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Patty turned her head ever so little to look after the two smokers, and her husband saw the movement; he made no effort to sit beside his wife; he stood stiff, and sullen.
"You must put an end to this nonsense at once, Elinor. I am not blaming you; I dare say you don't know it, but you will attract attention, and you'll have that young fool in love with you if you give him this kind of encouragement."
Patty sank back among her cushions, and clapped her hands.
"You dear, old thing,"—she laughed as if she were carried out of herself by the absurdity of her husband's words; "in love with me! How good that is, and how ungrateful you are; all this time I have been making myself a martyr. I have given up that clever Mr. Whitmore, who really can talk, that you might have him all to yourself, and actually I have tried to amuse that overgrown school-boy, just to keep him from disturbing you. He bores Mr. Whitmore to death, I can see, by his amateur notions of art. I'm ashamed of you, Maurice. In love! why, it would be most amusing. I suppose you'll be jealous of your young brothers when they come to see me; I shall just punish you, and make them fall in love with me. If you are going to be jealous, dear, don't begin with a boy! Very well, you shall have your own way: to-morrow I expect you to take this good-looking bore off my hands and let me amuse myself with Mr. Whitmore; at least you will not be jealous of him, I imagine."
Mr. Downes looked sheepish, and still rather sullen, but he sat down beside her in silence. Patty offered him half of her warmest cloak, and drew it round him with her dimpled velvet hand and looked sweetly into his eyes ; and although it was in her husband's mind to ask her to let the two young men amuse each other, and reserve her companionship for himself, he shrank from that silvery laughter and felt as if it would be priggish; and for the time peace was restored.
Days were slipping rapidly away, shortening as each went by. The fields grew more and more golden ; scarlet, and blue, and ragged yellow flowers took the places of their more softly-tinted fellows. The
hedges, too, were fast putting on a fruit livery; only the wild clematis lingered, gracing every bush as it flung out over them its twining pennons.
But Nuna saw none of the lovely painting by which Nature was gradually changing summer into autumn; her days were spent in feverish impatience.
Every morning brought a new despair, only conquered by the fresh hope that sprang from it, that the next post might bring a letter from her husband. He had not written once since he went away; the only answer to her acceptance of his proposal had been a telegram, telling her they were starting three days sooner than he had expected.
In the reaction that came to Nuna after she had despatched her letter, she had almost resolved to hurry up to London, and bid her husband at least an affectionate farewell; but the telegram proved that this idea had come too late; and she could not leave Mrs. Beaufort: she felt sure there must be risk in giving her any cause for agitation.
But in the days that had gone by since then, the invalid had mended rapidly; her clinging to Nuna seemed to strengthen, and the irritation which convalescents always vent on one or other of their attendants appeared to have concentrated itself on her husband, instead of on his daughter.
"She is fractious, and no mistake," Mrs. Fagg remarked, when poor Air. Beaufort had gone out of the room looking as if he had been whipped; "but, dear me, Miss Nuna, it's only natural ; it's all that there restlessness and want of sleep coming out on the tongue. You see when married folk get crooked it's orkard for 'em to get straight unless they're by theirselves." Nuna turned away so as to hide her face from observation, but Mrs. Fagg went on, "Why, bless you, ma'am, if Dennis was to say—I don't say he do —but if he forgot himself and spoke cross to me when we was alone, I should shake it off as a dog does water; but before folk may be it would be different. Bless you, it's just one of the ways which shows us the poor silly things we are."
Nuna looked round at the landlady. She had been used to Mrs. Fagg's condemnation of others, it was new to hear her put herself on the list : and yet, something undefinable except in a general softening of voice and look had told her before to day that the past year had worked some change in the mistress of the " Bladebone."
"How is that?" Nuna smiled.
"Put it to yourself, ma'am, if Mr. Whitmore was to speak, I'll say careless like: well, if you was with him alone, you'd go, I know you would,"—Nuna was blushing deeply at this home-thrust,—" and put your arms round his neck, or hold up your face to be kissed ; you'd think it was your fault fast enough. Bless you, Miss Nuna, you was always the same ; them's sillinesses, no doubt, for the men have their tempers as well as ourselves, but there's sillinesses as is safe and as is meant to be, because you see their pattern's in nature. But now look here, ma'am, if one of your old friends was by, Mrs. Bright now, or Mr. Will,"—Mrs. Fagg gave a quick sharp glance to see if her words had offended,—" you'd feel yourself ill-used, quite upset like, and unless you had a chance of making up may be you'd carry a sore heart, worrying yourself as to how you could have vexed Mr. Whitmore."
The sudden wonder in her listener's face gave Mrs. Fagg a hint of the truth. "That's all silliness, you know that, ma'am, as well as I do, but we're all alike at first beginning, high and low, we're all just men and women, neither more nor less; and if we looked at things straight and fair, we should see they must be the same. Any way, we've only got to look at things themselves, and not think of others or what they think."
"Yes, you're right, Mrs. Fagg," said Nuna meditatively.
"We're most on us, I take it, ma'am, sent into the world to do some one plain dooty; and with us womenfolk as are married and have to make just one man happy, what call have we to go fretting and worritting about other folks thinking of what happens atwixt us? Bless you, Miss, women are such fools; most on 'em lives as much for pleasing other folk as for pleasing their own husbands."
Nuna was in a re very far off from the subject of talk, but a movement in Mrs. Beaufort's room recalled it.
"Do you mean about Mrs. Beaufort that it would be better for me to go home again? You mean, I think, that I come between them," she said.
Mrs. Fagg looked at her with a sort of reverent pity.
"Bless her dear heart! she's not changed a bit, just as willing to be guided as ever. Asking me what I think, indeed! I've a notion "—here Mrs. Fagg paused; whatever the notion was, she kept it back with a shake of the head, as if, like a refractory child, it wanted quieting.
"No, ma'am, not exactly; but I think it might be good for you and them too, if you was to go over for a day or so to Gray's Farm; only yesterday your poor papa said Mrs. Bright was begging and praying of him to send you."
The Rector was always "your poor papa" in Mrs. Fagg's discourse to Nuna. She pitied Mrs. Beaufort; but the time she had spared to nurse her had not been given for the sake of the invalid. Mrs. Beaufort belonged to the Rectory, and that was enough for Mrs. Fagg; but she had never got over her first impression that Miss Matthews had come prowling into Ashton, like the white cat she was, and had turned Miss Nuna out of her own home.
The kind soul was feeling uneasy about Nuna; her paleness and her constant depression, except when with the invalid, worried Mrs. Fagg. Gradually she was getting more and more inquisitive about her favorite, and to indulge her old dislike to Paul Whitmore.
Nuna shrank from Gray's Farm, and from Will; but she was in that state of listless restlessness when any change or movement promised relief; and when Mrs. Fagg privately urged Mr. Beaufort to send her away, after a little, Nuna consented to go.
"Marriages don't seem matches," said Mrs. Fagg; "now to look at 'em, any one would have said Mr. Bright and Miss Nuna was cut out one for the other: she, so careless, and he so prim and regular; but then, he'd have worried her to death most like—fond as he'd have been. He's a good, religious, handsome young gentleman; but bless me, women don't care so much for looks, or for them tidy, particular ways, in a man—they've mostly got 'em theirselves. If there's a thing as a woman cares for in a husband, it's a something that's not like herself."
Mrs. Bright came duly to fetch Nuna, and she chattered incessantly as they drove along the dusty road. She persisted in regarding her old favorite as a victim. Even her son's positive assurance failed to persuade Mrs. Bright that Nuna could, knowingly and willingly, prefer Paul Whitmore to her darling Will.
She left off talking for a bit, and looked at her companion.
Nuna had grown very thin and pale; and there was a sad yearning in her eyes which stirred the widow's patience.
"It's all that husband, haughty, sallowfaced fellow! without one good feature, unless it's his eyes, and they have such a sudden way of blazing up, too, I feel sure he's awkward to live with. He must be, or she wouldn't have got so thin and anxious. Well,"—the comely face smoothed away its creases; bond fide wrinkles cannot come on faces like the widow's, there's no loose skin to spare for them,—" Nuna will take comfort when she sees Will; the very sight of his face must make anybody happy."
She looked round at Nuna.
The sad look had vanished.
They were crossing a bit of open country beyond the common, with a distance of wooded hills before them.
"This place takes me back years;" Nuna smiled. "There's the old nutwood, and there's the field where we used to find snake's-head lilies. I never shall forget tearing a frock all to bits in that wood because 1 quarrelled with Will, and wouldn't let him lift me over the brambles."
Mrs. Bright was radiant in an instant.
"My dear, I quite forgot to say that Will would have driven in for you himself: he fully intended it; but who should come down last night but Stephen Pritchard, and it was awkward, you know, to leave him alone."
Nuna's heart leaped up with a sudden hope. She knew that Mr. Pritchard had gone back to Paris; he might have brought news of her husband. Paul had, perhaps, sent word by him where she could write to; for the impossibility of sending him a letter was almost as hard to bear as his silence.
Mrs. Bright saw the sparkle in Nuna's eyes, and her conscience smote her.
"Perhaps it's hardly right, throwing her in Will's way, poor thing! It may make her more unhappy with the other, though he don't deserve to be happy. I've no patience with him, coming down into a quiet village like a great prowling wolf and
upsetting the arrangements of generations."
Mrs. Bright kept an observant eye on the pair, when Will came forward as the carriage drove up; but it seemed to her that Nuna was far more at ease than the master of Gray's Farm was.
Nuna was glad to find Stephen alone in the drawing-room when she came downstairs.
He came up to her at once. He was curious to see how she bore her husband's desertion. Mr. Pritchard had a way of studying his fellow-creatures as if they were insects in a microscope; he liked to see men and women under what he called new prismatic influences. Nuna had lost much of her beauty. He thought that she had more physiognomy than he had ever remarked in her before.
"Whitmore is not the fellow to make a girl like that happy," thought Stephen. "Why did he take her? It's like the dog in the manger."
He told her he had seen Paul in Paris; but she turned so deathly pale when he confessed his ignorance of her husband's route that he was startled.
"Paul had only a moment, you see; we met at the railway station, and he was just leaving Paris. It was quite by chance I saw him. He had a lady with him, and two other men, I think."
"Yes," said Nuna, faintly; "he has only gone for a month." She tried to smile and look indifferent; she wanted • Pritchard to think she was quite in her husband's confidence about this journey: and, if Pritchard had helped her, she would have succeeded in convincing him that she was happy; but Stephen was inquisitive, and curiosity makes people unfeeling.
He looked at her quietly, and then his whole face broke into a broad, incredulous smile.
"I wouldn't count on seeing him home at the month's end, Mrs. Whitmore ; when folks get abroad time goes quickly." Nuna flushed, she was too angry to speak.
"Don't be vexed," he said. "I've known Paul far longer than you have, and no doubt I know him far better."
"I can't agree with you ; husbands and wives must understand each other better than any one else: what I mean is," she said proudly, "I am quite satisfied with the knowledge I have."
For an instant Pritchard thought he had never seen any woman look as lovely as Nuna looked now : her eyes sparkled with indignation, her face was in a glow; but a sudden consciousness of her own ^untruth quelled this mood. How could tyie say she was satisfied with the knowledge she had of her husband? Her eyes drooped, her whole figure relaxed from its attitude of indignant assertion; she felt crushed with shame and sorrow.
Pritchard kept his eye fixed on Nuna; he was not hard-hearted, he had no adequate conception of the agony he was inflicting on the girl's proud sensitive heart, and yet a pity for the misery to which he thought she seemed doomed, stirred strongly in him, and moved him out of his usual philosophic indifference.
'" Don't you think life is full of mistakes?" he said gently—he wanted to get at her real thoughts.
"Yes, perhaps ;"—she spoke in a dreamy, home-sick voice.
"And has not your experience of life taught you that, as a rule, marriage is the saddest of all mistakes?"
Nuna looked up at him. She had been living so much for others in these last weeks that she had gained the power of thinking for them too; literally she had been taken out of herself, out of the dreamy self-contemplation she had grown used to in St. John street; she was able to look at this question without immediately fitting it to herself.
"No, I don't think so; and even if marriage does bring sadness in some cases, I should not have agreed with you. It seems to me every one may be happy who tries to be so : marriage may be like heaven on earth if people only try to make it so."
"But then it is not heaven on earth, and people don't try to make it so," said Pritchard with a sneer, "or if they do, women, that is to say—men have none of these sentimental fancies, Mrs. Whitmore, they are not so sure about a heaven as you are—a woman who believes this, only breaks her heart at the work, bruising it, poor tender thing, against the stony nature of some good fellow who has given all he's got to give in the way of kindness, and so on, and can't understand what more she wants. I grant you that here and there you find a couple specially fitted for each other, but these are the exceptions."
Nuna smiled ; she had often argued this with herself, and she agreed in some ways with Pritchard, but the tendency of such a belief had not before shown itself so clearly.
"But then, what is to become of all the married people who are not among these favored exceptions?" She did not know enough of Pritchard to comprehend his laxity of ideas, she only thought him exaggerated, and there was some mockery in her smile.
Pritchard saw it, and it irritated him out of all reticence ; he hated a woman to put herself on an equal footing in conversation. In theory he was full of woman's rights and the restrictions laid on her freedom ; but then, that had reference to other men.
"I see no difficulty at all in the matter; let them do as I advise you to do." She looked at him in surprise. "Suppose you and Paul don't make each other happy: you give your husband his liberty again; he will be as thankful for release as you will be. You have gone back to your own home: we'll suppose that you stay there. You are angry now, Mrs. Whitmore ; you look at me as if you thought I ought to be horsewhipped ; in a year's time you will thank me for having had the courage to speak out. I have seen double the life you have, and I know you and Paul may go on and on together, hoping things will mend till you break your heart. Perhaps, I've gone beyond bounds, but I've done it with a good motive."
He stopped—there was something in her face which he could not read; the sudden flush of indignation and shame had faded. Nuna's eyes met his fearlessly.
"Then all your wisdom can teach you comes to this,"—there was a solemnity in her voice which starred him,—" that we are only to seek happiness for ourselves; and if we don't find it in the state in which we are placed, then we are to change that state to suit our own will and pleasure. God forgive me! I used to think something of the kind too; I am only just beginning to learn better." Her eyes swam as she went on, full of penitence for herself, and of pity for the blindness of the philosopher. "No, Mr. Pritchard; God is far better and kinder than man is, and I won't believe, if we do our duty in the state in which He places us, and accept all as from Him, that He will fail us at the end."
Pritchard sneered, "You are getting altogether beyond me; you will" But
Nuna felt her agitation was growing beyond her; she hurried past him, and was gone before he could stop her.
"Confound all women! Now, she's turning saint; I am not sure that's not worse than a vixen, because she'll always manage to be in the right now. I wish I had let her alone. Poor Paul, poor fellow, why it was more for his sake than hers I spoke at all!"
He pushed both hands into his hair and walked up and down the room: "Catch me marrying? Paul has never been half the fellow he was before he married; he's not happy, and she could not say she was, either. He talked a lot of bosh at Harwich. I knew what would come of it; I expect they quarrelled when he went home, and now he has gone off and left her ready to hang herself. If she weren't selfish, she must see he would be gladly rid of her; but then that is just where a woman is selfish."
Mr. Pritchard was singularly disturbed; even the smoking of two pipes one after another failed to restore him to his usual easy way of looking at life.
Nuna meantime was kneeling in her room, her face hidden by her hands; there were no tears streaming between the slender fingers; scarcely a sob stirred the calm stillness that had followed the first impetuous outburst of her sorrow and mortification.
Pritchard's words had cut through all the delicate reserve in which she fancied she had hidden her unhappiness; her se
cret was known then, as bare to the eyes of others as to herself. Nuna's agony was almost beyond endurance.
She had flung herself on her knees beside her table, more from a sort of despair than from any settled purpose; but as she knelt, her sobs grew less vehement, her tears less heavy and scalding, and, almost involuntarily, a cry went out of her heart for help. She was worse than helpless now; she was a subject of pitying talk for' others. Every one knew her husband did not love her. A heavy sob burst from her, and again came tears.
But as she knelt, it seemed to Nuna that though the whole world might despise her sorrow, there was a love higher and deeper than any she had known, a love which hushed her poor fluttering heart, and soothed her by its presence. The hush deepened; it was as if her heart were freed from its heavy load of anguish, and was at last at rest
She could never tell how long she knelt there, unconscious of outer sights and sounds. Quietly, slowly, as if she were gazing at it, her life spread itself out before her, and she saw herself as if with the eyes of a stranger.
It was one of those strange awakenings which come to us all; it may be once, often more than once, in our lives. We may pass it by, we may turn from its painful warning, for it seldom comes without probing the heart to its very centre; we may choke its remembrance by a succession of vain, frivolous thoughts and occupations, but it has been sent to us. It has left its mark; whether for good or evil is in our own power to determine.
(To be continued.)
NEWS FROM HERSCHEL'S PLANET.
Saturn—the altissimus planeta of the ancients—remains still the most distant planet respecting whose physical condition astronomers can obtain satisfactory information. The most powerful telescopes yet constructed have been turned in vain towards those two mighty orbs which circle outside the path of distant Saturn: from beyond the vast depths which separate us from Uranus and Neptune, telescopists can obtain little intelligence respecting the physical habitudes of either planet.
Nor need we be surprised at the failure of astronomers, when we consider the difficulties under which the inquiry has been conducted. In comparing the telescopic aspect of Uranus with that of Saturn (for example) we must remember that Uranus is not only twice as far from the earth, but also twice as far from the sun as Saturn is. So that the features of Uranus are not merely reduced in seeming dimensions, in the proportion of about one to four, but the yare less brilliantly illuminat