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15. CHAPTER XV.

"COME BACK."

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One morning, on crossing the hall Isabel saw Mr. Fitz at the front door, holding his own and another horse. He said that his sister was gone into the drawing-room; he would lead her mare to the stables himself—he had to pass that way.

‘Would he not dismount?’ Isabel asked. ‘The man would be there in a moment.’

Mr. Fitz said he had a commission for his brother-in-law further on, he would execute that and then call for his sister. He bowed and rode off; and Isabel, hearing by the voices that Kate was in the drawing-room, was meditating whether she might not escape and leave Mrs. Vesey to Kate, when the door opened and both ladies appeared. Retreat was now impossible. Mrs. Vesey put up her glass to look at her brother as he rode slowly down the road.

‘Ah, poor Arthur, he is so sulky—so wretched—at being sent on instead of coming in. Now, do you know, I came on purpose to ask you all to Vine Lodge? Ah! here is Mrs. Lang herself. Only think, Mrs. Lang, of our being so atrocious as never to have asked you to our cot. But now I am resolved to have the whole party—every one, including the piccaninies and Miss Terry, boys and all. Room! never mind that. There is the verandah. The more the merrier always. I shall have every one in Bengala—Jollys and Herberts, and the noble Captain, and Budds—and who else is there?’

Mrs. Lang began to try and excuse herself. She hardly understood


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the manner of the invitation. She thought that, as Mrs. Lang of Langville's first invitation to Vine Lodge, a proper note on satin paper was due; at all events, if not written, it should have been couched in different terms. But, for Katie's sake little objections must be waived. ‘Mrs. Vesey was very fashionable,’ &c. All this passed slowly through Mrs. Lang's mind. Mrs. Vesey saw her hesitation.

‘I will take no refusal—you are all to come. The fact is, you and the Herberts are not to keep up this quarrel. It cannot be. I must be the mediator; I have set my heart on his coming.’

Mrs. Lang bridled up a little, and began a sentence two or three times while she played with her cap strings, but the vivacious lady allowed no pause. By fluency of speech she overcame, so far as to exact a promise that as many of the party as possible should go. Mr. Lang might be induced, as Mrs. Vesey made such a point of it. Mrs. Lang did not quite like all this, she was naturally punctilious and sensitive about proper respect, but she consoled herself by the idea that certainly Mrs. Vesey courted them very much—and Mrs. Vesey was somebody. Though she did not dress extravagantly or live in any style whatever, and was always obtruding her ‘poverty,’ yet Mrs. Lang was sure that she was somehow or other a person of consequence, simply because Mrs. Vesey assumed to be so; she sat pondering over this, observing Kate's flush of pleasure, and comparing her height with that of Mrs. Vesey, and thinking that certainly Kate was the prettier of the two, only she could not talk as fast; then, casting a glance at Isabel's grave face, she could not decide whether she was annoyed or not. Mrs. Lang's observations and conclusions were put an end to by her being very suddenly asked in a persuasive, coaxing tone, if she could not oblige Mrs. Vesey by letting her have half a sheep?—some of that incomparable, delicious mutton that only was seen on Langville table. It would be such a kind, neighbourly act—such a charity! and Mr. Vesey would have some wethers in less than a month to repay Mrs. Lang with.

Mrs. Lang's words and ideas flowed more easily when brought to a given practical point. Mrs. Vesey was welcome to some mutton. Mrs. Lang suggested that, as they had no sheep at present, they might very easily send to Langville and get a constant supply of fresh meat. Mr. Lang had before done this for a neighbour. It would be cheaper to a small family like the Veseys to have it in this way—so much better than having to live on salt mutton till another sheep was wanted. Nothing, however, was further from Mrs. Vesey's intentions than running up a butcher's bill with Langville.




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‘O dear no!’ she answered, quickly; ‘no odious dealings and bills and that sort of thing between friends. Fancy—Vesey, debtor to J. Lang, Esq.—Horrible! I have a notion that fellow—that Venn of yours—is much too sharp for poor ignorant creatures like us; a friendly interchange and accommodation now and then is delightful . . . but—so you will oblige me, dear Mrs. Lang, with a little of your excellent mutton? and, by the bye, the receipt for that very particular pudding which the grand signor deigns to approve. It should be called Herbert pudding, you know (nodding her head at Isabel). If you want to please a man, give him a good dinner.’

Isabel was going towards the door, but her mother passed and signed to her to remain in the drawing-room. She would fetch her receipt book, she said; in the meantime, would not Mrs. Vesey take off her hat?

Isabel obeyed as to remaining in the room, but she left her sister to carry on the chat. She sat, grave and silent, resting her head on one hand, while with the other she twirled a pencil.

‘What do you say to it, Miss Isabel Lang?’ asked Mrs. Vesey, after a time. Kate was much amused at Isabel's stare, and owning herself ignorant as to the subject of their conversation.

‘O, I can hardly believe that—your sister acts well. I think the conversation had too much interest for her not to hear. Am I not right, Kate?’

‘I am not sure—I don't know—’ Kate began; but was interrupted by Mrs. Vesey's exclaiming, ‘And who is this? Can it be Arthur already? No. What a gay place this is! One is sure to see all the world here.’

Kate smiled in assent, and looking round at her sister, said—'It is only the clergyman. He comes daily to see his parishioners hereabouts.’

‘Indeed!’ and Mrs. Vesey, following the direction of Kate's eyes, saw Isabel's rising colour, and a rather quick opening and shutting of a book.

‘Indeed!’ repeated Mrs. Vesey.

The gentleman was soon in the room—cheerful, gentle, and courteous, as usual, with that quiet anxiety to please and give no offence which almost invariably insured his being liked. Isabel was nearest to the door, but he passed her to greet the elder sister first; asked for Mrs. Lang while he shook Mrs. Vesey's hand; and lastly, had a long reason to give Isabel, why he came at all;—some difficulty about the girls' school sewing, which he thought his kind friends at Langville could help him in—he remembered Miss Isabel Lang talking about it one day.

‘No, it was Miss Terry,’ Isabel remarked; ‘she was telling us of a


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specimen book and certain work-bag, which was given at a school she knew—but Miss Terry was engaged just then.’

Mr. Farrant did not seem, however, to be in a particular hurry to leave—he could wait till school hours were over, and he took a seat near the table at which Isabel was sitting.

‘Is that sprig of bushflower invariably good for—for—nervous headache or low spirits, or whatever that numb, creepy, dull sensation may be termed?’ Mrs. Vesey asked presently.

‘That flower in your button-hole, I mean, Mr. Farrant,’ in answer to his look of inquiry, and she put up her glass as if to see it more clearly. ‘It must be invigorating and refreshing, indeed!’ she continued—'Directly it appeared in the doorway, Miss Isabel Lang's drooping head was raised, and the pale face . . .’

Isabel half rose in evident annoyance and distress, while Mr. Farrant smiled, and began saying he was much flattered and pleased; but glancing at Isabel and seeing plainly that she was not, he took out the little flower and approached Mrs. Vesey.

‘Can you tell me the name of this flower? it is a new acquaintance of mine,’ he said; ‘and, by-the-bye, have you any roses to bestow on my garden?’

A long discussion soon arose about shrubs and plants, which continued till they were summoned to luncheon. Mrs. Lang had her receipt book ready, and Mrs. Vesey's attention was devoted to her directions about sauces and puddings. Isabel carved, laughingly refusing Mr. Farrant's help, because ‘he certainly did not know a leg from a shoulder;’ he confessed his ignorance, and turned to Miss Terry about his girls' sewing specimens, while Kate whispered, grumblingly, at the children for being so impatient and hungry, shrugged her shoulders at Isabel's large slices, and looked ever and anon at the window ‘to see if the boys and papa were coming,’ she said.

The meal was over, however, and no further addition was made to the party; Mrs. Vesey began to wonder where her brother could be, but amused herself by looking over Miss Terry's specimen book and admiring the beautiful sewing, while all sorts of rules and prizes were canvassed by the ladies and the clergyman, and Isabel only checked her eager talk, after a long hour, with a sudden exclamation—

‘Kate! lend me your guinea-fowl seal,note will you?’ Then learning where to find it, she went away to the work-room, opened a desk, which, to say the truth, was but seldom used, and after scribbling over and then destroying several pieces of paper, she finished a short note, folded it, and finally was careful to make a very neat and clear impression


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with the particular seal she had chosen.

The note was as follows—

DEAR MR. HERBERT,—When the mountain would not go to Mahomet, why, Mahomet went to the mountain. Can't you exercise a little greatness of mind? Is there no fountain like the one you told me of once, where forgetfulness of the past might be secured by a draught? Do not forget us quite; though I leave you to solve these contradictory requests, and to read my true meaning in my seal, for the safe keeping of which, I enclose this in a double cover.

From your friend and teaser,

I. L.

This note was given to a boy who was sent to Bengala on an errand to the forge, with special directions to deliver it safely, and Isabel, with a heightened colour, sat down to consider her bold stroke. The voices from the parlour reached her, for doors at Langville were not made to be shut. Isabel was no great thinker in general; at least, she did not much practise self-introspection. But she had naturally a clear, straightforward mind, which was intolerant of mystery and doubt. The habit of the family did not encourage reserve either. Everything was discussed and brought to light in a matter-of-fact way, leaving little or no room for unconsciousness of what was passing. Mr. Farrant's and Mr. Fitz's visits were openly talked of, and ascribed to the several attractions of Kate and Isabel. For some time Isabel, being in no ways predisposed to the subject, only treated these remarks as a joke; but lately it had struck her that perhaps there was truth in the assertion. Certainly Mr. Farrant did come very often, certainly he was very agreeable and very attentive, and several times he had gone out of his way to seek her, when she was sewing and enjoying a chat with Miss Terry, or taking a quiet stroll with her. He had urged her to practise her voice, and had succeeded in making her sing with himself and Miss Terry. That very morning, when Miss Terry had retired with her pupils, some jokes had passed on the subject; somehow they did not do so before her, seeing she disliked it, and Mr. Lang had fired up at the notion of any one's taking his darling from him. He had asked Isabel if she liked Mr. Farrant. Isabel, after considering a little, said, ‘I hardly know; I suppose not quite, for I have never had any quarrel with him.’

At which speech there was a general laugh. ‘Well! I mean it. Whenever I really and heartily like any one, we always come to some hot words; it is my way. I don't feel as if I quite knew Mr. Farrant as yet, but of course I see he is very nice, and very pleasant, and so


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on.’

The notion of ‘Issy's quarrelsome temper’ tickled her father much. He said he wished all quarrels were like hers, and then kissing her, told her she was much too good for them all, and that he did not believe in all this gallivanting; but still, if mamma was right, it behoved Isabel to look out and see what she did like, and so on.

And now, sitting apart in the quiet work-room, she tried to get at her own feelings. Fond of active pursuits, and her perfect health of body saving her from any shadow of morbid discontent, and the habit of taking refuge in the erection of airy castles, where happiness is one day to triumph,—Isabel had enjoyed the present, without thought for the future. She had looked forward to marriage at some future time as a needful step in life, because she found that others did so, practically, as well as theoretically; and besides, her mother always spoke of single life at a certain age as something oppressively dreary and unfortunate. As to the notion of falling in love, Isabel had treated it as a great joke; and whenever Kate had indulged in her small way in this fancy, Isabel had rallied her well out of it, as something weakly and absurd. Lately, however, the question had in several shapes come before her. First, she had been much struck with the girl Ellen Maclean's decided and strong attachment to Jack Lynch. Then, seeing poor Tom Jolly's sorrowful face when Kate showed him coldness, made her think there was ‘something in it.’

Now, here was Mr. Fitz, said by all the authorities to be ‘in love’ with Kate, and Isabel watched and observed the symptoms of the feeling with keen curiosity, and came to a conclusion that, ‘if that was love, it differed very considerably from the feeling which Ellen had or Tom either.’ It might be fashionable, well-bred, polite love. If so, and if Kate liked it, she hoped all would go smooth. But she had begun a little to suspect the perfect disinterested sincerity of Mrs. Vesey's friendship, and when she remembered the chance of poverty hanging over their heads, she felt uneasy about Mr. Fitz, and once or twice tried to give Kate a hint, but it would not do. Kate responded with so much warmth, and with so much more reserve, too, than was usual to her in such affairs, that Isabel feared her sister's happiness was more involved than she had thought. Then, Mr. Farrant! could it be true that his visits were on her account? There was an uncomfortable twinge at the very notion, immediately followed by a flush of very natural pleasure and gratification, for Mr. Farrant was one she liked and admired, and from whom she had learnt some new things. In two ways he had a new source of power over Isabel. It was the first time she


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had ever heard any impressive preaching; also his and Miss Terry's was the first music that had touched her. His singing especially attracted her. She was not quite sure that in other ways she found him so agreeable as others seemed to do. ‘There can be no need for hurry,’ she mentally ejaculated. ‘If it is really needful to have to do with marriage and all the odious preliminaries, there is no use in bothering myself beforehand about it.’ And, accordingly, she gladly allowed her mind to escape from the perplexity and wander into regions better suited to her taste. It was far pleasanter to dwell on the scheme she had drawn up for others, to manage for Mr. Herbert and Miss Terry, in bringing them together, and helping each to appreciate those qualities in the other which she only fully knew. There would be difficulty and opposition from her father's wrath against the gentleman, and, as she expected, disapproval from Miss Herbert. For although that lady had come forward very much to Miss Terry, Isabel could not suppose she would entertain the idea for a moment of her brother—a Herbert!—marrying a governess.

Here then was a field for all her energy and determination of character; and what a happy thing it would be for poor Miss Terry! How delightful hereafter to talk it all over, and receive the grateful thanks of both these friends! It would be such a triumph over a certain Mr. Pelham, the gentleman who had married Miss Terry's sister, and whose bad temper and jealousy had been the cause of forcing her to gain her own livelihood. Isabel's warm heart had been deeply stirred against the origin of her friend's many trials. But when the day should come for sending a piece of bridecake and cards with ‘Mrs. Herbert’ on them, all these wrongs would be avenged! Already her busy fancy had settled that the principal part of Miss Terry's trousseau should be made at Langville. Much as Isabel hated sewing in general, she should sit at this for hours with pleasure. Fascinating daydreams! The first step, she had just taken in sending that note. She dreaded the result more than she chose to confess even to herself. But there was no more time now for thinking. She was summoned back to the drawing-room. Mr. Fitz was returned, and very merry and gay they all were, till it was time for the Vine Lodge people to go. Mrs. Vesey reminded Mrs. Lang that they were all ‘due’ on the day after the morrow, at which Mrs. Lang tried to laugh and feel complimented. But a troublesome doubt if these really were fashionable manners, if it were compromising the dignity of ‘Mrs. Lang of Langville,’ gave an awkward stiffness to her manner, and caused her husband to say with one of his merriest laughs—'Mamma don't fancy being ‘due’ to any one, like a parcel


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of goods. Don't trouble yourself with so many curtsies, Mrs. Lang, like a Muscovy duck out of water! By Jove, that Mrs. Vesey is a jolly lass; free and hearty, and up to a joke. Eh, Issy? what do you say?’

Then, on Mrs. Lang saying something not very distinct about ‘invitation’ and ‘everything changed!’ he put his arm round her waist, ‘Come, old girl, leave out the starch and you'll do! And if I were you, I wouldn't go to Vine Lodge. You and I will stay at home; and I say, Mrs. Lang, perhaps Miss Terry will make us custards, eh?’

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