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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 50/144 -
Violet was disappointed; for the tone of enthusiasm had given her a moment's hope that they had at last found a subject on which they could grow warm together, but it was evident that Theodora would never so have spoken had she been conscious of her presence.
The next morning as Arthur and his wife were going down to breakfast, he said, 'We shall see some rare fun now Theodora and Fotheringham have got together.'
Theodora, with her bonnet on, was, according to her usual Sunday fashion, breakfasting before the rest of the party, so as to be in time for school. John and his friend made their appearance together, and the greetings had scarcely passed, before John, looking out of window, exclaimed, 'Ah! there's the boy! Pray come and see my godson. Come, Violet, we want you to exhibit him.'
Arthur looked up with a smile intended to be disdainful, but which was gratified, and moved across, with the newspaper in his hand, to lean against the window-shutter.
'There's John without his hat--he is growing quite adventurous. Very pretty Violet always is with the boy in her arms--she is the show one of the two. Hollo, if Percy has not taken the monkey himself; that's a pass beyond me. How she colours and smiles--just look, Theodora, is it not a picture?'
If he had called her to look at Johnnie, she must have come; but she was annoyed at his perpetual admiration, and would not abet his making himself ridiculous.
'I must not wait,' she said, 'I am late.'
Arthur shrugged his shoulders, and turned to his paper.
She put on her gloves, and took up her books. Percy meeting her, as she came down the steps, said, 'I have been introduced to your nephew.'
'I hope you are gratified.'
'He has almost too much countenance,' said Percy. 'There is something melancholy in such wistful looks from a creature that cannot speak, just as one feels with a dog.'
'I am afraid he is very weakly,' said Theodora.
'I am sorry to hear it; it seems like a new life to John, and that pretty young mother looks so anxious. Do you see much of her?'
'Not much; I have not time to join in the general Violet worship.'
'They are not spoiling her, I hope. It does one good to see such a choice specimen of womankind.'
'There, don't come any further; I must make haste.'
'Like all the rest,' she thought; 'not a man but is more attracted by feminine airs and graces than by sterling qualities.'
On coming out of church, in the afternoon, John, looking at the beautiful green shady bank of the river, proposed a walk along it; all the party gladly acceded, except Theodora, who, not without a certain pleasure in separating herself from them, declared that there was a child who must be made to say her hymn before going home.
'Can't you excuse her for once?' said Lord Martindale.
'Not if I beg her off publicly?'
'No, thank you. There is a temper that must be overcome.'
'Then flog her well, and have done with it,' said Arthur. Deigning no reply, she pounced upon her victim as the procession of scholars came out of church, 'Come, I am waiting to hear you say it. "How doth the little--"'
The child stood like a post.
'That is a Benson, I am sure,' said Mr. Fotheringham. Theodora told him he was right, and went on exhorting the child; 'Come, I know you can say it. Try to be good.
'You know I always keep my word, and I have said I will hear you before either of us goes home.'
'If you please, papa, would you go on? I shall never make her do it with you all looking on.'
She sat down on a tombstone, and placed the child before her. After an hour's walk, there was a general exclamation of amusement and compassion, on seeing Theodora and the child still in the same positions.
'She will never say it at all now, poor child,' said Violet; 'she can't--she must be stupefied.'
'Then we had better send down the tent to cover Theodora for the night,' said Arthur.
'As if Theodora looking at her in that manner was not enough to drive off all recollection!' said John.
'It is too much!' said Lord Martindale. 'Arthur, go, and tell her it is high time to go home, and she must let the poor child off.'
Arthur shrugged his shoulders, saying, 'You go, John.'
'Don't you think it might do harm to interfere?' said John to his father.
'Interfere by no means,' said Arthur. 'It is capital sport. Theodora against dirty child! Which will you back, Percy? Hollo! where is he? He is in the thick of it. Come on, Violet, let us be in for the fun.'
'Patience in seven flounces on a monument!' observed Mr. Fotheringham, in an undertone to Theodora, who started, and would have been angry, but for his merry smile. He then turned to the child, whose face was indeed stupefied with sullenness, as if in the resistance she had forgotten the original cause. 'What! you have not said it all this time? What's your name? I know you are a Benson, but how do they call you?' said he, speaking with a touch of the dialect of the village, just enough to show he was a native.
'Ellen,' said the girl.
'Ellen! that was your aunt's name. You are so like her. I don't think you can be such a very stupid child, after all. Are you? Suppose you try again. What is it Miss Martindale wants you to say?'
The child made no answer, and Theodora said, 'The Little Busy Bee.'
'Oh! that's it. Not able to say the Busy Bee? That's a sad story. D'ye think now I could say it, Ellen?'
'No!' with an astonished look, and a stolid countrified tone.
'So you don't think I'm clever enough! Well, suppose I try, and you set me right if I make mistakes. “How doth the great idle wasp--”'
'Busy bee!' cried the child, scandalized.
By wonderful blunders, and ingenious halts, he drew her into prompting him throughout, then exclaimed, 'There! you know it much better. I thought you were a clever little girl! Come, won't you say it once, and let me hear how well it sounds?'
She was actually flattered into repeating it perfectly.
'Very well. That's right. Now, don't you think you had better tell Miss Martindale you are sorry to have kept her all this time?'
She hung her head, and Theodora tried to give him a hint that the apology was by no means desired; but without regarding this, he continued, 'Do you know I am come from Turkey, and there are plenty of ladies there, who go out to walk with a sack over their heads, but I never saw one of them sit on a tombstone to hear a little girl say the Busy Bee. Should you like to live there?'
'Do you suppose Miss Martindale liked to sit among the nettles on old Farmer Middleton's tombstone?'
'Why did she do it then? Was it to plague you?'
'Cause I wouldn't say my hymn.'
'I wonder if it is not you that have been plaguing Miss Martindale all the time. Eh? Come, aren't you sorry you kept her sitting all this time among the nettles when she might have been walking to Colman's Weir, and gathering such fine codlings and cream as Mrs. Martindale has there, and all because you would not say a hymn that you knew quite well? Wasn't that a pity?'
'Yes,' and the eyes looked up ingenuously.
'Come and tell her you are sorry. Won't you? There, that's right,' and he dictated as she repeated after him, as if under a spell, 'I'm sorry, ma'am, that I was sulky and naughty; I'll say it next Sunday, and make no fuss.'
'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.
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