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"Too soon the happy child
His nook of homeward thought will change;
For life's seducing wild;
Too son his altered day-dreams show
This earth a boundless space,
With sunbright pleasures to and fro,
Coursing in joyous race."--Christian Year.
A couple of weeks had passed away, and Marian was beginning to feel rather more accustomed to the absence of Gerald and Lionel, and to find pleasure in the letters which spoke of her brother taking a good place, and from which it did not appear that he disliked school so much as she had feared. Still she could not but miss him grievously, and feel the want of some one to cling to her, bring his troubles to her, and watch for moments of private conference. Her days seemed to follow each other without animation or interest; and if it had not been for some of her lessons, and for his letters and Agnes Wortley's, she felt as if she could have done nothing but yawn till the holidays.
One day, as the young ladies were returning from a walk in the park, they saw a carriage standing at their own door,--too frequent an occurrence, as Marian thought, to call for such warm interest as Clara expressed. Yet even Marian grew eager when she heard her cousins exclaim that there was a coronet on it,--a Viscount's coronet. They were now close to the house, just about to ring, when the door opened, the visitor came out, and at that moment Marian sprang forward with a joyful face, but without a word. The lady held out both hands, and standing on the top of the steps of the door, she drew Marian up to her, and kissed her on each cheek with great eagerness, completely regardless of the spectators.
"Marian, dear little Marian herself! I was afraid I had quite missed you, though I waited as long as I could. You look like your own self, little pale cheeks! Well, I must not stay; I have arranged with Mrs. Lyddell for you to spend to-morrow with me. I will send the carriage for you, and you know how much I have to show you--my husband and my son! You will come, Marian? Not a word? Ah! your own way. Good-bye; you will find your tongue to-morrow. Good-bye."
She let go the hands and sprang into the carriage, giving a smile and nod as she drove off, that filled Marian's soul, almost to overflowing, with a rush of memories. It was as if she was no longer standing on the hard steps, with black streets, and tall, dingy yellow houses bounding her view, and carriages thundering in her ears; no longer lonely among numbers, but as if she was on the bright green grass-plat by the Manor-House door, the myrtles and sycamore nodding round her; the shadows of the clouds chasing each other in purple spots over the moors; her father at the window; her mother, Gerald, Edmund, Agnes, all standing round; that sweet voice, with, that same bright smile, that same arch little nod, repeating the "good-bye," and speaking of meeting next year; and Marian herself thinking how very long a year would be. And now two years had passed since that time, and such years! How much older Marian felt! But there was Selina--Selina herself, not the Beauty--that was enough for joy!
Marian was roused from her dream by exclamations of delight and admiration from her cousins, "How very beautiful!" "O, I never saw anything so lovely!" "Marian, how could you say that she was not like her picture?"
"I don't know," said Marian, gradually waking from her trance.
"Don't you think her the most beautiful creature you ever saw?"
"I don't know."
"Don't know!" cried Caroline, impatiently. "Do you know whether your head is on or not?"
"I don't--nonsense," said Marian, laughing heartily, "The fact was, I never had time to look or think whether she was pretty; I only saw she was just like herself."
"Well, Marian; so you met her?" said Mrs. Lyddell's voice in its most delighted tone, at the top of the stairs. "I never saw a more charming person. So very handsome, and so elegant, and so very agreeable. You have heard of her invitation?"
"Yes; thank you for letting me go," said Marian.
"O yes, of course! I am delighted that you should have the advantage of such an acquaintance. I hope it will be quite an intimacy. I am sure whenever--Well, certainly, I never met with anything more fascinating. She spoke of you with such affection, my dear; I am sure she must be the most delightful person!"
Marian was not suffered to proceed up stairs till she had been told all the particulars of Lady Marchmont's visit, and had answered many questions respecting her; and, when she went up to the school-room, it was the same thing. The party there seemed to look upon their good fortune, in having had a sight of her, something as if they had seen the Queen, or "the Duke;" and it was with a sort of awe that Clara pronounced the words "Lady Marchmont," as she talked over every particular of her dress and deportment.
All this in some degree perplexed Marian. Titled ladies were by no means unusual among Mrs. Lyddell's visitors, and did not create anything like this sensation; and she had not been used at home to hear Selina Grenville talked of as anything more than a wild, gay-tempered girl, whose character for wisdom did not stand very high. To be sure she was now married, and that might make a difference; but then Edmund had since spoken of her as giddy, and as if he had not the highest idea of her discretion. Moreover, it struck Marian herself that she had spoken of her husband and child just as if they were two playthings, to be shown off. Of course that was only in fun, but Marian's was the time of life to have great ideas of the requisite gravity of demeanour in a married woman. Altogether, much as she loved Selina, and clever and engaging as she thought her, it astonished her not a little to find that the relationship conferred upon herself such distinction in the eyes of her cousins; and she spent the evening and the next morning alternately in speculations of this kind, hopes of a home-like day, and fears that Selina after all might prove the affected Viscountess of the Wreath of Beauty.
The time came, the carriage was sent punctually, and in due time Marian was being marshalled up the broad staircase by the tall servants, in all the trepidation of making her first visit in state on her own account, and feeling at every step as if she was getting further into the Wreath of Beauty. Across a great drawing-room,--such a beautiful grand room,--a folding door is opened; "Miss Arundel" is announced, and there she stands in all her stiffness.
There was a little table near the fire, and beside it sat Lady Marchmont, writing notes, in the plainest and most becoming of morning dresses,--a sort of brown holland looking thing, with a plain, stiff, white collar, and a dark blue ribbon, her only ornament, except one large gold bracelet. Her hair was twisted in glossy sunny waves behind her ear, as in some Greek statues; her blue eyes were bright and lustrous, and nothing was ever clearer and more delicate than the slight tinge of red on her cheeks. Lord Marchmont was standing leaning on the mantelshelf, apparently in consultation with her.
As soon as Marian entered, Selina's pen was thrown down, and she flew forward, throwing her arms round her little cousin, and kissing her repeatedly. Then, her arm round Marian's neck, and her hand on her shoulder, she led her towards Lord Marchmont, who stepped forward to receive her, saying, "Yes, here she is, here is your little cousin; and hero, Marian, here is your great cousin. Now I would give five shillings to know what you think of each other."
"I suppose one part of that pleasure will only be deferred till I am out of the room," said Lord Marchmont, as he shook hands with Marian in a kind, cordial, cousinly manner. He was a brown, strong-featured man of three or four and thirty, hardly young enough, and far from handsome enough, in Marian's very youthful eyes, to be suited to his wife, but very sensible and good-natured looking.
"No, Marian is a safe person, and will get no further than 'I don't know;' at least if she is the Marian I take her for," said Lady Marchmont.
"Very prudent," was his answer, smiling at Marian; and then, in compassion to her confusion, gathering up his papers, and preparing to depart.
"Are you going?" said his wife. "Well, I do you the justice to say that, under the circumstances, it is the wisest proceeding in your power; for I shall not get three words out of Marian all the time you are here."
After a few more words of consultation on their own affairs, he left the room, and then Selina caught hold of Marian again, and said she must have a thorough good look at her all over, to see how much of dear old Fern Torr she had brought with her.
Selina Grenville was the youngest daughter of a sister of Sir Edmund Arundel, who had, like the rest of her family, died early. She had been a good deal abroad with her father and a married sister. Her uncommon beauty and engaging manners gained her, when she was little more than eighteen, the affection of Lord Marchmont, a more distant connection of the Arundel family; and happily for Selina, she appreciated him sufficiently to return his love so thoroughly, as to lay aside all the little coquetries which had hitherto been the delight of her life; and to devote herself to him even as he deserved.
It might have been that the poem had said too much in pronouncing her to be a woman as well as a wife; for Selina Marchmont was almost as much of a child as Selina Grenville had been, and only now and then did those deeper shades of thought pass over her face, which showed how much soul there was within her as yet only half developed. Her manners were almost more playful than suited her position, though they became her perfectly; her husband delighted in them; but it was this that had given her grave and saddened cousin, Edmund, an impression that her sense was not of a high order.
She was very warm-hearted. She had been exceedingly attached to her uncle and aunt at Fern Torr; and now it seemed as if she could never fondle Marian enough. The first thing was to show her baby, but she premised that she did not expect Marian to go into raptures about him; she never did expect any one to like babies. "In fact, Marian," she whispered, "don't betray me, but I am a wee bit afraid of him myself. It is such a very little live thing, and that nurse of his never will let me have any comfort with him, and never will trust me to get acquainted with him in a tête-à-tête, poor little man! O, here he comes! the Honourable William James Bertram Marchmont--his name nearly as long as himself."
In came a broad, tall, dignified nurse, large enough to have made at least four Selinas, carrying a small bundle of long white robes. Selina took the little bundle in her arms rather timidly, and held it for Marian to see. Pew babies were ever looked at more silently; he was a small, but pretty, healthy-looking child of between two and three months old,--a very wax doll of a baby, with little round mottled arms moving about, and tiny hands flourishing helplessly, he looked just fit for his mamma. She held him with the fond, proud, almost over care with which little girls take for a moment some new brother or sister; and as she gazed upon him without a word, the earnest intensity of expression gathered upon her beautiful face. After about five minutes thus spent, she roused herself, and began gaily to tell Marian not to trouble herself to seek for a likeness in him to anybody, or to say anything so wild as that he in the least resembled her or his papa; and then she nodded and smiled at him, and seemed as if she would have talked to him and played with him, if his nurse had not been standing close by all the time, looking as if she was being defrauded of her property.
"It is time Master Marchmont should be taken out before the sun goes off, my Lady," said she, authoritatively.
"Very well, I suppose he must," said Selina, reluctantly giving him back again after a timid kiss.
"There goes my lady nurse and her child," said she with a sigh, hidden even from herself by a laugh. "I am sure he seems a great deal more hers than mine; but there, I should never know what to do with him. Come, Marian, now for all about yourself, my poor child. How do they use you?"
Much indeed there was to hear; and much to tell on either side, and scarcely for a moment did the two cousins cease from talking as they sat together in the morning, and drove together in the afternoon. Selina was one of those people who have a wonderful power of dispelling reserve, chiefly by their own frankness; and when she had told Marian all the history of her first sight of Lord Marchmont, and the whole courtship, and all that she had thought "so very noble" in him, and tried to make her understand how very happy she was, Marian's heart was open in her turn. Not the depths of it,--not such things as by a great effort she had told to Edmund, and might possibly tell to Mrs. Wortley, but much more than she could ever have said to any one else; and free and abundant was the sympathy and pity she received,--pity even beyond what she thought she deserved. She was surprised to observe that Selina spoke of the Lyddells with a sort of contempt, as if they were wanting in refinement; whereas she herself had never thought of their being otherwise than lady-like, and certainly very fashionable; but she supposed Lady Marchmont knew best, and was pleased to find herself considered superior. Gerald was of course one of their subjects of conversation, and gradually Marian, with her strict regard to truth, from a little unguardedness, found herself involved in a tangle from which there was no escape, without telling the whole story of the Wreath of Beauty.
She need not have been afraid; Selina laughed as if nothing would ever make her cease, and insisted on Marian's bringing the portrait the next time she came to visit her. She vowed that she would patronise Lionel for ever for his cleverness; and when Marian looked sorrowful about the consequences, she told her that it was much better for Gerald to be at school, and she was very glad he was gone; and then she patted Marian's shoulder, and begged that she would not think her very cruel for saying so.
Marian was very glad to be able to acquit her of vanity, when she heard the history of the insertion of the engraving, which had been entreated for by persons whom Lord Marchmont did not like to disoblige. The engraving both he and Selina disliked very much; and when Marian saw the original portrait, she perceived that the affectation did not reside there, for it was very beautiful, and the only fault to be found with it was chiefly attributable to the fact that miniatures always make people look so pretty, that this did not give the idea of a person so surpassingly lovely as Selina.
Lord Marchmont came in several times to speak to his wife, but Marian did not see much of him till dinner-time, and then she liked him very much. He was certainly rather a grave person, and she wondered to see how Selina could be so merry with him; but he was evidently amused, and Marian had yet to learn how a clever and much occupied man likes nonsense to be talked to him and before him in his hours of relaxation. He behaved to Marian herself very kindly, and just as if she was a grown-up person,--a treat which she had scarcely enjoyed since she left Fern Torr; and though she was silent, as usual when with strangers, it was with no uncomfortable shyness: she was more at ease already with him than with Mr. Lyddell.
Selina told him the history of Gerald's works of art in so droll a manner, that Marian herself saw it in a much funnier aspect than she had ever done before. He was much diverted, and turning to Marian, said, with seriousness that would have alarmed her, but for Selina's laughter, and a certain sub-smile about the corners of his mouth, that he hoped he was not to take the Beast as anything personal. Selina told him that she wanted him to convince Marian that it was a very good thing for Gerald to be sent to school, and he set to work to do so in earnest with much kindness, and by asking sundry questions about her brother's attainments and tastes, he so won her, that she was ready to do him the honour of acknowledging him as one of her own cousins.
The evening came too soon to an end, though the carriage had not been ordered to take Marian home, till ten o'clock. It had all been like one dream of brightness, and Marian, when she awoke the next morning, could hardly believe that it was the truth that she had enjoyed herself so much, and that a house containing such happiness for her could be in London or so near her.
The schoolroom looked very black and dull after the bright little sitting-room where she had parted with Selina; the lessons were wearisome, her companions more uncongenial than ever; she felt actually cross at the examination to which Clara subjected her about every trifle she could think of, in the house of Marchmont. She could have talked of its delights if there had been anybody to care about them in her own way, but that was the great if of Marian's life. She was conscious that her day's pleasure had unhinged her, and made her present tasks unusually distasteful, and she thought it the fault of the Lyddells, and in a great fit of repining blamed Edmund for injustice to Selina in not letting her house be their home. Her great hope was of another day there, the only thing that seemed to give a brightness to her life, and she looked forward to an intercourse between Lady Marchmont and Mrs. Lyddell, which would produce continual meetings.
However, time passed on, and she did not see Selina. Mrs. Lyddell took her when she went to return the visit, but Lady Marchmont was not at home. It was not till after more than a fortnight that she received a little note from her, saying that they were going to a show of flowers, and would send for Marian to go with them.
There was quite a commotion in the house on the occasion; not that all were not willing that Marian should go, but that Mrs. Lyddell thought her dress not at all fit; the plain straw bonnet which Marian would buy, in spite of all that could be said to the contrary, and that old black silk dress which did very well just for going to Church in, with a governess, but----
Mrs. Lyddell and Saunders were for once in their lives agreed; and Marian, who thought her money would have served her this time to fulfil her grand scheme of buying Tytler's History of Scotland, was overpowered, and obliged to let them have their will, and wear it outside her head, in white silk; instead of inside, in Robert Bruce's wanderings.
She was quite ready, in new bonnet and mantle, by the time Lady Marchmont's carriage was at the door, and very happy she was to find herself by her side again. Perhaps there was a little consciousness of newness in the manner in which she wore them, for Lady Marchmont remarked upon them, and said that they were very pretty, as in fact they were. Marian looked disconsolate, and Selina laughingly asked why. She told her former wishes, and was further laughed at, or rather Mrs. Lyddell was. Selina said the old bonnet would have done just as well; "it was so like such people to smarten up for a great occasion."
Such people! Marian wondered again, and disliked her white bonnet more than ever, resolving for the future to trust her own taste. She soon forgot all this, however, in the pleasure of seeing green grass and trees, and the beautiful, most beautiful flowers, with their delicious perfume. This was real delight, such as she had never imagined before, and she thought she could have studied the wonderful forms of those tropical plants for ever, if it had not been for the crowds of people, and for a little awe of Lord Marchmont, who had given her his arm, and who did not seem to know or care much even for the dove orchis or the zebra-striped pitcher-plant. She wished she could turn him into Edmund, and looked at every plant which she fancied a native of the Cape, almost as kindly as if it had been a primrose of Fern Torr.
It was another delightful day. Marian went back with her friends, and sat by while Selina was dressed for an evening party, heard a description of her home in the country, and gave a very unflattering one of Oakworthy, gained somehow or other a renewed impression of her own superiority to the Lyddells, and went home to indulge in another fit of discontent.
Such were Marian's visits to Lady Marchmont, and such their effect. Mrs. Lyddell did much indeed that was calculated to give strength to the feeling by the evident pride which she took in Marian's familiarity with Lady Marchmont, and even in the cold, distant, formal civility with which she herself was treated.
There was danger around Marian which she did not understand, the world was tempting her in a different way. She disliked what she saw among the Lyddells too much to find their worldly tastes and tempers infectious, but her intercourse with Selina was a temptation in a new form. She loved Selina so heartily as to see with her eyes, and be led by her in opinions: especially when these were of a kind according with her own character. It was from her that Marian imbibed the idea that she was to be pitied for living in her present home, not because Mrs. Lyddell's mind was set on earth and earthly things, but because she did not belong to those elite circles which Marian learnt to believe her own proper place. Edmund had told her she might stand on high ground, and she believed him, but was this such high ground as he meant? The danger did not strike Marian, because it did not seem to her like pride, since the distinction, whatever it was, did not consist in rank; she would have had a horror of valuing herself on being a baronet's daughter, but this more subtle difference flattered her more refined feelings of vanity; and though she was far from being conscious of it, greatly influenced her frame of mind, and her conduct towards her cousins. It was not without reason now that Caroline thought her proud.
It must not, however, be supposed that this was Marian's abiding frame of mind; it was rather the temper which was infused into her by each successive visit to Selina during the next three years. Of course, every time it was renewed, it was also strengthened, but it was chiefly her London disposition, and used in great degree to go off when she was taken up with the interests of Oakworthy, and removed from the neighbourhood of Lady Marchmont.
Oakworthy was so preferable to London, except so far as that she was there out of Selina's reach, that she began to have a kindness for it. She knew some of the poor people there, in whom Caroline had kept up an interest ever since Miss Cameron's time; the smoky streets of London had taught her to prize the free air and green turf of the Downs; and, thanks to Edmund, her own dear Mayflower awaited her there, and she enjoyed many a canter with Caroline and Walter. She began for the first time to become acquainted with the latter, and to learn to look upon him with high esteem, but to obtain a knowledge of him was a very difficult matter. He was naturally diffident and bashful, and his spirits were not high; he had been thrown more and more into himself by his mother's hastiness of manner and his father's neglect. His principles were high and true, his conduct excellent, and as he had never given any cause for anxiety, he was almost always overlooked by the whole family. Nor was he clever, and the consciousness of this added to his timidity, which being unfortunately physical as well as mental, caused him to be universally looked down upon by his brothers. Even Marian began to share the feeling when she saw him turn pale and start back from the verge of a precipitous chalk pit where she could stand in perfect indifference, and when she heard him aver his preference for quiet horses. Mayflower's caperings were to him and Caroline so shocking, and it appeared to them so improper that she should be allowed to mount such an animal, that but for her complete ease, her delight in the creature's spirit, and her earnest entreaties, a complaint against Mayflower would certainly have been preferred to the authorities.
In spite of all this, there was satisfaction in talking to Walter, for he saw things as Marian did, right and wrong were his first thoughts, and his right and wrong were the same as hers. This was worth a great deal to her, though she was often provoked with him for want of boldness in condemnation. A man grown up could, she thought, do so much to set things to rights, if he would but speak out openly, and remonstrate, but Walter shrank from interfering in any way; it seemed to cost him an effort even to agree with Marian's censure. Yes, she thought, as she stood looking at the print of S. Margaret, Walter might pass by the dragon, nay, fight his own battle with it, but he would never tread it manfully under, so that it might not rise to hurt others. He might mourn for the sins around him, but would he ever correct them? Marian thought if she was a man, a man almost twenty, destined to be a clergyman, she had it in her soul to have done great things; then she would not be shy, for she should feel it her duty to speak.
In the meantime, Marian had a trouble of her own, a sore place in her heart, and in its tenderest spot, for Gerald was the cause. The first holidays had been all she could desire; he was affectionate, open, full of talk about home and Edmund, with the best of characters; and with the exception of all the other boys being "fellows" and nameless, there was nothing like reserve about him; but the next time, he had not been three days in the house, before she perceived that the cloud had come down again, which had darkened the last few weeks before his going to school. He avoided being alone with her, he would not let her ask him questions, he talked as if he despised his governors and teachers, and regarded rules as things made to be eluded. His master's letter did not give a satisfactory account of him, and when Marian tried to fish out something about his goings on from Lionel, she met with impenetrable silence, Lionel himself seemed to be going through school pretty much in the same way, with fits and starts of goodness, and longer intervals of idleness, but he made his eyes a reason, or an excuse, for not doing more. They were large, bright, blue, expressive eyes, and it was hard to believe them in fault, but strong sunshine or much reading by candle-light always brought the green and purple monsters, and sometimes a degree of inflammation. It was said that he must be careful of them, and how much of his idleness was necessary, how much was shirking, was a question for his own conscience.
Every time Gerald came home, Marian saw something more that pained her. There was the want of confidence that grew more evident every time, though it was by no means want of affection; it was vain to try to keep him away from the stables; he read books on Sunday which she did not approve, she did not think he wrote to Edmund, and what made her more uneasy than all was, that Elliot was becoming the great authority with him. Elliot had begun to take a sort of distant patronising notice of hint, which seemed to give him great pleasure, and which Marian who every year had reason to think worse of Elliot, considered very dangerous. She could not bear to see Gerald search through, the newspapers for the racing intelligence, and to see him orating scientifically to Lionel and Johnny about the points of the horses; she did not like to see him talking to the gamekeepers, and set her face, more than was perhaps prudent, against all the field sports which were likely to lead him into Elliot's society.
In her zeal against this danger, she forgot how keen a sportsman Edmund himself was, and spoke as if she thought these amusements wrong altogether, and to be avoided, and this, together with the example of Walter, gave Gerald a very undesirable idea of the dulness of being steady and well conducted. That he spent more money than was good for him, was also an idea of hers gathered from chance observations of her own, and unguarded words of the other boys; but this was one of the points on which his reserve was the strictest, and she only could be anxious in ignorance. The holidays, anticipated with delight, ended in pain, though still she cherished a hope that what alarmed her might be boyish thoughtlessness of no importance in itself, and only magnified by her fears.
She was encouraged in this by finding that Lord Marchmont, when he saw him once in London, thought him a very fine, promising boy, and that Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell did not seem to see anything seriously amiss. But then Lord Marchmont had not seen enough of him to be able to judge, and would not have told her even if he had thought there probably was anything wrong; and she could not trust to Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell. It was very painful to imagine herself unjust to her only brother, and she drove the fears away; but back they would always come, every time Gerald was at home, and every time she looked and longed in vain for a letter from him.
Thus passed, as has already been said, three years, spent for the most part without event. Caroline, at eighteen, was introduced; but though her evenings were given to company, her mornings were still spent in the schoolroom, of which indeed she was the chief brightness. Marian, though she had the offer of coming out at the same time, was very glad to embrace the alternative of waiting another year. She was now a little past her seventeenth birthday, which emancipated her from being absolutely Miss Morley's pupil. She breakfasted with the rest of the family, dined with them when there was not a large party, learnt more of masters, and studied more on her own account than she had ever done before; and only depended on Miss Morley and Clara for companionship in walking and meals, when Caroline was otherwise engaged.
She was more with the Marchmonts than ever during this spring. She rode with them, kept Selina company when her husband went out without her; went about with her wherever a girl of woman's height, though not yet come out, could be taken; and was almost always at any of her dinners or evening parties, where she could have the pleasure of seeing anything that was distinguished. It was a very pleasant life; for she was new to the liberty of being loosed from schoolroom restraints, and at the same time the restraints and duties of society had not laid hold upon her. Among Selina's friends she was not expected to talk, and could listen in peace to the conversation of the very superior men Lord Marchmont brought around him; or if she chanced to exchange a few words with any of them, she remembered it afterwards as a distinction. Selina, with all the homage paid to her beauty, her rank, her fascination of manner, and her husband's situation, was made much of by all, and was able to avoid being bored, without affronting any one; and a spoilt child of fashion herself, in her generosity and affection, she made Marian partake her pleasures, and avoid annoyances as far as she could, like herself. It was a pleasant life, and Marian thoroughly enjoyed it but was it a safe one?
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