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Venus, thy eternal sway All the race of man obey.--EURIPIDES (Anstice).
Aurelia sat up late to finish her despatches to the beloved ones at home, and pack the little works she had been able to do for each, though my Lady's embroidery took up most of her sedentary hours. Mrs. Dove undertook the care of the guinea's worth of presents to the little sisters from Sir Amyas, which the prudent nurse advised her to withhold till after Master Archer was gone, as he would certainly break everything to pieces. He was up betimes, careering about the garden with all his sisters after him, imperiously ordering them about, but nevertheless bewitching them all, so that Amoretta was in ecstasies at her own preferment, scarcely realising that it would divide her from the others; while Letty made sure that she should soon follow, and Fidelia gravely said, "I shall always know you are loving me still, Amy, as Nurse Rolfe does."
Lady Belamour breakfasted in her own room at about ten o'clock. Her woman, Mrs. Loveday, a small trim active person, with the worn and sharpened remains of considerable prettiness of the miniature brunette style, was sent to summon Miss Delavie to her apartment and inspect the embroidery she had been desired to execute for my Lady. Three or four bouquets had been finished, and the maid went into such raptures over them as somewhat to disgust their worker, who knew that they were not half so well done as they would have been under Betty's direction. However, Mrs. Loveday bore the frame to her Ladyship's room, following Aurelia, who was there received with the same stately caressing manner as before.
"Good morning, child. Your roses bloom well in the forenoon! Pity they should be wasted in darkness. Not but that you are duly appreciated there. Ah! I can deepen them by what our unhappy recluse said of you. I shall make glad hearts at Carminster by his good opinion, and who knows what preferment may come of it--eh? What is that, Loveday?"
"It is work your Ladyship wished me to execute," said Aurelia.
"Handsome--yes; but is that all? I thought the notable Mistress Betty brought you up after her own sort?"
"I am sorry, madam, but I could not do it quickly at first without my sister's advice, and I have not very much time between my care of the children and preparing repetitions for Mr. Belamour."
"Ha! ha! I understand. There are greater attractions! Go on, child. Mayhap it may be your own wedding gown you are working at, if you finish it in time! Heavens! what great wondering eyes the child has! All in good time, my dear. I must talk to your father."
It was so much the custom to talk to young maidens about their marriage that this did not greatly startle Aurelia, and Lady Belamour continued: "There, child, you have done your duty well by those little plagues of mine, and it is Mr. Wayland's desire to make you a recompense. You may need it in any change of circumstances."
So saying, she placed in Aurelia's hand five guineas, the largest sum that the girl had ever owned; and as visions arose of Christmas gifts to be bestowed, the thanks were so warm, the curtsey so expressively graceful, the smile so bright, the soft eyes so sparkling, that the great lady was touched at the sight of such simple-hearted joy, and said, "There, there, child, that will do. I could envy one whom a little makes so happy. Now you will be able to make yourself fine when my son brings home his bride; or--who knows?--you may be a bride yourself first!"
That sounds, thought Aurelia, as if Mr. Belamour had made her relinquish the plan of that cruel marriage, for I am sure I have not yet seen the man I am to marry.
And with a lighter heart the young tutoress stood between Fay and Letty on the steps to see the departure, her cheeks still feeling Amoret's last fond kisses, and a swelling in her throat bringing tears to her eyes at the thought how soon that carriage would be at Carminster. Yet there were sweet chains in the little hands that held her gown, and in the thought of the lonely old man who depended on her for enlivenment.
The day was long, for Amoret was missed; and the two children were unusually fretful and quarrelsome without her, disputing over the new toys which Brother Amyas's guinea had furnished in demoralising profusion. It was strange too see the difference made by the loss of the child who would give up anything rather than meet a look of vexation, and would coax the others into immediate good humour. There was reaction, too, after the excitement, for which the inexperienced Aurelia did not allow. At the twentieth bickering as to which doll should ride on the spotted hobby-horse, the face of Letty's painted wooden baby received a scar, and Fay's lost a leg, whereupon Aurelia's endurance entirely gave way, and she pronounced them both naughty children, and sent them to bed before supper.
Then her heart smote her for unkindness, and she sat in the firelight listless and sad, though she hardly knew why, longing to go up and pet and comfort her charges, but withheld by the remembrance of Betty's assurances that leniency, in a like case, would be the ruin of Eugene.
At last Jumbo came to summon her, and hastily recalling a cheerful air, she entered the room with "Good evening, sir; you see I am still here to trouble you."
"I continue to profit by my gentle friend's banishment. Tell me, was my Lady in a gracious mood?"
"O sir, how beautiful she is, and how kind! I know now why my father was so devoted to her, and no one can ever gainsay her!"
"The enchantress knows how to cast her spells. She was then friendly?"
"She gave me five guineas!" said Aurelia exultingly. "She said Mr. Wayland wished to recompense me."
"Did he so? If it came from him I should have expected a more liberal sum."
"But, oh!" in a tone of infinite surprise and content, "this is more than I ever thought of. Indeed I never dreamt of her giving me anything. Sir, may I write to your bookseller, Mr. Tonson, and order a book of Mr. James Thomson's Seasons to give to my sister Harriet, who is delighted with the extracts I have copied for her?"
"Will not that consume a large proportion of the five guineas, my generous friend?"
"I have enough left. There is a new gown which I never have worn, which will serve for the new clothes my Lady spoke of to receive her son's bride."
"She entered on that subject then?"
"Only for a moment as she took leave. Oh, sir, is it possible that she can know all about this young lady?"
"What have you heard of her?"
"Sir, they say she is a dreadful little vixen."
"Who say? Is she known at Carminster?"
"No, sir," said Aurelia, disconcerted. "It was from Nurse Dove that I heard what Sir Amyas's man said when he came back from Battlefield. I know my sister would chide me for listening to servants."
"Nevertheless I should be glad to hear. Was the servant old Grey? Then he is to be depended on. What did he say?"
Aurelia needed little persuasion to tell all that she had heard from Mrs. Dove, and he answered, "Thank you, my child, it tallies precisely with what the poor boy himself told me."
"Then he has told his mother? Will she not believe him?"
"It does not suit her to do so, and it is easy to say the girl will be altered by going to a good school. In fact, there are many reasons more powerful with her than the virtue and happiness of her son," he added bitterly. "There's the connection, forsooth. As if Lady Aresfield were fit to bring up an honest man's wife; and there's the fortune to fill up the void she has made in the Delavie estates."
"Can no one hinder it, sir? Cannot you?"
"As a last resource the poor youth came hither to see whether the guardian whose wardship has hitherto been a dead letter, were indeed so utterly obdurate and helpless as had been represented."
"And you have the power?"
"So far as his father's will and the injunctions of his final letter to me can give it, I have full power. My consent is necessary to his marriage while still a minor, and I have told my Lady I will never give it to his wedding a Mar."
"I was sure of it; and it is not true that they will be able to do without it?
"Without it! Have you heard any more? You pause. I see--she wishes to declare me of unsound mind. Is that what you mean?"
"So Nurse Dove said, sir," faltered Aurelia; "but it seemed too wicked, too monstrous, to be possible."
"I understand," he said. "I thought there was an implied threat in my sweet sister-in-law's soft voice when she spoke of my determined misanthropy. Well, I think we can guard against that expedient. After all, it is only till my nephew comes of age, or till his stepfather returns, that we must keep the enchantress at bay. Then the poor lad will be safe, providing always that she and her Colonel have not made a rake of him by that time. Alas, what a wretch am I not to be able to do more for him! Child, you have seen him?"
"I danced with him, sir, but I was too much terrified to look in his face. And I saw his cocked hat over the thorn hedge."
"Fancy free," muttered Mr. Belamour. "Fair exile for a cocked hat and diamond shoe-buckles! You would not recognise him again, nor his voice?"
"No, sir. He scarcely spoke, and I was attending to my steps."
Mr. Belamour laughed, and then asked Aurelia for the passage in the Iliad where Venus carries off Paris in a cloud. He thanked her somewhat absently, and then said,
"Dr. Godfrey said something of coming hither before he goes to his living in Dorsetshire. May I ask of you the favour of writing and begging him to fix a day not far off, mentioning likewise that my sister-in-law has been here."
To this invitation Dr. Godfrey replied that he would deviate from the slow progress of his family coach, and ride to Bowstead, spending two nights there the next week; and to Aurelia's greater amazement, she was next requested to write a billet to the Mistresses Treforth in Mr. Belamour's name, asking them to bestow their company on him for the second evening of Dr. Godfrey's visit.
"You, my kind friend, will do the honours," he said, "and we will ask Mrs. Aylward to provide the entertainment."
"They will be quite propitiated by being asked to meet Dr. Godfrey," said Aurelia. "Shall you admit them, sir?"
"Certainly. You do not seem to find them very engaging company, but they can scarce be worse than I should find in such an asylum as my charming sister-in-law seems to have in preparation for me."
"Oh! I wish I had said nothing about that. It is too shocking!"
"Forewarned, forearmed, as the proverb says. Do you not see, my amiable friend, that we are providing a body of witnesses to the sanity of the recluse, even though he may 'in dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell'?"
The visit took place; Dr. Godfrey greeted Miss Delavie as an old friend, and the next day pronounced Mr. Belamour to be so wonderfully invigorated and animated, that he thought my Lady's malignant plan was really likely to prove the best possible stimulus and cure.
Then the Canon gratified the two old ladies by a morning call, dined with Aurelia and her pupils, who behaved very well, and with whom he afterwards played for a whole hour so kindly that they placed him second in esteem to their big and beautiful brother. Mrs. Phoebe and Mrs. Delia came dressed in the faded splendours of the Louis XIV. period, just at twilight, and were regaled with coffee and pound cake. They were a good deal subdued, though as Aurelia listened to the conversation, it was plain enough what Mr. Belamour meant when he said that his cousin Delia was something of the coquette.
Still they asked with evident awe if it were true that their unfortunate cousin really intended to admit them, and they evidently became more and more nervous while waiting for Jumbo's summons. Dr. Godfrey gave his arm to Mrs. Phoebe, and Mrs. Delia gripped hold of Aurelia's, trembling all over, declaring she felt ready to swoon, and marvelling how Miss Delavie could ever have ventured, all alone too!
After all, things had been made much less formidable than at Aurelia's first introduction. The sitting-room was arranged as it was when Mr. Greaves read prayers, with a very faint light from a shrouded lamp behind the window curtain. To new comers it seemed pitchy darkness, but to Aurelia and Dr. Godfrey it was a welcome change, allowing them at least to perceive the forms of one another, and of the furniture. From a blacker gulf, being the doorway to the inner room, came Mr. Belamour's courteous voice of greeting to his kinswomen, who were led up by their respective guides to take his hand; after which he begged them to excuse the darkness, since the least light was painful to him still. If they would be seated he would remain where he was, and enjoy the society he was again beginning to be able to appreciate. He was, in fact, sitting within his own room, with eyes covered from even the feeble glimmer in the outer room.
It was some minutes before they recovered their self-possession, but Dr. Godfrey and Mr. Belamour began the conversation, and they gradually joined in. It was chiefly full of reminiscences of the lively days when Dr. Godfrey had been a young Cantab visiting his two friends at Bowstead, and Phoebe and Delia were the belles of the village. Aurelia scarcely opened her lips, but she was astonished to find how different the two sisters could be from the censorious, contemptuous beings they had seemed to her. The conversation lasted till supper-time, and Mr. Belamour, as they took their leave, made them promise to come and see him again. Then they were conducted back to the supper-room, Mrs. Phoebe mysteriously asking "Is he always like this?"
The experiment had been a great success, and Aurelia completed it by asking Mrs. Phoebe to take the head of the supper-table.
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