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"So too may soothing Hope thy leave enjoy,
Sweet visions of long severed hearts to frame;
Though absence may impair or cares annoy,
Some constant mind may draw us still the same."--Christian Year.
"Here are two letters for you, Marian," said Mrs. Lyddell, meeting the girls as they came in from a walk; "Lady Marchmont's servant left this note."
"An invitation to dinner for this evening," said Marian opening it; "ah! I knew they were to have a party; 'just recollected that Lady Julia Faulkner used to know Fern Torr, and I must have you to meet her, if it is not a great bore.'"
"Then, my dear, had you not better send an answer? James can take it directly."
"No, no, thank you; the carriage will call at seven. Who can this Lady Julia be? But--" by this time Marian had arrived at her other letter, and, with a sudden start and scream of joy, she exclaimed, "They are coming!"
"Coming? Who?" asked Caroline.
"Agnes--and Mr. and Mrs. Wortley! O! All coming to stay with their friends in Cadogan Place. I shall see them at any time I please."
"I am very glad of it," said Caroline.
"Tell them that their earliest engagement must be to us," said Mrs. Lyddell. "When do you expect them?"
"Next week, next week itself," cried Marian, "to stay a whole fortnight, or perhaps three weeks. Mr. Wortley has business which will occupy him--"
Few faces ever expressed more joy than Marian's in the prospect of a meeting with these dearest of friends; Mrs. Lyddell and Caroline smiled at her joy as she flew out of the room to make Saunders a partaker in her pleasure.
"Strange girl," said Caroline; "so cold to some, so warm to others; I shall be glad to see these incomparable Wortleys."
"So shall I," said Mrs. Lyddell; "but I expect that Marian's opinion of them will soon alter, she has now become used to such different society. However we must be very civil to them, be they what they may."
In the meantime Marian penned a letter to Agnes, in terms of delight and affection twenty times warmer than any which had ever passed her lips, and then resigned herself to Saunders' hands to be dressed, without much free will on her own part; too excited to read as usual during the operation, sometimes talking, sometimes trying to imagine Agnes in London, a conjunction which seemed to her almost impossible.
The carriage came for her, and in due time she was entering the great drawing-room, where Selina, looking prettier than ever in her evening dress, sat reading a novel and awaiting her guests.
"O Selina, only think," she began; "the Wortleys are coming!"
"What say you? Why, Marian, you are in a wild state. Who are coming?"
"The Wortleys, Selina, my own Agnes."
"O, your old clergyman's daughter! You constant little dove, you don't mean that you have kept up that romantic friendship all these years?"
"Yes, yes, I remember all about them now: the daughter was your great friend."
"She was more yours," said Marian, "when you were at Fern Torr, because you were more nearly the same age. Don't you remember how you used to whisper under the sycamore tree, and send me out of the way?"
"Poor little Marian! Well, those were merry times, and I rather think your Agnes promised to be very pretty."
"And shall not you be glad to see her?"
"When do they come?"
"Next Monday, to--Cadogan Place."
"Close to you. Well, that is lucky; but now, my dear, if you can come down from the clouds for a moment, I want to tell you about Lady Julia."
"Who is she?" said Marian, bringing back her attention with an effort.
"A tiresome woman," whispered Selina, with a sort of affectation of confidence; "but the fact is, Lord Marchmont used to know her husband, or his father, or his great grandfather, sometime in the dark ages, and so be wants me to make much of her. She is one of the people that it is real toil to make talk for; but by good fortune I remembered that I had heard some legend about her once knowing my uncles, and so I thought that a cross-examination of you about Gerald and Fern Torr would be a famous way of filling up the evening."
"O!" said Marian in a not very satisfied tone, "so she has a husband, has she? I fancied from your note that she only consisted of herself,"
"She consists of a son and daughters," said Selina.
"Her husband is dead, but the rest of the house you will presently see."
"Eh?" said Lord Marchmont, coming out of the other room where he had been writing, and greeting Marian.
"You don't mean that you have invited that young Faulkner?"
"You would, not have me leave out the only agreeable one of the party--something to sweeten the infliction."
Lord Marchmont smiled at the arch, bold, playful manner with which she looked up in his face, as if to defy him to be displeased; but still he was evidently vexed, and said, "It is hard upon Marian only to take her from Elliot Lyddell's society to bring her into Mr. Faulkner's."
"Indeed! but that is hard on Mr. Faulkner," said his wife. "As to worth, I suppose he and Marian's cousin are pretty much on a par, but it is but justice to say that he has considerably the advantage in externals."
"It cannot be helped now," said Lord Marchmont; "but I wish I had told you before, Selina. The esteem I had for that young man's father would make me still more reluctant to cultivate him, considering his present way of going on."
"Well, one invitation to dinner is not such a very agricultural proceeding, that you need waste such a quantity of virtuous indignation," said Selina; "I daresay he will not grow very much the faster for it."
The arrival of some of the party put a stop to the conversation, and presently Lady Julia Faulkner, Mr. and Miss Faulkner, were announced. The first was a fair, smooth, handsome matron, who looked as if she had never been preyed upon by either thought or care; her daughter was a well-dressed, fashionable young lady; and her son, so gentlemanlike and sensible looking, as to justify Lady Marchmont in saying that in externals he had the advantage of Elliot Lyddell. Marian sat next him at dinner, and though she meant to dislike him, she could not succeed in doing so; he talked with so much spirit and cleverness of the various exhibitions and other things, which are chiefly useful as food for conversation. Something too might be ascribed to the store of happiness within her, which would not let her be ungracious or unwilling to let herself be entertained, for on the whole, she had never been so well amused at a dinner party.
In the drawing-room the examination took place with which she had been threatened, but she had grown hardened to such things with time, and could endure them much better than she used to do. It was always the custom for her to outstay the guests, so as to talk them over with her cousins; and, on this occasion the first exclamation was, how very agreeable and clever Mr. Faulkner was.
"So much the worse," said Lord Marchmont gravely; "I think worse of him than I did before, for I find he has taken up Germanism."
Marian had some notion that Germanism meant that the foundations of his faith were unsettled, and she looked extremely horrified, but she had not time to dwell on the subject, for the carriage came to the door, and she was glad to be alone to hug herself with delight. The gas lamps looked as bright to her eyes as if there were an illumination specially got up in honour of her happiness, and the drive to Mr. Lyddell's was far too short to settle a quarter of what Agnes was to see and do.
It was almost four years since she had parted with her, but the correspondence had scarcely slackened, nor the earnestness of her affection and confidence diminished. There was no one, excepting Edmund, to whom she could look for counsel in the same manner, and the hope of long conversations with Mrs. Wortley was almost as delightful as the thought of seeing Agnes once more.
She had begged them to call the first thing, and accordingly soon after breakfast one fine Tuesday morning, a loud double-knock caused her heart to leap into her mouth, or rather her throat, and almost choke her. Mrs. Lyddell, Elliot, and Caroline were all present, and she wished them forty miles off, when the announcement was the very thing she wished to hear!
There they were, Mrs. Wortley giving that fond, motherly kiss, Agnes catching both hands, and kissing both cheeks, Mr. Wortley giving one hearty squeeze to her hand! There they really were, she was by Mrs. Wortley's side, their own familiar tones were in her ears! She hardly dared to look up, for fear Agnes should be altered, but no, she could not call her altered, though she was more formed, the features were less childish, and there was more thought, though not less life and light than of old, in the blue eyes. Indeed it came upon Marian by surprise, that she had not known before that Agnes was uncommonly pretty as well as loveable. She was surprised not to see her friend more shy, but able to answer Elliot's civilities with readiness and ease; whereas she who still felt stiff and awkward with a stranger, had supposed that such must be doubly the case with one who had lived so much less in the world.
That day was to be devoted by the Wortleys to visits and business, but they reckoned on having Marian to themselves all the next, and were to call for her early on their way to some of the sights of London. Mrs. Lyddell made them fix an early day for coming to dinner, and they took their leave, Marian feeling as if the visit had not been everything that she expected, and yet as if it was happiness even to know that the same city contained herself and them.
No sooner were they gone than the Lyddells began with one voice to admire Agnes, even Elliot was very much struck with her, and positively gained himself some degree of credit with Marian, by confirming her opinion of her friend's beauty. It was delightful indeed that Agnes should be something to be proud of; Marian would not have loved her one whit the less if she had been a plain, awkward country girl, but it was something to have her affection justified in their eyes, and to have no fear of Agnes being celebrated only for her cricket.
They called for Marian early the next morning, and now she received the real greeting, corresponding to her parting, as Mrs. Wortley's second daughter. Then began the inquiries for everything at Fern Torr, animate or inanimate, broken into by Agnes's exclamations of surprise at everything new and wonderful in the streets, a happy, but a most desultory conversation.
At last they got into a quiet street where Mr. and Mrs. Wortley went to choose a carpet, and the two girls were left to sit in the carriage.
"O Marian!" began Agnes, "so you have not quite lost your old self! I am glad to see how it all is at least, for I have something tangible to pity you for."
"I wonder what it is," said Marian, too happy for pity at that moment.
"O, my dear! that Mr. Elliot Lyddell!"
"He is hardly ever in my way," said Marian.
"And his sister! Her dress! What study it must have taken! In the extreme of fashion."
"Caroline's dress is not exactly what she would choose herself," said Marian.
"That must be only an excuse, Marian; for though you have a well-turned-out look, it is not as if you were in a book of fashions."
"I am not Mrs. Lyddell's daughter, and though I do expect a battle or two when I come out, it will not be a matter of obedience with me, as it is with Caroline."
"Is it very painful obedience?" said Agnes laughingly; "well, you do deserve credit for not being spoilt among such people."
"In the first place, how do you know they are 'such people?' and next, how do you know I am not spoilt?"
"You must be the greatest hypocrite in the world, if you are spoilt, to write me such letters, and sit so boldly looking me in the face. And as to their being 'such people,' have not I seen them, have not I heard them, and, above all, has not Mr. Arundel given me their full description?"
"But that was three years and a half ago," said Marian.
"And have they changed since then?" asked Agnes.
"I don't know."
"O how glad I am to hear that!" cried Agnes. "Never mind them; but to hear you say 'I don't know' in that old considering tone is proof enough to me that you are my own old Marian, which is all I care for."
"I don't--" began Marian; then stopping short and laughing, she added, "I mean I was thinking whether it is really so. Can any person live four years without changing? Especially at our age. What a little girl I was then!"
"Yes, to be sure, you have grown into a tall--yes, quite a tall woman, and you have got your black hair into a very pretty broad braid, and you wear a bracelet and carry a parasol, and don't let your veil stream down your back; I don't see much more alteration. Your eyes are as black and your face as white, and altogether you are quite as provoking as ever in never telling one anything that one wishes to know."
Marian gave a stiff smile, one which she had learnt in company, and grew frightened at herself to find that she was treating Agnes, as she treated the outer world. She did not know what to say; her love was deep, strong and warm within, but it was too soon to "rend the silken veil;" and this awkwardness, this consciousness of coldness was positive suffering. She was relieved that the return of Mr. and Mrs. Wortley put an end to the tête-à-tête, then shocked that it should be a relief; for, poor girl, her extreme embarrassment overpowering the happiness in her friend's presence, made her doubt whether it could be that her affection was really departing, a thought too dreadful to be dwelt upon.
Who would have told her that she should endure so much pain in her first drive with the Wortleys?
They went to call on Lady Marchmont that day, and, as Marian expected, did not find her at home. Agnes renewed the old lamentation that Marian could not live with her and thus avoid Mrs. Lyddell's finery and fashion. "Now why do you laugh, Marian? you don't mean that Selina Grenville can have turned into a fashionable lady? she was the simplest creature in the world."
"She is what she was then," said Marian; "but as to being fashionable--. My dear Agnes, you don't understand."
"We have not to reproach Marian for want of knowledge of the world now, Agnes," said Mr. Wortley, smiling at his daughter's bewildered look.
"Ah!" cried Marian, and there stopped, thinking how grievously she must be altered, since this was the reproach that the Lyddells used so often to make her. Some wonderful sight here engaged Agnes, and Marian's exclamation fell unheeded.
She spent a good many hours with the Wortleys while they were in London, but usually in the midst of confusion and bustle: Mr. and Mrs. Wortley were busy, and Agnes almost wild with the novelties around. Marian's heart ached as she recollected a saying which she had read, that a thread once broken can never be united again. Her greatest comfort was in the prospect of a visit to Fern Torr; for Mrs. Lyddell willingly consented to her accepting Mrs. Wortley's invitation to return with them, and to stay even to the end of her brother's holidays, which he was also to spend at home. She should know better there whether she was really changed; she could take it all up again there, and now she could afford to wait, and not feel the necessity of saying everything that would not be said in so short a time.
One thing was certain, she did not like to hear Agnes talk against the Lyddells. She could have done it herself; nay, she did so sometimes when with Lady Marchmont, but then that was only about "nonsense." She had lived with them too long, had shared in too many of their conversations and employments, was, in fact, too much one of the family, to like to hear them condemned. She thought it very strange, and she could not tell whether it was from having grown like them, or from a genuine dislike to injustice; at any rate it was this which convinced her that she had come to regard them in some degree as friends.
She wished them to appear to as much advantage as possible, but this they really seemed resolved not to do, at least not what was in her eyes and those of the Wortleys, to advantage. Mrs. Lyddell would have a grand dinner party to do honour to her friends, and the choice of company was not what she would have made. To make it worse, Elliot sat next Agnes, Walter was not at home, and the conversation was upon religious subjects, which had better not have been discussed at all in such a party, and which were viewed by most present, in the wrong way. All this, however, Marian could have endured, for she did not care to defend Mr. and Mrs. Lyddell or Elliot, individually, only when considered as forming part of "the Lyddells," but she really wished Agnes to like Caroline and Clara.
She did not know whether Agnes was not perverse about Caroline, whom she continued to call a mere fashionable young lady, not being able to find any other reproach than this vague one; but as to Clara, Marian herself could have found it in her heart to beat her when she made sillier speeches than usual in Agnes' hearing, and, above all, for having at this time a violent fit of her affection for Marian herself, whom she perseveringly called a dear girl, and followed about so closely as to be always in the way.
Marian would have been still more provoked with Clara, had Agnes not had forbearance enough to abstain from telling her all that Clara had said, when once, by some chance, left alone with her for ten minutes. After a great deal about her extreme friendship for "dearest Marian," she said, "Some people think her pretty,--do you, Miss Wortley?"
"Not exactly pretty," said Agnes, "but hers is a fine face."
"Ah! she has not colour enough to be pretty. She is much too pale, poor dear, but some people say that is aristocratic. And she is like her cousin, Lady Marchmont, the beauty. Do you know Lady Marchmont?"
"I used to know her as a girl."
"Ah! she is very handsome, and so much the fashion. It is such an advantage for Marian to be there, and I hope she will slyly bring us acquainted some of these days. But then all the Arundels are proud; Marian has a good deal of pride in her own way, though she is a dear girl!"
"Marian!" exclaimed Agnes.
"O yes! She is a dear girl, but every one in Wiltshire speaks of her pride; all our friends do, I assure you. I always defend her, of course, but every one remarks it."
Agnes was wondering whether simply to disbelieve anything so preposterous as that all Wiltshire should be remarking on poor Marian's pride, or whether to explain it by her well-known shyness, when Clara made another sudden transition. "Do you know Mr. Arundel?"
"Is not he a fine, distinguished looking man? We did admire him so when he was here. I assure you we are all quite jealous of Marian. Miss Morley says there can be but one dénouement."
Here Marian came into the room, and Agnes proceeded to question within herself which was most wonderful,--the extreme folly of Clara, or of the governess.
Another vexation to Marian was the behaviour of Lady Marchmont. She herself was invited as often as usual to come to her cousin, but she could not spare a minute from her dear friends, and only was surprised and vexed that they were not included, and that Selina had not yet called upon them. She knew that one of her parties consisted of persons whom Mr. Wortley would have been particularly glad to meet, and she watched most anxiously for a card for him; she even went so far, as in her own note of refusal to give a very far distant hint, thinking that Selina only required to be put in mind of his being in London.
At last, only two days before they left town, Lady Marchmont left her card for Mrs. Wortley, but without asking if she was at home; and Marian, who was in the house at the time, felt the neglect most acutely. Mrs. Wortley saw the bright glow of red spread all over the pale check, and was heartily sorry on her account. Agnes broke out into exclamations that there must be a mistake,--the servants must have misunderstood, and she would have asked questions; but Marian said, in a voice of deep feeling, "No, Agnes, it is no mistake. You understand me now when I say Selina Marchmont is more of a fine lady than Mrs. Lyddell. But O, I never thought she would have neglected you!"
"Say no more, my dear," said Mrs. Wortley; "Lady Marchmont must have too many engagements to attend to us dull country folks. Indeed, it gives me no pain, my dear, except to see it grieve you. You know she has done her duty by us."
"Her duty by herself, she may think," said Marian, "in not doing what would be called rude, but not her duty by you; you, to whom all who ever--who ever loved them, owe so much."
The tears glittered in Marian's eyes, and her cheek was flushed.
"Marian, my dear, cool down a little," said Mrs. Wortley; "think how long it is since Lady Marchmont knew us, and recollect that the--the causes, which you think you have for caring for us, may not appear the same to her. She only thinks of us as dimly remembered neighbours of her cousin's, coming to London for a little while; she is full of engagements, and has no time for us, and just follows the fashions of other people."
"That is it," said Marian. "How shall I ever wish her good-bye in charity?"
They were interrupted; and it was not till Marian was gone that Agnes had the satisfaction of a full outbreak of indignation at all fine ladies, and of triumph in the impossibility of their ever spoiling her own dear Marian.
Marian had to spend the evening with the Marchmonts, and she was more constrained with them at first than she had ever been before. Yet it was not easy to continue constrained with Selina, who was perfectly unconscious that she had given any offence; and the feeling was quite removed by half an hour's play with little Willy, who was now promoted to be a drawing-room child for various short intervals of the day. He was under a nursery governess, who let his mamma have a little more property in him.
Selina asked about the intended journey, and thus renewed Marian's feeling of the wrongs of the Wortleys; but when Selina scolded her for not coming oftener, supposed she had been very happy, and envied her for going to dear old Fern Torr, Marian began to forgive, and did so quite when she wished she could have seen them, and lamented that she had been so much engaged. Three times she had gone out, fully meaning to call on them, and have a good long chat, but each time something delayed her; and the last, and fourth, she really was obliged to be at home early, and could not possibly make a call.
The charm of manner made all this appease Marian; but when the immediate spell of Selina's grace and caressing ways was removed, she valued it rightly, and thought, though with pain, of the expressive epithet, "fudge!" Could not Selina have gone to her aunt's old friends if she would? Had not Marian known her to take five times the trouble for her own gratification? Marian gained a first glimpse of the selfishness of refined exclusiveness, and doubted whether it had not been getting a hold of herself, when she had learnt of Selina to despise and neglect all that was unpleasing.
O the joy of knowing that she should turn her back on the great wicked world again, and measure herself by the old standard of home! And yet she trembled, lest she should find that the world had touched her more than she had thought.
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