« 上一頁繼續 »
some delusion, some phantom of the imagination, -may I not do my best to effect a reconciliation ?”
She looked up anxiously into Philip's face. The muscles round his lips did not relax.
“Mrs. Vyvian, I have unbounded faith in you, or I should not come here with my domestic grievance; a thing, by the way, a man would always, if he could, bury far down out of sight of his best friends. Had there been a single tangible point, I should have hope; but, as far as I can learn, there is none. I have tried to bring her to complain of any one thing, but it is useless. All we can say, then, is,” and a ghastly smile came over his white face," that we are separated from incompatibility of temper.' I bring no charges against her, God knows, for I have always had implicit trust in her. I cannot foresee what will be the ultimate conclusion to this unfortunate opisode in my life; but, as I said before, I leave it in your hands. Do what you will. I am sure you will act wisely. Only go to her; for she will need both comfort and advice.”
Anxious as Margaret grew about her sister, one unforeseen circumstance after another prevented her quitting Wylminstre before the beginning of September.
Stephens' face brightened as he recognised her.
“I am so glad you are come, Mrs. Vyvian,” he said respectfully; "it will do my lady a world of good to have you with her, for she is a great deal alone, and I don't think she is well.”
The old man spoke as if he suspected something was wrong; but there was no shadow of forwardness or familiarity in his manner. Margaret followed him with a palpitating heart. Ethelind was on a sofa, with a heap of books and newspapers tumbled about her, the Venetian blinds down, her brown hair pushed off her forehead, and a look of care and anxiety entirely foreign to her unmistakably imprinted in the lines round her eyes and mouth. She started up on hearing Margaret's name, and a bright deep glow suffused her face for a few moments; but it soon faded away, and though she kissed and fondled Margaret as she used to do, there was a constraint and uneasiness in her manner, which with all her efforts she could not succeed in hiding:
“What can have brought you here, Margaret ?" she said. “You are the last person I was thinking of.”
“Aunt Sarah requires sea air,” Margaret replied, " and I wanted to see you. Remember, it is more than twelve months ago we parted. Where is Leigh? he will be grown out of my knowledge in twelve months."
"Leigh is at Bonchurch,” Ethelind replied, with an attempt at indifference, though her sister could see she was trying to keep back her tears..
“With Miss Leigh, I suppose? Well, it must be good for the children to be together ; but it would have been better for you to have had your cousin and Beatrice here."
per brown hair pushapers tumbled abond was on a sofa
“ That would not have answered the purpose at all,” Ethelind replied somewhat sharply, as she rose to adjust the Venetian blinds. “Arthur is learning his first lesson in life, poor little man. He is trying to do without a mother's love. It is a hard struggle ; but in this world of struggles it is better to be initiated early."
“Why, Ethie, darling, you are growing sage. One would not think you had endured many of them, and yet you speak as if the experiences of life had been any thing but pleasant to you.”
“That is how it goes. No one believes that I have cares and troubles. They even doubt my right to wish for that which can alone make any thing I have worth having. I did not think, Maggie, you would have judged as the idle, thoughtless world judges. But the Leighs—Barbara, or her mother—have got hold of you, and have told you what a miserable creature I am, so unfit to have the care of my children, so wilful, so headstrong, so regardless of Philip's comforts !"
“Indeed, I have not seen Mrs. Leigh or Barbara since I parted from you on my wedding day. I knew Lord Redenham had gone to the Crimea, and that you were here; and wishing to see you, I reached this place to-day.”
“I am sick of the place !" Ethelind said. “Why I came at all, I can't think. I fancied I should like yachting; and so I did, when Redcar and a lot of people were here whom I knew; but they are gone, and I shall go too. I told Edwards yesterday to make preparations for going to Redenham the day after to-morrow.”
“Oh, not quite so soon, I hope! I have so looked forward to a quiet visit to you, darling.” And Margaret took her little sister's passive hand in hers.
“It is immaterial, if you wish me to remain,” Lady Redenham said, in a half-irritable voice any thing but encouraging. “One place is the same as another. Only remember, I am as stupid and dull as I can be. I see no one. How Stephens admitted you, I can't think, after my strict orders to be refused to every one. I never go out, except in the yacht. So that, really, the prospect you see is not tempting, either to you or your aunt Sarah. The only thing I care for is lying under the awning of the yacht, and listening to the ripple of the waves as they break against the sides of the ship."
Inexpressibly pained at Ethel's careworn expression, and the unna. tural coldness in her manner, Margaret bent her steps back to her lodgings.
The bright sun, tempered by a fresh breeze which just rippled the surface of the water, though scarcely enough to destroy the sharp clear reflections of the bright little yachts, which, with sails half up, were swinging idly at their moorings in the roads, waiting for their owners' orders, was a pretty sight to Margaret, as she stood at their bow-window the next morning. The click of the gate which separated them from the parade made her look up. Ethelind, who had seen her through the
window, was waiting outside to speak to her. How pretty she looked, Margaret thought, as she hastily threw up the window, standing there in her yachting dress, looped up over a bright red petticoat, so as to display the dainty little foot in its black-and-red morocco boots, with high tapering heels; a jacket of light blue cloth, like her petticoat, with bright gilt buttons over the cuffs and pockets, and a dainty little hat with scarletand-white feathers falling in soft curls over the brim on either side, and mixing with the bright brown waves of her glossy golden hair.
“What lazy people you must be at this end of the parade !" Ethel exclaimed, as her sister leaned out of the window to speak to her. “Captain Cause has been up to me to say the wind is right for a run to the Needles. What say you to going with me? Perhaps Aunt Sarah will go too? I will wait here while you go and ask.”
But Aunt Sarah declined. She was not a good sailor, and moreover was not yet up.
“But you will come, Maggie? You said you would like a toss in the Gipsey Queen. Does she not look pretty as she lies there at her moorings ?"
“Gladly, if only you will wait until I have had my breakfast,” Margaret replied.
“Especially as I cannot at all tell what provision Captain Cause may have made for us on board,” Ethel answered. “I shall go on board, then, and make due preparations for your arrival. You must not be long, remember; sailors are impatient people, and this breeze may lull. I shall send the gig for you to the hotel slip in an hour;" and catching up a little long-haired terrier, in which Margaret had in vain tried to distinguish either head or tail, Lady Redenham picked her way daintily down the moist, slippery stones of the hotel slip, and seated herself in the boat of the Gipsey Queen, whose four oars were not long in pulling to the yacht.
In less than an hour, Margaret, with the aid of Cause's strong grasp, stood beside her sister on the deck of the yacht; her moorings were let go, and she started forwards like an impatient steed, her white sails catching the fresh breeze which played freely about her canvas; and reclining each on their cushions and easy-chairs, there seemed nothing to do but enjoy the luxury of feeling the invigoration of spirit which comes so strangely on us when breathing a soft westerly gale from the sea.
“If I were you, Ethie, I should almost live on board,” Margaret said, after she and Ethelind had made a tour of the yacht, examining all the little contrivances for comfort, and partaking of the good things which Cause's care had provided for their luncheon.
“I do,” Ethelind replied languidly; "I come here, as I told you, to escape from callers--people who want to find out more than their neighbours contrive to do. Why," and she coloured slightly as she spoke, “while my lord is away in the East, my lady chooses to go her own way, and live out of the world to which every one has believed her wedded.”
the fresh heir cushions de the invigorterly gale troard," Margarall
She shook out her shawls, and rearranged her pillows without waiting for an answer. She turned suddenly to Margaret.
“How is it, Margaret, you never joined Florence Nightingale, and went out to our wounded? I never took up a letter or paper but I ex. pected to see your name among the list.”
" It is not my vocation," Margaret replied, “neither was it Guy's wish, much as we both honour those who did do so. Then, too, I had duties at home: my Aunt Sarah; the children of Guy's regiment, with a care over the poor soldiers' wives and mothers. I don't think I have been idle; and should any thing happen to Guy,--should he be wounded,” and her colour faded as she spoke, “of course I shall go at
“ I wish I had been obliged to go. I think it would have done me good. Not that I have any vocation for it; I never could do a useful thing in my life. Still it would have been an object--something to take one out of oneself.”
“ You may make work for yourself at home, if you wish it, Ethie, without going to the Crimea.”
“Yes, and I am going to try. That is why I had decided on going off to Redenham to-morrow.”
“With your children, you must surely be able to find full employment for all your energies,” Margaret said.
“ Only they are with Ann, you see.”
“Because you sent Leigh there, instead of having Beatrice and Ann Leigh with you.”
"Perhaps we shall see Leigh. Cause says he thinks we can get round the island if this breeze keeps up, and we shall run in within view of Bonchurch.” Her face brightened at the very thought.
Then she talked of Susannah, and listened to Margaret's account of Katie's nursery, where Susannah now reigned as a sort of queen; her love and tenderness exercised as warmly, though perhaps, under Katie's eye, more judiciously, on Ralph's young ones, as it had been years ago on the Dean's children. She listened, too, to Margaret's description of Gracie, --so grown, so improved, so developed, so matured in judgment and character by her three years' sojourn with the Aylmers.
« One of the things I cannot understand," Ethelind said, with a grave earnest face, “is why Grace has never married. Offers I know she has had, because Redcar told me of two or three; but she refused them, he said, on the spot. You have seen her so often since the Aylmers returned, Maggie, you must surely know the reason."
Margaret looked at her sister.
“He hinted as much, but I could not believe it. Why should she have refused him? If she knew his worth as well as I do, she would not have done so."
“Grace tells me she has never felt quite sure she really liked Lord
love and tursery, where Susannah, and in the very thou
Redcar as a girl should do the man she chooses for a husband. I am not sure she does not remember he was once supposed to be one of Miss Leigh's admirers. Besides, as there is a coronet in the way, she is inclined to distrust her own and even her friends' judgment on so important a decision.”
Ethelind's face became very white. “Gracie has witnessed the misery of one hurried marriage. It is right to assure herself the heart offered her is really her own. But Redcar has no relations. If only Philip had been without them, what a different life mine might have been !"
“I believe Mrs. and Miss Leigh are great trials to you,” Margaret said, her heart aching for the tears which her little sister was wiping away ; “but I think if you had been braver, and asserted your own rights at once, you would have kept them a little more in awe of you. I do not think you could love Mrs. Leigh,” she added cheerfully; “but there is really much to like in Barbara. And if, as I cannot help hoping, she may be Horace Chudleigh's wife, I do believe she will improve, as you tell me Diana has done, out of her mother's influence. As to their cousin Ann, I cannot tell you how highly I think of her. I am only surprised you have not taken her to your heart.”
Lady Redenham shook her head.
“Maggie,” she said, “you do not know the truth. When first I saw her, I thought I had found in her one who could have made up to me for your loss, and I clung to her as I would have done to an old friend. You can never know how I was deceived !"
Ethelind looked so broken-hearted, Margaret tried to turn the conversation; but the ice was broken, and she would not let it close until Margaret knew all.
“Maggie,” she said, “ did you ever hear that once,-a long while ago,-before that terrible accident to her brother, Ann Leigh was engaged to Philip ?”
“Something you once said made me suspect it. But surely, Ethie, you have nothing to do with any thing that occurred then, provided Philip made it clear to you. He was free to choose when he offered to you."
“But he did not. I learnt it accidentally, learnt it suddenly, just before Beatrice's birth; learnt that he had loved her for years, and would have had her, in spite of her affliction, and only married at last to secure an heir to the estates! At first I would not believe it-I could not. But Barbara's cruel innuendoes came back on me; Mrs. Leigh's open dislike to me; Ann's unmistakable love for Philip; her dread of coming to Redenham; her adoption of that child! Oh, Margaret, it is all, all true! I have tried to shut my eyes to it, to be gentle and good, to be meek and submissive ; but we drifted farther and farther away from each other. Philip's temper was hot; he spoke sharply, and I replied. I could have torn out my tongue again and again, when it was too late; and Philip would shut up his heart, and get absorbed in politics, and say cold cut