'Every one would tell you the same. He was expelled from the University, and has gone on shockingly ever since, breaking his mother's heart! Poor Emma! after dreading every gentleman!'
'I fear she has much to suffer. He made her think him not a marrying man, and put her off her guard. Did you say he was agreeable?'
'Perhaps I might think so if I knew nothing about him; but I have always had a repugnance to him, and it is all I can do not to dislike him more than is right. If I saw him speak to Johnnie, I think I should!'
'And now tell me, for I ought to have every proof, if you know anything that would convince Emma that this present repentance is assumed?'
Violet coloured excessively. 'Arthur could tell' she said, half choked, and as Lady Elizabeth still waited, she was obliged to add, He was active in the same way at the last races. I know there are things going on still that a man who really meant to reform would have broken off. Arthur could give you proofs.'
Violet could not bear to be more explicit. Her own secret feeling was that Mr. Gardner was her husband's evil genius, leading him astray, and robbing her of his affection, and she was not far mistaken. Sneers, as if he was under her government, were often employed to persuade him to neglect her, and continue his ruinous courses; and if she shrunk from Gardner, he in return held her in malicious aversion, both as a counter influence and as a witness against him. It was the constant enmity of light to darkness, of evil to innocence.
The whole drive was spent in conversing on this engrossing theme; Lady Elizabeth lamenting the intimacy with Sarah Theresa, a clever, and certainly in many respects an excellent person, but with a strong taste for singularity and for dominion, who had cultivated Emma's naturally ardent and clinging nature into an exclusive worship of her; and, by fostering all that was imaginative in her friends composition, had led her to so exalted an estimate of their own ideal that they alike disdained all that did not coincide with it, and spurned all mere common sense. Emma's bashfulness had been petted and promoted as unworldly, till now, like the holes in the philosopher's cloak, it was self-satisfaction instead of humility. This made the snare peculiarly dangerous, and her mother was so doubtful how far she would be guided, as to take no comfort from Violet's assurances that Mr. Gardner's character could be proved to be such that no woman in her senses could think, a second time, of accepting him.
'I cannot tell,' said poor Lady Elizabeth; 'they will think all wiped out by his reform. Emma speaks already of aiding him to redeem the past. Ah! my dear,' in answer to a look, 'you have not seen my poor child of late: you do not know how much more opinionative she has become, or rather, Theresa has made her. I wish she could have been more with you.'