The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 13

Oh, thou child of many prayers!

Life hath quicksands — life hath snares —

Care and age come unawares.

Like the swell of some sweet tune,

Morning rises into noon,

May glides onward into June.

— Longfellow

‘What is the matter with Amy? What makes her so odd?’ asked Charles, as his mother came to wish him good night.

‘Poor little dear! don’t take any notice,’ was all the answer he received; and seeing that he was to be told no more, he held his peace.

Laura understood without being told. She, too, had thought Guy and Amy were a great deal together, and combining various observations, she perceived that her mother must have given Amy a caution. She therefore set herself, like a good sister, to shelter Amy as much as she could, save her from awkward situations, and, above all, to prevent her altered manner from being remarked. This was the less difficult, as Eveleen was subdued and languid, and more inclined to lie on the sofa and read than to look out for mirth.

As to poor little Amy, her task was in one way become less hard, for Guy had ceased to haunt her, and seemed to make it his business to avoid all that could cause her embarrassment; but in another way it hurt her much more, for she now saw the pain she was causing. If obliged to do anything for her, he would give a look as if to ask pardon, and then her rebellious heart would so throb with joy as to cause her dismay at having let herself fall into so hateful a habit as wishing to attract attention. What a struggle it was not to obey the impulse of turning to him for the smile with which he would greet anything in conversation that interested them both, and how wrong she thought it not to be more consoled when she saw him talking to Eveleen, or to any of the others, as if he was doing very well without her. This did not often happen; he was evidently out of spirits, and thoughtful, and Amy was afraid some storm might be gathering respecting Mr. Sebastian Dixon, about whom there always seemed to be some uncomfortable mystery.

Mrs. Edmonstone saw everything, and said nothing. She was very sorry for them both, but she could not interfere, and could only hope she had done right, and protected Amy as far as she was able. She was vexed now and then to see Eveleen give knowing smiles and significant glances, feared that she guessed what was going on, and wondered whether to give her a hint not to add to Amy’s confusion; but her great dislike to enter on such a subject prevailed, and she left things to take their course, thinking that, for once, Guy’s departure would be a relief.

The approach of anything in the shape of a party of pleasure was one of the best cures for Eveleen’s ailments, and the evening before Mary’s tea-drinking, she was in high spirits, laughing and talking a great deal, and addressing herself chiefly to Guy. He exerted himself to answer, but it did not come with life and spirit, his countenance did not light up, and at last Eveleen said, ‘Ah! I see I am a dreadful bore. I’ll go away, and leave you to repose.’

‘Lady Eveleen!’ he exclaimed, in consternation; ‘what have I been doing — what have I been thinking of?’

‘Nay, that is best known to yourself, though I think perhaps I could divine,’ said she, with that archness and grace that always seemed to remove the unfavourable impression that her proceedings might have given. ‘Shall I?’

‘No, no,’ he answered, colouring crimson, and then trying to laugh off his confusion, and find some answer, but without success; and Eveleen, perceiving her aunt’s eyes were upon her, suddenly recollected that she had gone quite as far as decorum allowed, and made as masterly a retreat as the circumstances permitted.

‘Well, I have always thought a “penny for your thoughts” the boldest offer in the world, and now it is proved.’

This scene made Mrs. Edmonstone doubly annoyed, the next morning, at waking with a disabling headache, which made it quite impossible for her to attempt going to Mary Ross’s fete. With great sincerity, Amy entreated to be allowed to remain at home, but she thought it would only be making the change more remarkable; she did not wish Mary to be disappointed; among so many ladies, Amy could easily avoid getting into difficulties; while Laura would, she trusted, be able to keep Eveleen in order.

The day was sunny, and all went off to admiration. The gentlemen presided over the cricket, and the ladies over ‘blind man’s buff’ and ‘thread my needle;’ but perhaps Mary was a little disappointed that, though she had Sir Guy’s bodily presence, the peculiar blitheness and animation which he usually shed around him were missing. He sung at church, he filled tiny cups from huge pitchers of tea, he picked up and pacified a screaming child that had tumbled off a gate — he was as good-natured and useful as possible, but he was not his joyous and brilliant self.

Amy devoted herself to the smallest fry, played assiduously for three quarters of an hour with a fat, grave boy of three, who stood about a yard-and-a-half from her, solemnly throwing a ball into her lap, and never catching it again, took charge of many caps and bonnets, and walked about with Louisa Harper, a companion whom no one envied her.

In conclusion, the sky clouded over, it became chilly, and a shower began to fall. Laura pursued Eveleen, and Amy hunted up Charlotte from the utmost parts of the field, where she was the very centre of ‘winding up the clock,’ and sorely against her will, dragged her off the wet grass. About sixty yards from the house, Guy met them with an umbrella, which, without speaking, he gave to Charlotte. Amy said, ‘Thank you,’ and again came that look. Charlotte rattled on, and hung back to talk to Guy, so that Amy could not hasten on without leaving her shelterless. It may be believed that she had the conversation to herself. At the door they met Mary and her father, going to dismiss their flock, who had taken refuge in a cart-shed at the other end of the field. Guy asked if he could be of any use; Mr. Ross said no, and Mary begged Amy and Charlotte to go up to her room, and change their wet shoes.

There, Amy would fain have stayed, flushed and agitated as those looks made her; but Charlotte was in wild spirits, delighted at having been caught in the rain, and obliged to wear shoes a mile too large, and eager to go and share the fun in the drawing-room. There, in the twilight, they found a mass of young ladies herded together, making a confused sound of laughter, and giggling, while at the other end of the room, Amy could just see Guy sitting alone in a dark corner.

Charlotte’s tongue was soon the loudest in the medley, to which Amy did not at first attend, till she heard Charlotte saying —

‘Ah! you should hear Guy sing that.’

‘What?’ she whispered to Eveleen.

‘“The Land of the Leal,”’ was the answer.

‘I wish he would sing it now,’ said Ellen Harper.

‘This darkness would be just the time for music,’ said Eveleen; ‘it is quite a witching time.’

‘Why don’t you ask him?’ said Ellen. ‘Come, Charlotte, there’s a good girl, go and ask him.’

‘Shall I?’ said Charlotte, whispering and giggling with an affectation of shyness.

‘No, no, Charlotte,’ said Laura.

‘No! why not?’ said Eveleen. ‘Don’t be afraid, Charlotte.’

‘He is so grave,’ said Charlotte.

Eveleen had been growing wilder and less guarded all day, and now, partly liking to tease and surprise the others, and partly emboldened by the darkness, she answered —

‘It will do him all manner of good. Here, Charlotte, I’ll tell you how to make him. Tell him Amy wants him to do it.’

‘Ay! tell him so,’ cried Ellen, and they laughed in a manner that overpowered Amy with horror and shyness. She sprung to seize Charlotte, and stop her; she could not speak, but Louisa Harper caught her arm, and Laura’s grave orders were drowned in a universal titter, and suppressed exclamation — ‘Go, Charlotte, go; we will never forgive you if you don’t!’

‘Stop!’ Amy struggled to cry, breaking from Louisa, and springing up in a sort of agony. Guy, who had such a horror of singing anything deep in pathos or religious feeling to mixed or unfit auditors, asked to do so in her name! ‘Stop! oh, Charlotte!’ It was too late; Charlotte, thoughtless with merriment, amused at vexing Laura, set up with applause, and confident in Guy’s good nature, had come to him, and was saying — ‘Oh, Guy! Amy wants you to come and sing us the “Land of the Leal.”’

Amy saw him start up. What, did he think of her? Oh, what! He stepped towards them. The silly girls cowered as if they had roused a lion. His voice was not loud — it was almost as gentle as usual; but it quivered, as if it was hard to keep it so, and, as well as she could see, his face was rigid and stern as iron. ‘Did you wish it?’ he said, addressing himself to her, as if she was the only person present.

Her breath was almost gone. ‘Oh! I beg your pardon,’ she faltered. She could not exculpate herself, she saw it looked like an idle, almost like an indecorous trick, unkind, everything abhorrent to her and to him, especially in the present state of things. His eyes were on her, his head bent towards her; he waited for an answer. ‘I beg your pardon,’ was all she could say.

There was — yes, there was — one of those fearful flashes of his kindling eye. She felt as if she was shrinking to nothing; she heard him say, in a low, hoarse tone, ‘I am afraid I cannot;’ then Mr. Ross, Mary, lights came in; there was a bustle and confusion, and when next she was clearly conscious, Laura was ordering the carriage.

When it came, there was an inquiry for Sir Guy.

‘He is gone home,’ said Mr. Ross. ‘I met him in the passage, and wished him good night.’

Mr. Ross did not add what he afterwards told his daughter, that Guy seemed not to know whether it was raining or not; that he had put an umbrella into his hand, and seen him march off at full speed, through the pouring rain, with it under his arm.

The ladies entered the carriage. Amy leant back in her corner, Laura forbore to scold either Eveleen or Charlotte till she could have them separately; Eveleen was silent, because she was dismayed at the effect she had produced, and Charlotte, because she knew there was a scolding impending over her.

They found no one in the drawing-room but Mr. Edmonstone and Charles, who said they had heard the door open, and Guy run up-stairs, but they supposed he was wet through, as he had not made his appearance. It was very inhospitable in the girls not to have made room for him in the carriage.

Amy went to see how her mother was, longing to tell her whole trouble, but found her asleep, and was obliged to leave it till the morrow. Poor child, she slept very little, but she would not go to her mother before breakfast, lest she should provoke the headache into staying another day. Guy was going by the train at twelve o’clock, and she was resolved that something should be done; so, as soon as her father had wished Guy goodbye, and ridden off to his justice meeting, she entreated her mother to come into the dressing-room, and hear what she had to say.

‘Oh, mamma! the most dreadful thing has happened!’ and, hiding her face, she told her story, ending with a burst of weeping as she said how Guy was displeased. ‘And well he might be! That after all that has vexed him this week, I should tease him with such a trick. Oh, mamma, what must he think?’

‘My dear, there was a good deal of silliness; but you need not treat it as if it was so very shocking.’

‘Oh, but it hurt him! He was angry, and now I know how it is, he is angry with himself for being angry. Oh, how foolish I have been! What shall I do?’

‘Perhaps we can let him know it was not your fault,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, thinking it might be very salutary for Charlotte to send her to confess.

‘Do you think so?’ cried Amy, eagerly. ‘Oh! that would make it all comfortable. Only it was partly mine, for not keeping Charlotte in better order, and we must not throw it all on her and Eveleen. You think we may tell him?’

‘I think he ought not to be allowed to fancy you let your name be so used.’

A message came for Mrs. Edmonstone, and while she was attending to it, Amy hastened away, fully believing that her mother had authorized her to go and explain it to Guy, and ask his pardon. It was what she thought the natural thing to do, and she was soon by his side, as she saw him pacing, with folded arms, under the wall.

Much had lately been passing in Guy’s mind. He had gone on floating on the sunny stream of life at Hollywell, too happy to observe its especial charm till the change in Amy’s manner cast a sudden gloom over all. Not till then did he understand his own feelings, and recognize in her the being he had dreamt of. Amy was what made Hollywell precious to him. Sternly as he was wont to treat his impulses, he did not look on his affection as an earthborn fancy, liable to draw him from higher things, and, therefore, to be combated; he deemed her rather a guide and guard whose love might arm him, soothe him, and encourage him. Yet he had little hope, for he did not do justice to his powers of inspiring affection; no one could distrust his temper and his character as much as he did himself, and with his ancestry and the doom he believed attached to his race, with his own youth and untried principles, with his undesirable connections, and the reserve he was obliged to exercise regarding them, he considered himself as objectionable a person as could well be found, as yet untouched by any positive crime, and he respected the Edmonstones too much to suppose that these disadvantages could be counterbalanced for a moment by his position; indeed, he interpreted Amy’s coolness by supposing that there was a desire to discourage his attentions. No poor tutor or penniless cousin ever felt he was doing a more desperate thing in confessing an attachment, than did Sir Guy Morville when he determined that all should be told, at the risk of losing her for ever, and closing against himself the doors of his happy home. It was not right and fair by her parents, he thought, so to regard their daughter, and live in the same house with his sentiments unavowed, and as to Amy herself, if his feelings had reached such a pitch of sensitiveness that he must needs behave like an angry lion, because her name had been dragged into an idle joke, it was high time it should be explained, unpropitious as the moment might be for declaring his attachment, when he had manifested such a temper as any woman might dread. Thus he made up his mind that, come of it what might, he would not leave Hollywell that day till the truth was told. Just as he was turning to find Mrs. Edmonstone and ‘put his fate to the touch,’ a little figure stood beside him, and Amy’s own sweet, low tones were saying, imploringly —

‘Guy, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am you were so teased last night.’

‘Don’t think of it!’ said he, taken extremely by surprise

‘It was our fault, I could not stop it; I should have kept Charlotte in better order, but they would not let her hear me. I knew it was what you dislike particularly, and I was very sorry.’

‘You — I was — I was. But no matter now. Amy,’ he added earnestly, ‘may I ask you to walk on with me a little way? I must say something to you.’

Was this what ‘mamma’ objected to? Oh no! Amy felt she must stay now, and, in truth, she was glad it was right, though her heart beat fast, fast, faster, as Guy, pulling down a long, trailing branch of Noisette rose, and twisting it in his hand, paused for a few moments, then spoke collectedly, and without hesitation, though with the tremulousness of subdued agitation, looking the while not at her, but straight before him.

‘You ought to be told why your words and looks have such effect on me as to make me behave as I did last night. Shame on me for such conduct! I know its evil, and how preposterous it must make what I have to tell you. I don’t know now long it has been, but almost ever since I came here, a feeling has been growing up in me towards you, such as I can never have for any one else.’

The flame rushed into Amy’s cheeks, and no one could have told what she felt, as he paused again, and then went on speaking more quickly, as if his emotion was less under control.

‘If ever there is to be happiness for me on earth, it must be through you; as you, for the last three years, have been all my brightness here. What I feel for you is beyond all power of telling you, Amy! But I know full well all there is against me — I know I am untried, and how can I dare to ask one born to brightness and happiness to share the doom of my family?’

Amy’s impulse was that anything shared with him would be welcome; but the strength of the feeling stifled the power of expression, and she could not utter a word.

‘It seems selfish even to dream of it,’ he proceeded, ‘yet I must — I cannot help it. To feel that I had your love to keep me safe, to know that you watched for me, prayed for me, were my own, my Verena — oh Amy! it would be more joy than I have ever dared to hope for. But mind,’ he added, after another brief pause, ‘I would not even ask you to answer me now, far less to bind yourself, even if — if it were possible. I know my trial is not come; and were I to render myself, by positive act, unworthy even to think of you, it would be too dreadful to have entangled you, and made you unhappy. No. I speak now, because I ought not to remain here with such feelings unknown to your father and mother.’

At that moment, close on the other side of the box-tree clump, were heard the wheels of Charles’s garden-chair, and Charlotte’s voice talking to him, as he made his morning tour round the garden. Amy flew off, like a little bird to its nest, and never stopped till, breathless and crimson, she darted into the dressing room, threw herself on her knees, and with her face hidden in her mother’s lap, exclaimed in panting, half-smothered, whispers, which needed all Mrs. Edmonstone’s intuition to make them intelligible —

‘O mamma, mamma, he says — he says he loves me!’

Perhaps Mrs. Edmonstone was not so very much surprised; but she had no time to do more than raise and kiss the burning face, and see, at a moment’s glance, how bright was the gleam of frightened joy, in the downcast eye and troubled smile; when two knocks, given rapidly, were heard, and almost at the same moment the door opened, and Guy stood before her, his face no less glowing than that which Amy buried again on her mother’s knee.

‘Come in, Guy,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, as he stood doubtful for a moment at the door, and there was a sweet smile of proud, joyful affection on her face, conveying even more encouragement than her tone. Amy raised her head, and moved as if to leave the room.

‘Don’t go,’ he said, earnestly, ‘unless you wish it.’

Amy did not wish it, especially now that she had her mother to save her confusion, and she sat on a footstool, holding her mother’s hand, looking up to Guy, whenever she felt bold enough, and hanging down her head when he said what showed how much more highly he prized her than silly little Amy could deserve.

‘You know what I am come to say,’ he began, standing by the mantel-shelf, as was his wont in his conferences with Mrs. Edmonstone; and he repeated the same in substance as he had said to Amy in the garden, though with less calmness and coherence, and far more warmth of expression, as if, now that she was protected by her mother’s presence, he exercised less force in self-restraint.

Never was anyone happier than was Mrs. Edmonstone; loving Guy so heartily, seeing the beauty of his character in each word, rejoicing that such affection should be bestowed on her little Amy, exulting in her having won such a heart, and touched and gratified by the free confidence with which both had at once hastened to pour out all to her, not merely as a duty, but in the full ebullition of their warm young love. The only difficulty was to bring herself to speak with prudence becoming her position, whilst she was sympathizing with them as ardently as if she was not older than both of them put together. When Guy spoke of himself as unproved, and undeserving of trust, it was all she could do to keep from declaring there was no one whom she thought so safe.

‘While you go on as you have begun, Guy?’

‘If you tell me to hope! Oh, Mrs. Edmonstone, is it wrong that an earthly incentive to persevere should have power which sometimes seems greater than the true one?’

‘There is the best and strongest ground of all for trusting you,’ said she. ‘If you spoke keeping right only for Amy’s sake, then I might fear; but when she is second, there is confidence indeed.’

‘If speaking were all!’ said Guy.

‘There is one thing I ought to say,’ she proceeded; ‘you know you are very young, and though — though I don’t know that I can say so in my own person, a prudent woman would say, that you have seen so little of the world, that you may easily meet a person you would like better than such a quiet little dull thing as your guardian’s daughter.’

The look that he cast on Amy was worth seeing, and then, with a smile, he answered —

‘I am glad you don’t say it in your own person.’

‘It is very bold and presumptuous in me to say anything at all in papa’s absence’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, smiling; ‘but I am sure he will think in the same way, that things ought to remain as they are, and that it is our duty not to allow you to be, or to feel otherwise than entirely at liberty.’

‘I dare say it may be right in you,’ said Guy, grudgingly. ‘However, I must not complain. It is too much that you should not reject me altogether.’

To all three that space was as bright a gleam of sunshine as ever embellished life, so short as to be free from a single care, a perfectly serenely happy present, the more joyous from having been preceded by vexations, each of the two young things learning that there was love where it was most precious. Guy especially, isolated and lonely as he stood in life, with his fear and mistrust of himself, was now not only allowed to love, and assured beyond his hopes that Amy returned his affection, but found himself thus welcomed by the mother, and gathered into the family where his warm feelings had taken up their abode, while he believed himself regarded only as a guest and a stranger.

They talked on, with happy silences between, Guy standing all the time with his branch of roses in his hand, and Amy looking up to him, and trying to realize it, and to understand why she was so very, very happy.

No one thought of time till Charlotte rushed in like a whirlwind, crying —

‘Oh, here you are! We could not think what had become of you. There has Deloraine been at the door these ten minutes, and Charlie sent me to find you, for he says if you are too late for Mrs. Henley’s dinner, she will write such an account of you to Philip as you will never get over.’

Very little of this was heard, there was only the instinctive consternation of being too late. They started up, Guy threw down his roses, caught Amy’s hand and pressed it, while she bent down her head, hiding the renewed blush; he dashed out of the room, and up to his own, while Mrs. Edmonstone and Charlotte hurried down. In another second, he was back again, and once more Amy felt the pressure of his hand on hers —

‘Good-bye!’ he said; and she whispered another ‘Good-bye!’ the only words she had spoken.

One moment more he lingered —

‘My Verena!’ said he; but the hurrying sounds in the hall warned him — he sprang down to the drawing-room. Even Charles was on the alert, standing, leaning against the table, and looking eager; but Guy had not time to let him speak, he only shook hands, and wished good-bye, with a sort of vehement agitated cordiality, concealed by his haste.

‘Where’s Amy?’ cried Charlotte. ‘Amy! Is not she coming to wish him good-bye?’

He said something, of which ‘up-stairs’ was the only audible word; held Mrs. Edmonstone’s hand fast, while she said, in a low voice —‘You shall hear from papa tomorrow,’ then sprung on his horse, and looked up. Amy was at the window, he saw her head bending forward, under its veil of curls, in the midst of the roses round the lattice; their eyes met once more, he gave one beamy smile, then rode off at full speed, with Bustle racing after him, while Amy threw herself on her knees by her bed, and with hands clasped over her face, prayed that she might be thankful enough, and never be unworthy of him.

Every one wanted to get rid of every one else except Mrs. Edmonstone; for all but Charlotte guessed at the state of the case, and even she perceived that something was going on. Lady Eveleen was in a state of great curiosity; but she had mercy, she knew that they must tell each other before it came to her turn, and very good-naturedly she invited Charlotte to come into the garden with her, and kept her out of the way by a full account of her last fancy ball, given with so much spirit and humour that Charlotte could not help attending.

Charles and Laura gained little by this kind manoeuvre, for their mother was gone up again to Amy, and they could only make a few conjectures. Charles nursed his right hand, and asked Laura how hers felt? She looked up from her work, to which she had begun to apply herself diligently, and gazed at him inquiringly, as if to see whether he intended anything.

‘For my part,’ he added, ‘I certainly thought he meant to carry off the hands of some of the family.’

‘I suppose we shall soon hear it explained,’ said Laura, quietly.

‘Soon! If I had an many available legs as you, would I wait for other people’s soon?’

‘I should think she had rather be left to mamma,’ said Laura, going on with her work.

‘Then you do think there is something in it?’ said Charles, peering up in her face; but he saw he was teasing her, recollected that she had long seemed out of spirits, and forbore to say any more. He was, however, too impatient to remain longer quiet, and presently Laura saw him adjusting his crutches.

‘O Charlie! I am sure it will only be troublesome.’

‘I am going to my own room,’ said Charles, hopping off. ‘I presume you don’t wish to forbid that.’

His room had a door into the dressing-room, so that it was an excellent place for discovering all from which they did not wish to exclude him, and he did not believe he should be unwelcome; for though he might pretend it was all fun and curiosity, he heartily loved his little Amy.

The tap of his crutches, and the slow motion with which he raised himself from step to step, was heard, and Amy, who was leaning against her mother, started up, exclaiming —

‘O mamma, here comes Charlie! May I tell him? I am sure I can’t meet him without.’

‘I suspect he has guessed it already,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, going to open the door, just as he reached the head of the stairs, and then leaving them.

‘Well, Amy,’ said he, looking full at her carnation cheeks, ‘are you prepared to see me turn lead-coloured, and fall into convulsions, like the sister with the spine complaint?’

‘O Charlie! You know it. But how?’

Amy was helping him to the sofa, laid him down, and sat by him on the old footstool; he put his arm round her neck, and she rested her head on his shoulder.

‘Well, Amy,’ I give you joy, my small woman,’ said he, talking the more nonsense because of the fullness in his throat; ‘and I hope you give me credit for amazing self-denial in so doing.’

‘O Charlie — dear Charlie!’ and she kissed him, she could not blush more, poor little thing, for she had already reached her utmost capability of redness —‘it is no such thing.’

‘No such thing? What has turned you into a turkey-cock all at once or what made him nearly squeeze off my unfortunate fingers? No such thing, indeed!’

‘I mean — I mean, it is not that. We are so very young, and I am so silly.’

‘Is that his reason?’

‘You must make me so much better and wiser. Oh, if I could but be good enough!’

For that matter, I don’t think any one else would be good enough to take care of such a silly little thing. But what is the that, that it is, or is not?’

‘Nothing now, only when we are older. At least, you know papa has not heard it.’

‘Provided my father gives his consent, as the Irish young lady added to all her responses through the marriage service. But tell me all — all you like, I mean — for you will have lovers’ secrets now, Amy.’

Mrs. Edmonstone had, meantime, gone down to Laura. Poor Laura, as soon as her brother had left the room, she allowed the fixed composure of her face to relax into a restless, harassed, almost miserable expression, and walked up and down with agitated steps.

‘O wealth, wealth!’— her lips formed the words, without uttering them —‘what cruel differences it makes! All smooth here! Young, not to be trusted, with strange reserves, discreditable connections — that family — that fearful temper, showing itself even to her! All will be overlooked! Papa will be delighted, I know he will! And how is it with us? Proved, noble, superior, owned as such by all, as Philip is, yet, for that want of hateful money, he would be spurned. And, for this — for this — the love that has grown up with our lives must be crushed down and hidden — our life is wearing out in wearying self-watching!’

The lock of the door turned, and Laura had resumed her ordinary expression before it opened, and her mother came in: but there was anything but calmness beneath, for the pang of self-reproach had come —‘Was it thus that she prepared to hear these tidings of her sister?’

‘Well, Laura,’ began Mrs. Edmonstone, with the eager smile of one bringing delightful news, and sure of sympathy.

‘It is so, then?’ said Laura. ‘Dear, dear, little Amy! I hope —’ and her eyes filled with tears; but she had learnt to dread any outbreak of feeling, conquered it in a minute, and said —

‘What has happened? How does it stand?’

‘It stands, at least as far as I can say without papa, as the dear Guy very rightly and wisely wished it to stand. There is no positive engagement, they are both too young; but he thought it was not right to remain here without letting us know his sentiments towards her.’

A pang shot through Laura; but it was but for a moment. Guy might doubt where Philip need never do so. Her mother went on —

‘Their frankness and confidence are most beautiful. We know dear little Amy could not help it; but there was something very sweet, very noble, in his way of telling all.’

Another pang for Laura. But no! it was only poverty that was to blame. Philip would speak as plainly if his prospects were as fair.

‘Oh, I hope it will do well,’ said she.

‘It must — it will!’ cried Mrs. Edmonstone, giving way to her joyful enthusiasm of affection. ‘It is nonsense to doubt, knowing him as we do. There is not a man in the world with whom I could be so happy to trust her.’

Laura could not hear Guy set above all men in the world, and she remembered Philip’s warning to her, two years ago.

‘There is much that is very good and very delightful about him,’ she said, hesitatingly.

‘You are thinking of the Morville temper,’ said her mother; ‘but I am not afraid of it. A naturally hot temper, controlled like his by strong religious principle, is far safer than a cool easy one, without the principle.’

Laura thought this going too far, but she felt some compensation due to Guy, and acknowledged how strongly he was actuated by principle. However — and it was well for her — they could not talk long, for Eveleen and Charlotte were approaching, and she hastily asked what was to be done about telling Eva, who could not fail to guess something.

‘We must tell her, and make her promise absolute secrecy,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone. ‘I will speak to her myself; but I must wait till I have seen papa. There is no doubt of what he will say, but we have been taking quite liberties enough in his absence.’

Laura did not see her sister till luncheon, when Amy came down, with a glow on her cheeks that made her so much prettier than usual, that Charles wished Guy could have seen her. She said little, and ran up again as soon as she could. Laura followed her; and the two sisters threw their arms fondly round each other, and kissed repeatedly.

‘Mamma has told you? said Amy. ‘Oh, it has made me so very happy; and every one is so kind.’

‘Dear, dear Amy!’

‘I’m only afraid —’

‘He has begun so well —’

‘Oh, nonsense! You cannot think I could be so foolish as to be afraid for him! Oh no! But if he should take me for more than I am worth. O Laura, Laura! What shall I do to be as good and sensible as you! I must not be silly little Amy any more.’

‘Perhaps he likes you best as you are?’

‘I don’t mean cleverness: I can’t help that — and he knows how stupid I am — but I am afraid he thinks there is more worth in me. Don’t you know, he has a sort of sunshine in his eyes and mind, that makes all he cares about seem to him brighter and better than it really is. I am afraid he is only dressing me up with that sunshine.’

‘It must be strange sunshine that you want to make you better and brighter than you are,’ said Laura, kissing her.

‘I’ll tell you what it is,’ said Amy folding her hands, and standing with her face raised, ‘it won’t do now, as you told me once, to have no bones in my character. I must learn to be steady and strong, if I can; for if this is to be, he will depend on me, I don’t mean, to advise him, for he knows better than anybody, but to be-you know what — if vexation, or trouble was to come! And Laura, think if he was to depend on me, and I was to fail! Oh, do help me to have firmness and self-command, like you!’

‘It was a long time ago that we talked of your wanting bones.’

‘Yes, before he came; but I never forget it.’

Laura was obliged to go out with Eveleen. All went their different ways; and Amy had the garden to herself to cool her cheeks in. But this was a vain operation, for a fresh access of burning was brought on while Laura was helping her to dress for dinner, when her father’s quick step sounded in the passage. He knocked at her door, and as she opened it, he kissed her on each cheek; and throwing his arm round her, exclaimed —

‘Well, Miss Amy, you have made a fine morning’s work of it! A pretty thing, for young ladies to be accepting offers while papa is out of the way. Eh, Laura?’

Amy knew this was a manifestation of extreme delight; but it was not very pleasant to Laura.

‘So you have made a conquest!’ proceeded Mr. Edmonstone; ‘and I heartily wish you joy of it, my dear. He is as amiable and good-natured a youth as I would wish to see; and I should say the same if he had not a shilling in the world.’

Laura’s heart bounded; but she knew, whatever her father might fancy, the reality would be very different if Guy were as poor as Philip.

‘I shall write to him this very evening,’ he continued, ‘and tell him, if he has the bad taste to like such a silly little white thing, I am not the man to stand in his way. Eh, Amy? Shall I tell him so?’

‘Tell him what you please, dear papa.’

‘Eh? What I please? Suppose I say we can’t spare our little one, and he may go about his business?’

‘I’m not afraid of you, papa.’

‘Come, she’s a good little thing — sha’n’t be teased. Eh, Laura? what do you think of it, our beauty, to see your younger sister impertinent enough to set up a lover, while your pink cheeks are left in the lurch?’

Laura not being wont to make playful repartees, her silence passed unnoticed. Her feelings were mixed; but perhaps the predominant one was satisfaction that it was not for her pink cheeks that she was valued.

It had occurred to Mrs. Edmonstone that it was a curious thing, after her attempt at scheming for Eveleen, to have to announce to her that Guy was attached to her own daughter; nay, after the willingness Eveleen had manifested to be gratified with any attention Guy showed her, it seemed doubtful for a moment whether the intelligence would be pleasing to her. However, Eveleen was just the girl to like men better than women, and never to be so happy as when on the verge of flirting; it would probably have been the same with any other youth that came in her, way, and Guy might fully be acquitted of doing more than paying her the civilities which were requisite from him to any young lady visitor. He had, two years ago, when a mere boy, idled, laughed, and made fun with her, but his fear of trifling away his time had made him draw back, before he had involved himself in what might have led to anything further; and during the present visit, no one could doubt that he was preoccupied with Amy. At any rate, it was right that Eveleen should know the truth, in confidence, if only to prevent her from talking of any surmises she might have.

Mrs. Edmonstone was set at ease in a moment. Eveleen was enchanted, danced round and round the room, declared they would be the most charming couple in the world; she had seen it all along; she was so delighted they had come to an understanding at last, poor things, they were so miserable all last week; and she must take credit to herself for having done it all. Was not her aunt very much obliged to her?

‘My dear Eva,’ exclaimed Mrs. Edmonstone, into whose mind the notion never entered that any one could boast of such a proceeding as hers last night; but the truth was that Eveleen, feeling slightly culpable, was delighted that all had turned out so well, and resolved to carry it off with a high hand.

‘To be sure! Poor little Amy! when she looked ready to sink into the earth, she little knew her obligations to me! Was not it the cleverest thing in the world? It was just the touch they wanted — the very thing!’

‘My dear, I am glad I know that you are sometimes given to talking nonsense,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, laughing.

‘And you won’t believe me serious? You won’t be grateful to me for my lucky hit’ said Eveleen, looking comically injured. ‘Oh auntie, that is very hard, when I shall believe to my dying day that I did it!’

‘Why, Eva, if I thought it had been done by design, I should find it very hard to forgive you for it at all, rather hard even to accept Guy, so you had better not try to disturb my belief that it was only that spirit of mischief that makes you now and then a little mad.’

‘Oh dear! what a desperate scolding you must have given poor little Charlotte!’ exclaimed Eveleen, quaintly.

Mrs. Edmonstone could not help laughing as she confessed that she had altogether forgotten Charlotte.

‘Then you will. You’ll go on forgetting her,’ cried Eveleen. ‘She only did what she was told, and did not know the malice of it. There, you’re relenting! There’s a good aunt! And now, if you won’t be grateful, as any other mamma in the world would have been, and as I calculated on, when I pretended to have been a prudent, designing woman, instead of a wild mischievous monkey at least you’ll forgive me enough to invite me to the wedding. Oh! what a beauty of a wedding it will be! I’d come from Kilcoran all the way on my bare knees to see it. And you’ll let me be bridesmaid, and have a ball after it?’

‘There is no saying what I may do, if you’ll only be a good girl, and hold your tongue. I don’t want to prevent your telling anything to your mamma, of course, but pray don’t let it go any further. Don’t let Maurice hear it, I have especial reasons for wishing it should not be known. You know it is not even an engagement, and nothing must be done which can make Guy feel in the least bound?’

Eveleen promised, and Mrs. Edmonstone knew that she had sense and proper feeling enough for her promise to deserve trust.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:50