The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 26

Hence, bashful cunning,

And prompt me, plain and holy innocence.

I am your wife if you will marry me.

— TEMPEST

Amabel awoke to such a sense of relief and repose that she scarcely liked to ask herself the cause, lest it might ruffle her complete peace. Those words ‘all right,’ seemed to be enough to assure her that the cloud was gone.

Her mother came in, told her one or two of the main facts, and took her down under her wing, only stopping by the way for a greeting to Charles, who could not rise till after breakfast. He held her fast, and gazed up in her face, but she coloured so deeply, cast down her eyes, and looked so meek and submissive, that he let her go, and said nothing.

The breakfast party were for the most part quiet, silent, and happy. Even Charlotte was hushed by the subdued feeling of the rest, and Mr. Edmonstone’s hilarity, though replied to in turn by each, failed to wake them into mirth. Guy ran up and down-stairs continually, to wait upon Charles; and thus the conversation was always interrupted as fast as it began, so that the only fact that came out was the cause of the lateness of their arrival yesterday. Mr. Edmonstone had taken it for granted that Guy, like Philip, would watch for the right time, and warn him, while Guy, being excessively impatient, had been so much afraid of letting himself fidget, as to have suffered the right moment to pass, and then borne all the blame.

‘How you must have wanted to play the Harmonious Blacksmith,’ said Charlotte.

‘I caught myself going through the motions twice,’ said Guy.

Mrs. Edmonstone said to herself that he might contest the palm of temper with Amy even; the difference being, that hers was naturally sweet, his a hasty one, so governed that the result was the same. When breakfast was over, as they were rising, Guy made two steps towards Amabel, at whom he had hitherto scarcely looked, and said, very low, in his straightforward way: ‘Can I speak to you a little while?’

Amy’s face glowed as she moved towards him, and her mother said something about the drawing-room, where the next moment she found herself. She did not use any little restless arts to play with her embarrassment; she did not torment the flowers or the chimney ornaments, nor even her own rings, she stood with her hands folded and her head a little bent down, like a pendant blossom, ready to listen to whatever might be said to her.

He did not speak at first, but moved uneasily about. At last he came nearer, and began speaking fast and nervously.

‘Amabel, I want you to consider — you really ought to think whether this is not a very bad thing for you.’

The drooping head was raised, the downcast lids lifted up, and the blue eyes fixed on him with a look at once confiding and wondering. He proceeded —

‘I have brought you nothing but unhappiness already. So far as you have taken any interest in me, it could cause you only pain, and the more I think of it, the more unfit it seems that one so formed for light, and joy, and innocent mirth, should have anything to do with the darkness that is round me. Think well of it. I feel as if I had done a selfish thing by you, and now, you know, you are not bound. You are quite free! No one knows anything about it, or if they did, the blame would rest entirely with me. I would take care it should. So, Amy, think, and think well, before you risk your happiness.’

‘As to that,’ replied Amy, in a soft, low voice, with such a look of truth in her clear eyes, ‘I must care for whatever happens to you, and I had rather it was with you, than without you,’ she said, casting them down again.

‘My Amy! — my own! — my Verena!’— and he held fast one of her hands, as they sat together on the sofa —‘I had a feeling that so it might be through the very worst, yet I can hardly believe it now.’

‘Guy,’ said Amy, looking up, with the gentle resolution that had lately grown on her, ‘you must not take me for more than I am worth, and I should like to tell you fairly. I did not speak last time, because it was all so strange and so delightful, and I had no time to think, because I was so confused. But that is a long time ago, and this has been a very sad winter, and I have thought a great deal. I know, and you know, too, that I am a foolish little thing; I have been silly little Amy always; you and Charlie have helped me to all the sense I have, and I don’t think I could ever be a clever, strong-minded woman, such as one admires.’

‘Heaven forbid!’ ejaculated Guy; moved, perhaps, by a certain remembrance of St. Mildred’s.

‘But,’ continued Amy, ‘I believe I do really wish to be good, and I know you have helped me to wish it much more, and I have been trying to learn to bear things, and so’— out came something, very like a sunny smile, though some tears followed —‘so if you do like such a silly little thing, it can’t be helped, and we will try to make the best of her. Only don’t say any more about my being happier without you, for one thing I am very sure of, Guy, I had rather bear anything with you, than know you were bearing it alone. I am only afraid of being foolish and weak, and making things worse for you.’

‘So much worse! But still,’ he added, ‘speak as you may, my Amy, I cannot, must not, feel that I have a right to think of you as my own, till you have heard all. You ought to know what my temper is before you risk yourself in its power. Amy, my first thought towards Philip was nothing short of murder.’

She raised her eyes, and saw how far entirely he meant what he said.

‘The first — not the second,’ she murmured.

‘Yes, the second — the third. There was a moment when I could have given my soul for my revenge!’

‘Only a moment!’

‘Only a moment, thank Heaven! and I have not done quite so badly since. I hope I have not suffered quite in vain; but if that shock could overthrow all my wonted guards, it might, though I pray Heaven it may not, it might happen again.’

‘I think you conquered yourself then, and that you will again,’ said Amy.

‘And suppose I was ever to be mad enough to be angry with you?’

Amy smiled outright here. ‘Of course, I should deserve it; but I think the trouble would be the comforting you afterwards. Mamma said’— she added, after a long silence, during which Guy’s feeling would not let him speak —‘mamma said, and I think, that you are much safer and better with such a quick temper as yours, because you are always struggling and fighting with it, on the real true religious ground, than a person more even tempered by nature, but not so much in earnest in doing right.’

‘Yes, if I did not believe myself to be in earnest about that, I could never dare to speak to you at all.’

‘We will help each other,’ said Amy; ‘you have always helped me, long before we knew we cared for each other!’

‘And, Amy, if you knew how the thought of you helped me last winter, even when I thought I had forfeited you for ever.’

Their talk only ceased when, at one o’clock, Mrs. Edmonstone, who had pronounced in the dressing-room that three hours was enough for them at once, came in, and asked Guy to go and help to carry Charles down-stairs.

He went, and Amy nestled up to her mother, raising her face to be kissed.

‘It is very nice!’ she whispered; and then arranged her brother’s sofa, as she heard his progress down-stairs beginning. He was so light and thin as to be very easily carried, and was brought in between Guy and one of the servants. When he was settled on the sofa, he began thus — ‘There was a grand opportunity lost last winter. I was continually rehearsing the scene, and thinking what waste it was to go through such a variety of torture without the dignity of danger. If I could but have got up ever so small an alarm, I would have conjured my father to send for Guy, entreated pathetically that the reconciliation might be effected, and have drawn my last breath clasping their hands, thus! The curtain falls!’

He made a feint of joining their hands, put his head back, and shut his eyes with an air and a grace that put Charlotte into an ecstasy, and made even Amy laugh, as she quitted the room, blushing.

‘But if it had been your last breath,’ said Charlotte, ‘you would not have been much the wiser.’

‘I would have come to life again in time to enjoy the “coup de theatre”. I had some thoughts of trying an overdose of opium; but I thought Dr. Mayerne would have found me out. I tell you, because it is fair I should have the credit; for, Guy, if you knew what she was to me all the winter, you would perceive my superhuman generosity in not receiving you as my greatest enemy.’

‘I shall soon cease to be surprised at any superhuman generosity,’ said Guy. ‘But how thin you are, Charlie; you are a very feather to carry; I had no notion it had been such a severe business.’

‘Most uncommon!’ said Charles, shaking his head, with a mock solemnity.

‘It was the worst of all,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, ‘six weeks of constant pain.’

‘How very sorry Philip must have been!’ exclaimed Guy.

‘Philip?’ said Charlotte.

‘Why, was it not owing to him? Surely, your father told me so. Did not he let you fall on the stairs?’

‘My dear father!’ exclaimed Charles, laughing; ‘every disaster that happens for the next twelvemonth will be imputed to Philip.’

‘How was it, then?’ said Guy.

‘The fact was this,’ said Charles; ‘it was in the thick of the persecution of you, and I was obliged to let Philip drag me upstairs, because I was in a hurry. He took the opportunity of giving me some impertinent advice which I could not stand. I let go his arm, forgetting what a dependent mortal I am, and down I should assuredly have gone, if he had not caught me, and carried me off, as a fox does a goose, so it was his fault, as one may say, in a moral, though not in a physical sense.’

‘Then,’ said his mother, ‘you do think your illness was owing to that accident?’

‘I suppose the damage was brewing, and that the shake brought it into an active state. There’s a medical opinion for you!’

‘Well, I never knew what you thought of it before,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone.

‘Why, when I had a condor to pick on Guy’s account with Philip, I was not going to pick a crow on my own,’ said Charles. ‘Oh! is luncheon ready; and you all going? I never see anybody now. I want the story of the shipwreck, though, of course, Ben What’s-his-name was the hero, and Sir Guy Morville not a bit of it.’

Laura wanted to walk to East Hill, and the other young people agreed to go thither, too.

‘It will be nice to go to church there today’ said Amy, in a half-whisper, heard only by Guy, and answered by a look that showed how well he understood and sympathized.

‘Another thing,’ said Amy, colouring a good deal; ‘shall you mind my telling Mary? I behaved so oddly last night, and she was so kind to me that I think I ought.’

Mary had seen enough last night to be very curious today, though hardly expecting her curiosity to be gratified. However, as she was putting on her bonnet for church, she looked out of her window, and saw the four coming across the fields from Hollywell. Guy and Amy did not walk into the village arm-inarm; but, as they came under the church porch, Guy, unseen by all held out his hand, sought hers, and, for one moment, pressed it fervently. Amy knew he felt this like their betrothal.

After the service, they stood talking with Mr. Ross and Mary, for some little time. Amy held apart, and Mary saw how it was. As they were about to turn homewards, Amy said quickly, ‘Come and walk a little way home with me.’

She went on with Mary before the rest, and when out of sight of them all, said, ‘Mary!’ and then stopped short.

‘I guess something, Amy,’ said Mary.

‘Don’t tell any one but Mr. Ross.’

‘Then I have guessed right. My dear little Amy, I am very glad! So that was the reason you flew out of the room last evening, and looked so bright and glowing!’

‘It was so good of you to ask no questions!’

‘I don’t think I need ask any now, Amy; for I see in your face how right and happy it all is.’

‘I can’t tell you all, Mary, but I must one thing — that the whole terrible story arose from his helping a person in distress. I like you to know that.’

‘Papa was always sure that he had not been to blame,’ said Mary.

‘Yes; so Charlie told me, and that is the reason I wanted you to know.’

‘Then, Amy, something of this had begun last summer?’

‘Yes; but not as it is now. I did not half know what it was then.’

‘Poor dear little Amy,’ said Mary; ‘what a very sad winter it must have been for you!’

‘Oh, very!’ said Amy; ‘but it was worse for him, because he was quite alone; and here every one was so kind to me. Mamma and Laura, and poor Charlie, through all his illness and pain, he was so very kind. And do you know, Mary, now it is all over, I am very glad of this dismal time; for I think that it has taught me how to bear things better.’

She looked very happy. Yet it struck Mary that it was strange to hear that the first thought of a newly-betrothed maiden was how to brace herself in endurance. She wondered, however, whether it was not a more truly happy and safe frame than that of most girls, looking forward to a life of unclouded happiness, such as could never be realized. At least, so it struck Mary, though she owned to herself that her experience of lovers was limited.

Mary walked with Amy almost to the borders of Hollywell garden; and when the rest came up with them, though no word passed, there was a great deal of congratulation in her warm shake of Guy’s hand, and no lack of reply in his proud smile and reddening cheek. Charlotte could not help turning and going back with her a little way, to say, ‘Are not you delighted, Mary? Is not Amy the dearest thing in the world? And you don’t know, for it is a secret, and I know it, how very noble Guy has been, while they would suspect him.’

‘I am very, very glad, indeed! It is everything delightful.’

‘I never was so happy in my life,’ said Charlotte; ‘nor Charlie, either. Only think of having Guy for our brother; and he is going to send for Bustle tomorrow.’

Mary laughed, and parted with Charlotte, speculating on the cause of Laura’s graver looks. Were they caused by the fear of losing her sister, or by a want of confidence in Guy?

That evening, how happy was the party at Hollywell, when Charles put Guy through a cross-examination on the shipwreck, from the first puff of wind to the last drop of rain; and Guy submitted very patiently, since he was allowed the solace of praising his Redclyffe fishermen.

Indeed, this time was full of tranquil, serene happiness. It was like the lovely weather only to be met with in the spring, and then but rarely, when the sky is cloudless, and intensely blue — the sunshine one glow of clearness without burning — not a breath of wind checks the silent growth of the expanding buds of light exquisite green. Such days as these shone on Guy and Amabel, looking little to the future, or if they did so at all, with a grave, peaceful awe, reposing in the present, and resuming old habits — singing, reading, gardening, walking as of old, and that intercourse with each other that was so much more than ever before.

It was more, but it was not quite the same; for Guy was a very chivalrous lover; the polish and courtesy that sat so well on his frank, truthful manners, were even more remarkable in his courtship. His ways with Amy had less of easy familiarity than in the time of their brother-and-sister-like intimacy, so that a stranger might have imagined her wooed, not won. It was as if he hardly dared to believe that she could really be his own, and treated her with a sort of reverential love and gentleness, while she looked up to him with ever-increasing honour. She was better able to understand him now than in her more childish days last summer; and she did not merely see, as before, that she was looking at the upper surface of a mystery. He had, at the same time, grown in character, his excitability and over-sensitiveness seemed to have been smoothed away, and to have given place to a calmness of tone, that was by no means impassibility.

When alone with Amy, he was generally very grave, often silent and meditative, or else their talk was deep and serious; and even with the family he was less merry and more thoughtful than of old, though very bright and animated, and showing full, free affection to them all, as entirely accepted and owned as one of them.

So, indeed, he was. Mr. Edmonstone, with his intense delight in lovers, patronized them, and made commonplace jokes, which they soon learnt to bear without much discomposure. Mrs. Edmonstone was all that her constant appellation of ‘mamma’ betokened, delighting in Guy’s having learnt to call her so. Charles enjoyed the restoration of his friend, the sight of Amy’s happiness, and the victory over Philip, and was growing better every day. Charlotte was supremely happy, watching the first love affair ever conducted in her sight, and little less so in the return of Bustle, who resumed his old habits as regularly as if he had only left Hollywell yesterday.

Laura alone was unhappy. She did not understand her own feelings; but sad at heart she was; with only one who could sympathize with her, and he far away, and the current of feeling setting against him. She could not conceal her depression, and was obliged to allow it to be attributed to the grief that one sister must feel in parting with another; and as her compassion for her little Amy, coupled with her dread of her latent jealousy, made her particularly tender and affectionate, it gave even more probability to the supposition. This made Guy, who felt as if he was committing a robbery on them all, particularly kind to her, as if he wished to atone for the injury of taking away her sister; and his kindness gave her additional pain at entertaining such hard thoughts of him.

How false she felt when she was pitied! and how she hated the congratulations, of which she had the full share! She thought, however, that she should be able to rejoice when she had heard Philip’s opinion; and how delightful it would be for him to declare himself satisfied with Guy’s exculpation.

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