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- Henrietta's Wish - 4/48 -
"O, Uncle Geoffrey! dear good Uncle Geoffrey," cried Henrietta, in an ecstasy; "you were as delightful as a knight of old, only as you could not fight tournaments for her, you were obliged to read for her; and pining away all the time and saying nothing about it."
"Nothing beyond a demure inquiry of me when we were alone together, after the health of the General. Well, you know how well his reading succeeded; he took a double first class, and very proud of him we were."
"And still he saw nothing of her," said Fred.
"Not till some time after he had been settled in his chambers at the Temple. Now you must know that General St. Leger, though in most matters a wise man, was not by any means so in money matters: and by some unlucky speculation which was to have doubled his daughter's fortune, managed to lose the whole of it, leaving little but his pay."
"Capital!" cried Frederick, "that brings her down to him."
"So it did," said his mother, smiling; "but the spectators did not rejoice quite so heartily as you do. The general's health was failing, and it was hard to think what would become of Beatrice; for Lord St. Leger's family, though very kind, were not more congenial than they are now. As soon as all this was pretty well known, Geoffrey spoke, and the general, who was very fond of him, gave full consent. They meant to wait until it was prudent, of course, and were well contented; but just after it was all settled, the general had a sudden seizure, and died. Geoffrey was with him, and he treated him like a son, saying it was his great comfort to know that her happiness was in his hands. Poor Beatrice, she went first to the St. Legers, stayed with them two or three months, then I would have her to be my bridesmaid, though"-- and Mrs. Langford tried to smile, while again she strangled a sobbing sigh--"she warned me that her mourning was a bad omen. Well, she stayed with my mother while we went abroad, and on our return went with us to be introduced at Knight Sutton. Everybody was charmed, Mrs. Langford and Aunt Roger had expected a fine lady or a blue one, but they soon learnt to believe all her gaiety and all her cleverness a mere calumny, and grandpapa was delighted with her the first moment. How well I remember Geoffrey's coming home and thanking us for having managed so well as to make her like one of the family, while the truth was that she had fitted herself in, and found her place from the first moment. Now came a time of grave private conferences. A long engagement which might have been very well if the general had lived, was a dreary prospect now that Beatrice was without a home; but then your uncle was but just called to the bar, and had next to nothing of his own, present or to come. However, he had begun his literary works, and found them answer so well, that he believed he could maintain himself till briefs came in, and he had the sort of talent which gives confidence. He thought, too, that even in the event of his death she would be better off as one of us, than as a dependent on the St. Legers; and at last by talking to us, he nearly persuaded himself to believe it would be a very prudent thing to marry. It was a harder matter to persuade his father, but persuade him he did, and the wedding was at Knight Sutton that very summer."
"That's right," cried Fred, "excellent and glorious! A farthing for all the St. Legers put together."
"Nevertheless, Fred, in spite of your disdain, we were all of opinion that it was a matter of rejoicing that Lord St. Leger and Lady Amelia were present, so that no one had any reason to say that they disapproved. Moreover, lest you should learn imprudence from my story, I would also suggest that if your uncle and aunt had not been a couple comme il-y-en a peu, it would neither have been excellent nor glorious."
"Why, they are very well off," said Fred; "he is quite at the head of his profession. The first thing a fellow asks me when he hears my name is, if I belong to Langford the barrister."
"Yes, but he never would have been eminent, scarcely have had daily bread, if he had not worked fearfully hard, so hard that without the buoyant school-boy spirit, which can turn from the hardest toil like a child to its play, his health could never have stood it."
"But then it has been success and triumph," said Fred; "one could work like a galley-slave with encouragement, and never feel it drudgery."
"It was not all success at first," said his mother; "there was hard work, and disappointment, and heavy sorrow too; but they knew how to bear it, and to win through with it."
"And were they very poor?" asked Henrietta.
"Yes: but it was beautiful to see how she accommodated herself to it. The house that once looked dingy and desolate, was very soon pretty and cheerful, and the wirtschaft so well ordered and economical, that Aunt Roger was struck dumb with admiration. I shall not forget Lady Susan's visit the last morning we spent with her in London, how amazed she was to find 'poor Beatrice' looking so bright and like herself, and how little she guessed at her morning's work, the study of shirt-making, and the copying out a review of her husband's, full of Greek quotations."
"Well, the poverty is all over now," said Henrietta; "but still they live in a very quiet way, considering Aunt Geoffrey's connexions and the fortune he has made."
"Who put that notion into your head, my wise daughter?" said Mrs. Langford.
Henrietta blushed, laughed, and mentioned Lady Matilda St. Leger, a cousin of her aunt Geoffrey's of whom she had seen something in the last year.
"The truth is," said Mrs. Langford, "that your aunt had display and luxury enough in her youth to value it as it deserves, and he could not desire it except for her sake. They had rather give with a free hand, beyond what any one knows or suspects."
"Ah! I know among other things that he sends Alexander to school," said Fred.
"Yes, and the improvements at Knight Sutton," said Henrietta, "the school, and all that grandpapa wished but could never afford. Well, mamma, if you made the match, you deserve to be congratulated on your work."
"There's nobody like Uncle Geoffrey, I have said, and shall always maintain," said Fred.
His mother sighed, saying, "I don't know what we should have done without him!" and became silent. Henrietta saw an expression on her countenance which made her unwilling to disturb her, and nothing more was said till it was discovered that it was bed time.
"Where is Madame?" asked Frederick of his sister, as she entered the breakfast room alone the next morning with the key of the tea-chest in her hand.
"A headache," answered Henrietta, "and a palpitation."
"A bad one?"
"Yes, very; and I am afraid it is our fault, Freddy; I am convinced it will not do, and we must give it up."
"How do you mean? The going to Knight Sutton? What has that to do with it? Is it the reviving old recollections that is too much for her?"
"Just listen what an effect last evening's conversation had upon her. Last night, after I had been asleep a long time, I woke up, and there I saw her kneeling before the table with her hands over her face. Just then it struck one, and soon after she got into bed. I did not let her know I was awake, for speaking would only have made it worse, but I am sure she did not sleep all night, and this morning she had one of her most uncomfortable fits of palpitation. She had just fallen asleep, when I looked in after dressing, but I do not think she will be fit to come down to-day."
"And do you think it was talking of Uncle and Aunt Geoffrey that brought it on?" said Fred, with much concern; "yet it did not seem to have much to do with my father."
"O but it must," said Henrietta. "He must have been there all the time mixed up in everything. Queen Bee has told me how they were always together when they were children."
"Ah! perhaps; and I noticed how she spoke about her wedding," said Fred. "Yes, and to compare how differently it has turned out with Aunt Geoffrey and with her, after they had been young and happy together. Yes, no doubt it was he who persuaded the people at Knight Sutton into letting them marry!"
"And their sorrow that she spoke of must have been his death," said Henrietta. "No doubt the going over those old times renewed all those thoughts."
"And you think going to Knight Sutton might have the same effect. Well, I suppose we must give it up," said Fred, with a sigh. "After all, we can be very happy here!"
"O yes! that we can. It is more on your account than mine, that I wished it," said the sister.
"And I should not have thought so much of it, if I had not thought it would be pleasanter for you when I am away," said Fred.
"And so," said Henrietta, laughing yet sighing, "we agree to persuade each other that we don't care about it."
Fred performed a grimace, and remarked that if Henrietta continued to make her tea so scalding, there would soon be a verdict against her of fratricide; but the observation, being intended to conceal certain feelings of disappointment and heroism, only led to silence.
After sleeping for some hours, Mrs. Langford awoke refreshed, and got up, but did not leave her room. Frederick and Henrietta went to take a walk by her desire, as she declared that she preferred being alone, and on their return they found her lying on the sofa.
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