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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 30/144 -
There were rumours of the general admiration of Mrs. Martindale, whence she deduced vanity and extravagance; but she heard nothing more till Jane Gardner, a correspondent, who persevered in spite of scanty and infrequent answers, mentioned her call on poor Mrs. Martindale, who, she said, looked sadly altered, unwell, and out of spirits. Georgina had tried to persuade her to come out, but without success; she ought to have some one with her, for she seemed to be a good deal alone, and no doubt it was trying; but, of course, she would soon have her mother with her.
He leaves her alone--he finds home dull! Poor Arthur! A moment of triumph was followed by another of compunction, since this was not a doll that he was neglecting, but a living creature, who could feel pain. But the anticipation of meeting Mrs. Moss, after all those vows against her, and the idea of seeing his house filled with vulgar relations, hardened Theodora against the wife, who had thus gained her point.
Thus came the morning, when her father interrupted breakfast with an exclamation of dismay, and John's tidings were communicated.
I wish I had been kind to her! shot across Theodora's mind with acute pain, and the image of Arthur in grief swallowed up everything else. 'I will go with you, papa--you will go at once!'
'Poor young thing!' said Lord Martindale; 'she was as pretty a creature as I ever beheld, and I do believe, as good. Poor Arthur, I am glad he has John with him.'
Lady Martindale wondered how John came there,--and remarks ensued on his imprudence in risking a spring in England. To Theodora this seemed indifference to Arthurís distress, and she impatiently urged her father to take her to him at once.
He would not have delayed had Arthur been alone; but since John was there, he thought their sudden arrival might be more encumbering than consoling, and decided to wait for a further account, and finish affairs that he could not easily leave.
Theodora believed no one but herself could comfort Arthur, and was exceedingly vexed. She chafed against her father for attending to his business--against her mother for thinking of John; and was in charity with no one except Miss Piper, who came out of Mrs. Nesbit's room red with swallowing down tears, and with the under lady's-maid, who could not help begging to hear if Mrs. Martindale was so ill, for Miss Standaloft said, 'My lady had been so nervous and hysterical in her own room, that she had been forced to give her camphor and sal volatile.'
Never had Theodora been more surprised than to hear this of the mother whom she only knew as calm, majestic, and impassible. With a sudden impulse, she hastened to her room. She was with Mrs. Nesbit, and Theodora following, found her reading aloud, without a trace of emotion. No doubt it was a figment of Miss Standaloft, and there was a sidelong glance of satisfaction in her aunt's eyes, which made Theodora so indignant, that she was obliged to retreat without a word.
Her own regret and compassion for so young a creature thus cut off were warm and keen, especially when the next post brought a new and delightful hope, the infant, of whose life John had yesterday despaired, was said to be improving. Arthur's child! Here was a possession for Theodora, an object for the affections so long yearning for something to love. She would bring it home, watch over it, educate it, be all the world to Arthur, doubly so for his son's sake. She dreamt of putting his child into his arms, and bidding him live for it, and awoke clasping the pillow!
What were her feelings when she heard Violet was out of danger? For humanity's sake and for Arthur's, she rejoiced; but it was the downfall of a noble edifice. 'How that silly young mother would spoil the poor child!'
'My brothers' had always been mentioned in Theodora's prayer, from infancy. It was the plural number, but the strength and fervency of petition were reserved for one; and with him she now joined the name of his child. But how pray for the son without the mother? It was positively a struggle; for Theodora had a horror of mockery and formality; but the duty was too clear, the evil which made it distasteful, too evident, not to be battled with; she remembered that she ought to pray for all mankind, even those who had injured her, and, on these terms, she added her brother's wife. It was not much from her heart; a small beginning, but still it was a beginning, that might be blessed in time.
Lord Martindale wished the family to have gone to London immediately, but Mrs. Nesbit set herself against any alteration in their plans being made for the sake of Arthur's wife. They were to have gone only in time for the first drawing-room, and she treated as a personal injury the proposal to leave her sooner than had been originally intended; making her niece so unhappy that Lord Martindale had to yield. John's stay in London was a subject of much anxiety; and while Mrs. Nesbit treated it as an absurd trifling with his own health, and his father reproached himself for being obliged to leave Arthur to him, Theodora suffered from complicated jealousy. Arthur seemed to want John more than her, John risked himself in London, in order to be with Arthur and his wife.
She was very eager for his coming; and when she expected the return of the carriage which was sent to meet him at the Whitford station, she betook herself to the lodge, intending him to pick her up there, that she might skim the cream of his information.
The carriage appeared, but it seemed empty. That dignified, gentlemanly personage, Mr. Brown, alighted from the box, and advanced with affability, replying to her astonished query, 'Mr. Martindale desired me to say he should be at home by dinner-time, ma'am. He left the train at the Enderby station, and is gone round by Rickworth Priory, with a message from Mrs. Martindale to Lady Elizabeth Brandon.'
Theodora stood transfixed; and Brown, a confidential and cultivated person, thought she waited for more information.
'Mr. Martindale has not much cough, ma'am, and I hope coming out of London will remove it entirely. I think it was chiefly excitement and anxiety that brought on a recurrence of it, for his health is decidedly improved. He desired me to mention that Mrs. Martindale is much better. She is on the sofa to-day for the first time; and he saw her before leaving.'
'Do you know how the little boy is?' Theodora could not help asking.
'He is a little stronger, thank you, ma'am,' said Brown, with much interest; 'he has cried less these last few days. He is said to be extremely like Mrs. Martindale.'
Brown remounted to his place, the carriage drove on, and Theodora impetuously walked along the avenue.
'That man is insufferable! Extremely like Mrs. Martindale! Servants' gossip! How could I go and ask him? John has perfectly spoilt a good servant in him! But John spoils everybody. The notion of that girl sending him on her messages! John, who is treated like something sacred by my father and mother themselves! Those damp Rickworth meadows! How could Arthur allow it? It would serve him right if he was to marry Emma Brandon after all!'
She would not go near her mother, lest she should give her aunt the pleasure of hearing where he was gone; but as she was coming down, dressed for dinner, she met her father in the hall, uneasily asking a servant whether Mr. Martindale was come.
'Arthur's wife has sent him with a message to Rickworth,' she said.
'John? You don't mean it. You have not seen him?'
'No; he went round that way, and sent Brown home. He said he should be here by dinner-time, but it is very late. Is it not a strange proceeding of hers, to be sending him about the country!'
'I don't understand it. Where's Brown?'
'Here's a fly coming up the avenue. He is come at last.'
Lord Martindale hastened down the steps; Theodora came no further than the door, in so irritated a state that she did not like John's cheerful alacrity of step and greeting. 'She is up to-day, she is getting better,' were the first words she heard. 'Well, Theodora, how are you?' and he kissed her with more warmth than she returned.
'Did I hear you had been to Rickworth?' said his father.
'Yes; I sent word by Brown. Poor Violet is still so weak that she cannot write, and the Brandons have been anxious about her; so she asked me to let them know how she was, if I had the opportunity, and I came round that way. I wanted to know when they go to London; for though Arthur is as attentive as possible, I don't think Violet is in a condition to be left entirely to him. When do you go?'
'Not till the end of May--just before the drawing-room,' said Lord Martindale.
'I go back when they can take the boy to church. Is my mother in the drawing-room? I'll just speak to her, and dress--it is late I see.'
'How well he seems,' said Lord Martindale, as John walked quickly on before.
'There was a cough,' said Theodora.
'Yes; but so cheerful. I have not seen him so animated for years. He must be better!'
His mother was full of delight. 'My dear John, you look so much better! Where have you been?'
'At Rickworth. I went to give Lady Elizabeth an account of Violet. She is much better.'
'And you have been after sunset in that river fog! My dear John!'
'There was no fog; and it was a most pleasant drive. I had no idea Rickworth was so pretty. Violet desired me to thank you for your kind messages. You should see her to-day, mother; she would be quite a study for you; she looks so pretty on her pillows, poor thing! and Arthur is come out quite a new character--as an excellent nurse.'
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