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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 4/144 -
'That is the name!' cried Violet, enchanted. 'Have you seen it?'
'I saw Lord St. Erme buy it.'
'Do you know Lord St. Erme?' said Violet, rather awe-struck.
'I used to meet him in Italy.'
'We wish so much that he would come home. We do so want to see a poet.'
John smiled. 'Is he never at home?'
'O, no, he has never been at Wrangerton since his father died, twelve years ago. He does not like the place, so he only comes to London when he is in England, and papa goes up to meet him on business, but he is too poetical to attend to it.'
'I should guess that.'
'I have done wrong, said Violet, checking herself; 'I should not have said that. Mamma told us that we ought never to chatter about his concerns. Will you, please, not remember that I said it?'
As far as the outer world is concerned, I certainly will not,' said John kindly. 'You cannot too early learn discretion. So that picture is at Wrangerton?'
'I am so glad you liked it.'
'I liked it well enough to wish for a few spare hundreds, but it seems to have afforded no more pleasure to him than it has given to me. I am glad it is gone where there is some one who can appreciate it.'
'Oh, said Violet,' Matilda knows all about the best pictures. We don't appreciate, you know, we only like.'
'And your chief liking is for that one?'
'It is more than liking,' said Violet; 'I could call it loving. It is almost the same to me as Helvellyn. Annette and I went to the house for one look more my last evening at home. I must tell her that you have seen it!' and the springing steps grew so rapid, that her companion had to say, 'Don't let me detain you, I am obliged to go gently up-hill.' She checked her steps, abashed, and presently, with a shy but very pretty action, held out her arm, saying timidly, 'Would it help you to lean on me? I ought not to have brought you this steep way. Matilda says I skurry like a school-girl.'
He saw it would console her to let her think herself of service and accepted of the slender prop for the few steps that remained. He then went up-stairs to write letters, but finding no ink, came to the drawing-room to ask her for some. She had only her own inkstand, which was supplying her letter to Annette, and he sat down at the opposite side of the table to share it. Her pen went much faster than his. 'Clifton Terrace, Winchester,' and 'My dear father--I came here yesterday, and was most agreeably surprised,' was all that he had indited, when he paused to weigh what was his real view of the merits of the case, and ponder whether his present feeling was sober judgment, or the novelty of the bewitching prettiness of this innocent and gracious creature. There he rested, musing, while from her pen flowed a description of her walk and of Mr. Martindale's brother. 'If they are all like him, I shall be perfectly happy,' she wrote. 'I never saw any one so kind and considerate, and so gentle; only now and then he frightens me, with his politeness, or perhaps polish is the right word, it makes me feel myself rude and uncourteous and awkward. You said nothing gave you so much the notion of high-breeding as Mr. Martindale's ease, especially when he pretended to be rough and talk slang, it was like playing at it. Now, his brother has the same, without the funny roughness, but the greatest gentleness, and a good deal of quiet sadness. I suppose it is from his health, though he is much better now: he still coughs, and he moves slowly and leans languidly, as if he was not strong. He is not so tall as his brother, and much slighter in make, and fairer complexioned, with gray eyes and brown hair, and he looks sallow and worn and thin, with such white long hands.'
Here raising her eyes to verify her description, she encountered those of its subject, evidently taking a survey of her for the same purpose. He smiled, and she was thereby encouraged to break into a laugh, so girlish and light-hearted, so unconscious how much depended on his report, that he could not but feel compassionate.
Alarmed at the graver look, she crimsoned, exclaiming, 'O! I beg your pardon! It was very rude.'
'No, no,' said John; it was absurd!' and vexed at having checked her gladsomeness, he added, 'It is I rather who should ask your pardon, for looks that will not make a cheerful figure in your description.'
'Oh, no,' cried Violet; 'mamma told me never to say anything against any of Mr. Martindale's relations. What have I said?'--as he could not help laughing--'Something I could not have meant.'
'Don't distress yourself, pray,' said John, not at all in a bantering tone. 'I know what you meant; and it was very wise advice, such as you will be very glad to have followed.'
With a renewed blush, an ingenuous look, and a hesitating effort, she said, 'INDEED, I have been telling them how very kind you are. Mamma will be so pleased to hear it.'
'She must have been very sorry to part with you,' said he, looking at the fair girl sent so early into the world.
'Oh, yes!' and the tears started to the black eyelashes, though a smile came at the same time; 'she said I should be such a giddy young housekeeper, and she would have liked a little more notice.'
'It was not very long?' said John, anxious to lead her to give him information; and she was too young and happy not to be confidential, though she looked down and glowed as she answered, 'Six weeks.'
'And you met at the ball!'
'Yes, it was very curious;' and with deepening blushes she went on, the smile of happiness on her lips, and her eyes cast down. 'Annette was to go for the first time, and she would not go without me. Mamma did not like it, for I was not sixteen then; but Uncle Christopher came, and said I should, because I was his pet. But I can never think it was such a short time; it seems a whole age ago.'
'It must,' said John, with a look of interest that made her continue.
'It was very odd how it all happened. Annette and I had no one to dance with, and were wondering who those two gentlemen were. Captain Fitzhugh was dancing with Miss Evelyn, and he--Mr. Martindale--was leaning against the wall, looking on.'
'I know exactly--with his arms crossed so--'
'Yes, just so,' said Violet, smiling; 'and presently Grace Bennet came and told Matilda who they were; and while I was listening, oh, I was so surprised, for there was Albert, my brother, making me look round. Mr. Martindale had asked to be introduced to us, and he asked me to dance. I don't believe I answered right, for I thought he meant Matilda. 'But,' said she, breaking off, 'how I am chattering and hindering you!' and she coloured and looked down.
'Not at all,' said John; 'there is nothing I wish more to hear, or that concerns me more nearly. Anything you like to tell.'
'I am afraid it is silly,' half-whispered Violet to herself; but the recollection was too pleasant not to be easily drawn out; and at her age the transition is short from shyness to confidence.
'Not at all silly,' said John. 'You know I must wish to hear how I gained a sister.'
Then, as the strangeness of imagining that this grave, high-bred, more than thirty-years-old gentleman, could possibly call her by such a name, set her smiling and blushing in confusion, he wiled on her communications by saying, 'Well, that evening you danced with Arthur.'
'Three times. It was a wonderful evening. Annette and I said, when we went to bed, we had seen enough to think of for weeks. We did not know how much more was going to happen.'
'No, I suppose not.'
'I thought much of it when he bowed to me. I little fancied--but there was another odd coincidence--wasn't it? In general I never go into the drawing-room to company, because there are three older; but the day they came to speak to papa about the fishing, mamma and all the elder ones were out of the way, except Matilda. I was doing my Roman history with her, when papa came in and said, we must both come into the drawing-room.'
'You saw more of him from that time?'
'O yes; he dined with us. It was the first time I ever dined with a party, and he talked so much to me, that Albert began to laugh at me; but Albert always laughs. I did not care till--till--that day when he walked with us in the park, coming home from fishing.'
Her voice died away, and her face burnt as she looked down; but a few words of interest led her on.
'When I told mamma, she said most likely he thought me a little girl who didn't signify; but I did not think he could, for I am the tallest of them all, and every one says I look as if I was seventeen, at least. And then she told me grand gentlemen and officers didn't care what nonsense they talked. You know she didn't know him so well then,' said Violet, looking up pleadingly.
'She was very prudent.'
'She could not know he did not deserve it,' said the young bride, ready to resent it for her husband, since his brother did not, then again excusing her mother. 'It was all her care for me, dear mamma! She told me not to think about it; but I could not help it! Indeed I could not!'
'No, indeed,' and painful recollections of his own pressed on him, but he could not help being glad this tender young heart was not left to pine under disappointment. 'How long ago was this?'
'That was six weeks ago--a month before our wedding-day,' said she, blushingly. 'I did wish it could have been longer. I wanted to learn,
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