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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 60/144 -
So sweet was the manner, so kind the welcome, and so pretty the solicitude for her comfort, that pride and prejudice had much difficulty in maintaining themselves. But Theodora thought that she did not like blandishments, and she was angry at the sensation of being in the inferior situation of Violet's guest, at a moment of its being so signally shown that she could not permit Arthur to enjoy himself without her. To get home again as fast as possible was her resolution, as she merely unpacked the articles for immediate use, and after a hasty toilette, returned to the drawing-room.
Arthur and Violet were in earnest conversation. She fancied herself an interruption, and did not second their attempts to make it general. Violet had received a letter from John, and was offering it to Arthur, who only yawned.
'Five sheets! He writes an abominably small hand! You may tell me what it is about. Niggers and humming-birds and such cattle, I suppose.'
'He has been to see the bishop. He wants a chaplain to live in the house with him to teach the negroes, and have the church when it is built.'
'No chance of his coming home, then ?'
'No, he is so well and busy. Percy Fotheringham is to send out some plans for the church--and only think! he has told Percy to come and ask me about Mr. Fanshawe--don't you remember him?'
'The curate at the chapel at Wrangerton?'
'I once told John of his wish for missionary work, so Percy is to see about it, and if it will do, send him to Lord Martindale. Percy called yesterday, but I could not see him; indeed, I had not time to read my letter; and oh, Theodora, I am so glad you are come, for he wants all manner of infant school pictures and books for the picaninnies, and it is just the commission you understand.'
The hearing of John's letter read, so far from mollifying Theodora, renewed the other grievance. At home, it was only by chance that she heard of her eldest brother's plans, even when matured and submitted to his father; and she now found that they were discussed from the first with Violet, almost requiring her approval. The confidential ease and flow made it seem unlike John's composition, used as Theodora was to hear only such letters of his as would bear unfriendly inspection, entertaining, but like a book of travels. It was a fresh injury to discover that he had a style from his heart.
Theodora was in a mood to search for subjects of disapproval, but the cheerful rooms, and even the extemporized dinner, afforded her none; the only cause of irritation she could find was Arthur's anxiety when the lamplight revealed Violet's pale exhausted looks. She had forgotten her fatigue as long as there was anything to be done, and the delight of the arrival had driven it away; but it now became evident that Arthur was uneasy. Theodora was gloomy, and not responding to her languid attempts at conversation, thinking there was affectation in her worn-out plaintive voice.
As soon as the tedious dinner was over, Arthur insisted on her going at once to bed, without listening to her entreaties that, as it was Theodora's first evening, she might lie on the sofa and hear them talk. She turned back at the door to tell Theodora that there was a new review on the table, with something in it she would like to read, and then let Arthur take her up-stairs.
'Ah!' thought Theodora, 'tormenting him about the child does not suffice--she must be ill herself! It is even beyond what I expected. When she had brought him home she might have let him have his evening in peace; but I suppose she is displeased at my coming, and won't let him stay with me. She will keep him in attendance all the evening, so I may as well see what books she has got. "The West Indies"; "The Crusaders"--of course! "Geoffroi de Villechardouin"--Percy's name in it. Where's this review? Some puff, I suppose. Yes, now if I was a silly young lady, how much I should make of Percy because he has made a good hit, and is a literary lion; but he shall see the world makes no difference to me. I thought the book good in manuscript; and all the critics in the country won't make me think a bit better of it or of its author. However, I'll just see what nonsense they talk till she chooses to release Arthur.'
What would have been her displeasure if she had known that Arthur was lingering up-stairs giving his wife a ludicrous version of her adventure with Mr. Wingfield!
After a time the drawing-room door opened, but she did not heed it, meaning to be distant and indifferent; but a browner, harder hand than Arthur's was put down on the book before her, and an unexpected voice said, 'Detected!'
'Percy! Oh, how are you?' she exclaimed.
'I am very glad you are come; I came to inquire at the door, and they told me that you were here. How is she, poor thing?'
'She is gone to bed; Arthur thinks her knocked up.'
'It is well he is come; I was much concerned at her being alone yesterday. So little Johnnie is better?'
'Like Mother Hubbard's dog.'
'The croup is no joke,' said Percy, gravely.
'Then you think there was really something in it?'
'Why, what do you mean? Do you think it was humbug?'
'Not at all; but it was such a terrific account, and alarmed poor Arthur so much, that it gave one rather a revulsion of feeling to hear her laughing.'
'I am very glad she could laugh.'
'Well, but don't you think, Percy, that innocently, perhaps, she magnified a little alarm?'
'You would not speak of little alarms if you had seen Harding this morning. I met him just coming away after a fearful night. The child was in the utmost danger, but his mother's calmness and presence of mind never failed. But I'll say no more, for the sound wholesome atmosphere of this house must cure you of your prejudices.'
Arthur came down dispirited; and Percy, who had thought him an indifferent father, was pleased with him, and set himself to cheer his spirits, seconded by Theodora, who was really penitent.
She could not be at peace with herself till she had made some amends; and when she had wished her brother good night, found her way to the nursery, where her old friend Sarah sat, keeping solemn watch over the little cot by the fire. One of her sepulchral whispers assured the aunt that he was doing nicely, but the thin white little face, and spare hand and arm, grieved Theodora's heart, and with no incredulity she listened to Sarah's description of the poor little fellow's troubles and sweet unconscious patience, and that perfect trust in his mother that always soothed and quieted him. It appeared that many nights had been spent in broken rest, and for the last two neither mother nor nurse had undressed. Sarah was extremely concerned for her mistress, who, she said, was far from strong, and she feared would be made as ill as she was last year, and if so, nothing could save her. This made Theodora feel as if she had been positively cruel, and she was the more bent on reparation. She told Sarah she must be over-tired, and was told, as if it was a satisfactory answer, that Mrs. Martindale had wished her to go to bed at six this morning. However, her eyes looked extinguished, and Theodora, by the fascinating manner she often exercised with inferiors, at last persuaded her to lie down in her clothes, and leave her to keep watch.
It was comfortable to hear the deep breathings of the weary servant, and to sit by that little cot, sensible of being for once of substantial use, and meaning that no one ever should know it. But she was again disconcerted; for the stairs creaked, the door was softly opened, and Arthur stood on the threshold. The colour mantled into her face, as if she had been doing wrong.
'The poor maid is worn out; I am come for the first part of the night,' she said, in a would-be cold whisper. But his smile and low- toned 'Thank you,' were so different from all she had ever known from him, that she could hardly maintain her attempt at impassibility.
'I thought Violet would sleep better for the last news,' said he, kneeling on one knee to look at the child, his face so softened and thoughtful that it was hardly like the same; but recovering, he gave a broad careless smile, together with a sigh: 'Little monkey,' he said, 'he gets hold of one somehow--I wish he may have got through it. Theodora, I hope you will have no alarms. Violet will take it very kind of you.'
'Oh, don't tell her.'
'Good night,' and he leaned over her and kissed her forehead, in a grave grateful way that brought the tears into her eyes as he silently departed.
Her vigil was full of thoughts, and not unprofitable ones. Her best feelings were stirred up, and she could not see Arthur, in this new light, without tenderness untainted by jealousy. Percy had brought her to a sense of her injustice--this was the small end of the wedge, and the discovery of the real state of things was another blow. While watching the placid sleep of the child, it was not easy to harden herself against its mother; and after that first relenting and acknowledgment, the flood of honest warm strong feeling was in a way to burst the barrier of haughtiness, and carry her on further than she by any means anticipated. The baby slept quietly, and the clock had struck two before his first turn on the pillow wakened Sarah, though a thunder-clap would not have broken her slumber. She was at his cradle before he had opened his eyes, and feeding and fondling hushed his weak cry before it had disturbed his mother. Theodora went to her room on good terms with herself.
She had never allowed late hours to prevent her from going to the early service, and as she left her room prepared for it, she met Violet coming out of the nursery. Theodora for once did not attempt to disguise her warmth of heart, and eagerly asked for the little boy.
'Quite comfortable--almost merry,' answered Violet, and taking the hand stretched out in a very different way from the formal touch with which it usually paid its morning greeting, and raising her eyes with
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