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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 70/144 -
When Arthur went with his regiment to Windsor, the ladies intended to spend their evenings at home, a rule which had many exceptions, although Violet was so liable to suffer from late hours and crowded rooms, that Lady Elizabeth begged her to abstain from parties, and offered more than once to take charge of Theodora; but the reply always was that they went out very little, and that this once it would not hurt her.
The truth was that Theodora had expressed a decided aversion to going out with the Brandons. 'Lady Elizabeth sits down in the most stupid part of the room,' she said, 'and Emma stands by her side with the air of a martyr. They look like a pair of respectable country cousins set down all astray, wishing for a safe corner to run into, and wondering at the great and wicked world. And they go away inhumanly early, whereas if I do have the trouble of dressing, it shall not be for nothing. I ingeniously eluded all going out with them last year, and a great mercy it was to them.'
So going to a royal ball was all Theodora vouchsafed to do under Lady Elizabeth's protection; and as her objections could not be disclosed, Violet was obliged to leave it to be supposed that it was for her own gratification that she always accompanied her; although not only was the exertion and the subsequent fatigue a severe tax on her strength, but she was often uneasy and distressed by Theodora's conduct. Her habits in company had not been materially changed by her engagement; she was still bent on being the first object, and Violet sometimes felt that her manner was hardly fair upon those who were ignorant of her circumstances. For Theodora's own sake, it was unpleasant to see her in conversation with Mr. Gardner; and not only on her account, but on that of Lord St. Erme, was her uncertain treatment of him a vexation to Violet.
Violet, to whom Theodora's lovers were wont to turn when suffering from her caprice, was on very friendly terms with the young Earl. He used to come and stand by her, and talk to her about Wrangerton, and seemed quite amused and edified by her quiet enthusiasm for it, and for Helvellyn, and her intimacy with all the pictures which he had sent home and almost forgotten. His sister was another favourite theme; she was many years younger than himself, and not yet come out; but he was very desirous of introducing her to Mrs. and Miss Martindale; and Violet, who had heard of Lady Lucy all her life, was much pleased when a day was fixed for a quiet dinner at Mrs. Delaval's, the aunt with whom she lived. How Mrs. Moss would enjoy hearing of it!
The day before was one of the first hot days of summer, and Violet was so languid that she looked forward with dread to the evening, when they were to go to a soiree at Mrs. Bryanstone's, and she lay nursing herself, wishing for any pretence for declining it. Theodora coming in, declared that her going was out of the question; but added, 'Georgina Finch is to be there, she will call for me.'
'I shall be better when the heat of the day is over.'
'So you may, but you shall not go for all that. You know Arthur is coming home; and you must save yourself for your Delavals to-morrow.'
'I thank you, but only'--she hesitated--'if only you would be so kind as to go with Lady Elizabeth.'
'I will manage for myself, thank you. I shall not think of seeing you go out to-night. Why, I went out continually with Georgina last summer'--as she saw Violets look of disappointment.
'Yes, but all is not the same now.'
'The same in effect. I am not going to attend to nonsensical gossip. Georgina is what she was then, and the same is right for me now as was right last year. I am not going to turn against her--'
'But, Theodora,' said Violet's weak voice, 'Percy said he hoped you never would go out with her; and I said you never should, if I could help it.'
Never was Theodora more incensed than on hearing that Percy and this young girl had been arranging a check on her actions, and she was the more bent on defiance.
'Percy has nothing to do with it,' she began; but she was interrupted by a message to know whether Lady Elizabeth Brandon might see Mrs. Martindale.
Her entrance strengthened Theodora's hands, and she made an instant appeal to her, to enforce on Violet the necessity of resting that evening. Lady Elizabeth fully assented, and at once asked Theodora to join her.
'I thank you, I have another arrangement,' she said, reckless of those entreating eyes; 'I am to go with Mrs. Finch.'
'And I believe I shall be quite well enough by and by,' said Violet.
'My dear, it is not to be thought of for you.'
'Yes, Lady Elizabeth, I trust her to you to make her hear reason,' said Theodora. 'I shall leave her to you.'
Poor Violet, already in sufficient dread of the evening, was obliged to endure a reiteration of all its possible consequences. Lady Elizabeth was positively grieved and amazed to find her, as she thought, resolutely set upon gaieties, at all risks, and spared no argument that could alarm her into remaining quietly at home, even assuring her that it was her duty not to endanger herself for the sake of a little excitement or amusement. Violet could only shut her eyes to restrain the burning tears, and listen, without one word in vindication, until Lady Elizabeth had exhausted her rhetoric, and, rising, with some coolness told her she still hoped that she would think better of it, but that she wished her husband was at home.
Violet would fain have hid her face in her good friend's bosom, and poured out her griefs, but she could only feel that she was forfeiting for ever the esteem of one she loved so much. She held out, however. Not till the door had closed did she relax her restraint on herself, and give way to the overwhelming tears. Helpless, frightened, perplexed, forced into doing what might be fatal to her! and every one, even Arthur, likely to blame her! The burst of weeping was as terrified, as violent, as despairing as those of last year.
But she was not, as then, inconsolable; and as the first agitation spent itself she resumed her self-command, checked her sobs by broken sentences of prayer, growing fuller and clearer, then again soft and misty, till she fairly cried herself to sleep.
She slept only for a short interval, but it had brought back her composure, and she was able to frame a prayer to be directed to do right and be guarded from harm; and then to turn her mind steadily to the decision. It was her duty, as long as it was in her power, to be with her husband's sister, and guard her from lowering herself by her associates. She was bound by her promise to Percy, and she could only trust that no harm would ensue.
'If it should,' thought poor Violet, 'I may honestly hope it is in the way of what I believe my duty; so it would be a cross, and I should be helped under it. And if the Brandons blame me--that is a cross again. Suppose I was to be as ill again as I was before-- suppose I should not get through it--Oh! then I could not bear to have wilfully neglected a duty! And the next party? Oh! no need for thinking of that! I must only take thought for the day.'
And soon again she slept.
Theodora had gone out so entirely convinced that Violet would relinquish her intention, that, meeting Mrs. Finch, she arranged to be taken up at eleven o'clock.
On returning home she heard that Mrs. Martindale was asleep; and, as they had dined early, she drank coffee in her own room, and read with the Brogden girl, as part of her system of compensation, intending to spare further discussion by seeing Violet no more that night. She proceeded to dress her hair--not as helplessly as at first, for the lessons had not been without fruit; but to-night nothing had a good effect. Not being positively handsome, her good looks depended on colour, dress, and light; and the dislike to failure, and the desire to command attention, made it irritating to find her hair obstinate and her ornaments unbecoming; and she was in no placid state when Violet entered the room, ready dressed.
'Violet! This is too foolish!'
'I am a great deal better now, thank you.'
'But I have settled it with Georgina; she is coming to call for me.'
'This is not out of her way; it will make no difference to her.'
'But, Violet, I will not let you go; Arthur would not allow it. You are not fit for it.'
'Yes, thank you, I believe I am.'
'You believe! It is very ridiculous of you to venture when you only believe,' said Theodora, never imagining that those mild weary tones could withstand her for a moment. 'Stay at home and rest. You know Arthur may come at any time.'
'I mean to go, if you please; I know I ought.'
'Then remember, if you are ill, it is your fault, not mine.'
Violet attempted a meek smile.
Theodora could only show her annoyance by impatience with her toilette. Her sister tried to help her; but nothing suited nothing pleased her--all was untoward; and at last Violet said, 'Is Percy to be there?'
'Not a chance of it. What made you think so?'
'Because you care so much.'
Somehow, that saying stung her to the quick, and the more because it was so innocently spoken.
'I do not care,' she said. 'You are so simple, Violet, you fancy all courtships must be like your own. One can't spend six years like six weeks.'
The colour rushed painfully into Violet's face, and she quitted the
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