Heartsease; Or, The Brother’s Wife is a web novel completed by Charlotte M. Yonge.
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‘She comes to-morrow.’
‘How was the wedding managed?’
‘Harrison came with his license from Whitford, and I walked forth with sal volatile in one hand and salts in the other, administering them by turns to the fainting bride. I dragged her all the way by main strength, supported her through the service, and was very near giving her away by mistake, for there was no one else to do it but old Brand. He and I are the witnesses in the register. I received her hysterical farewells, and Harrison’s elegant acknowledgments; saw them into their fly, and came home, trusting to Providence that I could inform my aunt without bringing on a fit.’
‘After surviving the news of your engagement she may bear anything.’
‘Ah! there she takes refuge in incredulity. Now this was a fact. So there was nothing for it but to take a high tone. I gave the history, and told my own share; then, in the style of Richard II, when Wat Tyler was killed, declared I would be her companion; and, after some bandying of words, we settled down peaceably.’
‘One thing amazes me. How did you get Wingfield to do it? I had plague enough with the old parson at Wrangerton, and I should have thought Wingfield harder to manage.’
‘They had no consent to ask–no one could forbid the banns. He soon saw the rights of it,’ said Theodora, unable to prevent herself from blushing.
‘You talked him over, eh?’
‘Arthur, you are looking at me as if you wanted to put me out of countenance. Well, you shall hear the truth; it is safe with you, and no one else knows it. It is my chief reason for wishing to go to London.’
‘Yes, you were right in warning me. He must needs think I worked in the parish for his sake; and one fine day, as I was walking home, he joined company, and before I knew where I was he was making me an offer.’
‘And learnt what disdain means, if he did not know before.’
‘No,’ said Theodora, gravely, and blushing deeply. ‘I recollected your warning, and saw that if there had not been something like encouragement he would not have forgotten the distance between us. This wedding has occasioned conferences; besides, Percy was exacting at Christmas, and I had rather tried to tease him. I thought, living close by, Mr. Wingfield must have known the state of the case, and that I need not be on my guard; so that, having so far taken him in, I thought it right to tell him I was afraid he had not been fairly used, for I had trusted to his knowing I was engaged. So we parted amicably; but it is a great bore, for he is much more cut up than I expected, poor man. He went from home the next Monday, and is but just come back, looking disconsolate enough to set people wondering what is on his spirits, and avoids me, so as to show them. It would be the best possible thing for me to get out of the way till it is blown over, for I have no comfort in parish work. It has been a relief to be always shut up with my aunt, since that was a reason for not going into the village.’
‘Then you will stay till the family migration?’
‘I don’t think there will be any this year. Papa talks about bad times, and says the season in London is too expensive; and mamma was worried and tired last year, and did not enjoy it, so she will be glad to avoid it and stay with my aunt.’
‘And, you being no longer a subject for speculation, there’s no object.’
‘Yes; I am glad to have ended that hateful consciousness.’
‘Well, Violet will do her best for you.’
‘I don’t want her to trouble herself; I only want house-room.’
‘And a change after a month’s white n.i.g.g.e.ring.’
‘That’s another reason. My aunt has grown so dependent on me, that this new lady will not have a fair chance if I am at home; and if I don’t break the habit, I shall never call my time my own again.’
In fact, Theodora had been suffering under a fit of restlessness and dissatisfaction, which made her anxious to change the scene. The school, her great resource, was liable to be a place of awkward meetings. She was going to lose her dumb charge; and with Percy and Arthur both at a distance, there was no excitement nor relief to the tedium of home. The thorough self-sacrificing attendance on her aunt had been the sole means left her of maintaining the sense of fulfilling a duty.
The unexpected arrival of her favourite brother was as a reward. Her spirits rose, and she talked with gaiety and animation, delighted to find him claiming her company for walks and rides to be taken in his holiday week, and feeling as if now the prediction had truly come to pa.s.s, that he would be relieved to come to her from the annoyances of his home.
Every one seemed glad to see Arthur–even Mrs. Nesbit. In the course of the evening something was said about a dinner party for the ensuing Sat.u.r.day, and Lady Martindale asked if he could stay for it.
‘Sat.u.r.day? Yes; I need not go back till Monday.’
‘I wish Violet could have come,’ said Lord Martindale. ‘I am glad you can give us a week; but it is a long time for her to be alone. I hope she has some friend to be with her.’
‘Oh, she wants no one,’ said Arthur. ‘She begged me to go; and I fancy she will be rather glad to have no distraction from the child. I am only in the way of her perpetual walking up and down the room with him whining in her arms.’
‘Ah! it is an unlucky affair,’ said Mrs. Nesbit, in her sarcastic tone of condolence; ‘she will never rear it.’
She seemed, in her triumph, to have forgotten that its father was present, and his impatient speech had certainly not been such as to bring it to mind; but this was too much, and, starting, he hastily exclaimed, ‘Children always do make a fuss about their teeth!’
‘I do not speak without the authority of medical men,’ said Mrs. Nesbit.
‘I don’t blame your wife, poor thing.’
What do you mean? cried Arthur, colour and voice both rising.
‘I am surprised your brother kept it from you,’ said she, gratified at torturing him; ‘you ought to have been informed.’
‘Tell me at once,’ said Arthur.
‘Only this, Arthur,’ said his father, interposing: ‘when first the doctor at Ventnor saw him he thought him very delicate, and told John that he would hardly get through the first year without great care.’
‘He has all but done that!’ said Arthur, breathing more freely; ‘he will be a year old on the third.’
‘Yes; afterwards the doctor thought much better of him, and John saw no occasion to make you and Violet more anxious.’
‘Then it all goes for nothing!’ said Arthur, looking full at his aunt with defiance, and moving to the furthest end of the room.
But it did not go for nothing. He could not shake off the impression.
The child’s illness had never been so alarming as to stir up his feelings, though his comfort had been interfered with; and there were recollections of impatience that came painfully upon him. He knew that Violet thought him more indifferent to his child than he really was; and, though she had never uttered a complaint or reproach, he was sure that he had hurt and distressed her by displeasure at the crying, and by making light of the anxieties, which he now learnt were but too well founded.
Arthur’s easiness and selfishness made him slow to take alarm, but when once awakened there was no limit to his anxiety. He knew now what it would be to lose his first-born. He thought of the moment when the babe had been laid on his hand, and of the sad hours when that feeble cry had been like a charm, holding the mother to life; and his heart smote him as he thought of never hearing again the voice of which he had complained. What might not be happening at that moment? As grisly a train of chances rose before him as ever had haunted Violet herself, and he thought of a worse return home than even his last. Yet he had never desired her to let him know whether all was well!
He could not sleep, and in the morning twilight he sought out writing materials, and indited his first letter to his wife:–
‘Dear Violet,–I hope you and the boy are well. I have not coughed since I left London. I come home on Monday, if all goes well, and Theodora with me. She has made the place too hot to hold her.
‘A. N. MARTINDALE.
‘P.S. Write and say how the boy is.’
Having hunted up a servant, and sent him with this missive to the early post, Arthur’s paternal conscience was satisfied; and, going to bed again, he slept till breakfast was half over, then good-humouredly listened to exclamations on his tardiness, and loitered about the rest of the morning, to the great pleasure of his sister.
The companion, Mrs. Garth, the highly recommended widow of a marine officer, arrived in the afternoon; and Arthur, meeting her on the stairs, p.r.o.nounced that she was a forbidding-looking female, and there was no fear that she would not be able to hold her own.
Rejoicing in newly-recovered freedom, Theodora had a long ride with him; and having planned another to a village near a trout-stream, where he wanted to inquire about lodgings for his indefatigable fishing friend, Captain Fitzhugh, she was working hard to dispose of her daily avocations before breakfast the next day, when Arthur knocked at her door. ‘Good morning,’ he said hastily. ‘I must go home. My little boy is very ill.’
‘Is he? What is it?’
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