The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 32

Sure all things wear a heavenly dress,

Which sanctifies their loveliness,

Types of that endless resting day,

When we shall be as changed as they.

— HYMN FOR SUNDAY

From that time there was little more cause for anxiety. Philip was, indeed, exceedingly reduced, unable to turn in bed, to lift his head, or to speak except now and then a feeble whisper; but the fever was entirely gone, and his excellent constitution began rapidly to repair its ravages. Day by day, almost hour by hour, he was rallying, spending most of his time profitably in sleep, and looking very contented in his short intervals of waking. These became each day rather longer, his voice became stronger, and he made more remarks and inquiries. His first care, when able to take heed of what did not concern his immediate comfort, was that Colonel Deane should be written to, as his leave of absence was expired; but he said not a word about Hollywell, and Amabel therefore hoped her surmise was right, that his confession had been prompted by a delirious fancy, though Guy thought something was implied by his silence respecting the very persons of whom it would have been natural to have talked.

He was very patient of his weakness and dependence, always thankful and willing to be pleased, and all that had been unpleasant in his manner to Guy was entirely gone. He liked to be waited on by him, and received his attentions without laborious gratitude, just in the way partly affectionate, partly matter of course, that was most agreeable; showing himself considerate of his fatigue, though without any of his old domineering advice.

One evening Guy was writing, when Philip, who had been lying still, as if asleep, asked, ‘Are you writing to Hollywell?’

‘Yes, to Charlotte; but there is no hurry, it won’t go till tomorrow. Have you any message?

‘No, thank you.’

Guy fancied he sighed; and there was a long silence, at the end of which he asked, ‘Guy, have I said anything about Laura?’

‘Yes,’ said Guy, putting down the pen.

‘I thought so; but I could not remember,’ said Philip, turning round, and settling himself for conversation, with much of his ordinary deliberate preparation; ‘I hope it was not when I had no command of myself?’

‘No, you were seldom intelligible, you were generally trying to speak Italian, or else talking about Stylehurst. The only time you mentioned her was the night before the worst.’

‘I recollect,’ said Philip. ‘I will not draw back from the resolution I then made, though I did not know whether I had spoken it, let the consequences be what they may. The worst is, that they will fall the most severely on her: and her implicit reliance on me was her only error.’

His voice was very low, and so full of painful feeling that Guy doubted whether to let him enter on such a subject at present; but remembering the relief of free confession, he thought it best to allow him to proceed, only now and then putting in some note of sympathy or of interrogation, in word or gesture.

‘I must explain,’ said Philip, ‘that you may see how little blame can be imputed to her. It was that summer, three years ago, the first after you came. I had always been her chief friend. I saw, or thought I saw, cause for putting her on her guard. The result has shown that the danger was imaginary; but no matter — I thought it real. In the course of the conversation, more of my true sentiments were avowed than I was aware of; she was very young, and before we, either of us, knew what we were doing, it had been equivalent to a declaration. Well! I do not speak to excuse the concealment, but to show you my motive. If it had been known, there would have been great displeasure and disturbance; I should have been banished; and though time might have softened matters, we should both have had a great deal to go through. Heaven knows what it may be now! And, Guy,’ he added, breaking off with trembling eagerness, ‘when did you hear from Hollywell? Do you know how she has borne the news of my illness?’

‘We have heard since they knew of it,’ said Guy; ‘the letter was from Mrs. Edmonstone to Amy; but she did not mention Laura.’

‘She has great strength; she would endure anything rather than give way; but how can she have borne the anxiety and silence? You are sure my aunt does not mention her?’

‘Certain. I will ask Amy for the letter, if you like.’

‘No, do not go; I must finish, since I have begun. We did not speak of an engagement; it was little more than an avowal of preference; I doubt whether she understood what it amounted to, and I desired her to be silent. I deceived myself all along, by declaring she was free; and I had never asked for her promise; but those things will not do when we see death face to face, and a resolve made at such a moment must be kept, let it bring what it may.’

‘True.’

‘She will be relieved; she wished it to be known; but I thought it best to wait for my promotion — the only chance of our being able to marry. However, it shall be put into her father’s hands as soon as I can hold a pen. All I wish is, that she should not have to bear the brunt of his anger.’

‘He is too kind and good-natured to keep his displeasure long.’

‘If it would only light on the right head, instead of on the head of the nearest. You say she was harassed and out of spirits. I wish you were at home; Amy would comfort her and soften them.’

‘We hope to go back as soon as you are in travelling condition. If you will come home with us, you will be at hand when Mr. Edmonstone is ready to forgive, as I am sure he soon will be. No one ever was so glad to forget his displeasure.’

‘Yes; it will be over by the time I meet him, for she will have borne it all. There is the worst! But I will not put off the writing, as soon as I have the power. Every day the concealment continues is a further offence.’

‘And present suffering is an especial earnest and hope of forgiveness,’ said Guy. ‘I have no doubt that much may be done to make Mr. Edmonstone think well of it.’

‘If any suffering of mine would spare hers!’ sighed Philip. ‘You cannot estimate the difficulties in our way. You know nothing of poverty — the bar it is to everything; almost a positive offence in itself!’

‘This is only tiring yourself with talking,’ said Guy, perceiving how Philip’s bodily weakness was making him fall into a desponding strain. ‘You must make haste to get well, and come home with us, and I think we shall find it no such bad case after all. There’s Amy’s fortune to begin with, only waiting for such an occasion. No, I can’t have you answer; you have talked, quite long enough.’

Philip was in a state of feebleness that made him willing to avoid the trouble of thinking, by simply believing what he was told, ‘that it was no bad case.’ He was relieved by having confessed, though to the person whom, a few weeks back, he would have thought the last to whom he could have made such a communication, over whom he had striven to assume superiority, and therefore before whom he could have least borne to humble himself — nay, whose own love he had lately traversed with an arrogance that was rendered positively absurd by this conduct of his own. Nevertheless, he had not shrunk from the confession. His had been real repentance, so far as he perceived his faults; and he would have scorned to avail himself of the certainty of Guy’s silence on what he had said at the time of his extreme danger. He had resolved to speak, and had found neither an accuser nor a judge, not even one consciously returning good for evil, but a friend with honest, simple, straightforward kindness, doing the best for him in his power, and dreading nothing so much as hurting his feelings. It was not the way in which Philip himself could have received such a confidence.

As soon as Guy could leave him, he went up to his wife. ‘Amy,’ said he, rather sadly, ‘we have had it out. It is too true.’

Her first exclamation surprised him: ‘Then Charlie really is the cleverest person in the world.’

‘How? Had he any suspicion?’

‘Not that I know of; but, more than once, lately, I have been alarmed by recollecting how he once said that poor Laura was so much too wise for her age, that Nature would some day take her revenge, and make her do something very foolish. But has Philip told you all about it?’

‘Yes; explained it all very kindly. It must have cost him a great deal; but he spoke openly and nobly. It is the beginning of a full confession to your father.’

‘So, it is true!’ exclaimed Amabel, as if she heard it for the first time. ‘How shocked mamma will be! I don’t know how to think it possible! And poor Laura! Imagine what she must have gone through, for you know I never spared the worst accounts. Do tell me all.’

Guy told what he had just heard, and she was indignant.

‘I can’t be as angry with him as I should like,’ said she, ‘now that he is sorry and ill; but it was a great deal too bad! I can’t think how he could look any of us in the face, far less expect to rule us all, and interfere with you!’

‘I see I never appreciated the temptations of poverty,’ said Guy, thoughtfully. ‘I have often thought of those of wealth, but never of poverty.’

‘I wish you would not excuse him. I don’t mind your doing it about ourselves, because, though he made you unhappy, he could not make you do wrong. Ah! I know what you mean; but that was over after the first minute; and he only made you better for all his persecution; but I don’t know how to pardon his making poor Laura so miserable, and leading her to do what was not right. Poor, dear girl! no wonder she looked so worn and unhappy! I cannot help being angry with him, indeed, Guy!’ said she, her eyes full of tears.

‘The best pleading is his own repentance, Amy. I don’t think you can be very unrelenting when you see how subdued and how altered he is. You know you are to make him a visit tomorrow, now the doctor says all fear of infection is over.’

‘I shall be thinking of poor Laura the whole time.’

‘And how she would like to see him in his present state? What shall you do if I bring him home to Redclyffe? Shall you go to Hollywell, to comfort Laura?’

‘I shall wait till you send me. Besides, how can you invite company till we know whether we have a roof over our house or not? What is he doing now?’

‘As usual, he has an unlimited capacity for sleep.’

‘I wish you had. I don’t think you have slept two hours together since you left off sitting up.’

‘I am beginning to think it a popular delusion. I do just as well without it.’

‘So you say; but Mr. Shene would never have taken such a fancy to you, if you always had such purple lines as those under your eyes. Look! Is that a face for Sir Galahad, or Sir Guy, or any of the Round Table? Come, I wish you would lie down, and be read to sleep.’

‘I should like a walk much better. It is very cool and bright. Will you come?’

They walked for some time, talking over the conduct of Philip and Laura. Amabel seemed quite oppressed by the thought of such a burthen of concealment. She said she did not know what she should have done in her own troubles without mamma and Charlie; and she could not imagine Laura’s keeping silence through the time of Philip’s danger; more especially as she recollected how appalling some of her bulletins had been. The only satisfaction was in casting as much of the blame on him as possible.

‘You know he never would let her read novels; and I do believe that was the reason she did not understand what it meant.’

‘I think there is a good deal in that,’ said Guy, laughing, ‘though Charlie would say it is a very novel excuse for a young lady falling imprudently in love.’

‘I do believe, if it was any one but Laura, Charlie would be very glad of it. He always fully saw through Philip’s supercilious shell.’

‘Amy!’

‘No; let me go on, Guy, for you must allow that it was much worse in such a grave, grand, unromantic person, who makes a point of thinking before he speaks, than if it had been a hasty, hand-over-head man like Maurice de Courcy, who might have got into a scrape without knowing it.

‘That must have made the struggle to confess all the more painful; and a most free, noble, open-hearted confession it was.’

They tried to recollect all that had passed during that summer, and to guess against whom he had wished to warn her; but so far were they from divining the truth, that they agreed it must either have been Maurice, or some other wild Irishman.

Next, they considered what was to be done. Philip must manage his confession his own way; but they had it in their power greatly to soften matters; and there was no fear that, after the first shock, Mr. Edmonstone would insist on the engagement being broken off, Philip should come to recover his health at Redclyffe, where he would be ready to meet the first advance towards forgiveness — and Amabel thought it would soon be made. Papa’s anger was sharp, but soon over; he was very fond of Philip, and delighted in a love affair, but she was afraid mamma would not get over it so soon, for she would be excessively hurt and grieved. ‘And when I was naughty,’ said Amy, ‘nothing ever made me so sorry as mamma’s kindness.’

Guy launched out into more schemes for facilitating their marriage than ever he had made for himself; and the walk ended with extensive castle building on Philip’s account, in the course of which Amy was obliged to become much less displeased. Guy told her, in the evening, that she would have been still more softened if she could have heard him talk about Stylehurst and his father. Guy had always wished to hear him speak of the Archdeacon, though they had never been on terms to enter on such a subject. And now Philip had been much pleased by Guy’s account of his walks to Stylehurst, and taken pleasure in telling which were his old haunts, making out where Guy had been, and describing his father’s ways.

The next day was Sunday, and Amabel was to pay her cousin a visit. Guy was very eager about it, saying it was like a stage in his recovery; and though the thought of her mother and Laura could not be laid aside, she would not say a word to damp her husband’s pleasure in the anticipation. It seemed as if Guy, wanting to bestow all he could upon his cousin in gratitude for his newly-accorded friendship, thought the sight of his little wife the very best thing he had to give.

It was a beautiful day, early in September, with a little autumnal freshness in the mountain breezes that they enjoyed exceedingly. Philip’s convalescence, and their own escape, might be considered as so far decided, that they might look back on the peril as past. Amabel felt how much cause there was for thankfulness; and, after all, Philip was not half as bad now as when he was maintaining his system of concealment; he had made a great effort, and was about to do his best by way of reparation; but it was so new to her to pity him, that she did not know how to begin.

She tried to make the day seem as Sunday-like as she could, by putting on her white muslin dress and white ribbons, with Charles’s hair bracelet, and a brooch of beautiful silver workmanship, which Guy had bought for her at Milan, the only ornament he had ever given to her. She sat at her window, watching the groups of Italians in their holiday costume, and dwelling on the strange thoughts that had passed through her mind often before in her lonely Sundays in this foreign land, thinking much of her old home and East-hill Church, wondering whether the letter had yet arrived which was to free them from anxiety, and losing herself in a maze of uncomfortable marvels about Laura.

‘Now, then,’ at length said Guy, entering, ‘I only hope he has not knocked himself up with his preparations, for he would make such a setting to rights, that I told him I could almost fancy he expected the queen instead of only Dame Amabel Morville.’

He led her down, opened the door, and playfully announced, ‘Lady Morville! I have done it right this time. Here she is’!

She had of course expected to see Philip much altered, but she was startled by the extent of the change; for being naturally fair and high-coloured, he was a person on whom the traces of illness were particularly visible. The colour was totally gone, even from his lips; his cheeks were sunken, his brow looked broader and more massive from the thinness of his face and the loss of his hair, and his eyes themselves appeared unlike what they used to be in the hollows round them. He seemed tranquil, and comfortable, but so wan, weak, and subdued, and so different from himself, that she was very much shocked, as smiling and holding out a hand, where the white skin seemed hardly to cover the bone and blue vein, he said, in a tone, slow, feeble, and languid, though cheerful —

‘Good morning, Amy. You see Guy was right, after all. I am sorry to have made your wedding tour end so unpleasantly.’

‘Nay, most pleasantly, since you are better,’ said Amabel, laughing, because she was almost ready to cry, and her displeasure went straight out of her head.

‘Are you doing the honours of my room, Guy?’ said Philip, raising his head from the pillow, with a becoming shade of his ceremonious courtesy. ‘Give her a chair.’

Amy smiled and thanked him, while he lay gazing at her as a sick person is apt to do at a flower, or the first pretty enlivening object from which he is able to derive enjoyment, and as if he could not help expressing the feeling, he said —

‘Is that your wedding-dress, Amy?’

‘Oh, no; that was all lace and finery.’

‘You look so nice and bridal —’

‘There’s a compliment that such an old wife ought to make the most of, Amy,’ said Guy, looking at her with a certain proud satisfaction in Philip’s admiration. ‘It is high time to leave off calling you a bride, after your splendid appearance at the party at Munich, in all your whiteness and orange-flowers.’

‘That was quite enough of it,’ said Amy, smiling.

‘Not at all,’ said Philip; ‘you have all your troubles in the visiting line to come, when you go home.’

‘Ah! you know the people, and will be a great help to us,’ said Amy, and Guy was much pleased to hear her taking a voluntary share in the invitation, knowing as he did that she only half liked it.

‘Thank you; we shall see,’ replied Philip.

‘Yes; we shall see when you are fit for the journey, and it will not be long before we can begin, by short stages. You have got on wonderfully in the last few days. How do you think he is looking, Amy?’ finished Guy, with an air of triumph, that was rather amusing, considering what a pale skeleton face he was regarding with so much satisfaction.

‘I dare say he is looking much mended,’ said Amy; ‘but you must not expect me to see it.’

‘You can’t get a compliment for me, Guy,’ said Philip. ‘I was a good deal surprised when Arnaud brought me the glass this morning.’

‘It is a pity you did not see yourself a week ago,’ said Guy, shaking his head drolly.

‘It is certain, as the French doctor says, that monsieur has a very vigorous constitution.’

‘Charles says, having a good constitution is only another name for undergoing every possible malady,’ said Amy.

‘Rather good’ said Guy; ‘for I certainly find it answer very well to have none at all.’

‘Haven’t you?’ said Amy, rather startled.

‘Or how do you know?’ said Philip; ‘especially as you never were ill.’

‘It is a dictum of old Walters, the Moorworth doctor, the last time I had anything to do with him, when I was a small child. I suppose I remembered it for its oracular sound, and because I was not intended to listen. He was talking over with Markham some illness I had just got through, and wound up with, “He may be healthy and active now; but he has no constitution, there is a tendency to low fever, and if he meets with any severe illness, it will go hard with him.”’

‘How glad I am I did not know that before’ cried Amy.

‘Did you remember it when you came here?’ said Philip.

‘Yes,’ said Guy, not in the least conscious of the impression his words made on the others. ‘By the bye, Philip, I wish you would tell us how you fared after we parted, and how you came here.’

‘I went on according to my former plan,’ said Philip, ‘walking through the Valtelline, and coming down by a mountain path. I was not well at Bolzano, but I thought it only fatigue, which a Sunday’s rest would remove, so on I went for the next two days, in spite of pain in head and limbs.’

‘Not walking!’ said Amy.

‘Yes, walking. I thought it was stiffness from mountain climbing, and that I could walk it off; but I never wish to go through anything like what I did the last day, between the up and downs of that mountain path, and the dazzle of the snow and heat of the sun. I meant to have reached Vicenza, but I must have been quite knocked up when I arrived here, though I cannot tell. My head grew so confused, that my dread, all the way, was that I should forget my Italian; I can just remember conning a phrase over and over again, lest I should lose it. I suppose I was able to speak when I came here, but the last thing I remember was feeling very ill in some room, different from this, quite alone, and with a horror of dying deserted. The next is a confused recollection of the relief of hearing English again, and seeing my excellent nurse here.’

There was a little more talk, but a little was enough for Philip’s feeble voice, and Guy soon told him he was tired, and ordered in his broth. He begged that Amy would stay, and it was permitted on condition that he would not talk, Guy even cutting short a quotation of — ‘As Juno had been sick and he her dieter,’— appropriate to the excellence of the broths, which Amabel and her maid, thanks to their experience of Charles’s fastidious tastes, managed to devise and execute, in spite of bad materials. It was no small merit in Guy to stop the compliment, considering how edified he had been by his wife’s unexpected ingenuity, and what a comical account he had written of it to her mother, such, as Amy told him, deserved to be published in a book of good advice to young ladies, to show what they might come to if they behaved well. However, she was glad to have ocular demonstration of the success of the cookery, which she had feared might turn out uneatable; and her gentle feelings towards Philip were touched, by seeing one wont to be full of independence and self-assertion, now meek and helpless, requiring to be lifted, and propped up with pillows, and depending entirely and thankfully upon Guy.

When he had been settled and made comfortable, they read the service; and she thought her husband’s tones had never been so sweet as now, modulated to the pitch best suited to the sickroom, and with the peculiarly beautiful expression he always gave such reading. It was the lesson from Jeremiah, on the different destiny of Josiah and his sons, and he read that verse, ‘Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him, but weep sore for him that goeth away; for he shall return no more, nor see his native country;’ with so remarkable a melancholy and beauty in his voice, that she could hardly refrain from tears, and it also greatly struck Philip, who had been so near ‘returning no more, neither seeing his native country.’

When the reading was over, and they were leaving him to rest, while they went to dinner, he said, as he wished Amy good-bye, ‘Till now I never discovered the practical advantage of such a voice as Guy’s. There never was such a one for a sick-room. Last week, I could not bear any one else to speak at all; and even now, no one else could have read so that I could like it.’

‘Your voice; yes,’ said Amy, after they had returned to their own sitting-room. ‘I want to hear it very much. I wonder when you will sing to me again.’

‘Not till he has recovered strength to bear the infliction with firmness,’ said Guy; ‘but, Amy, I’ll tell you what we will do, if you are sure it is good for you. He will have a good long sleep, and we will have a walk on the green hillocks.’

Accordingly they wandered in the cool of the evening on the grassy slopes under the chestnut-trees, making it a Sunday walk, calm, bright and meditative, without many words, but those deep and grave, ‘such as their walks had been before they were married,’ as Amabel said.

‘Better,’ he answered.

A silence, broken by her asking, ‘Do you recollect your melancholy definition of happiness, years ago?’

‘What was it?’

‘Gleams from another world, too soon eclipsed or forfeited. It made me sad then. Do you hold to it now?’

‘Don’t you?’

‘I want to know what you would say now?’

‘Gleams from another world, brightening as it gets nearer.’

Amabel repeated —

Ever the richest, tenderest glow,

Sets round the autumnal sun;

But their sight fails, no heart may know

The bliss when life is done.

‘Old age,’ she added; ‘that seems very far off.’

‘Each day is a step,’ he answered, and then came a silence while both were thinking deeply.

They sat down to rest under a tree, the mountains before them with heavy dark clouds hanging on their sides, and the white crowns clear against the blue sky, a perfect stillness on all around, and the red glow of an Italian sunset just fading away.

‘There is only one thing wanting,’ said Amy. ‘You may sing now. You are far from Philip’s hearing. Suppose we chant this afternoon’s psalms.’

It was the fifth day of the month, and the psalms seemed especially suitable to their thoughts. Before the 29th was finished, it was beginning to grow dark. There were a few pale flashes of lightning in the mountains, and at the words ‘The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness,’ a low but solemn peal of thunder came as an accompaniment.

‘The Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.’

The full sweet melody died away, but the echo caught it up and answered like the chant of a spirit in the distance —‘The blessing of peace.’

The effect was too solemn and mysterious to be disturbed by word or remark. Guy drew her arm into his, and they turned homewards.

They had some distance to walk, and night had closed in before they reached the village, but was only more lovely. The thunder rolled solemnly among the hills, but the young moon shone in marvellous whiteness on the snowy crowns, casting fantastic shadows from the crags, while whole showers of fire-flies were falling on them from the trees, floating and glancing in the shade.

‘It is a pity to go in,’ said Amy. But Arnaud did not seem to be of the same opinion: he came out to meet them very anxiously, expostulating on the dangers of the autumnal dew; and Guy owned that though it had been the most wonderful and delightful evening he had ever known, he was rather fatigued.

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