Going home again. That was hard to bear. It reopened all the old wounds. Violet Tempest felt as if her heart must really break, as if this new grief were sharper than the old one, when the carriage drove in through the familiar gates, in the December dusk, and along the winding shrubberied road, and up to the Tudor porch, where the lion of the Tempests stood, passant regardant, with lifted paw and backwards gaze, above the stone shield. The ruddy firelight was shining across the wide doorway. The old hearth looked as cheerful as of old. And there stood the empty chair beside it. That had been Vixen’s particular wish.
“Let nothing be disturbed, dear mamma,” she had said ever so many times, when her mother was writing her orders to the housekeeper. “Beg them to keep everything just as it was in papa’s time.”
“My dear, it will only make you grieve more.”
“Yes; but I had rather grieve for him than forget him. I am more afraid of forgetting him than of grieving too much for him,” said Vixen.
And now, as she stood on the hearth after her journey, wrapped in black furs, a little black fur toque crowning her ruddy gold hair, fancy filled the empty chair as she gazed at it. Yes, she could see her father sitting there in his hunting-clothes, his whip across his knee.
The old pointer, the Squire’s favourite, came whining to her feet. How old he looked! Old, and broken, and infirm, as if from much sorrow.
“Poor Nip! poor Nip!” she said, patting him. “The joy of your life went with papa, didn’t it?”
“It’s all very sad,” murmured Mrs. Tempest, loosening her wraps. “A sad, sad home-coming. And it seems only yesterday that I came here as a bride. Did I ever tell you about my travelling-dress, Violet? It was a shot-silk — they were fashionable then, you know — bronze and blue — the loveliest combination of colour!”
“I can’t imagine a shot-silk being anything but detestable,” said Vixen curtly. “Poor Nip! How faithful dogs are! The dear thing is actually crying!”
Tears were indeed running from the poor old eyes, as the pointer’s head lay in Vixen’s lap; as if memory, kindled by her image, brought back the past too keenly for that honest canine heart.
“It is very mournful,” said Mrs. Tempest. “Pauline, let us have a cup of tea.”
She sank into an arm-chair opposite the fire. Not the squire’s old carved oak-chair, with its tawny leather cushions. That must needs be sacred evermore — a memento of the dead, standing beside the hearth, revered as the image of an honoured ancestor in a Roman citizen’s home.
“I wonder if anyone is alive that we knew here?” said Vixen, lying back in her low chair, and idly caressing the dogs.
“My dear Violet, why should people be dead? We have only been away two years.”
“No; but it seems so long. I hardly expect to see any of the old faces. He is not here,” with a sudden choking sob. “Why should all be left — except him?”
“The workings of Providence are full of mystery,” sighed the widow. “Dear Edward! How handsome he looked that day he brought me home. And he was a noble-looking man to the last. Not more than two spoonfuls of pekoe, Pauline. You ought to know how I like it by this time.”
This to the handmaiden, who was making tea at the gipsy table in front of the fire — the table at which Vixen and Rorie had drunk tea so merrily on that young man’s birthday.
After tea mother and daughter went the round of the house. How familiar, how dear, how strange, how sad all things looked! The faithful servants had done their duty. Everything was in its place. The last room they entered was the Squire’s study. Here were all his favourite books. The “Sporting Magazine” from its commencement, in crimson morocco. “Nimrod” and “The Druid,” “Assheton Smith’s Memoirs,” and many others of the same class. Books on farming and farriery, on dogs and guns. Here were the Squire’s guns and whips, a motley collection, all neatly arranged by his own hands. The servants had done nothing but keep them free from dust. There, by the low and cosy fireplace, with its tiled hearth, stood the capacious crimson morocco chair, in which the master of the Abbey House had been wont to sit when he held audience with his kennel-huntsman, or gamekeeper, his farm-bailiff, or stud-groom.
“Mamma, I should like you to lock the door of this room and keep the key, so that no one may ever come here,” said Vixen.
“My dear, that is just the way to prolong your grief; but I will do it if you like.”
“Do, dear mamma. Or, if you will let me keep the key, I will come in and dust the room every day. It would be a pleasure for me, a mournful one, perhaps, but still a pleasure.”
Mrs. Tempest made no objection, and, when they left the room, Vixen locked the door and put the key in her pocket.
Christmas was close at hand. The saddest time for such a home-coming, Vixen thought. The gardeners brought in their barrows of holly, and fir, and laurel; but Vixen would take no part in the decoration of hall and corridors, staircase and gallery — she who in former years had been so active in the labour. The humble inhabitants of the village rejoiced in the return of the family at the great house, and Vixen was pleased to see the kind faces again, the old men and women, the rosy-cheeked children, and careworn mothers, withered and wrinkled before their time with manifold anxieties. She had a friendly word for everyone, and gifts for all. Home was sweet to her after her two years’ absence, despite the cloud of sadness that overhung all things. She went out to the stables and made friends with the old horses, which had been out at grass all through the summer, and had enjoyed a paradise of rest for the last two years. Slug and Crawler, Mrs. Tempest’s carriage horses, sleek even-minded bays, had been at Brighton, and so had Vixen’s beautiful thorough-bred, and a handsome brown for the groom; but all the rest had stayed in Hampshire. Not one had been sold, though the stud was a wasteful and useless one for a widow and her daughter. There was Bullfinch, the hunter Squire Tempest had ridden in his last hour of life. Violet went into his box, and caressed him, and fed him, and cried over him with bitterest tears. This home-coming brought back the old sorrow with overwhelming force. She ran out of the stables to hide her tears, and ran up to her own room, and abandoned herself to her grief, almost as utterly as she had done on those dark days when her father’s corpse was lying in the house.
There was no friendly Miss McCroke now to be fussy and anxious, and to interpose herself between Violet Tempest and her grief. Violet was supposed to be “finished,” or, in other words, to know everything under the sun which a young lady of good birth and ample fortune can be required to know. Everything, in this case, consisted of a smattering of French, Italian, and German, a dubious recollection of the main facts in modern history, hazy images of Sennacherib, Helen of Troy, Semiramis, Cyrus, the Battle of Marathon, Romulus and Remus, the murder of Jules Caesar, and the loves of Antony and Cleopatra flitting dimly athwart the cloudy background of an unmapped ancient world, a few vague notions about astronomy, some foggy ideas upon the constitution of plants and flowers, sea-weeds and shells, rocks and hills — and a general indifference for all literature except poetry and novels.
Miss McCroke, having done her duty conscientiously after her lights, had now gone to finish three other young ladies, the motherless daughters of an Anglo–Indian colonel, over whom she was to exercise maternal authority and guidance, in a tall narrow house in Maida Vale. She had left Mrs. Tempest with all honours, and Violet had lavished gifts upon her at parting, feeling fonder of her governess in the last week of their association than at any other period of her tutelage. To-day, in her sorrow, it was a relief to Violet to find herself free from the futile consolations of friendship. She flung herself into the arm-chair by the fire and sobbed out her grief.
“Oh, kindest, dearest, best of fathers,” she cried, “what is home without you!”
And then she remembered that awful day of the funeral when Roderick Vawdrey had sat with her beside this hearth, and had tried to comfort her, and remembered how she had heard his voice as a sound far away, a sound that had no meaning. That was the last time she had seen him.
“I don’t suppose I thanked him for his pity or his kindness,” she thought. “He must have gone away thinking me cold and ungrateful; but I was like a creature at the bottom of some dark dismal pit. How could I feel thankful to someone looking down at me and talking to me from the free happy world at the top?”
Her sobs ceased gradually, she dried her tears, and that unconscious pleasure in life which is a part of innocent youth came slowly back. She looked round the room in which so much of her childhood had been spent, a room full of her own fancies and caprices, a room whose prettiness had been bought with her own money, and was for the most part the work of her own hands.
In spite of home’s sorrowful association she was glad to find herself at home. Mountains, and lakes, and sunny bays, and dark pathless forests, may be ever so good to see, but there is something sweet in our return to the familiar rooms of home; some pleasure in being shut snugly within four walls, surrounded by one’s own belongings.
The wood-fire burnt merrily, and sparkled on the many-coloured pots and pans upon the panelled wall; here an Etruscan vase of India red, there a Moorish water-jar of vivid amber. Outside the deep mullioned windows the winter blast was blowing, with occasional spurts of flying snow. Argus crept in presently, and stretched himself at full length upon the fleecy rug. Vixen lay back in her low chair, musing idly in the glow of the fire, and by-and-by the lips which had been convulsed with grief parted in a smile, the lovely brown eyes shone with happy memories.
She was thinking of her old playfellow and friend, Rorie.
“I wonder if he will come to-day?” she mused. “I think he will. He is sure to be at home for the hunting. Yes, he will come to-day. What will he be like, I wonder? Handsomer than he was two years ago? No, that could hardly be. He is quite a man now. Three-and-twenty! I must not laugh at him any more.”
The thought of his coming thrilled her with a new joy. She seemed to have been living an artificial life in the two years of her absence, to have been changed in her very self by change of surroundings. It was almost as if the old Vixen had been sent into an enchanted sleep, while some other young lady, a model of propriety and good manners, went about the world in Vixen’s shape. Her life had been made up, more or less, of trifles and foolishness, with a background of grand scenery. Tepid little friendships with agreeable fellow-travellers at Nice; tepid little friendships of the same order in Switzerland; well-dressed young people smiling at each other, and delighting in each other’s company; and parting, probably for ever, without a pang.
But now she had come back to the friends, the horses, the dogs, the rooms, the gardens, the fields, the forests of youth, and was going to be the real Vixen again; the wild, thoughtless, high-spirited girl whom Squire Tempest and all the peasantry round about had loved.
“I have been ridiculously well-behaved,” she said to herself, “quite a second edition of mamma. But now I am back in the Forest my good manners may go hang. ‘My foot’s on my native heath, and my name is McGregor.’”
Somehow in all her thoughts of home — after that burst of grief for her dead father — Roderick Vawdrey was the central figure. He filled the gap cruel death had made.
Would Rorie come soon to see her? Would he be very glad to have her at home again? What would he think of her? Would he fancy her changed? For the worse? For the better?
“I wonder whether he would like my good manners or the original Vixen best?” she speculated.
The morning wore on, and still Violet Tempest sat idly by the fire. She had made up her mind that Roderick would come to see her at once. She was sufficiently aware of her own importance to feel sure that the fact of her return had been duly chronicled in the local papers. He would come to-day — before luncheon, perhaps, and they three, mamma, Rorie, and herself, would sit at the round table in the library — the snug warm room where they had so often sat with papa. This thought brought back the bitterness of her loss.
“I can bear it better if Rorie is with us,” she thought, “and he is almost sure to come. He would not be so unkind as to delay bidding welcome to such poor lonely creatures as mamma and I.”
She looked at her little watch — a miniature hunter in a case of black enamel, with a monogram in diamonds, one of her father’s last gifts. It was one o’clock already, and luncheon would be at half-past.
“Only half-an-hour for Rorie,” she thought.
The minute-hand crept slowly to the half-hour, the luncheon-gong sounded below, and there had been no announcement of Mr. Vawdrey.
“He may be downstairs with mamma all this time,” thought Vixen. “Forbes would not tell me, unless he were sent.”
She went downstairs and met Forbes in the hall.
“Oh, if you please, ma’am, Mrs. Tempest does not feel equal to coming down to luncheon. She will take a wing of chicken in her own room.”
“And I don’t feel equal to sitting in the library alone, Forbes,” said Violet; “so you may tell Phoebe to bring me a cup of tea and a biscuit. Has nobody called this morning?”
Vixen went back to her room, out of spirits and out of temper. It was unkind of Rorie, cold, neglectful, heartless.
“If he had come home after an absence of two years — absence under such sad circumstances — how anxious I should be to see him,” she thought. “But I don’t suppose there is frost enough to stop the hunting, and I daresay he is tearing across the heather on some big raw-boned horse, and not giving me a thought. Or perhaps he is dancing attendance upon Lady Mabel. But no, I don’t think he cares much for that kind of thing.”
She moved about the room a little, rearranging things that were already arranged exactly as she had left them two years ago. She opened a book and flung it aside; tried the piano, which sounded muffled and woolly.
“My poor little Broadwood is no better for being out at grass,” she said.
She went to one of the windows, and stood there looking out, expecting every instant to see a dog-cart with a rakish horse, a wasp-like body, and high red wheels, spin round the curve of the shrubbery. She stood thus for a long time, as she had done on that wet October afternoon of Rorie’s home-coming; but no rakish horse came swinging round the curve of the carriage-drive. The flying snow drifted past the window; the winter sky looked blue and clear between the brief showers, the tall feathery fir-trees and straight slim cypresses stood up against the afternoon light, and Vixen gazed at them with angry eyes, full of resentment against Roderick Vawdrey.
“The ground is too hard for the scent to lie well, that’s one comfort,” she reflected savagely.
And then she thought of the dear old kennels given over to a new master; the hounds whose names and idiosyncrasies she had known as well as if they had been human acquaintances. She had lost all interest in them now. Pouto and Gellert, Lightfoot, Juno, Ringlet, Lord Dundreary — they had forgotten her, no doubt.
Here was someone at last, but not the one for whom she was watching. A figure clothed in a long loose black cloak and slouched felt hat, and carrying a weedy umbrella, trudged sturdily around the curve, and came briskly towards the porch. It was Mr. Scobel, the incumbent of the pretty little Gothic church in the village — a church like a toy.
He was a good man and a benevolent, this Mr. Scobel; a hard-worker, and a blessing in the neighbourhood. But just at this moment Violet Tempest did not feel grateful to him for coming.
“What does he want?” she thought. “Blankets and coals and things, I suppose.”
She turned sullenly from the window, and went back to her seat by the fire, and threw on a log, and gave herself up to disappointment. The blue winter sky had changed to gray; the light was fading behind the feathery fir-tops.
“Perhaps he will come to afternoon tea,” she thought; and then, with a discontented shrug of her shoulders: “No, he is not coming at all. If he cared about us, he would have been the first to bid us welcome; knowing, as he must, how miserable it was for me to come home at all — without papa!”
She sat looking at the fire.
“How idle I am!” she mused; “and poor Crokey did so implore me to go on with my education, and read good useful books and enlarge my mind. I don’t think my poor little mind would bear any more stretching, or that I should be much happier if I knew all about Central Africa, and the nearest way from Hindostan to China, or old red sandstone, and tertiary, and the rest of them. What does it matter to me what the earth is made of, if I can but be happy upon it? No, I shall never try to be a highly cultivated young woman. I shall read Byron, and Tennyson, and Wordsworth, and Keats, and Bulwer, and Dickens, and Thackeray, and remain an ignoramus all the days of my life. I think that would be quite enough for Rorie, if he and I were to be much together; for I don’t believe he ever opens a book at all. And what would be the use of my talking to him about old red sandstone or the centre of Africa?”
Phoebe, Miss Tempest’s fresh-faced Hampshire maid, appeared at this moment.
“Oh, if you please, miss, your ma says would you go to the drawing-room? Mr. Scobel is with her, and would like to see you.”
Violet rose with a sigh.
“Is my hair awfully untidy, Phoebe?”
“I think I had better arrange the plaits, miss.”
“That means that I’m an object. It’s four o’clock; I may as well change my dress for dinner. I suppose I must go down to dinner?”
“Lor’ yes, miss; it will never do to shut yourself up in your own room and fret. You’re as pale as them there Christmas roses already.”
Ten minutes later Vixen went down to the drawing-room, looking very stately in her black Irish poplin, whose heavy folds became the tall full figure, and whose dense blackness set off the ivory skin and warm auburn hair. She had given just one passing glance at herself in the cheval-glass, and Vanity had whispered:
“Perhaps Rorie would have thought me improved; but he has not taken the trouble to come and see. I might be honeycombed by the small-pox, or bald from the effects of typhus, for aught he cares.”
The drawing-room was all aglow with blazing logs, and the sky outside the windows looking pale and gray, when Violet went in. Mrs. Tempest was in her favourite arm-chair by the fire, Tennyson’s latest poem on the velvet-coloured gipsy table at her side, in company with a large black fan and a smelling-bottle. Mr. Scobel was sitting in a low chair on the other side of the hearth, with his knees almost up to his chin and his trousers wrinkled up ever so far above his stout Oxford shoes, leaving a considerable interval of gray stocking. He was a man of about thirty, pale, and unpretending of aspect, who fortified his native modesty with a pair of large binoculars, which interposed a kind of barrier between himself and the outer world.
He rose as Violet came towards him, and turned the binoculars upon her, glittering in the glow of the fire.
“How tall you have grown,” he cried, when they had shaken hands. “And how ——” here he stopped, with a little nervous laugh; “I really don’t think I should have known you if we had met elsewhere.”
“Perhaps Rorie would hardly know me,” thought Vixen.
“How are all the poor people?” she asked, when Mr. Scobel had resumed his seat, and was placidly caressing his knees, and blinking, or seeming to blink, at the fire with his binoculars.
“Oh, poor souls!” he sighed. “There has been a great deal of sickness and distress, and want of work. Yes, a very great deal. The winter began early, and we have had some severe weather. James Parsons is in prison again for rabbit-snaring. I’m really afraid James is incorrigible. Mrs. Roper’s eldest son, Tom — I daresay you remember Tom, an idle little ruffian, who was always birdnesting — has managed to get himself run over by a pair of Lord Ellangowan’s waggon-horses, and now Lady Ellangowan is keeping the whole family. An aunt came from Salisbury to sit up with the boy, and was quite angry because Lady Ellangowan did not pay her for nursing him.”
“That’s the worst of the poor,” said Mrs. Tempest languidly, the firelight playing upon her diamond rings, as she took her fan from the velvet table and slowly unfolded it, to protect her cheek from the glare, “they are never satisfied.”
“Isn’t it odd they are not,” cried Vixen, coming suddenly out of a deep reverie, “when they have everything that can make life delightful?”
“I don’t know about everything, Violet; but really, when they have such nice cottages as your dear papa built for them, so well-drained and ventilated, they ought to be more contented.”
“What a comfort good drainage and ventilation must be, when there is no bread in the larder!” said Violet.
“My dear, it is ridiculous to talk in that way; just in the style of horrid Radical newspapers. I am sure the poor have an immense deal done for them. Look at Mr. Scobel, is he not always trying to help them.”
“I do what I can,” said the clergyman modestly; “but I only wish it were more. An income of sixteen shillings a week for a family of seven requires a good deal of ekeing out. If it were not for the assistance I get here, and in one or two other directions, things would be very bad in Beechdale.”
Beechdale was the name of the village nearest the Abbey House, the village to which belonged Mr. Scobel’s toy-church.
“Of course, we must have the usual distribution of blanket and wearing apparel on Christmas Eve,” said Mrs. Tempest. “It will seem very sad without my dear husband. But we came home before Christmas on purpose.”
“How good of you! It was very sad last year when the poor people came up to the Hall to receive your gifts, and there were no familiar faces, except the servants. There were a good many tears shed over last year’s blankets, I assure you.”
“Poor dear things!” sighed Mrs. Tempest, not making it too clear whether she meant the blankets, or the recipients thereof.
Violet said nothing after her little ironical protest about the poor. She sat opposite the fire, between her mother and Mr. Scobel, but at some distance from both. The ruddy light glowed on her ruddy hair, and lit up her pale cheeks, and shone in her brilliant eyes. The incumbent of Beechdale thought he had never seen anything so lovely. She was like a painted window; a Madonna, with the glowing colour of Rubens, the divine grace of Raffaelle. And those little speeches about the poor had warmed his heart. He was Violet’s friend and champion from that moment.
Mrs. Tempest fanned herself listlessly.
“I wish Forbes would bring the tea,” she said.
“Shall I ring, mamma?”
“No, dear. They have not finished tea in the housekeeper’s room, perhaps. Forbes doesn’t like to be disturbed. Is there any news, Mr. Scobel? We only came home yesterday evening, and have seen no one.”
“News! Well, no, I think not much. Lady Ellangowan has got a new orchid.”
“And there has been a new baby, too, hasn’t there?”
“Oh yes. But nobody talks about the baby, and everybody is in raptures with the orchid.”
“What is it like?”
“Rather a fine boy. I christened him last week.”
“I mean the orchid.”
“Oh, something really magnificent; a brilliant blue, a butterfly-shaped blossom that positively looks as if it were alive. They say Lord Ellangowan gave five hundred guineas for it. People come from the other side of the county to see it.”
“I think you are all orchid mad,” exclaimed Mrs. Tempest. “Oh, here comes the tea!” as Forbes entered with the old silver tray and Swansea cups and saucers. “You’ll take some, of course, Mr. Scobel. I cannot understand this rage for orchids — old china, or silver, or lace, I can understand, but orchids — things that require no end of trouble to keep them alive, and which I daresay are as common as buttercups and daisies in the savage places where they grow. There is Lady Jane Vawdrey now, a perfect slave to the orchid-houses.”
Violet’s face flamed crimson at this mention of Lady Jane. Not for worlds would she have asked a question about her old playfellow, though she was dying to hear about him. Happily no one saw that sudden blush, or it passed for a reflection of the fire-glow.
“Poor Lady Jane!” sighed the incumbent of Beechdale, looking very solemn, “she has gone to a land in which there are fairer flowers than ever grew on the banks of the Amazon.”
“What do you mean?”
“Surely you have heard ——”
“Nothing,” exclaimed Mrs. Tempest. “I have corresponded with nobody but my housekeeper while I have been away. I am a wretched correspondent at the best of times, and, after dear Edward’s death, I was too weary, too depressed, to write letters. What is the matter with Lady Jane Vawdrey?”
“She died at Florence last November of bronchitis. She was very ill last winter, and had to be taken to Cannes for the early part of the year; but she came back in April quite well and strong, as everyone supposed, and spent the summer at Briarwood. Her doctors told her, however, that she was not to risk another winter in England, so in September she went to Italy, taking Lady Mabel with her.”
“And Roderick?” inquired Vixen, “He went with them of course.”
“Naturally,” replied Mr. Scobel. “Mr. Vawdrey was with his mother till the last.”
“Very nice of him,” murmured Mrs. Tempest approvingly; “for, in a general way, I don’t think they got on too well together. Lady Jane was rather dictatorial. And now, I suppose, Roderick will marry his cousin as soon as he is out of mourning.”
“Why should you suppose so, mamma?” exclaimed Violet. “It is quite a mistake of yours about their being engaged. Roderick told me so himself. He was not engaged to Lady Mabel. He had not the least idea of marrying her.”
“He has altered his mind since then, I conclude,” said Mr. Scobel cheerily — those binoculars of his could never have seen through a stone-wall, and were not much good at seeing things under his nose —“for it is quite a settled thing that Mr. Vawdrey and Lady Mabel are to be married. It will be a splendid match for him, and will make him the largest landowner in the Forest, for Ashbourne is settled on Lady Mabel. The Duke bought it himself, you know, and it is not in the entail,” added the incumbent, explaining a fact that was as familiar as the church catechism to Violet, who sat looking straight at the fire, holding her head as high as Queen Guinevere after she had thrown the diamonds out of window.
“I always knew that it would be so,” said Mrs. Tempest, with the air of a sage. “Lady Jane had set her heart upon it. Worldly greatness was her idol, poor thing! It is sad to think of her being snatched away from everything. What has become of the orchids?”
“Lady Jane left them to her niece. They are building houses to receive them at Ashbourne.”
“Rather a waste of money, isn’t it?” suggested Violet, in a cold hard voice. “Why not let them stay at Briarwood till Lady Mabel is mistress there?”
Mr. Scobel did not enter into this discussion. He sat serenely gazing at the fire, and sipping his tea, enjoying this hour of rest and warmth after a long day’s fatigue and hard weather. He had an Advent service at seven o’clock that evening, and would but just have time to tramp home through the winter dark, and take a hurried meal, before he ran across to his neat little vestry and shuffled on his surplice, while Mrs. Scobel played her plaintive voluntary on the twenty-guinea harmonium.
“And where is young Vawdrey now?” inquired Mrs. Tempest blandly.
She could only think of the Squire of Briarwood as the lad from Eton — clumsy, shy, given to breaking teacups, and leaving the track of his footsteps in clay or mud upon the Aubusson carpets.
“He has not come home yet. The Duke and Duchess went to Florence just before Lady Jane’s death, and I believe Mr. Vawdrey is with them in Rome. Briarwood has been shut up since September.”
“Didn’t I tell you, mamma, that somebody would be dead,” cried Violet. “I felt when we came into this house yesterday evening, that everything in our lives was changed.”
“I should hardly think mourning can be very becoming to Lady Mabel,” ruminated Mrs. Tempest. “Those small sylph-like figures rarely look well in black.”
Mr. Scobel rose with an effort to make his adieux. The delicious warmth of the wood-fire, the perfume of arbutus logs, had made him sleepy.
“You’ll come and see our new school, I hope,” he said to Violet, as they shook hands. “You and your dear mamma have contributed so largely to its erection that you have a right to be critical; but I really think you will be pleased.”
“We’ll come to-morrow afternoon, if it’s fine,” said Mrs. Tempest graciously. “You must bring Mrs. Scobel to dinner at seven, and then we can talk over all we have seen.”
“You are very kind. I’ve my young women’s scripture-class at a quarter-past eight; but if you will let me run away for an hour ——”
“I can come back for Mrs. Scobel. Thanks. We shall be delighted.”
When he was gone, Violet walked towards the door without a word to her mother.
“Violet, are you going away again? Pray stop, child, and let us have a chat.”
“I have nothing to talk about, mamma.”
“Nonsense. You have quite deserted me since we came home. And do you suppose I don’t feel dull and depressed as well as you? It is not dutiful conduct, Violet. I shall really have to engage a companion if you go on so. Miss McCroke was dreary, but she was not altogether uncompanionable. One could talk to her.”
“You had better have a companion, mamma. Someone who will be lively, and talk pleasantly about nothing particular all day long. No doubt a well-trained companion can do that. She has an inexhaustible well-spring of twaddle in her own mind. I feel as if I could never be cheerful again.”
“We had better have stopped at Brighton ——”
“I hate Brighton!”
“Where we knew so many nice people ——”
“I detest nice people!”
“Violet, do you know that you have an abominable temper?”
“I know that I am made up of wickedness!” answered Vixen vehemently.
She left the room without another word, and went straight to her den upstairs, not to throw herself on the ground, and abandon herself to a childish unreasoning grief, as she had done on the night of Roderick’s coming of age, but to face the situation boldly. She walked up and down the dim fire-lit room, thinking of what she had just heard.
“What does it matter to me? Why should I be so angry?” she asked herself. “We were never more than friends and playfellows. And I think that, on the whole, I rather disliked him. I know I was seldom civil to him. He was papa’s favourite. I should hardly have tolerated bun but for that.”
She felt relieved at having settled this point in her mind. Yet there was a dull blank sense of loss, a vague aching in her troubled heart, which she could not get rid of easily. She walked to and fro, to and fro, while the fire faded out and the pale windows darkened.
“I hate myself for being so vexed about this,” she said, clasping her hands above her head with a vehemence that showed the intensity of her vexation. “Could I— I— Violet Tempest — ever be so despicable a creature as to care for a man who does not care for me; to be angry, sorry, broken-hearted, because a man does not want me for his wife? Such a thing is not possible; if it were, I think I would kill myself. I should be ashamed to live. I could not look human beings in the face. I should take poison, or turn Roman Catholic and go into a convent, where I should never see the face of a man again. No; I am not such an odious creature. I have no regard for Rorie except as my old playfellow, and when he comes home I will walk straight up to him and give him my hand, and congratulate him heartily on his approaching marriage. Perhaps Lady Mabel will ask me to be one of her bridesmaids. She will have a round dozen, I daresay. Six in pink, and six in blue, no doubt, like wax dolls at a charity-fair. Why can’t people be married without making idiots of themselves?”
The half-hour gong sounded at this moment, and Vixen ran down to the drawing-room, where the candles and lamps were lighted, and where there was plenty of light literature lying about to distract the troubled mind. Violet went to her mother’s chair and knelt beside it.
“Dear mamma, forgive me for being cross just now,” she said gently; “I was out of spirits. I will try to be better company in future — so that you may not be obliged to engage a companion.”
“My dear, I don’t wonder at your feeling low-spirited,” replied Mrs. Tempest graciously. “This place is horribly dull. How we ever endured it, even in your dear papa’s time, is more than I can understand. It is like living on the ground-floor of one of the Egyptian pyramids. We must really get some nice people about us, or we shall both go melancholy mad.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05