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- Henrietta's Wish - 6/48 -
footstool, leaning against her. "You are very much afraid for me," continued Mrs. Langford, as she remarked upon the anxious expression of her face, far different from her own, "but you need not fear, it is all well with me; it would be wrong not to be thankful for those who are not really lost to me as well as for those who were given to me here."
All Henrietta's consideration for her mother could not prevent her from bursting into tears. "O mamma, I did not know it would be so like going away from dear grandmamma."
"Try to feel the truth, my dear, that our being near to her depends on whether we are in our duty or not."
"Yes, yes, but this place is so full of her! I do so love it! I did not know it till now!"
"Yes, we must always love it, my dear child; but we are going to our home, Henrietta, to your father's home in life and death, and it must be good for us to be there. With your grandfather, who has wished for us. Knight Sutton is our true home, the one where it is right for us to be."
Henrietta still wept bitterly, and strange it was that it should be she who stood in need of consolation, for the fulfilment of her own most ardent wish, and from the very person to whom it was the greatest trial. It was not, however, self-reproach that caused her tears, that her mother's calmness prevented her from feeling, but only attachment to the place she was about to leave, and the recollections, which she accused herself of having slighted. Her mother, who had made up her mind to do what was right, found strength and peace at the moment of trial, when the wayward and untrained spirits of the daughter gave way. Not that she blamed Henrietta, she was rather gratified to find that she was so much attached to her home and her grandmother, and felt so much with her; and after she had succeeded in some degree in restoring her to composure, they talked long and earnestly over old times and deeper feelings.
The journey to London was prosperously performed, and Mrs. Frederick Langford was not overfatigued when she arrived at Uncle Geoffrey's house at Westminster. The cordiality of their greeting may be imagined, as a visit from Henrietta had been one of the favourite visions of her cousin Beatrice, through her whole life; and the two girls were soon deep in the delights of a conversation in which sense and nonsense had an equal share.
The next day was spent by the two Mrs. Langfords in quiet together, while Henrietta was conducted through a rapid whirl of sight-seeing by Beatrice and Uncle Geoffrey, the latter of whom, to his niece's great amazement, professed to find almost as much novelty in the sights as she did. A short December day, though not what they would have chosen, had this advantage, that the victim could not be as completely fagged and worn out as in a summer's day, and Henrietta was still fresh and in high spirits when they drove home and found to their delight that the two schoolboys had already arrived.
Beatrice met both alike as old friends and almost brothers, but Alexander, though returning her greeting with equal cordiality, looked shyly at the new aunt and cousin, and as Henrietta suspected, wished them elsewhere. She had heard much of him from Beatrice, and knew that her brother regarded him as a formidable rival; and she was therefore surprised to see that his broad honest face expressed more good humour than intellect, and his manners wanted polish. He was tolerably well- featured, with light eyes and dark hair, and though half a year older than his cousin, was much shorter, more perhaps in appearance than reality, from the breadth and squareness of his shoulders, and from not carrying himself well.
Alexander was, as ought previously to have been recorded, the third son of Mr. Roger Langford, the heir of Knight Sutton, at present living at Sutton Leigh, a small house on his father's estate, busied with farming, sporting, and parish business; while his active wife contrived to make a narrow income feed, clothe, and at least half educate their endless tribe of boys. Roger, the eldest, was at sea; Frederick, the second, in India; and Alexander owed his more learned education to Uncle Geoffrey, who had been well recompensed by his industry and good conduct. Indeed his attainments had always been so superior to those of his brothers, that he might have been considered as a prodigy, had not his cousin Frederick been always one step before him.
Fred had greater talent, and had been much better taught at home, so that on first going to school, he took and kept the higher place; but this was but a small advantage in his eyes, compared with what he had to endure out of school during his first half-year. Unused to any training or companionship save of womankind, he was disconsolate, bewildered, derided in that new rude world; while Alex, accustomed to fight his way among rude brothers, instantly found his level, and even extended a protecting hand to his cousin, who requited it with little gratitude. Soon overcoming his effeminate habits, he grew expert and dexterous, and was equal to Alex in all but main bodily strength; but the spirit of rivalry once excited, had never died away, and with a real friendship and esteem for each other, their names or rather their nicknames had almost become party words among their schoolfellows.
Nor was it probable that this competition would be forgotten on this first occasion of spending their holidays together. Fred felt himself open to that most galling accusation of want of manliness, on account at once of his ignorance of country sports, and of his knowledge of accomplishments; but he did not guess at the feeling which made Alexander on his side regard those very accomplishments with a feeling which, if it were not jealousy, was at least very nearly akin to it.
Beatrice Langford had not the slightest claim to beauty. She was very little, and so thin that her papa did her no injustice when he called her skin and bones; but her thin brown face, with the aid of a pair of very large deep Italian-looking eyes, was so full of brilliant expression, and showed such changes of feeling from sad to gay, from sublime to ridiculous, that no one could have wished one feature otherwise. And if instead of being "like the diamond bright," they had been "dull as lead," it would have been little matter to Alex. Beatrice had been, she was still, his friend, his own cousin, more than what he could believe a sister to be if he had one,--in short his own little Queen Bee. He had had a monopoly of her; she had trained him in all the civilization which he possessed, and it was with considerable mortification that he thought himself lowered in her eyes by comparison with his old rival, as old a friend of hers, with the same claim to cousinly affection; and instead of understanding only what she had taught him, familiar with the tastes and pursuits on which she set perhaps too great a value.
Fred did not care nearly as much for Beatrice's preference: it might be that he took it as a matter of course, or perhaps that having a sister of his own, he did not need her sympathy, but still it was a point on which he was likely to be sensitive, and thus her favour was likely to be secretly quite as much a matter of competition as their school studies and pastimes.
For instance, dinner was over, and Henrietta was admiring some choice books of prints, such luxuries as Uncle Geoffrey now afforded himself, and which his wife and daughter greatly preferred to the more costly style of living which some people thought befitted them. She called to her brother who was standing by the fire, "Fred, do come and look at this beautiful Albert Durer of Sintram."
He hesitated, doubting whether Alexander would scorn him for an acquaintance with Albert Durer, but Beatrice added, "Yes, it was an old promise that I would show it to you. There now, look, admire, or be pronounced insensible."
"A wonderful old fellow was that Albert," said Fred, looking, and forgetting his foolish false shame in the pleasure of admiration. "Yes; O how wondrously the expression on Death's face changes as it does in the story! How easy it is to see how Fouque must have built it up! Have you seen it, mamma?"
His mother came to admire. Another print was produced, and another, and Fred and Beatrice were eagerly studying the elaborate engravings of the old German, when Alex, annoyed at finding her too much engrossed to have a word for him, came to share their occupation, and took up one of the prints with no practised hand. "Take care, Alex, take care," cried Beatrice, in a sort of excruciated tone; "don't you see what a pinch you are giving it! Only the initiated ought to handle a print: there is a pattern for you," pointing to Fred.
She cut right and left: both looked annoyed, and retreated from the table. Fred thinking how Alex must look down on fingers which possessed any tenderness; Alex provoked at once and pained. Queen Bee's black eyes perceived their power, and gave a flash of laughing triumph.
But Beatrice was not quite in her usual high spirits, for she was very sorry to leave her mother; and when they went up stairs for the night, she stood long over the fire talking to her, and listening to certain parting cautions.
"How I wish you could have come, mamma! I am so sure that grandmamma in her kindness will tease Aunt Mary to death. You are the only person who can guard her without affronting grandmamma. Now I--"
"Had better let it alone," rejoined Mrs. Geoffrey Langford. "You will do more harm than by letting things take their course. Remember, too, that Aunt Mary was at home there long before you or I knew the place."
"Oh, if that tiresome Aunt Amelia would but have had some consideration! To go out of town and leave Aunt Susan on our hands just when we always go home!"
"We have lamented that often enough," said her mother smiling. "It is unlucky, but it cannot be too often repeated, that wills and wishes must sometimes bend."
"You say that for me, mamma," said Beatrice. "You think grandmamma and I have too much will for each other."
"If you are conscious of that, Bee, I hope that you will bend that wilful will of yours."
"I hope I shall," said Beatrice, "but.... Well, I must go to bed. Good night, mamma."
And Mrs. Geoffrey Langford looked after her daughter anxiously, but she well knew that Beatrice knew her besetting fault, and she trusted to the many fervent resolutions she had made against it.
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