The schoolroom in the Parsonage at Heythram was not a large apartment, but on a bleak January day, in a household where the consumption of coals was a consideration, this was not felt by its occupants to be a disadvantage. Quite a modest fire in the high, barred grate made it unnecessary for all but one of the four young ladies present to huddle shawls round their shoulders. But Elizabeth, the youngest of the Reverend Henry Tallant's handsome daughters, was suffering from the ear-ache, and, besides stuffing a roasted onion into the afflicted orifice, had swathed her head and neck in an old Cashmere shawl. She lay curled up on an aged sofa, with her head on a worn red cushion, and from time to time uttered a long-suffering sigh, to which none of her sisters paid any heed. Betsy was known to be sickly. It was thought that the climate of Yorkshire did not agree with her constitution, and since she spent the greater part of the winter suffering from a variety of minor ills her delicacy was regarded by all but her Mama as a commonplace.
There were abundant signs, littered over the table in the centre of the room, that the young ladies had retired to this cosy, shabby apartment to hem shirts, but only one of them, the eldest, was thus engaged. In a chair on one side of the fireplace, Miss Margaret Tallant, a buxom fifteen-year-old, was devouring the serial story in a bound volume of The Ladies' Monthly Museum, with her fingers stuffed in her ears; and seated opposite to Miss Arabella, her stitchery lying neglected on the table before her, sat Miss Sophia, reading aloud from another volume of this instructive periodical.
‘I must say, Bella,' she remarked, momentarily lowering the book, ‘I find this most perplexing! Only listen to what it says here! We have presented our subscribers with fashions of the newest pattern, not such as shall violate the laws of propriety and decorum, but such as shall assist the smile of good humour, and give an additional charm to the carriage of benevolence. Economy ought to be the order of the day And then, if you please, there is a picture of the most ravishing evening-gown Do but look at it, Bella! and it says that the Russian bodice is of blue satin, fastened in front with diamonds! Well!'
Her sister obediently raised her eyes from the wristband she was hemming, and critically scanned the willowy giantess depicted amongst the Fashion Notes. Then she sighed, and once more bent her dark head over her work. ‘Well, if that is their notion of economy, I am sure I couldn't go to London, even if my godmother invited me. And I know she won't,' she said fatalistically.
‘You must and you shall go!' declared Sophy, in accents of strong resolution. ‘Only think what it may mean to all of us if you do!'
‘Yes, but I won't go looking like a dowd,' objected Arabella, ‘and if I am obliged to have diamond fastenings to my bodices, you know very well '
‘Oh, stuff! I daresay that is the extreme of fashion, or perhaps they are made of paste! And in any event this is one of the older numbers. I know I saw in one of them that jewelry is no longer worn in the mornings, so very likely Where is that volume? Margaret, you have it! Do, pray, give it to me! You are by far too young to be interested in such things!'
Margaret uncorked her ears to snatch the book out of her sister's reach. ‘No! I'm reading the serial story!'
‘Well, you should not. You know Papa does not like us to read romances.'
‘If it comes to that,' retorted Margaret, ‘he would be excessively grieved to find you reading nothing better than the latest modes!'
They looked at one another; Sophy's lip quivered. ‘Dear Meg, do pray give it to me, only for a moment!'
‘Well, I will when I have finished the Narrative of Augustus Waldstein,' said Margaret. ‘But only for a moment, mind!'
‘Wait, I know there is something here to the purpose!' said Arabella, dropping her work to flick over the pages of the volume abandoned by Sophia. ‘Method of Preserving Milk by Horse-Radish... White Wax for the Nails... Human Teeth placed to Stumps... Yes, here it is! Now, listen, Meg! Where a Female has in early life dedicated her attention to novel-reading she is unfit to become the companion of a man of sense, or to conduct a family with propriety and decorum. There!' She looked up, the prim pursing of her lips enchantingly belied by her dancing eyes.
‘I am sure Mama is not unfit to be the companion of a man of sense!' cried Margaret indignantly. ‘And she reads novels! And even Papa does not find The Wanderer objectionable, or Mrs Edgeworth's Tales!'
‘No, but he did not like it when he found Bella reading The Hungarian Brothers, or The Children of the Abbey,' said Sophia, seizing the opportunity to twitch The Ladies' Monthly Museum out of her sister's slackened grasp. ‘He said there was a great deal of nonsense in such books, and that the moral tone was sadly lacking.'
‘Moral tone is not lacking in the serial I am reading!' declared Margaret, quite ruffled. ‘Look what it says there, near the bottom of the page! "Albert! be purity of character your duty!" I am sure he could not dislike that!'
Arabella rubbed the tip of her nose. ‘Well, I think he would say it was fustian,' she remarked candidly. ‘But do give the book back to her, Sophy!'
‘I will, when I have found what I'm looking for. Besides, it was I who had the happy notion to borrow the volumes from Mrs Caterham, so Yes, here it is! It says that only jewelry of very plain workmanship is worn in the mornings nowadays.' She added, on a note of doubt: ‘I daresay the fashions don't change so very fast, even in London. This number is only three years old.'
The sufferer on the sofa sat up cautiously. ‘But Bella hasn't got any jewelry, has she?'
This observation, delivered with all the bluntness natural in a damsel of only nine summers, threw a blight over the company.
‘I have the gold locket and chain with the locks of Papa's and Mama's hair in it,' said Arabella defensively.
‘If you had a tiara, and a a cestus, and an armlet to match it, it might answer,' said Sophy. ‘There is a toilet described here with just those ornaments.'
Her three sisters gazed at her in astonishment. ‘What is a cestus?' they demanded.
Sophy shook her head. ‘I don't know,' she confessed.
‘Well, Bella hasn't got one at all events,' said the Job's comforter on the sofa.
‘If she were so poor-spirited as to refuse to go to London for such a trifling reason as that, I would never forgive her!' declared Sophy.
‘Of course I would not!' exclaimed Arabella scornfully. ‘But I have not the least expectation that Lady Bridlington will invite me, for why should she, only because I am her goddaughter? I never saw her in my life!'
‘She sent a very handsome shawl for your christening gift,' said Margaret hopefully.
‘Besides being Mama's dearest friend,' added Sophy.
‘But Mama has not seen her either at least, not for years and years!'
‘And she never sent Bella anything else, not even when she was confirmed,' pointed out Betsy, gingerly removing the onion from her ear, and throwing it into the fire.
‘If your ear-ache is better,' said Sophia, eyeing her with disfavour, ‘you may hem this seam for me! I want to draw a pattern for a new flounce.'
‘Mama said I was to sit quietly by the fire,' replied the invalid, disposing herself more comfortably. ‘Are there any acrostics in those fusty old books?'
‘No, and if there were I would not give them to anyone so disobliging as you, Betsy!' said Sophy roundly.
Betsy began to cry, in an unconvincing way, but as Margaret was once more absorbed in her serial, and Arabella had drawn Sophia's attention to the picture of a velvet pelisse trimmed lavishly with ermine, no one paid any heed to her, and she presently relapsed into silence, merely sniffing from time to time, and staring resentfully at her two eldest sisters.
They presented a charming picture, as they sat poring over their book, their dark ringlets intermingled, and their arms round each other's waists. They were very plainly dressed, in gowns of blue kerseymere, made high to the throat, and with long tight sleeves; and they wore no other ornaments than a knot or two of ribbons; but the Vicar's numerous offspring were all remarkable for their good looks and had very little need of embellishment. Although Arabella was unquestionably the Beauty of the family, it was pretty generally agreed in the neighbourhood that once Sophia had outgrown the over-plumpness of her sixteen years she might reasonably hope to rival her senior. Each had large, dark, and expressive eyes, little straight noses, and delicately moulded lips; each had complexions which were the envy of less fortunate young ladies, and which owed nothing to Denmark Lotion, Olympian Dew, Bloom of Ninon, or any other aid to beauty advertised in the society journals. Sophia was the taller of the two; Arabella had by far the better figure, and the neater ankle. Sophia looked to be the more robust; Arabella enchanted her admirers by a deceptive air of fragility, which inspired one romantically-minded young gentleman to liken her to a leaf blown by the wind; and another to address a very bad set of verses to her, apostrophising her as the New Titania. Unfortunately, Harry had found this effusion, and had shown it to Bertram, and until Papa had said, with his gentle austerity, that he considered the jest to be outworn, they had insisted on hailing their sister by this exquisitely humorous appellation.
Betsy, brooding over her wrongs, found nothing to admire in either sister, and was weighing the advantage of cosseting from old Nurse against the possibility of being called upon to amuse Baby Jack, were she to remove herself to the nursery, when the door burst open, and a stout boy of eleven years, in nankeens and a frilled shirt, and with a mop of curly hair, precipitated himself into the room, exclaiming loudly: ‘Hallo! Such a kick-up! Mama is with Papa in the study, but I know what it's all about!'
‘Why, what has happened?' exclaimed Sophia.
‘Don't you wish you knew!' said Harry, drawing a piece of twine from his pocket, and beginning to tie it into a complicated knot. ‘Watch me tie this one, Meg! I know six of the chief knots now, and if Uncle James does not get Captain Bolton to take me on his next commission it will be the most infamous, swindling thing I ever heard of!'
‘But you didn't come to tell us that!' said Arabella. ‘What is it?'
‘Nothing but one of Harry's hums!' said Margaret.
‘No such thing!' retorted her brother. ‘Joseph Eccles has been down to the White Hart, and brought back the post with him.' He perceived that he had succeeded in riveting his sisters' attention on himself, and grinned at them. ‘Ay, you may stare! There's a letter from London, for Mama. Franked by some lord, too: I saw it.'
Margaret's book slipped from her fingers to the floor; Sophia gave a gasp; and Arabella flew up out of her chair. ‘Harry! Not oh, not from my godmother?'
‘Oh, ain't it?' said Harry.
‘If it comes from London, it must be from Lady Bridlington!' declared Sophia. ‘Arabella, I do believe our fortunes are in a way to being made!'
‘I dare not suppose it to be possible!' said Arabella, quite faintly. ‘Depend upon it, she has written to say she cannot invite me!'
‘Nonsense!' replied her practical sister. ‘If that were all, pray why should Mama take the letter to my father? I regard the matter as settled already. You are going to London for the Season.'
‘Oh, if it could be so indeed!' said Arabella, trembling.
Harry, who had abandoned knot-making in favour of trying to stand on his head, overbalanced at this moment, and fell in a heap on the floor, together with a chair, Sophia's work-box, and a hand-screen, which Margaret had been painting before succumbing to the superior attraction of The Ladies' Monthly Museum. Beyond begging him not to be such an ape, none of his sisters censured his clumsiness. He picked himself up, remarking scornfully that only a girl would make such a fuss about a mere visit to London. ‘The slowest thing!' he said. ‘I should like to know what you think you would do there!'
‘Oh, Harry, how can you be so stupid? The balls! The theatres! Assemblies!' uttered Arabella, in choked accents.
‘I thought you were going there to form an eligible connection,' said Betsy. ‘That is what Mama said, for I heard her.'
‘Then you had no business to be listening!' said Sophia tartly.
‘What's an eligible connection?' demanded Harry, beginning to juggle with several reels of sewing-silk, which had spilled out of the work-box on to the floor.
‘I'm sure I don't know!'
‘I do,' offered the invalid. ‘It's a splendid marriage, of course. And then Bella will invite Sophy and Meg and me to stay with her in London, and we shall all find rich husbands!'
‘That I shall certainly not do, miss!' declared Arabella. ‘Let me tell you that no one will invite you anywhere until you have a little more conduct!'
‘Well, Mama did say it,' argued Betsy, in a whining voice. ‘And you need not think I do not know about such things, because '
Sophia interrupted her ruthlessly. ‘If, Betsy, you do not desire me to tell Papa of your shocking lack of delicacy, I advise you to take yourself off to the nursery where you belong!'
This terrible threat did not fail of its object. Complaining that her sisters were disagreeable cats, Betsy went as slowly from the room as she dared, trailing her shawl behind her.
‘She is very sickly,' said Arabella, in an excusing tone.
‘She is a precocious brat!' retorted Sophia. ‘One would have thought that she would have had more elegance of mind than to be thinking of such things! Oh, Bella, if only you were to be so fortunate as to make a Splendid Marriage! And if Lady Bridlington is to bring you out I am sure I do not see how you can fail to! For,' she added nobly, ‘you are by far the prettiest girl I have ever seen!'
‘Hoo!' interpolated Harry, adding his mite to the conversation.
‘Yes,' agreed Margaret, ‘but if she must have diamond buttons, and tiaras, and and those things you spoke of, I don't see how it can be done!'
A damped silence greeted her words. Sophia was the first to recover herself. ‘Something,' she announced resolutely, ‘will be contrived!'
No one answered her. Arabella and Margaret appeared to be dubiously weighing her pronouncement; and Harry, having discovered a pair of scissors, was pleasurably engaged in snipping short lengths off a skein of darning-wool. Into this pensive silence walked a young gentleman just emerging from adolescence into manhood. He was a handsome youth, fairer than his elder sister, but with something of her cast of countenance; and it was manifest, from the alarming height of his shirt collar, and the disorder of his chestnut locks, that he affected a certain modishness that bordered on dandyism. The Knaresborough tailor who enjoyed his patronage could not aspire to the height of art achieved by Weston or Stultz, but he had done his best, and had indeed been greatly assisted by the admirable proportions of his client. Mr Bertram Tallant set off a coat to advantage, and was blessed with a most elegant pair of legs. These were at the moment encased in a pair of buckskin breeches, but their owner cherished in one of his chests of drawers a pair of yellow pantaloons which he had not yet dared to display to his Papa, but which, he rather fancied, turned him into a veritable Tulip of Fashion. His top-boots, on which he expended much thought and labour, were as refulgent as could be expected of boots belonging to a gentleman whose parents were unhappily unable to supply their second son with the champagne indispensable for a really good blacking; and the points of his shirt-collars, thanks to the loving hands of his sisters, were so stiffly starched that it was only with great difficulty that he could turn his head. Like his elder brother James, at present up at Oxford, prior to taking Orders, he had been educated at Harrow, but he was at present domiciled at home, working under his father's guidance with a view to passing Smalls during the Easter Vacation. This task he had embarked on without enthusiasm, his whole ambition being to obtain a cornetcy in a Hussar regiment. But as this would cost not a penny less than eight hundred pounds, and the termination of the long war with Bonaparte had made promotion unlikely, unless by expensive purchase, Mr Tallant had decided, not unreasonably, that a civil occupation would prove less ruinous than a military career. He intended that Bertram, once provided with a respectable degree, should adorn the Home Office; and any doubts which the volatile disposition of his offspring might have engendered in his mind of his eligibility for that service, he was nearly able to allay by the reflection that Bertram was, after all, not yet eighteen, and that Oxford University, where he himself had passed three scholarly years, would exert a stabilising influence on his character.
The future candidate for Parliament heralded his entrance into the schoolroom with a muted hunting-cry, followed immediately by the announcement that some people were unfairly favoured by fortune.
Arabella clasped both her hands at her breast, and raised a pair of speaking eyes to his face. ‘Bertram, is it indeed true? Now, don't try to roast me pray don't!'
‘Lord, yes! But who told you?'
‘Harry, of course,' replied Sophia. ‘The children know everything in this house!'
Mr Bertram Tallant nodded gloomily, and pulled up his sleeves a trifle. ‘You don't want him in here: shall I turn him out?' he enquired.
‘Ho!' cried Harry, leaping to his feet, and squaring up to his senior in great good-humour. ‘A mill!'
‘Not in here!' shrieked his sisters, with one accustomed voice.
But as they had no expectation of being attended to, each damsel made a dive to snatch her own particular property out of harm's way. This was just as well, since the room, besides being small, was crowded with knick-knacks. The brothers struggled and swayed together for a brief minute or two, but since Harry, though a lusty lad, was no match for Bertram, he was very soon thrust outside the room, and the door slammed against him. After dealing the scarred panels a few kicks, and threatening his senior with gruesome reprisals, he took himself off, whistling loudly through the convenient gap occasioned by the loss of one of his front teeth; and Bertram was able to remove his shoulders from the door, and to straighten his cravat.
‘Well, you are to go,' he informed Arabella. ‘I wish I had a rich godmother, that's all! Much old Mrs Calne ever did for me, except to give me a devilish book called the Christian Comforter, or some such thing, which was enough to send a fellow to the dogs directly!'
‘I must say, I think it was excessively shabby of her,' agreed Margaret. ‘Even Papa said that if she had thought you had a taste for such literature, she might have supposed that you would find it upon his shelves.'
‘Well, my father knows I have no turn in that direction, and this I will say for him, he don't expect it of me,' said Bertram handsomely. ‘He may be devilish straitlaced, and full of old-fashioned notions, but he's a right one at heart, and don't plague one with a pack of humbug.'
‘Yes, yes!' said Arabella impatiently, ‘but does he know of this letter? Will he let me go?'
‘I fancy he don't like it above half, but he said he could not stand in your way, and must trust to your conducting yourself in Society with propriety, and not allowing your head to be turned by frivolity and admiration. And as to that,' Bertram added, with brotherly candour, ‘I don't suppose they will think you anything out of the way amongst all the nobs, so there's precious little chance of its happening.'
‘No, I am sure they will not,' said Arabella. ‘But tell me the whole! What did Lady Bridlington say in her letter?'
‘Lord, I don't know! I was trying to make sense of a whole rigmarole of Greek when Mama came in, and I wasn't listening with more than half an ear. I daresay she'll tell it all to you. She sent me to say she wants you in her dressing-room.'
‘Good gracious, why could you not have told me that before?' cried Arabella, stuffing the half-finished shirt into a work-bag and flitting out of the room.
The Parsonage, although built on two storeys only, was a large, old-fashioned house, and to reach Mrs Tallant's dressing-room Arabella was obliged to traverse several corridors, all carpeted with a worn drugget, and all equally draughty.
The living of Heythram was respectable, being worth some three hundred pounds a year, in addition to which the present incumbent was possessed of a small independence; but the claims of a numerous family made the recarpeting of passages more a thing to be dreamed of than an allowable expense. The Vicar, himself the son of a landed gentleman, had married the beautiful Miss Theale, who might have been expected to have done better for herself than to have thrown her cap over the windmill for a mere younger son, however handsome he might be. Indeed, it had been commonly said at the time that she had married to disoblige her family, and might, if she had chosen, have caught a baronet on her hook. Instead she had fallen in love with Henry Tallant at first sight. Since his birth was genteel, and her parents had other daughters to dispose of, she had been permitted to have her way; and apart from wishing sometimes that the living were worth more, or that Henry would not put his hand in his pocket for every beggar who crossed his path, she had never given anyone reason to suppose that she regretted her choice. To be sure, she would have liked to have installed into the Parsonage one of the new water-closets, and a Patent Kitchen Range; or, like her brother-in-law up at the Hall, have been able, without feeling the pinch, to have burnt wax candles in all the rooms; but she was a sensible woman, and even when the open fire in the kitchen smoked, and the weather made a visit to the existing water-closet particularly disagreeable, she realised that she was a great deal happier with her Henry than ever she could have been with that almost forgotten baronet. She naturally concurred in his decision that whatever became of their daughters their sons at least must receive every advantage of education; but even while employing every shift of economy to ensure the respectable maintenance of James and Bertram at Harrow she was gradually building her ambitions more and more on the future of her eldest and most beautiful daughter. Without precisely regretting the circumstances which had made it impossible for herself to shine farther afield than York and Scarborough, she was determined that Arabella should not be similarly circumscribed. Perhaps it had been with this hope already at the back of her mind that she had invited her school-friend, Arabella Haverhill, who had contracted such a brilliant match, to stand as godmother to her infant daughter. Certainly her resolve to send the younger Arabella to make her début into society under the aegis of Lady Bridlington was of no very recent date. She had maintained throughout the years an infrequent but regular correspondence with her old friend, and was tolerably certain that fashionable life had in no way impaired the easy good-nature which had characterised the plump and cheerful Miss Haverhill. Lady Bridlington was not herself blessed with daughters she was, in fact, the mother of only one child, a son, some seven or eight years older than Mrs Tallant's daughter but from her friend's point of view this was a decided advantage. The mother of a family of hopeful girls, however good-natured, would not be in the least likely to take under her wing yet another young female in search of an eligible husband. But a widow in comfortable circumstances, with a strong inclination for all the amusements of fashion, and no daughters to launch upon the world, might reasonably be supposed to welcome the opportunity of chaperoning a young protégée to the balls, routs, and Assemblies she herself delighted in. Mrs Tallant could not conceive it to be otherwise. Nor was she disappointed. Lady Bridlington, crossing several sheets of gilt-edged notepaper with her sprawling pen, could not imagine why she should not have hit upon the notion herself. She was excessively dull, and liked nothing in the world so much as having young persons about her. It had long been a grief to her, she wrote, that she had no daughter of her own; and as she had no doubt that she would love her dearest Sophia's girl on sight she should await her arrival in the greatest impatience. Mrs Tallant had had no need to mention her object in sending Arabella to town: Henry Tallant might consider that Lady Bridlington's letters betrayed little but folly and frivolity, but her ladyship, however lacking in mental profundity, had plenty of worldly sense. Sophia might rest assured, she wrote, that she would leave no stone unturned to provide Arabella with a suitable husband. Already, she hinted, she had several eligible bachelors in her eye.
It was small wonder, then, that Arabella, peeping into her mother's dressing-room, should have found that admirable lady lost in a pleasant daydream.
‘Arabella! Come in, my love, and close the door! Your godmother has written, and in the kindest way! Dear, dear creature, I knew I might depend upon her!'
‘It's true then? I am to go?' Arabella breathed.
‘Yes, and she begs I will send you to her as soon as may be contrived, for it seems that Bridlington is travelling on the Continent, and she is quite moped to death, living in that great house all alone. I knew how it must be! She will treat you as her own daughter. And, oh, my dearest child, I never asked it of her, but she has offered to present you at one of the Drawing-rooms!'
This dizzy prospect took from Arabella all power of speech. She could only gaze at her mother, while that lady poured out a list of the delights in store for her.
‘Everything I could wish for you! Almack's I am sure she will be able to procure you a voucher, for she knows all the patronesses! Concerts! The theatre! All the ton parties breakfasts, Assemblies, balls my love, you will have such opportunities! You can have no notion! Why, she writes that but never mind that!'
Arabella found her voice. ‘But Mama, how shall we contrive? The expense! I cannot I cannot go to London without any clothes to wear!'
‘No, indeed!' said Mrs Tallant, laughing. ‘That would present a very odd appearance, my love!'
‘Yes, Mama, but you know what I mean! I have only two ball dresses, and though they do very well for the Assemblies in Harrowgate, and country parties, I know they are not modish enough for Almack's! And Sophy has borrowed all Mrs Caterham's Monthly Museums, and I have been looking at the fashions in them, and it is too lowering, ma'am! Everything must be trimmed with diamonds, or ermine, or point-lace!'
‘My dear Arabella, don't put yourself in a taking! That has all been thought of, I assure you. You must know that I have had this scheme in my mind for many a long day.' She saw her daughter's face of mystification, and laughed again. ‘Why, did you think I would send you into society looking like a rustic? I am not quite such a zany, I hope! I have been putting by for this very occasion since I don't know when.'
‘I have a little money of my own, you know,' explained Mrs Tallant. ‘Your dear Papa would never use it, but desired me to spend it only as I liked, because I used to be very fond of pretty things, and he never could bear to think I might not have them when I married him. That was all nonsense, of course, and I'm sure I very soon gave up thinking of such fripperies. But I was very glad to have it to spend on my children. And in spite of Margaret's drawing-lessons, and Sophy's music-master, and dearest Bertram's new coat, and those yellow pantaloons which he dare not let Papa see my love, was there ever such a foolish boy? As though Papa did not know all along! and having to take poor Betsy to the doctor three times this year, I have quite a little nest-egg saved for you!'
‘Oh, Mama, no, no!' cried Arabella, distressed. ‘I would rather not go to London at all than that you should be put to such dreadful expense!'
‘That is because you are sadly shatterbrained, my dear,' replied her mother calmly. ‘I regard it as an investment, and I shall own myself extremely astonished if a great deal of good does not come of it.' She hesitated, looked a little conscious, and said, picking her words: ‘I am sure I do not have to tell you that Papa is a Saint. Indeed, I don't suppose there is a better husband or father alive! But he is not at all practical, and when one has eight children to provide for, one must have a little worldly sense, or I don't know how one is to go on. One need have no anxiety about dear James, to be sure; and since Harry is set on going to sea, and his uncle is so obliging as to use his influence in his behalf, his future is settled. But I own I cannot be happy about poor Bertram; and where I am to find suitable husbands for all you girls in this restricted neighbourhood, I have not the least notion! Now, that is speaking more plainly than perhaps Papa would like, but you are a sensible puss, Arabella, and I have no scruple in being open with you. If I can but contrive to establish you respectably, you may bring out your sisters, and perhaps, even, if you should be so fortunate as to marry a gentleman of position, you might be able to help Bertram to buy his commission. I do not mean, of course, that your husband should purchase it precisely, but he might very likely have an interest at the Horse Guards, or or something of the sort!'
Arabella nodded, for it was no news to her that she, as the eldest of four sisters, was expected to marry advantageously. She knew it to be her duty to do so. ‘Mama, I will try not to disappoint you!' she said earnestly.