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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 120/144 -

'No, Helen, he did not say that; for he was a gentleman,' interposed Johnnie; 'he only said he was afraid our aunt had been a sufferer, and Sarah told--'

'And I told,' again broke in Helen, 'how Cousin Hugh said it was an honour and a glory to be burnt like you; and I told him how I got the water and should have put out the fire, if that horrid Simmonds had not carried me away, and I wish he had not. So long as I had not my curls burnt off,' said Miss Helen, pulling one of the glossy chestnut rings into her sight, like a conscious beauty as she was.

'He asked Sarah all about it,' said Johnnie; 'and he said we had a very good aunt; and, indeed, we have!' climbing carelessly into her lap. 'Then he met grandpapa, and they are walking in the square together.'

So Mr. Fotheringham could be in no real haste to be gone, and had only hurried away to avoid Theodora. However, there was no more musing time, the children's dinner was ready, and she was going down with the little girls, when her father entered. 'How is Arthur?'

It was answered by Johnnie, who was flying down-stairs with joyous though noiseless bounds, his whole person radiant with good tidings. 'Papa is asleep! grandpapa. Papa is fast asleep!'

'Have you been in the room?'

'No; mamma came to the door and told me. Baby is gone up to our nursery, and nobody is to make the least noise, for papa is gone to sleep so comfortably!'

The boy had caught so much gladness from his mother's look, that he almost seemed to understand the importance of that first rest. His grandfather stroked his hair, and in the same breath with Theodora, exclaimed, 'It is owing to Percy!'

'Has he told you about it?' said Theodora.

'So much as that there is a final break with that fellow Gardner--a comfort at least. Percy said they had got their affairs into a mess; Arthur had been trying to free himself, but Gardner had taken advantage of him, and used him shamefully, and his illness had forced him to come away, leaving things more complicated than ever. There was a feeling of revenge, it seems, at Arthur not having consented to some disgraceful scheme of his; but Percy did not give me the particulars. Meeting him in the steamer, ill and desperate--poor fellow--Percy heard the story, took care of him, and saw him home; then, finding next morning what a state he was in, and thinking there might be immediate demands--'

'Oh! that was the terrible dread and anxiety!'

'He did what not one man in a million would have done. He went off, and on his own responsibility adjusted the matter, and brought Gardner to consent. He said it had been a great liberty, and that he was glad to find he had not gone too far, and that Arthur approved.'

'Do you know what it was?'

'No; he assured me all was right, and that there was no occasion to trouble me with the detail. I asked if any advance was needed, and he said no, which is lucky, for I cannot tell how I could have raised it. For the rest, I could ask him no questions. No doubt it is the old story, and, as Arthur's friend, he could not be willing to explain it to me. I am only glad it is in such safe hands. As to its being a liberty, I told him it was one which only a brave thorough-going friend would have taken. I feel as if it might be the saving of his life.'

Theodora bent down to help little Anna, and said, 'You know it is Sir Antony Fotheringham's son that Miss Gardner married?'

'Ay!' said Lord Martindale, so much absorbed in his son as to forget his daughter's interest in Percival Fotheringham. 'He says Arthur's cough did not seem so painful as when he saw him before, and that he even spoke several times. I am frightened to think what the risk has been of letting him in.'

'Arthur insisted,' said Theodora, between disappointment at the want of sympathy, and shame for having expected it, and she explained how the interview had been unavoidable.

'Well, it is well over, and no harm done,' said Lord Martindale, not able to absolve the sister from imprudence. After a space, he added, 'What did you say? The deficient young Fotheringham married?'

'Yes, to Jane Gardner.'

'Why, surely some one said it was Percy himself!'

'So Violet was told at Rickworth.'

Lord Martindale here suddenly recollected all, as his daughter perceived by his beginning to reprove Helen for stirring about the salt. Presently he said, 'Have you heard that the other sister, the widow--what is her name?'

'Mrs. Finch--'

'Is going to be foolish enough to marry that Gardner. She was your friend, was not she?'

'Yes, poor thing. Did you hear much about her?'

'Percy says that she was kind and attentive to the old man, as long as he lived, though she went out a great deal while they lived abroad, and got into a very disreputable style of society there. Old Finch has left everything in her power; and from some words overheard on the quay at Boulogne, Percy understood that Gardner was on his way to pay his court to her at Paris. There was a former attachment it seems, and she is actually engaged to him. One can hardly pity her. She must do it with her eyes open.'

Theodora felt much pity. She had grieved at the entire cessation of intercourse, even by letter, which had ensued when the Finches went to the Continent; and she thought Georgina deserved credit for not having again seen Mark, when, as it now appeared, there had lurked in her heart affection sufficient to induce her to bestow herself, and all her wealth, upon him, spendthrift and profligate as she must know him to be. Miserable must be her future life; and Theodora's heart ached as she thought of wretchedness unaided by that which can alone give support through the trials of life, and bring light out of darkness. She could only pray that the once gay companion of her girlhood, whose thoughtlessness she had encouraged, might yet, even by affliction, be led into the thorny path which Theodora was learning to feel was the way of peace.

Arthur was wakened by the recurring cough, and the look of distress and anxiety returned; but the first word, by which Violet reminded him of Percy's call, brought back the air of relief and tranquillity. Mr. Harding, at his evening visit, was amazed at the amendment; and Johnnie amused his grandfather by asking if the owl man was really a doctor, or whether Sarah was right when she said he had rescued papa and his portmanteau out of a den of thieves.

When Violet left the room at night, the patient resignation of her face was brightening into thankfulness; and while preparing for rest, she could ask questions about the little girls. Theodora knew that she might tell her tale; and sitting in her favourite place on Violet's footstool, with her head bent down, she explained the error between the two cousins.

'How glad I am!' said the soft voice, ever ready to rejoice with her. 'Somehow, I had never recollected it, he is so like what he used to be. I am very glad.'

'Don't treat it as if it was to concern me,' said Theodora. 'I care only as he remains the noblest of men.'

'That he is.'

'Don't wish any more, nor think I do,' said Theodora. 'I never liked stories of young ladies who reform on having the small-pox. It is time nonsense should be out of my head when a man does not know me again.'

'Oh! surely--did he not?'

'Not till I spoke. No wonder, and it is better it should be so. I am unworthy any way. O, Violet, now will you not let me ask your forgiveness?'

'What do you mean, dearest?'

'Those races.'

Violet did not shrink from the mention; she kissed Theodora's brow, while the tears, reserved for the time of respite, dropped fast and bright.

'Poor dear,' she said; 'how much you have suffered!'

There was silence for some moments. Theodora striving to keep her tears as quiet as her sister's.

'I think,' said Violet, low and simply, 'that we shall be happy now.'

Then, after another silence, 'Come, if we go on in this way, we shall not be fit for to-morrow, and you have only half a night. Dearest, I wish I could save you the sitting up! If he is better to-morrow, Johnnie shall take you for a walk.'

He was better, though the doctors, dismayed at yesterday's imprudence, preached strenuously on his highly precarious state, and enforced silence and absence of excitement. Indeed, his condition was still such that the improvement could only be seen in occasional gleams; and as the relief from mental anxiety left him more attention to bestow on the suffering from the disorder, he was extremely depressed and desponding, never believing himself at all better.

The experiment of a visit from the little girls was renewed, but without better success; for the last week had increased the horrors of his appearance; and Theodora reported that Johnnie had confided to her, as a shocking secret, that the reason why Helen could not bear to go near papa was, that he looked exactly like Red Ridinghood's wolf.

Violet was grateful for the saying, for it was the first thing that drew a smile from Arthur, and to court the child became a sort of interest and occupation that distracted his thoughts from himself.

Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 120/144

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