearted, confiding sister, whose helplessness and
sympathy had first roused him from despondency and inaction.

He begged her to write to him; an honour and a pleasure indeed; and
now there was no fear of her letters being such as that she had sent
him at Martindale. He declared the correspondence would be a great
pleasure to him--he could not bear to think of hearing of those in
whom he took so much interest only at second-hand; and besides, he
had been accustomed to pour out his mind so much in his letters to
Helen, that he felt the want of full and free confidence. His
letters to his mother were not safe from the eye of his aunt, and
neither his father nor Mr. Fotheringham could be what a lady
correspondent would be to a man of his character, reflective, fond of
description, and prone to dwell on the details of what interested
him.

So the time of his departure came, whereat Arthur lamented, vowing it
was a horrid bore that he could not live in England, and hoping that
Barbuda would patch him up for good; while Violet made arrangements
for his convenience and pleasure on the voyage, such as no sister had
ever supplied for him before.

CHAPTER 11

So she had prayed, and He who hears,
Through Seraph songs the sound of tears,
From that beloved babe had ta'en
The fever and the beating pain,
And more and more smiled Isobel
To see the baby sleep so well.--E. B. BROWNING (Isobel's Child)

On a bright cold afternoon the next spring, Theodora was setting out
for a walk, when she saw a carriage driving up the avenue, and Arthur
emerging from it. Joyously she sprang forward--'Arthur! Arthur!
this is pleasant. How glad I am. This is like old times.'

'Ay, I thought you would be ready for me. I have had a cold, and I
am come home to shake off the end of it.'

'A cold--not a bad one, I hope?'

'Not very. I wanted Violet to come too, but the boy is poorly.'

'Oh! I hope there is not much the matter?'

'Only teeth, I believe. He is desperately fretful, and she can't
attend to anything else.'

'Well, I hope you are come for a good long visit.'

'I can stay a week.'

'That's right, it will do you good. I was just going to write to
you. I have a great mind to go back with you, if I shall not be in
the way.'

'Not at all. It will be famous having you; but what makes you come?
To gratify Fotheringham?'

'I have many reasons. I've got Charlie Layton elected to the Deaf
and Dumb Asylum, and I must take him there.'

'I'm not going to take him! 'Tis enough to have to carry about one's
own babies, without other people's.'

'We'll settle that,' said Theodora. 'Will you walk with me! There
is no one at home, and I am stupefied with reading French novels to
my aunt. Such horrid things! She has lost her taste for the
natural, and likes only the extravagant. I have been at it ever
since luncheon, and at last, when the wretches had all charcoaled
themselves to death, I came out to breathe fresh air and purity.'

'Where's the Piper!'

'Piper no longer. Have you not heard?'

'Not a word since Percy announced that my aunt and Harrison had come
to a split about the orchids.'

'You have great things to hear. Harrison got a magnificent
appointment, as he calls it--situation is not grand enough--to some
botanic gardens; splendid salary. Nothing hindered the wedding but
Miss Piper's dread of my aunt. It was not only that she could not
tell her, but she could not face her after it was told, though I
offered to undertake that. So the upshot was, that for very
cowardice she preferred stealing the match and taking French leave.
It was a silly piece of business; but I could not help that, and they
were accountable to no one. I promised to announce it to my aunt
when the deed was done, and satisfied the poor little woman's
conscience by undertaking to be my aunt's white nigger till she
bought another.'

'If that's not self-devotion, I don't know what is,' said Arthur.
'I trust she has got one.'

'She comes to-morrow.'

'How was the wedding managed?'

'Harrison came with his license from Whitford, and I walked forth
with sal volatile in one hand and salts in the other, administering
them by turns to the fainting bride. I dragged her all the way by
main strength, supported her through the service, and was very near
giving her away by mistake, for there was no one else to do it but
old Brand. He and I are the witnesses in the register. I received
her hysterical farewells, and Harrison's elegant acknowledgments; saw
them into their fly, and came home, trusting to Providence that I
could inform my aunt without bringing on a fit.'

'After surviving the news of your engagement she may bear anything.'

'Ah! there she takes refuge in incredulity. Now this was a fact.
So there was nothing for it but to take a high tone. I gave the
history, and told my own share; then, in the style of Richard II,
when Wat Tyler was killed, declared I would be her companion; and,
after some bandying of words, we settled down peaceably.'

'One thing amazes me. How did you get Wingfield to do it? I had
plague enough with the old parson at Wrangerton, and I should have
thought Wingfield harder to manage.'

'They had no consent to ask--no one could forbid the banns. He soon
saw the rights of it,' said Theodora, unable to prevent herself from
blushing.

'You talked him over, eh?'

'Arthur, you are looking at me as if you wanted to put me out of
countenance. Well, you shall hear the truth; it is safe with you,
and no one else knows it. It is my chief reason for wishing to go to
London.'

'Ah ha!'

'Yes, you were right in warning me. He must needs think I worked in
the parish for his sake; and one fine day, as I was walking home, he
joined company, and before I knew where I was he was making me an
offer.'

'And learnt what disdain means, if he did not know before.'

'No,' said Theodora, gravely, and blushing deeply. 'I recollected
your warning, and saw that if there had not been something like
encouragement he would not have forgotten the distance between us.
This wedding has occasioned conferences; besides, Percy was exacting
at Christmas, and I had rather tried to tease him. I thought, living
close by, Mr. Wingfield must have known the state of the case, and
that I need not be on my guard; so that, having so far taken him in,
I thought it right to tell him I was afraid he had not been fairly
used, for I had trusted to his knowing I was engaged. So we parted
amicably; but it is a great bore, for he is much more cut up than I
expected, poor man. He went from home the next Monday, and is but
just come back, looking disconsolate enough to set people wondering
what is on his spirits, and avoids me, so as to show them. It would
be the best possible thing for me to get out of the way till it is
blown over, for I have no comfort in parish work. It has been a
relief to be always shut up with my aunt, since that was a reason for
not going into the village.'

'Then you will stay till the family migration?'

'I don't think there will be any this year. Papa talks about bad
times, and says the season in London is too expensive; and mamma was
worried and tired last year, and did not enjoy it, so she will be
glad to avoid it and stay with my aunt.'

'And, you being no longer a subject for speculation, there's no
object.'

'Yes; I am glad to have ended that hateful consciousness.'

'Well, Violet will do her best for you.'

'I don't want her to trouble herself; I only want house-room.'

And a change after a month's white niggering.'

'That's another reason. My aunt has grown so dependent on me, that
this new lady will not have a fair chance if I am at home; and if I
don't break the habit, I shall never call my time my own again.'

In fact, Theodora had been suffering under a fit of restlessness and
dissatisfaction, which made her anxious to change the scene. The
school, her great resource, was liable to be a place of awkward
meetings. She was going to lose her dumb charge; and with Percy and
Arthur both at a distance, there was no excitement nor relief to the
tedium of home. The thorough self-sacrificing attendance on her aunt
had been the sole means left her of maintaining the sense of
fulfilling a duty.

The unexpected arrival of her favourite brother was as a reward. Her
spirits rose, and she talked with gaiety and animation, delighted to
find him claiming her company for walks and rides to be taken in his
holiday week, and feeling as if now the prediction had truly come to
pass, that he would be relieved to come to her from the annoyances of
his home.

Every one seemed glad to see Arthur--even Mrs. Nesbit. In the course
of the evening something was said about a dinner party for the
ensuing Saturday, and Lady Martindale asked if he could stay for it.

'Saturday? Yes; I need not go back till Monday.'

'I wish Violet could have come,' said Lord Martindale. 'I am glad
you can give us a week; but it is a long time for her to be alone.
I hope she has some friend to be with her.'

'Oh, she wants no one,' said Arthur. 'She begged me to go; and I
fancy she will be rather glad to have no distraction from the child.
I am only in the way of her perpetual walking up and down the room
with him whining in her arms.'

'Ah! it is an unlucky affair,' said Mrs. Nesbit, in her sarcastic
tone of condolence; 'she will never rear it.'

She seemed, in her triumph, to have forgotten that its father was
present, and his impatient speech had certainly not been such as to
bring it to mind; but this was too much, and, starting, he hastily
exclaimed, 'Children always do make a fuss about their teeth!'

'I do not speak without the authority of medical men,' said Mrs.
Nesbit. 'I don't blame your wife, poor thing.'

What do you mean? cried Arthur, colour and voice both rising.

'I am surprised your brother kept it from you,' said she, gratified
at torturing him; 'you ought to have been informed.'

'Tell me at once,' said Arthur.

'Only this, Arthur,' said his father, interposing: 'when first the
doctor at Ventnor saw him he thought him very delicate, and told John
that he would hardly get through the first year without great care.'

'He has all but done that!' said Arthur, breathing more freely; 'he
will be a year old on the third.'

'Yes; afterwards the doctor thought much better of him, and John saw
no occasion to make you and Violet more anxious.'

'Then it all goes for nothing!' said Arthur, looking full at his aunt
with defiance, and moving to the furthest end of the room.

But it did not go for nothing. He could not shake off the
impression. The child's illness had never been so alarming as to
stir up his feelings, though his comfort had been interfered with;
and there were recollections of impatience that came painfully upon
him. He knew that Violet thought him more indifferent to his child
than he really was; and, though she had never uttered a complaint or
reproach, he was sure that he had hurt and distressed her by
displeasure at the crying, and by making light of the anxieties,
which he now learnt were but too well founded.

Arthur's easiness and selfishness made him slow to take alarm, but
when once awakened there was no limit to his anxiety. He knew now
what it would be to lose his first-born. He thought of the moment
when the babe had been laid on his hand, and of the sad hours when
that feeble cry had been like a charm, holding the mother to life;
and his heart smote him as he thought of never hearing again the
voice of which he had complained. What might not be happening at
that moment? As grisly a train of chances rose before him as ever
had haunted Violet herself, and he thought of a worse return home
than even his last. Yet he had never desired her to let him know
whether all was well!

He could not sleep, and in the morning twilight he sought out writing
materials, and indited his first letter to his wife:--

'Dear Violet,--I hope you and the boy are well. I have not coughed
since I left London. I come home on Monday, if all goes well, and
Theodora with me. She has made the place too hot to hold her.

'Yours ever,

'A. N. MARTINDALE.

'P.S. Write and say how the boy is.'

Having hunted up a servant, and sent him with this missive to the
early post, Arthur's paternal conscience was satisfied; and, going
to bed again, he slept till breakfast was half over, then good-
humouredly listened to exclamations on his tardiness, and loitered
about the rest of the morning, to the great pleasure of his sister.

The companion, Mrs. Garth, the highly recommended widow of a marine
officer, arrived in the afternoon; and Arthur, meeting her on the
stairs, pronounced that she was a forbidding-looking female, and
there was no fear that she would not be able to hold her own.

Rejoicing in newly-recovered freedom, Theodora had a long ride with
him; and having planned another to a village near a trout-stream,
where he wanted to inquire about lodgings for his indefatigable
fishing friend, Captain Fitzhugh, she was working hard to dispose of
her daily avocations before breakfast the next day, when Arthur
knocked at her door. 'Good morning,' he said hastily. 'I must go
home. My little boy is very ill.'

'Is he? What is it?'

'A bad fit of croup. He was better when the letter went. My poor
Violet! She has called in further advice; but it may come back.
Do you like to come with me?'

'If you like to have me.'

'Only be quick. I must be gone by the ten o'clock train. You must
be ready to start by nine.'

'I'll be ready at once,' said Theodora, hastily ringing for Pauline,
and rushing upon her preparations. She could not bear to part with
him in his grief, and thought, in case of the child's severe illness
or death, that he would be in need of her comfort when he had his
wife on his hands. She would not take Pauline--she would not be
dependent, and trouble their small household with another servant;
but Charles Layton she could not leave, and having given orders to
pack up her things, she flew off down the avenue to desire his aunt
to prepare him.

Up and down, backwards and forwards, giving directions to every one,
she hurried about till her father summoned her to breakfast.

'I am glad you are going with him, my dear,' he said, as he went down
the steps with her. 'We shall depend on you for hearing of the
little boy.'

That genuine cordial approbation was so pleasant that the thought
crossed her, 'Was she going to be a blessing to her family?'

'Good-bye, Arthur,' said Lord Martindale, warmly pressing his hand.
'I hope you will find him better, and Violet not doing too much.
Give my love to her.'

Arthur was moved by his father's unwonted warmth, and leaned back in
the carriage in silence. Theodora watched him anxiously, and did not
speak for some time.

'Had there been any tendency to croup before?' she asked at last.

'Tender throat, I believe; Violet always was anxious. I wish I had
not come away; it is too much for her alone! Ha! what are we
stopping for now?'

'To pick up Charles Layton.'

'You'll make us miss the train.'

'No, here he is. He shall be in nobody's way. I'll put him into the
housemaid's charge in Belgrave square.'

And with her eyes and fingers she encouraged the poor child as he was
lifted up to the box. 'There, I've not stopped you long.'

'What shall you do with him on the railroad!'

'Take him with us, of course.'

'I won't have him going in a first-class with me.'

'Then I shall go in a second-class with him.'

Here it occurred to her that this was a strange way of fulfilling her
mission of comfort, and she would fain have recalled her words, but
only sat silent till they came to the station, where, without any
further question, they were all three lodged in the same carriage,
where presently a county neighbour entered, attracted by the sight of
Arthur. Theodora was provoked, feeling for Arthur, and thinking it
was the stranger's presence that hindered her from resuming the task
of cheering him, but she was more annoyed when Arthur plunged into a
hunting discussion.

She sat working up the scene which awaited them, the child just
expiring, his mother in hysterical agonies, and she herself
displaying all her energy and resources, perhaps saving Johnnie's
life--at any rate, being her brother's stay and support when his wife
gave way.

His silence and anxious looks returned as they drove from the
station, and she could think of nothing to say but the old hope that
the baby was better. As they stopped, he threw open the carriage-
door, and springing out, impatiently rang.

'Child better?' were his hurried words to James.

'Yes, sir.'

Before even this brief answer was spoken, Arthur was halfway
upstairs. No one was in the drawing room; he dashed up to the bed-
room; that, too, was empty; he climbed on where he had never been
before, and opened the nursery-door.

There sat Violet on a low chair by the fire, with the little boy on
her lap. With a cry of joy she rose; and in another moment was
standing, almost unable to speak, as she saw Johnnie, looking much
surprised, but well pleased, to find himself in those strong arms,
and his soft face scrubbed by the black whiskers.

'He is pleased! He is smiling. You know papa, don't you, my
Johnnie?' cried the happy Violet.

'And he is all right again?'

'So much better to-day! We trust the cold is gone. Does he not
breathe softly and freely? If only there's no return to-night.'

'Was there last night?'

'Indeed there was. It was too dreadful!' said Violet, leaning against
him, and lowering her voice. 'Once Sarah and Mr. Harding both
thought it was all over, and I never dared to expect to see those
eyes come back to their own dear look at me! O, Arthur, when I
thought if I could but once have seen him in your arms! I never
thought to be so happy as this!' and she caressed the child to hide
the tears of thankfulness. 'I'm glad you weren't there.'

'My Violet, why!'

'You could not have borne to have seen and heard, and now you won't
have it to remember. At least, I trust not! Think of their once
wanting me to go away, saying it was not fit, and that I was of no
use; but you knew better, Johnnie. You held mamma's finger tight,
and when you came to yourself, your sweet look and smile were for
her! And at last he went to sleep over my shoulder, as he likes
best; and I felt each one of his breathings, but they grew soft and
smooth at last, and after two good hours he woke up quite himself.'

'And you! Sitting up all night! You are not fit for such things.
How did you get through it?'

'I don't know; I hardly remember,' said Violet. 'Your letter was
such a pleasure! and oh! I had help.'

'What, Harding--'

'I did not mean that, though he was very kind. No, I meant thoughts-
-verses in the Bible,' said Violet, hanging her head, and whispering,
'I don't mean at the worst. Then one could only pray he might not
suffer so much; but things his uncle had helped me to, did come so
comfortably while he was asleep. Don't you remember saying I had no
troubles for Helen's cross to comfort me in!'

'And did it?' said Arthur, half smiling.

'Not itself, you know; but it helped to put me in mind to be sure
that all he was going through would somehow be a blessing. I could
bear it then, and not be angry, as I was last year. Dear little
fellow, it is as if he would put me in mind himself, for the only
thing like play he has done to-day has been holding it up, and
pulling its chain.'

'There! go to your mother, Johnnie,' said Arthur, giving him back.
'She is a rare one, I tell you, and you understand each other. He
does not look much amiss either. He really is a very pretty little
fellow!'

No wonder Arthur made the discovery, as he for the first time
remarked the large wistful dark eyes, the delicately fair skin, which
the heat of the fire had tinged with soft pink, on the cheeks, the
shapely little head, with its flaxen waves of curl; and the tiny,
bare, rosy feet, outstretched to enjoy the warmth. Very small,
tender, and fragile he looked, and his features had an almost
mournful expression, but there was something peculiarly engaging in
this frail little being.

Violet was charmed with the tribute of admiration: indeed, she had
hardly known whether she might hope for Arthur's return, though she
had felt as if her heart would break if her child should die without
his coming. The winter, though cheerful, had been spent in
endeavours against her want of faith and hope, and this hard trial in
the spring had brought with it a comfort and beginning of resignation
that proved that her efforts had not been in vain.

Very happy she was as, Sarah coming up, she prepared to go down with
Arthur, who now remembered to inform her of the arrival of 'Theodora
and her dummy.'

These two personages were waiting in the drawing-room, Theodora in an
excited state of anticipation and energy, prepared for a summons to
take care of the baby, while Arthur was supporting his wife in
hysterics.

Long she waited and listened; at last there was an opening of doors,
then what she fancied the first shriek, and she started, alarmed, in
spite of being wound up, but it sounded nearer--much too like a bona
fide laugh, the very girlish sound she had condemned--Arthur's voice-
-Violet's gaily answering! They came in, full of smiles, Violet with
outstretched hands, and warm unconstrained welcome. 'How kind of you
to come! I'm sorry you have been so long alone, but I did not know
it,' said she, kissing her sister-in-law, and giving a kind silent
greeting to the dumb boy.

Disconcerted at her waste of preparation, Theodora stood for a
moment, fancying Violet triumphant in having spoilt Arthur's holiday
by what must have been an exaggerated trifle. She was almost ready
to make no inquiry for Johnnie, but 'conventional instinct'
prevailed, and his parents were so full of him, and of each other,
that it set them off into an eager conversation, such as made her, in
her present mood, believe herself neglected for the sake of Arthur's
weak, tyrannical, exacting idol. She resolved to take Charles at
once to her father's house. If it would not have been an insult to
her brother, she would have slept there herself. She surprised the
others by rising from her seat, and taking up the boy's cap.

'Oh!' exclaimed Violet, 'I had forgotten him, poor little fellow.
I will take him to Susan to have some tea.'

'Thank you, I am going to take him to the maid at our house.'

'O, pray do not,' said Violet, imploringly; 'there's plenty of room
here, and we can see about him so much better.'

'I had rather,' persisted Theodora.

'But see, it is getting dark. The lamps are lighted. You can't go
now.'

'I shall not lose my way,' said Theodora, taking by the hand the poor
boy, who seemed unwilling to leave the fire and Mrs. Martindale's
kind looks.

'Now, Arthur! you wont let her go!' said Violet, distressed.

'What's the row?' said Arthur. 'Setting out on your travels again,
Theodora!'

'Only to take Charlie to Belgrave-square.'

'I sha'n't come with you.'

'I can go by myself.'

'Nonsense. You have rattled the poor child about enough for one day.
Stay at home like a rational woman, and Violet will see to him.'

The dumb child gazed as if he read their faces, and was begging to
remain; he gladly allowed Violet to take his hand, and she led him
away, inviting Theodora to come and give her own directions about him
to Susan, the girl from Brogden.

So sweet was the manner, so kind the welcome, and so pretty the
solicitude for her comfort, that pride and prejudice had much
difficulty in maintaining themselves. But Theodora thought that she
did not like blandishments, and she was angry at the sensation of
being in the inferior situation of Violet's guest, at a moment of its
being so signally shown that she could not permit Arthur to enjoy
himself without her. To get home again as fast as possible was her
resolution, as she merely unpacked the articles for immediate use,
and after a hasty toilette, returned to the drawing-room.

Arthur and Violet were in earnest conversation. She fancied herself
an interruption, and did not second their attempts to make it
general. Violet had received a letter from John, and was offering it
to Arthur, who only yawned.

'Five sheets! He writes an abominably small hand! You may tell me
what it is about. Niggers and humming-birds and such cattle, I
suppose.'

'He has been to see the bishop. He wants a chaplain to live in the
house with him to teach the negroes, and have the church when it is
built.'

'No chance of his coming home, then ?'

'No, he is so well and busy. Percy Fotheringham is to send out some
plans for the church--and only think! he has told Percy to come and
ask me about Mr. Fanshawe--don't you remember him?'

'The curate at the chapel at Wrangerton?'

'I once told John of his wish for missionary work, so Percy is to see
about it, and if it will do, send him to Lord Martindale. Percy
called yesterday, but I could not see him; indeed, I had not time to
read my letter; and oh, Theodora, I am so glad you are come, for he
wants all manner of infant school pictures and books for the
picaninnies, and it is just the commission you understand.'

The hearing of John's letter read, so far from mollifying Theodora,
renewed the other grievance. At home, it was only by chance that she
heard of her eldest brother's plans, even when matured and submitted
to his father; and she now found that they were discussed from the
first with Violet, almost requiring her approval. The confidential
ease and flow made it seem unlike John's composition, used as
Theodora was to hear only such letters of his as would bear
unfriendly inspection, entertaining, but like a book of travels. It
was a fresh injury to discover that he had a style from his heart.

Theodora was in a mood to search for subjects of disapproval, but the
cheerful rooms, and even the extemporized dinner, afforded her none;
the only cause of irritation she could find was Arthur's anxiety when
the lamplight revealed Violet's pale exhausted looks. She had
forgotten her fatigue as long as there was anything to be done, and
the delight of the arrival had driven it away; but it now became
evident that Arthur was uneasy. Theodora was gloomy, and not
responding to her languid attempts at conversation, thinking there
was affectation in her worn-out plaintive voice.

As soon as the tedious dinner was over, Arthur insisted on her going
at once to bed, without listening to her entreaties that, as it was
Theodora's first evening, she might lie on the sofa and hear them
talk. She turned back at the door to tell Theodora that there was a
new review on the table, with something in it she would like to read,
and then let Arthur take her up-stairs.

'Ah!' thought Theodora, 'tormenting him about the child does not
suffice--she must be ill herself! It is even beyond what I expected.
When she had brought him home she might have let him have his evening
in peace; but I suppose she is displeased at my coming, and won't let
him stay with me. She will keep him in attendance all the evening,
so I may as well see what books she has got. "The West Indies"; "The
Crusaders"--of course! "Geoffroi de Villechardouin"--Percy's name in
it. Where's this review? Some puff, I suppose. Yes, now if I was a
silly young lady, how much I should make of Percy because he has made
a good hit, and is a literary lion; but he shall see the world makes
no difference to me. I thought the book good in manuscript; and all
the critics in the country won't make me think a bit better of it or
of its author. However, I'll just see what nonsense they talk till
she chooses to release Arthur.'

What would have been her displeasure if she had known that Arthur was
lingering up-stairs giving his wife a ludicrous version of her
adventure with Mr. Wingfield!

After a time the drawing-room door opened, but she did not heed it,
meaning to be distant and indifferent; but a browner, harder hand
than Arthur's was put down on the book before her, and an unexpected
voice said, 'Detected!'

'Percy! Oh, how are you?' she exclaimed.

'I am very glad you are come; I came to inquire at the door, and
they told me that you were here. How is she, poor thing?'

'She is gone to bed; Arthur thinks her knocked up.'

'It is well he is come; I was much concerned at her being alone
yesterday. So little Johnnie is better?'

'Like Mother Hubbard's dog.'

'The croup is no joke,' said Percy, gravely.

'Then you think there was really something in it?'

'Why, what do you mean? Do you think it was humbug?'

'Not at all; but it was such a terrific account, and alarmed poor
Arthur so much, that it gave one rather a revulsion of feeling to
hear her laughing.'

'I am very glad she could laugh.'

'Well, but don't you think, Percy, that innocently, perhaps, she
magnified a little alarm?'

'You would not speak of little alarms if you had seen Harding this
morning. I met him just coming away after a fearful night. The
child was in the utmost danger, but his mother's calmness and
presence of mind never failed. But I'll say no more, for the sound
wholesome atmosphere of this house must cure you of your prejudices.'

Arthur came down dispirited; and Percy, who had thought him an
indifferent father, was pleased with him, and set himself to cheer
his spirits, seconded by Theodora, who was really penitent.

She could not be at peace with herself till she had made some amends;
and when she had wished her brother good night, found her way to the
nursery, where her old friend Sarah sat, keeping solemn watch over
the little cot by the fire. One of her sepulchral whispers assured
the aunt that he was doing nicely, but the thin white little face,
and spare hand and arm, grieved Theodora's heart, and with no
incredulity she listened to Sarah's description of the poor little
fellow's troubles and sweet unconscious patience, and that perfect
trust in his mother that always soothed and quieted him. It appeared
that many nights had been spent in broken rest, and for the last two
neither mother nor nurse had undressed. Sarah was extremely
concerned for her mistress, who, she said, was far from strong, and
she feared would be made as ill as she was last year, and if so,
nothing could save her. This made Theodora feel as if she had been
positively cruel, and she was the more bent on reparation. She told
Sarah she must be over-tired, and was told, as if it was a
satisfactory answer, that Mrs. Martindale had wished her to go to bed
at six this morning. However, her eyes looked extinguished, and
Theodora, by the fascinating manner she often exercised with
inferiors, at last persuaded her to lie down in her clothes, and
leave her to keep watch.

It was comfortable to hear the deep breathings of the weary servant,
and to sit by that little cot, sensible of being for once of
substantial use, and meaning that no one ever should know it. But
she was again disconcerted; for the stairs creaked, the door was
softly opened, and Arthur stood on the threshold. The colour mantled
into her face, as if she had been doing wrong.

'The poor maid is worn out; I am come for the first part of the
night,' she said, in a would-be cold whisper. But his smile and low-
toned 'Thank you,' were so different from all she had ever known from
him, that she could hardly maintain her attempt at impassibility.

'I thought Violet would sleep better for the last news,' said he,
kneeling on one knee to look at the child, his face so softened and
thoughtful that it was hardly like the same; but recovering, he gave
a broad careless smile, together with a sigh: 'Little monkey,' he
said, 'he gets hold of one somehow--I wish he may have got through
it. Theodora, I hope you will have no alarms. Violet will take it
very kind of you.'

'Oh, don't tell her.'

'Good night,' and he leaned over her and kissed her forehead, in a
grave grateful way that brought the tears into her eyes as he
silently departed.

Her vigil was full of thoughts, and not unprofitable ones. Her best
feelings were stirred up, and she could not see Arthur, in this new
light, without tenderness untainted by jealousy. Percy had brought
her to a sense of her injustice--this was the small end of the wedge,
and the discovery of the real state of things was another blow.
While watching the placid sleep of the child, it was not easy to
harden herself against its mother; and after that first relenting and
acknowledgment, the flood of honest warm strong feeling was in a way
to burst the barrier of haughtiness, and carry her on further than
she by any means anticipated. The baby slept quietly, and the clock
had struck two before his first turn on the pillow wakened Sarah,
though a thunder-clap would not have broken her slumber. She was at
his cradle before he had opened his eyes, and feeding and fondling
hushed his weak cry before it had disturbed his mother. Theodora
went to her room on good terms with herself.

She had never allowed late hours to prevent her from going to the

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