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“ If you had seen Giles and me at six o'clock yesterday morning," he presently said, "you would have been quite satisfied both about our manly dignity and our earnest views of life.”
“What did you do?”
“ We took one of those kitchen chairs into the lane. I sat upon it. There are some lovely crab-trees in the lane, D. dear; Giles got up into one of them and made three puddings in it. Two girls, who were going by with milk to sell, stopped, and when they saw what we were about, they perfectly yelled with laughter. I don't know how it is, but our puddings are so big ! I grafted the lower boughs at the same time. Next year that tree will burst out with all sorts of queer fruit,”
“Lose not thy own for want of asking for it: 'twill get thee no thanks.”
FULLER. Is the Wilsons continued to stay at our little seaside retreat, they gradually diminished our pleasure, and at last took almost all of it away. They made acquaintance with several other families; they invited friends of their own to stay with them, and introduced them to us, so that we were now almost always in a large company. Valentine liked this better than I did: he was naturally more sociable, and now that we were engaged, and he was sure of me, I did not wish that he should feel me to be any burden, and would not be exacting; so I took care to press his acceptance of every invitation that he seemed pleased with, though sometimes Liz and Mrs. Henfrey would excuse themselves, and consequently I did not go. I reflected that he would have little chance of this kind of pleasure in New Zealand; yet, though I knew he could easily do without it when the time came, I resolved never to be the means of hastening it.
I thought afterwards that it was a pity I had been so anxious to be obliging, for it was evidently then his business, and more according to the nature of things, that he should have been anxious about obliging me; and I have several times observed that nobody thanks one for giving up what is clearly one's own—not even the person for whom it is done, for he either thinks it is all right, which is a pity, or he knows it is not all right, and by accepting it lowers himself, or he does not think about it, which is nearly as bad.
It was not Valentine's fault that I encouraged him to do exactly as he pleased, or that he was already master of the situation; and I cannot be angry with him now when I reflect how much pleasure he gave me often and long, and in the end more than in the beginning.
I was quite aware that, comfortable as we were in each other's companionship, cosy as were our confidences, and cheerful our chats over the future, we were not what is popularly called in love. My affection for him was an act of gratitude; his affection for me was partly friendship, partly habit, and partly pride in the not unamiable notion of an early independence with a wife and a home of his own.
All this sounds very prosaic, and I know it was tame and commonplace; but it was the only hope of not losing by long distance the kindest and freshest of companions. It was what was offered, and all that was offered ; why then was I to be left utterly alone in this hemisphere, with no one to work for but the people in my district, and no one to care for but Anne Molton, because I thought we might have loved each other more?
I was only to stay a few days longer by the seaside. We had agreed that we would be married late in January, and that Anne Molton should sail before our wedding, with three young women whom we had determined to befriend, and with the two little darlings from Chartres. Their grandmother was dead, and Giles had asked Valentine whether he would ask me if I should like to have them with me : they had no provision; and if I would take the trouble of them, he would undertake to defray the expense.
I agreed gladly; the little creatures were sent for, and came down by train to our watering-place three days before I left it, with a stout bonne. Mr. Brandon went down to Southampton to fetch them, and I did not see them till they were seated one on either side of him on the lee side of a bathing-machine.
They did not remember me; but the elder recollected him, and the little one was already charmed with him and his stories and his songs. I saw that they would be a great charge ; but Giles was not to be refused anything, he had been so good to us.
I sat down near them, that I might see what species of creatures they were. They had not forgotten their English. “ I like this place," said the eldest ; “I said to Nannette that I wanted to go across the sea again.”
“ Yes,” said the little one, “ for now we can see some live ships: at Chartres we only saw dead old things, that can't sail ; horses had to drag them."
As she spoke she stroked Mr. Brandon's face and hair all over with her soft hands. It was evident that this little one was the favourite, and the elder sat by gravely and quietly, not thinking of taking such liberties, but quite at home. “Now sing to us again,” she demanded, laying her head on his shoulder, and beginning to suck her thumb; “sing to us about the star and the Holy Babe.”
Giles complied, and when he ceased the elder child said, “He makes me cry.”
“ That's because you are silly. Look at me; I hear him sing, and I
don't cry. Now tell us about the bears,—another story, quite a new one, about white bears, but they are not to kill anything."
“What are they to eat, then ?”
“Why, why,” pursing up her little mouth and considering, “ they can eat some of those animals that were drowned in the flood, and never went into the ark, can't they ?”
The ever-compliant narrator accordingly compounded a story to order--a story of white bears, describing their dens, their young cubs, and their dinners; also their amusements on the ice, and how they growled when they were angry. This last was by far the most popular part of the entertainment, and was repeated several times with renewed applause. In the meantime the French nurse sat all amazement at the infatuation of the two young English bachelors; for Valentine was almost as fond of children as St. George, and sat softly whistling and contemplating them with amiable curiosity. I was delighted, for they were the freshest and simplest little creatures in the world, and when Giles obligingly assured Valentine that they would never give any trouble worth mentioning, and Valentine said, “Of course not,” I did not say a word. I thought, if there was anything to be found out, Time would reveal it as far as he was concerned ; and men are seldom able to estimate correctly the amount of trouble that domestic matters give to women, these two brothers being both very good examples of the fact.
And now the day came when I was to return to London ; it was not thought proper that Valentine should escort me, I therefore went up with Anne Molton. There was much to be done—my outfit to get ready, and many things to be bought for future comfort ; specially
; books to select, seeds of all kinds, cutlery, and everything likely to be wanted in a house that did not come under the name of actual furniture.
I felt a sort of pang at leaving that sweet place : it was to be my last sojourn at an English village by the sea. This was like taking leave of my country. I should see little more of it, but remain with Anne in London till within a week of my wedding-day; then she was to take me down to Wigfield, for it had been agreed that I should be married there. This would be the most convenient plan; for Mrs. Henfrey and Liz could not come up to London at that time of the year, and there was no need to consider Tom's or my uncle's convenience, for neither intended to be present; so I left everything to Mrs. Henfrey, and she arranged that Liz should be my one bridesmaid, and that St. George should give me away.
The whole party, including the children, escorted me and Anne to the railway station ; and the last words were spoken, and the last kisses given, with much laughing and joking on both sides. When I say words and kisses, I do not speak of any words but such as all could hear. Valentine and I had no private leave-taking ; he was
particular in his directions respecting the pattern of the dinnerservice, which was left to to choose, and also respecting the fashion and material of my wedding gown, but no nearer interests troubled us. The kisses also were given by the ladies. Valentine did not offer one ; indeed, I should not have accepted it, if he had.
But he and I were becoming very much attached to each other notwithstanding, and I pleased myself with thinking that his style of affection was likely to grow and last. He was not an intellectual young man, but he was clear-headed and particularly reasonable. His affection for me was of a reasonable kind. “Why should I expect you to be faultless?” he once said ; “ I am full of faults myself.” And when I remarked one day, as I still sometimes did, that I hoped we really were sufficiently attached to each other to be happy, he replied, “ Affection is a habit as well as an instinct,-it is sure to strengthen; do not be afraid of that. And we shall soon have all our interests in common—that is a very great thing ; besides, I want to be my own master.”
“ And mine," I observed. “I think you have aspirations at last, and they are in that direction.”
“Perhaps so, dearest ; besides, I always said I would marry very young.
“But Prentice put that into your head.”
“I am not at all sure of that. I believe you would have put it into my head, if he hadn't ; besides, what's the good of haggling about it? I'll tell you another aspiration I have, and that is to make St. George really like you." Why what makes
think he does not?” I asked.
well that he doesn't, D.; besides, I told you the other day that I had taxed him with it, and told him he ought to be more cordial.”
“ What did he answer ? You never told me that.”
“No. "Well then,' he answered, you should not be always talking about her. I am tired of your everlasting twaddle about Miss Graham.'"
weary him any more in that way.” “ Easier said than done, you blessed creature."
Poor St. George, I could easily fancy how painful it must be to him to hear Valentine enlarge on the pleasures of love and domestic life. And perhaps I knew as well as Valentine did, that though he tried to overcome his coldness towards me, he had never been really able to do so since our quarrel in the woods.
“ And so you told him he ought to be more friendly and affectionate to me?" I asked.
“Yes; and he laughed, and said you kept him at a distance; he said also, ' Depend upon it, I like her a great deal better than she likes me.'"
I felt then that he was a man who could forget nothing ; I had brought myself to get an acknowledgment from him, which enabled me to treat him as if the scene in the wood had never occurred; and sometimes, when the weight on his heart oppressed him, he had shown himself glad of my sympathy. I had even seen him, more than once, deliberately try to be cordial, try to be familiar for Valentine's sake; but it was no use, the old feeling soon recurred, and the old manner.
I thought often on this conversation for the first day or two of my stay in London ; but I had a good deal to do, and Valentine's delightful letters soon pushed it in the background.
I helped Anne Molton to make the whole of my wedding outfit, which was the more ample because I knew that at the Antipodes I should have little leisure for needle-work, and few shops to make purchases in. I also helped Anne with her own outfit, and gave my three protegées a lesson daily in reading and writing. I wanted them to be able to read their Bibles, and write home to their friends when I took them far away from these friends, and far away perhaps from all earthly instructors.
So very busy going about shopping, so very busy packing, and choosing merchandise, crockery, seeds, books, drapery, and cutlery, so very busy learning the mysteries of bread-making, crust-making, pudding-making, &c., &c., that I was not conscious of a certain little fact till an ignorant servant-maid pointed it out to me.
I was sitting in the parlour ; Mrs. Bolton was out, as she so often was, giving a lesson ; a postman's knock came to the door. I thought nothing of it; the door was open, and Anne Molton met (the westcountry servant-maid in the passage. “ Is that for Miss Graham ?”
“Ay, it's for she; her don't get so many letters as her used to do -do her?"
She brought in a letter from Valentine, and as I held it in my hand, I happened to look up at Anne Molton, and saw that my glance troubled her. She was considering whether I had heard the speech of the housemaid, and when she had left me to my letter, the words seemed to ring in my ears : “ Her don't get so many letters as her used to do,—do her?”
I put down the letter before I read it, and smiled at myself for the momentary pang I had felt. What if he did write somewhat seldomer, was he not as busy as myself, learning all sorts of things that were likely to prove useful to us both, and paying hurried visits to numerous relatives and friends ? What if he did write rather seldomer, had not I also written rather seldomer myself? I opened the letter, the dear kind affectionate letter, in which he alluded to