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unwell and irritable, prejudiced against German doctors, yet not choosing to have advice from England, and not fit for a journey without some effective person to rule him and his wife; for resolute as Marilda could be, the passionateness of one parent, and the fat flabby helplessness of the other, had overcome her powers of management at such a distance from home. It was Edgar's private belief that 'the poor old boy had had some kind of stroke;' but he had recommended the homeward journey, and under his escort it was to be immediately undertaken. A few days more, and tidings came that it had been successfully accomplished. Mr. Underwood had grown better at every stage, and now scouted the notion of a doctor; Alda's letters of inquiry were joyously answered and her spirits sank.
One afternoon, however, a moon face beamed upon Felix, and a hearty voice exclaimed, 'How d'ye do? This is a surprise, ain't it? My father is come down on business, so I made him bring me. I don't like Alda's account of herself.'
'I'll take you to her,' said Felix, who decidedly disapproved of private greetings in the present locality; so as soon as she had dealt with her fly, he conducted her upstairs. to Mr. Bruce, and would come for her. drawing-room, but she sprang to her feet in cousins were soon clinging together, and devouring one another with kisses. Felix asked where Cherry was.
Her father had gone Alda was alone in the ecstacy; and the two
'Oh! for pity's sake, Felix, do let us have a little time to ourselves!' said Alda; 'I'll call Cherry by the time she has done with Stella.'
Felix had come to trust nothing concerning Geraldine to Alda; so he shut the door, and found Cherry in her own room, overlooking Stella's copy to the sound of Theodore's accordion, all three in warm jackets. Six months ago he would have made an authoritative remonstrance. Now he had learnt that cold and exile were more tolerable than Alda's displeasure.
Stella leapt up, connecting Cousin Marilda's name with the choicest presents; but Cherry was quite willing to withhold herself. It was eight years since she had seen Marilda, and she was conscious of more repulsion than attraction. She was still debating between civility and consideration for the tête-à-tête, when Wilmet, for whom
Felix had sent, came for her, with cheeks glowing from Marilda's energetic kisses and congratulations.
There certainly was a treading on the delicate tips of the feelings. 'O Geraldine, I am glad to see you getting about so well! You are a courageous girl.' Then to Stella: You little darling duck! Here is a box of goodies for you and the other poor little dear.-Where is he? You'll let me see him.—What, Lance! I've not seen you since I found you up a tree!'
The cousinly cordiality was pleasant, and her patronage was not coarse, like her mother's; but there was a certain excess of frankness that made them feel like sensitive-plants, when she examined Wilmet how often she heard from India, and how the Harewoods treated her when she wanted to know exactly how matters stood between the Pursuivant and Tribune, whether Mr. Smith were to blame, why Lance had gone into the business, and -worse than all-what was the measure of Theodore's intellect.
It was all meant in kindness and sympathy, but it was very trying to each victim in turn; and the lookers-on found it as impossible to lead it away as to divert the rush from a pump. When Felix was about to return to his work, Marilda jumped up, exclaiming, 'Felix, I must speak to you;' and when she had him. alone in the drawing-room, she began, 'Felix, I must take Alda home. We can't get on without her; and she looks very poorly, and all that nonsense is blown over.'
'Oh yes; but no one will think of that unless it is brought forward, and that she promises not to do.'
I believe it will be best,' he answered.
'Our life is not suited to her, and she is neither well nor happy ; but it is very kind of you.' 'Kind to ourselves. If Wilmet had married at once we should never have got her back at all, and we want her sadly. I can help my father in some ways, but I can't amuse him as she can. don't mind?'
'Certainly not, if Mr. and Mrs. Underwood wish it,' said Felix, wondering how Alda made herself either amusing or useful; 'I suppose it is all right, and that they know how it stands.'
'Of course they do. They will only be too glad to have her; and though it is better to say nothing about it just yet, very likely
coming into our house, and being what Edgar
So has some one else,' thought Felix, as he saw her glistening eye; but he only answered,' He is an excellent fellow.'
Another thing, Felix. This engagement of Edgar's-is it in earnest ?'
'Yes!' emphatically said Felix; 'I trust so.'
'You! I should have thought nothing could be more foolish. Is she such a nice girl, then?'
He had had time to recollect himself, and answered in his set manner, 'She is all that could be wished; and though of course there is a certain imprudence in the engagement, I can only wish to see Edgar persevere honourably in what he has undertaken.' 'But wouldn't it be great misery ?'
'It might be,' said Felix; 'but it is not going to happen yet. Of course, no one could have wished it to begin; but having begun, he ought to go on.'
'Of course! I hate shilly-shally. My father would not believe there was anything in it. But you are right, Felix; it has done Edgar good. Somehow there's more purpose in him; and I believe he has worked more steadily this season. I am so glad you say she is a nice girl.'
And Felix went down to his work happier than he had been for nearly a year. What loss to himself equalled the gain of such a report of Edgar?
Marilda insisted on being shown every corner of the house, and was evidently full of enjoyment, like a child let loose from school, talking at random, so as to draw on herself more than one remonstrance from Alda, who had perfectly recovered her goodhumour, and was absolutely gracious to Cherry.
About four o'clock came Thomas Underwood, embracing Alda like another daughter. My poor child, you are not looking well.' 'Not at all, papa,' said Marilda. 'We will take her home, and
set her up again.'
'Ay, we will!' said her father. 'It has been a pretty muddle altogether; but there-we'll say no more about it. You'll come home, and be a wise girl.'
'O Uncle, how kind you are!' cried Alda.
Wilmet and Cherry looked at each other in amaze. What might this mean? How could Alda bear to be received back on such terms? But they could say nothing; indeed, they were scarcely seen till the greeting to Alda was over. Then, however, he made up for it by hearty kisses, for which they were not prepared; and Wilmet coloured crimson as she was again congratulated and rallied on her slyness in making the most of her time at Minsterham. He was
The illness at Spa had told upon Thomas Underwood. still under fifty, but an elderly look and manner had come on him; he walked feebly, and seemed to look to his daughter to help him out with purposes and recollections; while towards Alda there was an almost imploring tenderness, as if she had carried away with her a good deal of the enjoyment of his life, which he hoped to bring back again with her. He did not even seem to like leaving her for the evening to pack up, but wanted her to come out to Centry Park, and caught eagerly at Marilda's proposal that Felix should come and spend the evening there. It was as if they were both afraid of their own dullness in the great uninhabited house; and no doubt they would have caught at an invitation to share the family meal. Alda and Wilmet, for different reasons, sat in dread of Felix, in the reckless hospitality of the male heart, making such an offer; and in very truth, he was only withheld by certain authoritatively deprecating glances from those housewifely eyes.
And let it be observed that Wilmet was right. She could not have fed Mr. Underwood as would have suited him on such short notice, without a great deal more expense and personal exertion than would have been becoming; and to his eyes, their ordinary fare would have seemed ostentation of neediness.
Needy was exactly what the Underwoods had never been. It was not merely the effect of conscience and of resolution, but of Wilmet's more than ordinary power of method and adjustment, which had kept them from ever being behindhand, or in difficulties requiring external aid; and it was this that had won them already respect that hardly belonged to their years.
Thomas Underwood really respected Felix, as one who had never asked assistance from him, yet who had not declined what was offered in a friendly kinsman-like manner; and besides, had more than once asserted-modestly indeed, but still asserted—an
independent will and way of his own, and shown that he was capable of carrying it out. It was five years since Mr. Underwood's prediction that he would find the attempt keeping house for such a family an utter failure, and would have to fall back on help he had not deserved: and here he was, without having made one demand, a partner in the business, and with so small a fraction of the family apparent, that there was no air of oppression, no complaint, even though Thomas himself had returned on his hands both those of whom he had meant to relieve him.
No wonder, then, that without intending it, his manner to Felix was not that of patron, but of equal—of kinsman to kinsman, not of rich man to struggling youth. And Felix, as he sat in the great handsome dining-room, could not help being amused at all the state that had followed one man and his daughter for one dinner in their own house: the courses, and the silver, and the perplexing family of wine-glasses beside every plate, and all with the Underwood rood and its motto shining on him—whether on the servant's buttons, on the panels of the oak-wainscotted hall, and the very china from which he ate his dinner.
Nothing interested Mr. Underwood more than the account of the visit to Vale Leston; and warming up under the influence of dinner, he talked much of the old times there, and with much disparagement of the two present Fulberts; but Felix was startled to find that he regarded himself as next in the succession.
'If you could only have gone into the Church, Felix, I could have given you the Vicarage. Or is not one of your brothers to be a parson?'
'Yes, Sir-Clement,' said Felix, smiling, but feeling a sense of injury that revealed to him how much more he must be reckoning on the chances than he had supposed himself to be doing. As Alda said, wealth flowed to wealth; and a little attention from Thomas to his cousins would easily turn the scale.
At any rate, poverty did not suit Alda. She was a different creature now that her exile was coming to an end.
It had been like Portsmouth to Fanny Price,' said Geraldine, not greatly flattered by the overflow of benevolence, which Wilmet accepted as the token of real affection.
'What would she do about Ferdinand ?' Wilmet ventured to ask.