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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 8/144 -
you can, for much depends on it. My aunt brought my mother up, and is complete master here. I can't think how my father'--and he went on talking to himself, as he retreated into his dressing-room, so that all Violet heard was, 'wife's relations,' and 'take warning.'
He came back to inspect her toilette and suggest adornments, till, finding he was overdoing them, he let her follow her own taste, and was so satisfied with the result, that he led her before the glass, saying, 'There. Mrs. Martindale, that's what I call well got up. Don't you?'
'I don't mind seeing myself when I have you to look at.'
'You think we make a handsome couple? Well, I am glad you are tall-- not much shorter than Theodora, after all.'
'But, oh! how shall I behave properly all dinner-time? Do make a sign if I am doing anything wrong.'
'I know I shall make mistakes. Matilda says I shall. I had a letter from her this morning to warn me against "solecisms in etiquette," and to tell me to buy the number of the "Family Friend" about dinner- parties, but I had not time, and I am sure I shall do wrong.'
'You would be much more likely, if you had Matilda and her prig of a book,' said Arthur, between anger and diversion. 'Tell her to mind her own business--she is not your mistress now, and she shall not teach you affectation. Why, you silly child, should I have had you if you had not been "proper behaved"? You have nothing to do but to remember you are my wife, and as good as any of them, besides being twenty times prettier. Now, are you ready?'
'Yes, quite; but how shall I find my way here again?'
'See, it is the third door from the stairs. The rest on this side are spare rooms, except where you see those two green baize doors at the ends. They lead to passages, the wings on the garden side. In this one my aunt's rooms are, and Miss Piper, her white nigger, and the other is Theodora's.'
'And all these opposite doors?'
'Those four belong to my father and mother; these two are John's. His sitting-room is the best in the house. The place is altogether too big for comfort. Our little parlour at Winchester was twice as snug as that overgrown drawing-room down-stairs.'
'Dear little room! I hope we may go back to it. But what a view from this end window! That avenue is the most beautiful thing I have seen yet. It looks much older than the house.'
'It is. My father built the house, but we were an old county family long before. The old Admiral, the first lord, had the peerage settled on my father, who was his nephew and head of the family, and he and my Aunt Nesbit having been old friends in the West Indies, met at Bath, and cooked up the match. He wanted a fortune for his nephew, and she wanted a coronet for her niece! I can't think how she came to be satisfied with a trumpery Irish one. You stare, Violet; but that is my aunt's notion of managing, and the way she meant to deal with all of us. She has monstrous hoards of her own, which she thinks give her a right to rule. She has always given out that she meant the chief of them for me, and treated me accordingly, but I am afraid she has got into a desperately bad temper now, and we must get her out of it as best we can.'
This not very encouraging speech was made as they stood looking from the gallery window. Some one came near, and Violet started. It was a very fashionably-dressed personage, who, making a sort of patronizing sweeping bend, said, 'I was just about to send a person to assist Mrs. Martindale. I hope you will ring whenever you require anything. The under lady's maid will be most happy to attend you.'
'There,' said Arthur, as the lady passed on, 'that is the greatest person in the house, hardly excepting my aunt. That is Miss Altisidora Standaloft, her ladyship's own maid.'
Violet's feelings might somewhat resemble those of the Emperor Julian when he sent for a barber, and there came a count of the empire.
'She must have wanted to look at you,' proceeded Arthur, 'or she would never have treated us with such affability. But come along, here is Theodora's room.'
It was a cheerful apartment, hung with prints, with somewhat of a school-room aspect, and in much disorder. Books and music lay confused with blue and lilac cottons, patterns, scissors, and papers covered with mysterious dots; there were odd-looking glass bottles on the mantel-shelf with odder looking things in them, and saucers holding what Violet, at home, would have called messes; the straw-bonnet lay on the floor, and beside it the Scotch terrier, who curled up his lips, showed his white teeth, and greeted the invaders with a growl, which became a bark as Arthur snapped his fingers at him. 'Ha! Skylark, that is bad manners. Where's your mistress? Theodora!'
At the call, the door of the inner room opened, but only a little dark damsel appeared, saying, in a French accent, that Miss Martindale was gone to Miss Gardner's room.
'Is Miss Gardner here?' exclaimed Arthur.
'She is arrived about half an hour ago,' was the reply. Arthur uttered an impatient interjection, and Violet begged to know who Miss Gardner was.
'A great friend of Theodora's. I wish she would have kept further off just now, not that she is not a good-natured agreeable person enough, but I hate having strangers here. There will be no good to be got out of Theodora now! There are two sisters always going about staying at places, the only girls Theodora ever cared for; and just now, Georgina, the youngest, who used to be a wild fly-away girl, just such as Theodora herself, has gone and married one Finch, a miserly old rogue, that scraped up a huge fortune in South America, and is come home old enough for her grandfather. What should possess Theodora to bring Jane here now? I thought she would never have forgiven them. But we may as well come down. Here's the staircase for use and comfort.'
'And here is the hall! Oh !' cried Violet, springing towards it, 'this really is the Dying Gladiator. Just like the one at Wrangerton!'
'What else should he be like!' said Arthur, laughing. 'Every one who keeps a preserve of statues has the same.'
She would have liked to linger, recognizing her old friends, and studying this museum of wonders, inlaid marble tables, cases of stuffed humming birds, and stands of hot-house plants, but Arthur hurried her on, saying it was very ill-contrived, a draught straight through it, so that nothing warmed it. He opened doors, giving her a moment's glimpse of yellow satin, gilding and pictures, in the saloon, which was next to the drawing-room where she had been received, and beyond it the dining- room. Opposite, were the billiard-room, a library, and Lord Martindale s study; and 'Here,' said he, 'is where Theodora and I keep our goods. Ha!' as he entered, 'you here, Theodora! Hallo! what's this? A lot of wooden benches with their heels in the air. How is this? Have you been setting up a charity school in my room?'
'I found the children by the wood were too far from school, so I have been teaching them here. I came to see about taking the benches out of your way. I did not expect you here.'
'I was showing her our haunts. See, Violet, here's my double barrel, and here are the bows. I forget if you can shoot.'
'Matilda and Caroline do.'
'You shall learn. We will have the targets out. Where's the light bow you used to shoot with, Theodora?'
'It is somewhere,' said Theodora, without alacrity; 'no, I remember, I gave it to Mr. Wingfield's little nephew.'
'Unlucky! Yours will never do for those little fingers.' Theodora abruptly turned to Violet, and said,' She must be tired of standing there.' Violet smiled with pleasure at being addressed, thanked, and disclaimed fatigue.
'She is of your sort, and does not know how to be tired,' said Arthur. 'I wondered to hear your bosom friend was here. What brings her about now?'
'If you call her my bosom friend, you answer the question,' was the proud reply, and it provoked him to carry on the teasing process.
'I thought she was not THE friend,' he continued; 'I ought to have congratulated you on THE friend's capture. A goldfinch of the South American breed is a rare bird.'
Theodora drew up her head, and impetuously heaped some school-books together. 'Have you seen the pretty caged bird?'
In a soft tone, contrasting with the manner of his last sayings, Arthur invited his wife to come out on the lawn, and walked away with her. She was surprised and uneasy at what had taken place, but could not understand it, and only perceived he would prefer her not seeming to notice it.
It was all the strange influence of temper. In truth, Theodora's whole heart was yearning to the brother, whom she loved beyond all others; while on the other hand his home attachments centred on her, and he had come to seek her with the fixed purpose of gaining her good-will and protection for his young bride. But temper stepped between. Whether it began from Theodora's jealousy of the stranger, or from his annoyance at her cold haughty manner to his wife, he was vexed, and retaliated by teasing; she answered coldly, in proud suffering at being taunted on a subject which gave her much pain, and then was keenly hurt at his tone and way of leaving her, though in fact she was driving him away. She stood leaning against a pillar in the hall, looking after him with eyes brimming with tears; but on hearing a step approach, she subdued all signs of emotion, and composedly met the eye of her eldest brother. She could not brook that any one should see her grief, and she was in no mood for his first sentences: 'What are you looking at?' and seeing the pair standing by the fountain, 'Well, you don't think I said too much in her favour?'
'She is very pretty,' said Theodora, as if making an admission.
'It is a very sweet expression. Even as a stranger, it would be impossible not to be interested in her, if only for the sake of her
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