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"The flowers do fade, and wanton fields,
To wayward winter reckoning yields,
A honey tongue, a heart of gall
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall."--SIR W. RALEIGH.
The Sunday after Walter's departure was a very uncomfortable and melancholy day. It was very sad to see poor Caroline looking wan and suffering, and turning now and then a wistful appealing glance at Marian, as if intreating for the help which must not be afforded to her; and then at each meeting and parting, Marian was dissatisfied with herself for having been rendered stiff and dry instead of tender and consoling, by the very wish to be affectionate, which prevented her from being at ease. She heard from Clara that Caroline's great desire was to be allowed to write to Mr. Faulkner on the subject before she saw him again, whilst he was still in London, and that it was this which her parents so strongly opposed, convinced that a meeting with him would renew all her feelings of attachment. Marian dreaded the same, for she could not think Caroline's resolution sufficient to hold out in sight of his affection, and of his prepossessing qualities, and at the same time, every day that the engagement continued made it more difficult to break it off.
One comfort was, however, that Lionel's anxiety and interest in Caroline's affairs, were drawing his attention from his own trouble, and he was much less irritable and unhappy than before. Perhaps this might have been in part owing to his conversations with Walter, who could venture on giving him more lessons on the right principle of endurance than Marian had ever dared to put before him. She was more pleased than she had been for a long time, when as they were walking together in the plantations, after evening service, he said with some abruptness and yet with some hesitation, "Marian, didn't you once read something with Gerald in the morning?"
"Yes," said Marian, sure of what the something meant.
"Do you do it still by yourself?"
"Then I wish----. Would you mind reading to me?"
"The Psalms and Lessons? O, Lionel, I should be so glad I Only could you get up in time? for I don't know when to do it except before breakfast."
"To be sure I could get up in time. I only lie in bed because there is nothing to do, and nobody to speak to."
"Well then, will you meet me in the schoolroom at eight o'clock in the morning?"
No more was said, but Lionel kept his appointment. It was, as Marian guessed a recommendation of his brother's. Walter had asked him to get one of his sisters to read to him, and Lionel had made the request to Marian, as his real sister, though he had never told Walter whether he meant to take his advice.
The next Sunday, Marian, on coming down after dressing for dinner, was surprised to find Elliot standing by the fire. He just inclined his bead, and moved his lips by way of greeting.
"When did you come home?" said she drily.
The answer was brief and with no encouragement to say more. She thought he looked dark and moody, and, taking up a book, was silent. The next time the door opened, it was Lionel who entered. He frowned and gazed up, perceiving the figure but not able to make it out. "Ha, Lionel! How d'ye do?" said Elliot in a short, gruff, indifferent voice; without moving or attempting to shake hands, without any token that he thought of Lionel's misfortune.
Lionel's equally indifferent tone, "How d'ye do?" was sign enough to Marian that he was hurt. He came and sat by her, talked fast and low, and laughed several times in the constrained manner he used to put on by way of bravado; Elliot all the time taking no notice. The others soon made their appearance. Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell had seen him before, and to his sisters his greeting was much in the same style, hardly vouchsafing any recognition of Caroline at all.
The cloud was thicker and darker than ever all dinner time. Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell tried in vain to talk, he answered them in a short snappish way which he was apt to assume whenever his father made any attempt to check his extravagance.
The ladies and Lionel were glad to get into the drawing-room, and leave him and his father to themselves. Tea came and they did not appear, ten o'clock struck, half-past, and they came not. The ladies were putting away their books, and thinking of wishing good night when suddenly the door was thrown open, and in tramped Mr. Lyddell, red with passion, while behind him came Elliot, with less of violence, but with a dark scowl of resentment on his downcast and always unpleasant face.
"Caroline!" began Mr. Lyddell, in a voice of thunder, and great was the alarm of all, for her sake, as she turned pale and trembled. "Caroline! You have my full consent to do as you please. You may break with Faulkner to-morrow, if you like!"
Some discovery! thought Marian, transfixed with wonder and hope; Caroline sat still but for her trembling, her face bent down, and her hands nervously clasped together.
"Now, sir," proceeded Mr. Lyddell, turning round on Elliot, "you see if I am the tyrant you would make me. You see if I am going to force my daughter into a marriage against her wish--sacrifice my whole family because I have an ill-conditioned scamp of a good-for-nothing son. You see."
"I do see, sir," muttered Elliot; "and you'll see whether you like the consequences."
Marian thought she had better be out of this family scene, and had her hand on the door, but Mr. Lyddell called out "Stay here! Marian! I don't care if all the world heard me. He thinks he can threaten me into tyranny over her inclinations, and I tell him she is as free as air! I vow----."
"Mr. Lyddell! do consider, do think," expostulated his wife; "I daresay Elliot was a little too vehement a partizan for his friend----."
"Friend! Pshaw! He care for his friend!" said Mr. Lyddell scornfully. "'Tis for himself he is a partizan, I tell you. Nothing else does he care a straw for. 'Tis for nothing but the saving of her fortune that he would have me persecute his sister into this marriage! Aye! he has the face to tell me so! and what more do you think he comes and says to me! Why! that Lionel will be nothing but a burthen for ever! A pretty pass things are come to when he speaks after that fashion of his own brother! He cared for his friend, indeed!"
"No one ever thought of compelling Caroline," pleaded Mrs. Lyddell.
"But I tell you he did," interrupted her husband. "I told him I was very sorry, but I could not help it; if she would have her own way, I could not make her marry the man against her will, and he answers in his sneering way that it is all nonsense, he would be bound to make her give up in no time--any man could bring a girl to reason. As if I was to persecute my daughter to force her into what she tells me is against her conscience. Better too much conscience than none at all, I tell you, Master Elliot."
"We had better bring this scene to an end, sir," said Elliot sullenly. "We understand each other."
So saying, he took up his candle and flung out of the room. The girls were but too glad to escape, and Lionel followed them, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell to themselves.
Caroline and Clara both were trembling like aspen leaves, each threw an arm round Marian's waist, and leant against her as soon as they were out of the room. She had been startled and trembling before, but their fright seemed to give her firmness; and it was well, for Caroline's knees shook so much, and she was so nervous that she could hardly have reached her room without support. Clara began to exclaim, but Marian stopped her, made her fetch some camphor julep, helped Caroline to undress, and put her to bed. Caroline hardly spoke all the time, but as Marian bent over her to kiss her, and wish her good night, she whispered, "I may soon be able to have you again, dear Marian!"
Marian went to bed, wondering at all that had passed, indignant with Elliot, pleased with Mr. Lyddell, hopeful for Caroline, and cheered by finding that she had not been thought unkind.
She heard doors opened and shut, and the trampling of feet the next morning, and when Lionel met her in the schoolroom for their reading, he told her that be had been overtaken by Elliot running down stairs at full speed; and had only just time to clear out of his way. "And hark! is not there something at the front door? Look out, Marian."
Marian looked from the window. "Yes! It is his dog-cart. Can he be going away, Lionel?"
"Going off in a rage!" said Lionel, looking grave; "I thought there was mischief in his voice last night."
"Yes, there is his portmanteau," said Marian, in a tone of consternation; for little as she liked Elliot, it was too shocking to see a son thus leave his father's roof.
"It is a pretty piece of work," said Lionel. "He has been coming it a little too strong for my father, it seems! Well, poor Caroline will be let alone, that is one good thing; but I am afraid he will go and get into some tremendous scrape, if it is only for the sake of spiting my father."
"It is very dreadful!" said Marian, sighing.
"I am very glad my father was so angry, though!" said Lionel. "Wanting him to drive poor Caroline into it by unkindness! That was a little too bad!"
"Yes, indeed," said Marian. "But O! here he comes out of the door with his cigar. He is getting in! There he goes! O, Lionel!"
They both were silent for some little time. Then Marian took up the prayer-book, and began the Psalm, and when she heard Lionel's voice join in the Doxology, a thrill came home to her, making her feel that blindness might yet be indeed the blessing to him that faith taught her to know it must be. How much better to be thus than like his brother.
When they met the others at breakfast, it proved that they alone knew of the departure; Mr. Lyddell interrogated Elliot's servant, and heard from him that he had orders to follow his master to Paris as soon as he had packed up his goods. This was all that could be learnt, and all that Marian could make out as to what had passed, was that he had been strongly averse to Caroline's engagement being broken off, that he had tried to induce his father to insist upon it, and to drive her to overcome her reluctance by what could be only understood as domestic persecution, and that in short he had allowed his unfeeling selfishness to appear to such a degree, that it had positively revolted his father, whose displeasure had long been excited by the extravagance that had been causing serious inconvenience, and who instantly, while under the influence of his first indignation, resolved to show that he would not be domineered over, nor sacrifice the rest of the family to the extravagance which he had already too freely supplied.
Mr. Lyddell had given his consent while angry, and he could not retract it when he was cool. Caroline therefore might write her letter as soon as she pleased. She had nothing to dread from him; indeed, as if out of opposition to Elliot, he was kinder to her than he had ever been before, called her "my dear" more than once, and observed on her pale looks. Her mother spoke little to her, and that little was cold and unkind, while she looked so vexed and unhappy that even Marian had some feeling for her, and what must it have been for her own daughter? However, all open opposition was withdrawn, and Caroline had only herself to struggle with. There was no reason why she should not once more seek comfort from Marian, yet all that day she kept at a distance, and it was not till the next evening that she came into Marian's room, and sinking into a chair, murmured, "I have done it."
"Written your letter?"
"O, I am so glad!"
"Yes, but you will be glad when it is over."
"O!" sighed Caroline, incredulously. "You know nothing about it. Marian."
"Every one must be glad to have done right," said Marian, firmly.
"O what a week it has been! And I have sown dissension in the family! And no one can tell what may be the consequence with Elliot! And he will be unhappy! O! Marian--I wish--I wish you had let me go on my own way and be miserable alone," added she with a kind of anger.
"It was your own doing," said Marian gently; "you felt it to be right. Only worse misery could come of your going on, for that would have been positive wrong; now it must and will get better."
"I don't know," sighed Caroline. "I never knew till now how much I cared for him! O, Marian!" and she burst into a hearty fit of crying.
Marian was perplexed, as she always was when any one cried, and stood without a word till Caroline had relieved herself by tears, and began to speak again. It was very sad and melancholy, and it was very difficult to find anything to answer; Marian could see no consolation but that "it was right," and that did not seem to have much effect on Caroline; while, added to the former trouble of renouncing the man who loved her, and of grieving her parents, there was the dread of what Elliot might do in his anger.
However, the being able to pour everything out to so true a friend was more of a comfort than anything that, could have been said to her. She told Marian that she had gone through the conversations with her father and mother better than she could have thought possible. She could not desert poor Walter, that was one thing that helped her, she must stand by him, and papa was not half so angry as she expected. It seemed as if her strength had grown with each occasion for it. The first effort of writing to Walter had cost her most of all, then the allowing him to break the matter to her father had been dreadful; but after all, the conferences with her parents, singly and together, had not been as bad as the fear of them, and Marian tried to persuade her that it would be the same when she saw Mr. Faulkner, but poor Caroline shook her head, and said Marian knew nothing about it. And Marian was much of the same opinion, and held her peace, but before the end of the conversation she had the great pleasure of hearing Caroline say, "The thought of being able to have you again has been the one great help to me through all!"
Two days after this, as Marian and Lionel were going out riding together, Marian exclaimed, "I do believe that is Mr. Faulkner!"
"Riding on the Salisbury road," said Marian; "I am sure it is his horse."
"Don't let us meet him! can't we get out of the way?" said Lionel. "Aren't we somewhere near the thorny lane?"
"No, but we might ride off on the Down. Only take care, Lionel; you had better keep close to me," said Marian, much more unwilling to meet Mr. Faulkner than to conduct Lionel through the ups and downs of the green, chalky common.
She watched and guided his pony up the bank and upon the Down, and on they trotted fast, for Marian was actuated by a very undignified fit of terror lest she should meet Mr. Faulkner, towards whom she felt positively guilty, nor did she wish to be seen fleeing from him.
"We must be out of sight of the road by this time, aren't we?" said Lionel.
"I don't know," Marian turned her head to see. At that moment Lionel's pony stepped into a hole, stumbled, and when she looked back again, there was Lionel on the ground. Her head swam with fear, but the next moment Lionel was on his feet and laughing.
"Not hurt, Lionel! are you sure?"
"Not a bit! Is that Sorrel?"
Sorrel was rushing off with his bridle loose, and Marian began to dread having Mr. Faulkner's assistance in catching him. "Stand still, Lionel!" she called, and then riding between Sorrel and the road, she managed to turn him towards a long hedge that crossed the Down, saw him stop to eat a tuft of grass, made a grasp at his bridle, but failed, while he dashed off across the Down, happily not towards the road.
She called to Lionel, told him of her ill success, and begged him not to move, while she again pursued the runaway, and a long dance he led her, far out of sight of Lionel. Once she had considerable hopes, when she came in sight of a shepherd boy, who stood in amaze at the lady in chase of the runaway steed, then came up with a run to cut off its course, but so awkwardly that the pony was still more frightened, and galloped off in another direction faster than ever! Poor Marian! However after full half an hour, she succeeded in hunting him into a narrow place between two fields, ending in a gate, caught safely hold of the rein, kept it fast, and at length led Sorrel back in triumph to the spot where poor Lionel stood still patiently. She called out to him as soon as she came near enough to make her voice heard, and he answered, and walked forward to meet the dark shapes, which were all that he could see.
Marian feared that he would be very much mortified at having been obliged to remain thus helpless, while a girl was doing what he would have so much enjoyed, and she looked anxiously at his face, alas! she could look there now without his knowing it. It was disconsolate, but the look was not bitter. She held Sorrel while he mounted, and she then apologized for having been so long, and said she feared he had thought she had forgotten him. He made not much reply, did not even ask how she had managed to catch the pony. Marian conducted him safely into the road before she would speak again. He did, however, congratulate himself on not having been obliged to be beholden to Mr. Faulkner for catching the pony, as well as on Sorrel's not having gone home to tell the tale himself.
"Yes, indeed, they would have been terribly frightened," said Marian.
"Ay, and if they once knew of my tumble, they would never let us go out riding again."
"But, Lionel, we must tell," said Marian.
"Just like a girl!" grumbled Lionel. "Then there's an end of all our rides, and all the comfort that I have in life."
"I don't know," said Marian. "At any rate I can't ride with you, I should not think it right, unless Mr. Lyddell knew of this fall. It is my concern and not yours, for it was all through my carelessness."
"You go on just as if you were a child still," said Lionel, still cross.
"Well, Lionel, I believe the only way is to manage ourselves as if we were children still."
"All very fine," was Lionel's surly answer, and they rode on, while Marian was very unhappy. She blamed herself for having given way to a foolish fit of nervous bashfulness, which had led to what might have been a serious accident to her especial charge. It had further made a very unpleasant confession needful, and Lionel's vexation and irritation seemed to have overcome all his late improvement. The thought of what poor Caroline was going through was enough to stifle everything else, and Marian wondered at herself, as for a sort of unkindness, in having been so fully occupied as to have had no time for anxiety.
Both had been very silent ever since Lionel's reply, until Marian asked him to strike his repeater. It was half-past five, and they turned homewards, taking a bye road so as to avoid meeting Mr. Faulkner. And now Lionel began to talk of Caroline, and wonder how she had sped. He seemed to throw off his own private troubles as he talked of hers, and his fit of petulance was melting fast away. At last he made up his mind to inquire how she had caught Sorrel, and was positively interested in the narration, laughing at the idea of the scrape they would have been in if Sorrel had made his way to the road, and Mr. Faulkner had caught him.
He said no more about the confession, but it was evident that he had conquered his annoyance sooner than he had ever done before. Marian had not theorized on the matter, but if she had she could not have judged better, for Lionel was far better dealt with by being bold and uncompromising. It was very strange to have this concern of their own so much on their minds when Caroline's fate was at its crisis, yet perhaps it was good for Marian to be thus occupied, since she was apt to suffer very much from anxiety, as persons of her calm and reserved demeanour often do. A sickening, throbbing, trembling feeling came over her, making her temples beat and her hands cold, as she came into the house, expecting to hear whether Caroline had endured and been true to herself, and it was well she had not had longer to suffer from it.
No one was in the drawing-room, and she ran as fast as her trembling knees would allow to Caroline's room, knocked, received no answer, opened the door, and saw Caroline stretched out on her bed, in a state best described by the French word anéantissement, for it was not fainting, but the sort of prostration consequent on the completion of an effort for which she had wound herself up. She was very pale, her eyes were shut, and her breath came short. Marian stood watching her in alarm, wondering whether to speak, and how. At last Caroline looked up, held out her hand, and drew Marian down on her knees till her face was level with hers, then put her arm round her neck.
"Dear Caroline!" said Marian, though it was not easy to say anything, "you will be happier now."
A more caressing person would have been much more at ease herself and given more comfort to Caroline, that must be confessed, but as there was no one else to be had, Marian was obliged to do her best, and this was to kiss Caroline timidly and say, "I am so glad you have done right."
But Caroline only hid her face at the word glad and murmured, "You never did him justice! You never did!"
"If it had not been for the want of that one thing he would have been all right," said Marian.
"O, he is very noble! he has such a mind! such--such--O, he loved me so much," and Caroline fell into a paroxysm of silent misery. Marian began to dread lest the parting had not been final, and though doubtful whether she ought to ask, could not help saying, "But is it over?"
"Yes, yes; you have your wish, Marian. It is done! He is angry with me now! It is over, and I am wretched for life!"
"Not so wretched as if you had done wrong." said Marian. Caroline did not turn away this time, and Marian gathered courage to say, "You have persevered, and now there will be comfort. There will always be comfort in knowing you have tried to do right. Walter will be so glad, and so will Lionel."
"Lionel," repeated Caroline.
"Yes, he has been very anxious about you."
"Poor boy!" sighed Caroline. "Well, Marian, there is one thing still to be done. Only one, and it is all that I shall live for. I shall devote myself to him, if I can but do anything to please him, and make him care for me when you are gone. It will be my one object."
"Yes," said Marian, "it will be very good for you both."
They were interrupted by Clara, who came in, dressed for dinner, pitying Caroline, and telling Marian it was very late. Caroline sat up, but she had a violent nervous headache, and they both persuaded her to lie down again.
Marian ran off to dress, and though the dinner-bell rang in the midst of her hurried toilette, came back to look at Caroline, beg her to keep quiet, and promise to come up as soon as dinner was over. As she went down, the other trouble of having to confess their adventure came over her, but she was resolute, in spite of the want of favour with which she knew she was regarded.
Want of favour, evident from the scrupulous formality with which she was treated; for if she had been like a daughter of the house, as she ought to have been, would they have waited dinner for her, and let her find them all looking uncomfortable and expectant in the drawing-room? They went into the dining-room; there was a silent, formal dinner, nothing like a family party. As soon as the servants had left the room. Marian quailing secretly, not from fear of Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell, but lest Lionel should lose his rides, began, "I have a confession to make, Mr. Lyddell," and told the story of the accident, explaining how it was entirely caused by her carelessness.
Exclamations and inquiries arose, and Mrs. Lyddell certified herself by several questions that Lionel had not been hurt, but not one of them was addressed to Marian. It was as if this was only one among many injuries, too frequent for a reproach more or less to be needed. Mr. Lyddell did not take it half so much to heart, and no prohibition against future rides was issued, for the truth was that no one liked to mortify Lionel. It was exactly one of the cases in which the whole danger is not conquered, because it melts at the very aspect of moral courage.
It was not comfortable to have to walk away to Caroline, knowing how much she had displeased Mrs. Lyddell; but it must be done, and it was, at least, agreeable to leave these cold looks. She found Caroline better, and able to tell her something of what had passed. At first Mr. Faulkner would not believe her to be in earnest, and had imagined this was a way of showing her displeasure at his long absence, or some trifling "lovers' quarrel;" but when he found that she really meant what she said, and her tears and stifled whispers alike announced her adherence to what she had expressed in her letter, he became extremely angry, thought himself, (as indeed he might with some justice) very ill-used, and though he had retained his gentlemanlike manner and language, had pretty plainly expressed that Miss Lyddell should have known her own mind. Poor Caroline wept bitterly, beseeching that they might not part in anger, but he disavowed all irritation, and took a cold, courteous leave, which wounded her more than all.
Marian could not easily sympathise with regrets for such a lover, but she liked to magnify the sacrifice in order to admire it more, and greatly rejoiced in being able to give full admiration to one whom she had learnt to love so heartily as Caroline. Such a triumph over natural timidity and feebleness of character was indeed a great and gallant thing, and Marian used to muse and wonder at it in her solitary hours. There was still much to suffer externally as well as internally; there was the return of letters and presents, with all their associations; there was the feeling of the pain and offence given to Lady Julia and her daughters; there was the perception of the opinions of the world, and the certainty that all the gossips of the neighbourhood were busy with their conjectures; there was the continued anxiety about Elliot, and the marked vexation and displeasure of Mrs. Lyddell, who treated Caroline as one who had disappointed all her best hopes.
Under all this there was only Marian to sustain Caroline, and their friendship was an additional offence. Marian knew that Mrs. Lyddell regarded her as the head of a hostile party, and a sower of dissension in the family, by no means an agreeable footing on which to stand; but the only way, was to appear completely unconscious, and behave as far as possible as usual. She was grateful to them for making it no worse, and still more for not having objected to her continuing her rides with Lionel, from whom, it may well be believed, she scarcely ever took her eyes, from the time his foot was in the stirrup.
Lionel was triumphant at the dismissal of "Julian the apostate," but he was disappointed to find that Caroline did not recover her spirits "now she had had her own way, and got rid of the man." He did not like to have her presence announced by a sigh, and to hear the subdued, dejected tone of her voice, and he used to wonder over it with Marian, who laughed at him for fancying it was such an easy matter to part with a lover, yet agreed that it was hard to understand how there could be love where there was no esteem. Lionel used to consult her as to what was to be done to cheer his sister, since his mother would only make everything worse and he could not bear her continued melancholy.
"I do believe, Lionel," said Marian, "that you could do more for her than any body else. If you would but sometimes let her do things for you, ask her to help you, as--as you ask me."
Lionel would not take the suggestion as she wished. "I thought you liked to help me," said he, in a somewhat offended tone.
"O, don't I?" cried Marian, eagerly; "but so does every one, if you would only allow them."
Lionel flourished the little switch in his hand till it made an ill-tempered "swish!" and Marian knew that he thought her ungrateful for the exclusive preference with which he honoured her.
"She is your sister," she added.
"Very well," said Lionel, crossly shaking off her arm, "I shall know what to be at, if you are tired of helping me."
He could not see the tears in her eyes, and though she was extremely grieved, her voice did not betray how strong her feeling was. "Tired! O Lionel, how can you think it? But would it not be better to learn to depend less on me against I go away?"
"Ay, and glad enough you'll be to go."
"For all but your sake and poor Caroline's," said Marian. "Mrs. Lyddell does not like to have me here."
"It would not be fair to want to keep you," said Lionel, "but----"
"I should have much more comfort in going if I thought you and Caroline were helping each other," said Marian. "I know she wants to make you her first object."
Lionel made no answer nor any change in his ways for some days, yet sometimes it seemed, as if when he thought of it, he was more willing to allow Caroline to do him some of the small services which his fast increasing blindness rendered necessary. Caroline being more dexterous and neat-handed than Marian, did them well, and then Marian was vexed with herself for a few feelings like annoyance at not being equally necessary to Lionel, but she persevered, encouraged by seeing the comfort that each approach on his part seemed to give his sister. It was the hardest thing Marian had ever had to do, to give up the being first with him, as she must cease to be when the natural affection of the brother and sister was called into play. But it was right, and she would bear it. She thought it right as well as very pleasant to accept an invitation from the Wortleys to come and spend the Christmas holidays with them, joining her brother on the railroad, and meeting Edmund at Fern Torr. The repose would be beyond everything delightful, and no less so, the being in a house where her presence was welcome to every member of the family. Besides, she longed to see and to talk to Agnes, and the more she thought of her promised visit the more she enjoyed it.
Caroline and Lionel both were very sorry to part with her, and jointly and separately lamented her going; but Caroline blamed herself for selfishness in wishing to keep her, and perceived that it would be a good thing that her brother should begin to be weaned from his sole dependance upon her, while Lionel seemed half afraid to trust her to depart, lest she should never return, and insisted on half a dozen promises that she would come back at the end of Gerald's holidays.
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