Chapter XXVIII--A Squire of Dames
 
   'Spited with a fool -
Spited and angered both.'

Cymbeline.

This long stay of Ellen's in our family had made our fraternal relations with her nearer and closer. Familiarity had been far from lessening our strong feeling for her goodness and sweetness. Emily, who knew her best, used to confide to me little instances of the spirit of devotion and self-discipline that underlay all her sunny gaiety--how she never failed in her morning's devout readings; how she learnt a verse or two of Scripture every day, and persuaded Emily to join with her in repeating it ere they went downstairs for their evening's pleasure; how she had set herself a little task of plain work for the poor, which she did every day in her own room; and the like dutiful habits, which seemed, as it were, to help her to keep herself in hand, and not be carried away by what was a whirl of pleasure to her, though a fashionable young lady would have despised its mildness.

Indeed Lady Peacock, with whom we exchanged calls, made no secret of her compassion when she found how many parties the ladies were not going to; and Ellen's own relations, the Lesters, would have taken her out almost every night if she had not staunchly held to her promise to her mother not to go out more than three evenings in the week, for Mrs. Fordyce knew her to be delicate, and feared late hours for her. The vexation her cousins manifested made her feel the more bound to give them what time she could, at hours when Griffith was not at liberty. She did not like them to be hurt, and jealous of us, or to feel forsaken, and she tried to put her affection for us on a different footing by averring that 'it was not the same kind of thing--Emily was her sister.'

One day she had gone to luncheon with the Lesters in Cavendish Square, and was to be called for in the carriage by me, on the way to take up the other two ladies, who were shopping in Regent Street.

Ellen came running downstairs, with her cheeks in a glow under the pink satin lining of her pretty bonnet, and her eyes sparkling with indignation, which could not but break forth.

'I don't know how I shall ever go there again!' she exclaimed; 'they have no right to say such things!' Then she explained. Mary and Louisa had been saying horrid things about Griffith--her Griff! It was always their way. Think how Horace had made her treat Clarence! It was their way and habit to tease, and call it fun, and she had never minded it before; but this was too bad. Would not I put it in her power to give a flat contradiction, such as would make them ashamed of themselves?

Contradict what?

Then it appeared that the Misses Lester had laughed at her, who was so very particular and scrupulous, for having taken up with a regular young man about town. Oh no, they did not think much of it- -no doubt he was only just like other people; only the funny thing was that it should be Ellen, for whom it was always supposed that no saint in the calendar, no knight in all the Waverley novels, would be good enough! And then, on her hot desire to know what they meant, they quoted John, the brother in the Guards, as having been so droll about poor Ellen's perfect hero, and especially at his straight-laced Aunt Fordyce having been taken in,--but of course it was the convenience of joining the estates, and it was agreeable to see that your very good folk could wink at things like other people in such a case. Then, when Ellen fairly drove her inquiries home, in her absolute trust of confuting all slanders, she was told that Griffith did, what she called 'all sorts of things--billiards and all that.' And even that he was always running after a horrid Lady Peacock, a gay widow.

'They went on in fun,' said Ellen, 'and laughed the more when--yes, I am afraid I did--I lost my temper. No, don't say I well might, I know I ought not; but I told them I knew all about Lady Peacock, and that you were all old friends, even before he rescued her from the Bristol riots and brought her home to Chantry House; and that only made Mary merrier than ever, and say, "What, another distressed damsel? Take care, Ellen; I would not trust such a squire of dames." And then Louisa chimed in, "Oh no, you see this Peacock dame was only conducted, like Princess Micomicona and all the rest of them, to the feet of his peerless Dulcinea!" And then I heard the knock, and I was never so glad in my life!'

'Well!' I could not help remarking, 'I have heard of women's spitefulness, but I never believed it till now.'

'I really don't think it was altogether what you call malice, so much as the Lester idea of fun,' said Ellen, recovering herself after her outpouring. 'A very odd notion I always thought it was; and Mary and Louisa are not really ill-natured, and cannot wish to do the harm they might have done, if I did not know Griff too well.'

Then, after considering a little, she said, blushing, 'I believe I have told you more than I ought, Edward--I couldn't help having it out; but please don't tell any one, especially that shocking way of speaking of mamma, which they could not really mean.'

'No one could who knew her.'

'Of course not. I'll tell you what I mean to do. I will write to Mary when we go in, and tell her that I know she really cares for me enough to be glad that her nonsense has done no mischief, and, though I was so foolish and wrong as to fly into a passion, of course I know it is only her way, and I do not believe one word of it.'

Somehow, as she looked with those radiant eyes full of perfect trust, I could not help longing not to have heard Peter Robson's last night's complaint; but family feeling towards outsiders overcomes many a misgiving, and my wrath against the malignity of the Lesters was quite as strong as if I had been devoid of all doubts whether Griff wore to all other eyes the same halo of pure glory with which Ellen invested him.

Such doubts were very transient. Dear old Griff was too delightful, too bright and too brave, too ardent and too affectionate, not to dispel all clouds by the sunshine he carried about with him. If rest and reliance came with Clarence, zest and animation came with Griffith. He managed to take the initiative by declining to remain any longer with the Robsons, saying they had been spoilt by such a model lodger as Clarence, who would let Gooch feed him on bread and milk and boiled mutton, and put on his clean pinafore if she chose to insist; whereas her indignation, when Griff found fault with the folding of his white ties, amounted to 'Et tu Brute,' and he really feared she would have had a fit when he ordered devilled kidneys for breakfast. He was sure her determination to tuck him up every night and put out his candle was shortening her life; and he had made arrangements to share the chambers of a friend who had gone through school and college with him. There was no objection to the friend, who had stayed at Chantry House and was an agreeable, lively, young man, well reported of, satisfactorily connected, fairly industrious, and in good society, so that Griff was likely to be much less exposed to temptation of the lower kinds than when left to his own devices, or only with Clarence, who had neither time nor disposition to share his amusements.

There was a scene with my father, but in private; and all that came to general knowledge was that Griff felt himself injured by any implication that he was given to violent or excessive dissipation, such as could wreck Ellen's happiness or his own character.

He declared with all his heart that immediate marriage would be the best thing for both, and pleaded earnestly for it; but my father could not have arranged for it even if the Fordyces would have consented, and there were matters of business, as well as other reasons, which made it inexpedient for them to revoke their decision that the wedding should not take place before Ellen was of age and Griffith called to the bar.

So we took our young ladies home, loaded with presents for their beloved school children, of whom Emily said she dreamt, as the time for seeing them again drew near. After all the London enjoyment, it was pretty to see the girls' delight in the fresh country sights and sounds in full summer glory, and how Ellen proved to have been hungering after all her dear ones at home. When we left her at her own door, our last sight of her was in her father's arms, little Anne clinging to her dress, mother and grandfather as close to her as could be--a perfect tableau of a joyous welcome.