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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 1/144 -


Heartsease or Brother's Wife

by Charlotte M. Yonge

PART I

And Maidens call them Love in Idleness.

Midsummer Night's Dream

CHAPTER 1

There are none of England's daughters that bear a prouder presence. ***** And a kingly blood sends glances up, her princely eye to trouble, And the shadow of a monarch's crown is softened in her hair.

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

The sun shone slanting over a spacious park, the undulating ground here turning a broad lawn towards the beams that silvered every blade of grass; there, curving away in banks of velvet green; shadowed by the trees; gnarled old thorns in the holiday suit whence they take their name, giant's nosegays of horse-chestnuts, mighty elms and stalwart oaks, singly or in groups, the aristocracy of the place; while in the background rose wooded coverts, where every tint of early green blended in rich masses of varied foliage.

An avenue, nearly half a mile in length, consisted of a quadruple range of splendid lime trees of uniform growth, the side arcades vaulted over by the meeting branches, and the central road, where the same lights and shadows were again and again repeated, conducting the eye in diminishing perspective to a mansion on a broad base of stone steps. Herds of cattle, horses, and deer, gave animation to the scene, and near the avenue were a party of village children running about gathering cowslips, or seated on the grass, devouring substantial plum buns.

Under a lordly elm sat a maiden of about nineteen years; at her feet a Skye terrier, like a walking door-mat, with a fierce and droll countenance, and by her side a girl and boy, the one sickly and poorly clad, the other with bright inquiring eyes, striving to compensate for the want of other faculties. She was teaching them to form that delight of childhood, a cowslip ball, the other children supplying her with handfuls of the gold-coated flowers, and returning a pull of the forelock or a bobbed curtsey to her smiling thanks.

Her dress was of a plain brown-holland looking material, the bonnet she had thrown off was of the coarsest straw, but her whole air declared her the daughter of that lordly house; and had gold and rubies been laid before her instead of cowslips with fairy favours, they would well have become her princely port, long neck, and stately head, crowned with a braid of her profuse black hair. That regal look was more remarkable in her than beauty; her brow was too high, her features not quite regular, her complexion of gypsy darkness, but with a glow of eyes very large, black, and deeply set, naturally grave in expression, but just now beaming and dancing in accordance with the encouraging smiles on her fresh, healthy, red lips, as her hands, very soft and delicate, though of large and strong make, completed the ball, threw it in the little boy's face, and laughed to see his ecstasy over the delicious prize; teaching him to play with it, tossing it backwards and forwards, shaking him into animation, and ever and anon chasing her little dog to extract it from between his teeth.

Suddenly she became aware of the presence of a spectator, and instantly assuming her bonnet, and drawing up her tall figure, she exclaimed, in a tone of welcome:

'Oh, Mr. Wingfield, you are come to see our cowslip feast.'

'There seems to be great enjoyment,' replied the young curate, looking, however, somewhat pre-occupied.

'Look at Charlie Layton,' said she, pointing to the dumb boy. 'That ball is perfect felicity, he had rather not play with it, the delight is mere possession.' She was turning to the boy again, when Mr. Wingfield said, not without hesitation--'You have not heard when to expect your party from Madeira?'

'You know we cannot hear again. They were to sail by the next packet, and it is uncertain how soon they may arrive.'

'And--and--your brother Arthur. Do you know when he comes home?'

'He promised to come this spring, but I fancy Captain Fitzhugh has inveigled him somewhere to fish. He never writes, so he may come any day. But what--is anything the matter?'

'I have a letter here that--which--in Lord Martindale's absence, I thought it might be better--you might prefer my coming direct to you. I cannot but think you should be aware'--stammered Mr. Wingfield.

'Well,'--she said, haughtily.

'Here is a letter from my cousin, who has a curacy in the Lake country. Your brother is at Wrangerton, the next town.'

'Arthur is well?' cried she, starting.

'Yes, yes, you need not be alarmed, but I am afraid there is some entanglement. There are some Miss Mosses--'

'Oh, it is that kind of thing!' said she, in an altered tone, her cheeks glowing; 'it is very silly of him to get himself talked about; but of course it is all nothing.'

'I wish I could think so,' said Mr. Wingfield; 'but, indeed, Miss Martindale,' for she was returning to the children, 'I am afraid it is a serious matter. The father is a designing person.'

'Arthur will not be taken in,' was her first calm answer; but perceiving the curate unconvinced, though unwilling to contradict, she added, 'But what is the story?'

Mr. Wingfield produced the letter and read; 'Fanshawe, the curate of Wrangerton, has just been with me, telling me his rector is in much difficulty and perplexity about a son of your parishioner, Lord Martindale. He came to Wrangerton with another guardsman for the sake of the fishing, and has been drawn into an engagement with one of the daughters of old Moss, who manages the St. Erme property. I know nothing against the young ladies, indeed Fanshawe speaks highly of them; but the father is a disreputable sort of attorney, who has taken advantage of Lord St. Erme's absence and neglect to make a prey of the estate. The marriage is to take place immediately, and poor Mr. Jones is in much distress at the dread of being asked to perform the ceremony, without the consent of the young man's family.'

'He cannot do it,' exclaimed the young lady; 'you had better write and tell him so.'

'I am afraid,' said Mr. Wingfield, diffidently, 'I am afraid he has no power to refuse.'

'Not in such a case as this? It is his duty to put a stop to it.'

'All that is in his power he will do, no doubt, by reasoning and remonstrance; but you must remember that your brother is of age, and if the young lady's parents consent, Mr. Jones has no choice.'

'I could not have believed it! However, it will not come to that: it is only the old rector's fancy. To make everything secure I will write to my brother, and we shall soon see him here.'

'There is still an hour before post-time,' said Mr. Wingfield; 'shall I send the children home?'

'No, poor little things, let them finish their game. Thank you for coming to me. My aunt will, I hope, hear nothing of it. Good evening.'

Calling an elder girl, she gave some directions; and Mr. Wingfield watched her walking down the avenue with a light-footed but decided and characteristic tread, expressing in every step, 'Where I am going, there I will go, and nothing shall stop me.'

'Nonsense!' she said to herself; 'Arthur cannot be so lost to the sense of everything becoming. Such pain cannot be in store for me! Anything else I could bear; but this must not, cannot, shall not be. Arthur is all I have; I cannot spare him; and to see him shipwrecked on a low- bred designing creature would be too much misery. Impossible--so clear-headed as he is, so fastidious about women! And yet this letter spoke decidedly. People talk of love! and Arthur is so easy, he would let himself be drawn on rather than make a disturbance. He might be ensnared with his eyes open, because he disliked the trouble of breaking loose, and so would not think of the consequence. Nothing could save him so well as some one going to him. He can read a letter or not as he chooses. Oh, if papa were at home--oh, if Mr. Wingfield were but Percy Fotheringham--he who fears no man, and can manage any one! Oh! if I could go myself; he heeds me when he heeds no one else. Shall I go? Why not? It would save him; it would be the only effectual way. Let me see. I would take Simmonds and Pauline. But then I must explain to my aunt. Stuff! there are real interests at stake! Suppose this is exaggeration--why, then, I should be ridiculous, and Arthur would never forget it. Besides, I believe I cannot get there in one day--certainly not return the same. I must give way to conventionalities, and be a helpless young lady.'

She reached the house, and quickly dashed off her letter:--

'My Dear Arthur,--I hope and trust this letter may be quite uncalled for, though I feel it my duty to write it. I used to have some influence with you, and I should think that anything that reminded you of home would make you pause.

'Report has of course outrun the truth. It is impossible you should be on the brink of marriage without letting us know--as much so, I should trust, as your seriously contemplating an engagement with one beneath


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