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- Henrietta's Wish - 5/48 -
"Mamma has been in mischief," said Fred. "She did not think herself knocked up enough already, so she has been doing it more thoroughly."
"Oh, mamma!" was Henrietta's reproachful exclamation, as she looked at her pale face and red swollen eyelids.
"Never mind, my dears," said she, trying to smile, "I shall be better now this is done, and I have it off my mind." They looked at her in anxious interrogation, and she smiled outright with lip and eye. "You will seal that letter with a good will, Henrietta," she said. "It is to ask Uncle Geoffrey to make inquiries about the Pleasance."
"Mamma!" and they stood transfixed at a decision beyond their hopes: then Henrietta exclaimed--
"No, no, mamma, it will be too much for you; you must not think of it."
"Yes," said Fred; "indeed we agreed this morning that it would be better not. Put it out of your head, mamma, and go on here in peace and comfort. I am sure it suits you best."
"Thank you, thank you, my dear ones," said she, drawing them towards her, and fondly kissing them, "but it is all settled, and I am sure it is better for you. It is but a dull life for you here."
"O no, no, no, dearest mamma: nothing can be dull with you," cried Henrietta, wishing most sincerely to undo her own work. "We are, indeed we are, as happy as the day is long. Do not fancy we are discontented; do not think we want a change."
Mrs. Langford replied by an arch though subdued smile.
"But we would not have you to do it on our account," said Fred. "Pray put it out of your head, for we do very well here, and it was only a passing fancy."
"You will not talk me out of it, my dears," said Mrs. Langford. "I know it is right, and it shall be done. It is only the making up my mind that was the struggle, and I shall look forward to it as much as either of you, when I know it is to be done. Now walk off, my dears, and do not let that letter be too late for the post."
"I do not half like it," said Fred, pausing at the door.
"I have not many fears on that score," said she, smiling. "No, do not be uneasy about me, my dear Fred, it is my proper place, and I must be happy there. I shall like to be near the Hall, and to see all the dear old places again."
"O, mamma, you cannot talk about them without your voice quivering," said Henrietta. "You do not know how I wish you would give it up!"
"Give it up! I would not for millions," said Mrs. Langford. "Now go, my dears, and perhaps I shall go to sleep again."
The spirits of the brother and sister did not just at first rise enough for rejoicing over the decision. Henrietta would willingly have kept back the letter, but this she could not do; and sealing it as if she were doing wrong, she sat down to dinner, feeling subdued and remorseful, something like a tyrant between the condemnation and execution of his victim. But by the time the first course was over, and she and Frederick had begun to recollect their long-cherished wishes, they made up their minds to be happy, and fell into their usual strain of admiration of the unknown haven of their hopes, and of expectations that it would in the end benefit their mother.
The next morning she was quite in her usual spirits, and affairs proceeded in the usual manner; Frederick's holidays came to an end, and he returned to school with many a fond lamentation from the mother and sister, but with cheerful auguries from both that the next meeting might be at Knight Sutton.
"Here, Henrietta," said her mother, as they sat at breakfast together a day or two after Frederick's departure, turning over to her the letter of which she had first broken the seal, while she proceeded to open some others. It was Uncle Geoffrey's writing, and Henrietta read eagerly:
"MY DEAR MARY,--I would not write till I could give you some positive information about the Pleasance, and that could not be done without a conference with Hardy, who was not at home. I am heartily glad that you think of coming among us again, but still I should like to feel certain that it is you that feel equal to it, and not the young ones who are set upon the plan. I suppose you will indignantly refute the charge, but you know I have never trusted you in that matter. However, we are too much the gainers to investigate motives closely, and I cannot but believe that the effort once over, you would find it a great comfort to be among your own people, and in your own country. I fully agree with you also in what you say of the advantage to Henrietta and Fred. My father is going to write, and I must leave him to do justice to his own cordiality, and proceed to business."
Then came the particulars of freehold and copyhold, purchase or lease, repair or disrepair, of which Henrietta knew nothing, and cared less; she knew that her mamma was considered a great heiress, and trusted to her wealth for putting all she pleased in her power: but it was rather alarming to recollect that Uncle Geoffrey would consider it right to make the best terms he could, and that the house might be lost to them while they were bargaining for it.
"O, mamma, never mind what he says about its being dear," said she, "I dare say it will not ruin us."
"Not exactly," said Mrs. Langford, smiling, "but gentlemen consider it a disgrace not to make a good bargain, and Uncle Geoffrey must be allowed to have his own way."
"O but, mamma, suppose some one else should take it."
"A village house is not like these summer lodgings, which are snapped up before you can look at them," said Mrs. Langford; "I have no fears but that it is to be had." But Henrietta could not help fancying that her mother would regard it somewhat as a reprieve, if the bargain was to go off independently of any determination of hers.
Still she had made up her mind to look cheerfully at the scheme, and often talked of it with pleasure, to which the cordial and affectionate letters of her father-in-law and the rest of the family, conduced not a little. She now fully perceived that it had only been from forbearance, that they had not before urged her return, and as she saw how earnestly it was desired by Mr. and Mrs. Langford, reproached herself as for a weakness for not having sooner resolved upon her present step. Henrietta's work was rather to keep up her spirits at the prospect, than to prevent her from changing her purpose, which never altered, respecting a return to the neighbourhood of Knight Sutton, though whether to the house of the tempting name, was a question which remained in agitation during the rest of the autumn, for as surely as Rome was not built in a day, so surely cannot a house be bought or sold in a day, especially when a clever and cautious lawyer acts for one party.
Matters thus dragged on, till the space before the Christmas holidays was reckoned by weeks, instead of months, and as Mrs. Frederick Langford laughingly said, she should be fairly ashamed to meet her boy again at their present home. She therefore easily allowed herself to be persuaded to accept Mr. Langford's invitation to take up her quarters at the Hall, and look about her a little before finally deciding upon the Pleasance. Christmas at Knight Sutton Hall had the greatest charms in the eyes of Henrietta and Frederick; for many a time had they listened to the descriptions given con amore by Beatrice Langford, to whom that place had ever been a home, perhaps the more beloved, because the other half of her life was spent in London.
It was a great disappointment, however, to hear that Mrs. Geoffrey Langford was likely to be detained in London by the state of health of her aunt, Lady Susan St. Leger, whom she did not like to leave, while no other of the family was at hand. This was a cruel stroke, but she could not bear that her husband should miss his yearly holiday, her daughter lose the pleasure of a fortnight with Henrietta, or Mr. and Mrs. Langford be deprived of the visit of their favourite son: and she therefore arranged to go and stay with Lady Susan, while Beatrice and her father went as usual to Knight Sutton.
Mr. Geoffrey Langford offered to escort his sister-in-law from Devonshire, but she did not like his holidays to be so wasted. She had no merely personal apprehensions, and new as railroads were to her, declared herself perfectly willing and able to manage with no companions but her daughter and maid, with whom she was to travel to his house in London, there to be met in a day or two by the two school- boys, Frederick and his cousin Alexander, and then proceed all together to Knight Sutton.
Henrietta could scarcely believe that the long-wished-for time was really come, packing up actually commencing, and that her waking would find her under a different roof from that which she had never left. She did not know till now that she had any attachments to the place she had hitherto believed utterly devoid of all interest; but she found she could not bid it farewell without sorrow. There was the old boatman with his rough kindly courtesy, and his droll ways of speaking; there was the rocky beach where she and her brother had often played on the verge of the ocean, watching with mysterious awe or sportive delight the ripple of the advancing waves, the glorious sea itself, the walks, the woods, streams, and rocks, which she now believed, as mamma and Uncle Geoffrey had often told her, were more beautiful than anything she was likely to find in Sussex. Other scenes there were, connected with her grandmother, which she grieved much at parting with, but she shunned talking over her regrets, lest she should agitate her mother, whom she watched with great anxiety.
She was glad that so much business was on her hands, as to leave little time for dwelling on her feelings, to which she attributed the calm quietness with which she went through the few trying days that immediately preceded their departure. Henrietta felt this constant employment so great a relief to her own spirits, that she was sorry on her own account, as well as her mother's, when every possible order had been given, every box packed, and nothing was to be done, but to sit opposite to each other, on each side of the fire, in the idleness which precedes candle-light. Her mother leant back in silence, and she watched her with an anxious gaze. She feared to say anything of sympathy with what she supposed her feeling, lest she should make her weep. An indifferent speech would be out of place even if Henrietta herself could have made it, and yet to remain silent was to allow melancholy thoughts to prey upon her. So thought the daughter, longing at the same time that her persuasions were all unsaid.
"Come here, my dear child," said her mother presently, and Henrietta almost started at the calmness of the voice, and the serenity of the tranquil countenance. She crossed to her mother, and sat down on a low
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