The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 34

Sir,

It is your fault I have loved Posthumus;

You bred him as my playfellow; and he is

A man worth any woman, over-buys me

Almost the sum he pays.

— CYMBELINE

The first tidings of Philip’s illness arrived at Hollywell one morning at breakfast, and were thus announced by Charles —

‘There! So he has been and gone and done it.’

‘What? Who? Not Guy?’

‘Here has the Captain gone and caught a regular bad fever, in some malaria hole; delirious, and all that sort of thing, and of course our wise brother and sister must needs go and nurse him, by way of a pretty little interlude in their wedding tour!’

Laura’s voice alone was unheard in the chorus of inquiry. She sat cold, stiff, and silent, devouring with her ears each reply, that fell like a death-blow, while she was mechanically continuing the occupations of breakfast. When all was told, she hurried to her own room, but the want of sympathy was becoming intolerable. If Amabel had been at home, she must have told her all. There was no one else; and the misery to be endured in silence was dreadful. Her dearest — her whole joy and hope — suffering, dying, and to hear all round her speaking of him with kindness, indeed, but what to her seemed indifference; blaming him for wilfulness, saying he had drawn it on himself — it seemed to drive her wild. She conjured up pictures of his sufferings, and dreaded Guy’s inexperience, the want of medical advice, imagining everything that was terrible. Her idol, to whom her whole soul was devoted, was passing from her, and no one pitied her; while the latent consciousness of disobedience debarred her from gaining solace from the only true source. All was blank desolation — a wild agony, untempered by resignation, uncheered by prayer; for though she did pray, it was without trust, without hope, while her wretchedness was rendered more overwhelming by her efforts to conceal it. These were so far ineffectual that no one could help perceiving that she was extremely unhappy, but then all the family knew she was very fond of Philip, and neither her mother nor brother could be surprised at her distress, though it certainly appeared to them excessive. Mrs. Edmonstone was very sorry for her, and very affectionate and considerate; but Laura was too much absorbed, in her own feelings to perceive or to be grateful for her kindness; and as each day brought a no better report, her despair became so engrossing that she could not attempt any employment. She wandered in the garden, sat in dreamy fits of silence in the house, and at last, after receiving one of the worst accounts, sat up in her dressing-gown the whole of one night, in one dull, heavy, motionless trance of misery.

She recollected that she must act her part, dressed in the morning and came down; but her looks were ghastly; she tasted no food, and as soon as possible left the breakfast-room. Her mother was going in quest of her when old nurse came with an anxious face to say — ‘Ma’am, I am afraid Miss Edmonstone must be very ill, or something. Do you know, ma’am, her bed has not been slept in all night?’

‘You don’t say so, nurse!’

‘Yes, ma’am, Jane told me so, and I went to look myself. Poor child, she is half distracted about Master Philip, and no wonder, for they were always together; but I thought you ought to know, ma’am, for she will make herself ill, to a certainty.’

‘I am going to see about her this moment, nurse,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone; and presently she found Laura wandering up and down the shady walk, in the restlessness of her despair.

‘Laura, dearest,’ said she, putting her arm round her, ‘I cannot bear to see you so unhappy.’

Laura did not answer; for though solitude was oppressive, every one’s presence was a burthen.

‘I cannot think it right to give way thus,’ continued her mother. ‘Did you really sit up all night, my poor child?’

‘I don’t know. They did so with him!’

‘My dear, this will never do. You are making yourself seriously unwell.’

‘I wish — I wish I was ill; I wish I was dying!’ broke from Laura, almost unconsciously, in a hoarse, inward voice.

‘My dear! You don’t know what you are saying. You forget that this self-abandonment, and extravagant grief would be wrong in any one; and, if nothing else, the display is unbecoming in you.’

Laura’s over-wrought feelings could bear no more, and in a tone which, though too vehement to be addressed to a parent, had in it an agony which almost excused it, by showing how unable she was to restrain herself, she broke forth:——‘Unbecoming! Who has a right to grieve for him but me? — his own, his chosen — the only one who can love him, or understand him. Her voice died away in a sob, though without tears.

Her mother heard the words, but did not take in their full meaning; and, believing that Laura’s undeveloped affection had led her to this uncontrolled grief, she spoke again, with coldness, intended to rouse her to a sense that she was compromising her womanly dignity.

‘Take care, Laura; a woman has no right to speak in such a manner of a man who has given her no reason to believe in his preference of her.’

‘Preference! It is his love! — his love! His whole heart! The one thing that was precious to me in this world! Preference! You little guess what we have felt for each other!’

‘Laura!’ Mrs. Edmonstone stood still, overpowered. ‘What do you mean?’ She could not put the question more plainly.

‘What have I done?’ cried Laura. ‘I have betrayed him!’ she answered herself in a tone of despair, as she hid her face in her hands; ‘betrayed him when he is dying!’

Her mother was too much shocked to speak in the soft reluctant manner in which she was wont to reprove.

‘Laura,’ said she, ‘I must understand this. What has passed between you and Philip?’

Laura only replied by a flood of tears, ungovernable from the exhaustion of sleeplessness and want of food. Mrs. Edmonstone’s kindness returned; she soothed her, begged her to control herself, and at length brought her into the house, and up to the dressing-room, where she sank on the sofa, weeping violently. It was the reaction of the long restraint she had been exercising on herself, and the silence she had been maintaining. She was not feeling the humiliation, her own acknowledgement of disobedience, but of the horror of being forced to reveal the secret he had left in her charge.

Long did she weep, breaking out more piteously at each attempt of her mother to lead her to explain. Poor Mrs. Edmonstone was alarmed and perplexed beyond measure; this half confession had so overthrown all her ideas that she was ready to apprehend everything most improbable, and almost expected to hear of a private marriage. Her presence seemed only to make Laura worse, and at length she said — ‘I shall leave you for half an hour, in hopes that by that time you may have recovered yourself, and be able to give the explanation which I require.’

She went into her own room, and waited, with her eyes on her watch, a prey to every strange alarm and anticipation, grievously hurt at this want of confidence, and wounded, where she least expected it, by both daughter and nephew. She thought, guessed, recollected, wondered, tormented herself, and at the last of the thirty minutes, hastily opened the door into the dressing-room. Laura sat as before, crouched up in the corner of the wide sofa; and when she raised her face, at her mother’s entrance, it was bewildered rather than embarrassed.

‘Well, Laura?’ She waited unanswered; and the wretchedness of the look so touched her, that, kissing her, she said, ‘Surely, my dear, you need not be afraid to tell me anything?’

Laura did not respond to the kindness, but asked, looking perplexed, ‘What have I said? Have I told it?’

‘What you have given me reason to believe,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, trying to bring herself to speak it explicitly, ‘that you think Philip is attached to you. You do not deny it. Let me know on what terms you stand.’

Without looking up, she murmured, ‘If you would not force it from me at such a time.’

‘Laura, it is for your own good. You are wretched now, my poor child; why not relieve yourself by telling all? If you have not acted openly, can you have any comfort till you have confessed? It may be a painful effort, but relief will come afterwards.’

‘I have nothing to confess,’ said Laura. ‘There is no such thing as you think.’

‘No engagement?’

‘No.’

‘Then what am I to understand by your exclamations?’

‘It is no engagement,’ repeated Laura. ‘He would never have asked that without papa’s consent. We are only bound by our own hearts.’

‘And you have a secret understanding with him?’

‘We have never written to each other; we have never dreamed of any intercourse that could be called clandestine. He would scorn it. He waited only for his promotion to declare it to papa.’

‘And how long has it been declared to you?’

‘Ever since the first summer Guy was here.’

‘Three years!’ exclaimed her mother. ‘You have kept this from me three years! O Laura!’

‘It was of no use to speak!’ said Laura, faintly.

If she had looked up, she would have seen those words, ‘no use,’ cut her mother more deeply than all; but there was only coldness in the tone of the answer, ‘No use to inform your parents, before you pledged your affections!’

‘Indeed, mamma,’ said Laura, ‘I was sure that you knew his worth.’

‘Worth! when he was teaching you to live in a course of insincerity? Your father will be deeply hurt.’

‘Papa! Oh, you must not tell him! Now, I have betrayed him, indeed! Oh, my weakness!’ and another paroxysm of tears came on.

‘Laura, you seem to think you owe nothing to any one but Philip. You forget you are a daughter! that you have been keeping up a system of disobedience and concealment, of which I could not have believed a child of mine could be capable. O Laura, how you have abused our confidence!’

Laura was touched by the sorrow of her tone; and, throwing her arms round her neck, sobbed out, ‘You will forgive me, only forgive him!’

Mrs. Edmonstone was softened in a moment. ‘Forgive you, my poor child! You have been very unhappy!’ and she kissed her, with many tears.

‘Must you tell papa?’ whispered Laura.

‘Judge for yourself, Laura. Could I know such a thing, and hide it from him?’

Laura ceased, seeing her determined, and yielded to her pity, allowing herself to be nursed as she required, so exhausted was she. She was laid on the sofa, and made comfortable with pillows, in her mother’s gentlest way. When Mrs. Edmonstone was called away, Laura held her dress, saying, ‘You are kind to me, but you must forgive him. Say you have forgiven him, mamma, dearest!’

‘My dear, in the grave all things are forgiven.’

She could not help saying so; but, feeling as if she had been cruel, she added, ‘I mean, while he is so ill, we cannot enter on such a matter. I am very sorry for you,’ proceeded she, still arranging for Laura’s ease; then kissing her, hoped she would sleep, and left her.

Sympathy was a matter of necessity to Mrs. Edmonstone; and as her husband was out, she went at once to Charles, with a countenance so disturbed, that he feared some worse tidings had come from Italy.

‘No, no, nothing of that sort; it is poor Laura.’

‘Eh?’ said Charles, with a significant though anxious look, that caused her to exclaim —

‘Surely you had no suspicion!’

Charlotte, who was reading in the window, trembled lest she should be seen, and sent away.

‘I suspected poor Laura had parted with her heart. But what do you mean? What has happened?’

‘Could you have guessed? but first remember how ill he is; don’t be violent, Charlie. Could you have guessed that they have been engaged, ever since the summer we first remarked them?’

She had expected a great storm; but Charles only observed, very coolly, ‘Oh! it is come out at last!’

‘You don’t mean that you knew it?’

‘No, indeed, you don’t think they would choose me for their confidant!’

‘Not exactly,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, with the odd sort of laugh with which even the most sensitive people, in the height of their troubles, reply to anything ludicrous; ‘but really,’ she continued, ‘every idea of mine is so turned upside-down, that I don’t know what to think of anybody.’

‘We always knew Laura to be his slave and automaton. He is so infallible in her eyes, that no doubt she thought her silence an act of praiseworthy resolution.’

‘She was a mere child, poor dear,’ said her mother; ‘only eighteen! Yet Amy was but a year older last summer. How unlike! She must have known what she was doing.’

‘Not with her senses surrendered to him, without volition of her own. I wonder by what magnetism he allowed her to tell?’

‘She has gone through a great deal, poor child, and I am afraid there is much more for her to suffer, whether he recovers or not.’

‘He will recover’ said Charles, with the decided manner in which people prophesy the restoration of those they dislike, probably from a feeling that they must not die, till there is more charity in their opinion of them.

‘Your father will be so grieved.’

‘Well, I suppose we must begin to make the best of it,’ said Charles. ‘She has been as good as married to him these four years, for any use she has been to us; it has been only the name of the thing, so he had better —’

‘My dear Charlie, what are you talking of? You don’t imagine they can marry?’

‘They will some time or other, for assuredly neither will marry any one else. You will see if Guy does not take up the cause, and return Philip’s meddling — which, by the bye, is now shown to have been more preposterous still — by setting their affairs in order for them.’

‘Dear Guy, it is a comfort not to have been deceived in him!’

‘Except when you believed Philip,’ said Charles.

‘Could anything have been more different?’ proceeded Mrs. Edmonstone; ‘yet the two girls had the same training.’

‘With an important exception,’ said Charles; ‘Laura is Philip’s pupil, Amy mine; and I think her little ladyship is the best turned out of hand.’

‘How shocked Amy will be! If she was but here, it would be much better, for she always had more of Laura’s confidence than I. Oh, Charlie, there has been the error!’ and Mrs. Edmonstone’s eyes were full of tears. ‘What fearful mistake have I made to miss my daughter’s confidence!’

‘You must not ask me, mother,’ said Charles, face and voice full of affectionate emotion. ‘I know too well that I have been exacting and selfish, taking too much advantage of your anxieties for me, and that if you were not enough with my sisters when they were young girls, it was my fault as much as my misfortune. But, after all, it has not hurt Amy in the least; nor do I think it will hurt Charlotte.’

Charlotte did not venture to give way to her desire to kiss her mother, and thank Charles, lest she should be exiled as an intruder.

‘And,’ proceeded Charles, serious, though somewhat roguish, ‘I suspect that no attention would have made much difference. You were always too young, and Laura too much addicted to the physical sciences to get on together.’

‘A weak, silly mother, sighed Mrs. Edmonstone.

This was too much for Charlotte, who sprang forward, and flung her arms round her neck, sobbing out —

‘Mamma! dear mamma! don’t say such horrid things! No one is half so wise or so good — I am sure Guy thinks so too!’

At the same time Bustle, perceiving a commotion, made a leap, planted his fore-feet on Mrs. Edmonstone’s lap, wagging his tail vehemently, and trying to lick her face. It was not in human nature not to laugh; and Mrs. Edmonstone did so as heartily as either of the young ones; indeed, Charlotte was the first to resume her gravity, not being sure of her ground, and being hurt at her impulse of affection being thus reduced to the absurd. She began to apologize —

‘Dear mamma, I could not help it. I thought you knew I wad in the room.’

‘My dear child,’ and her mother kissed her warmly, ‘I don’t want to hide anything from you. You are my only home-daughter now.’ Then recollecting her prudence, she proceeded — ‘You are old enough to understand the distress this insincerity of poor Laura’s has occasioned — and now that Amy is gone, we must look to you to comfort us.’

Did ever maiden of fourteen feel more honoured, and obliged to be very good and wise than Charlotte, as she knelt by her mother’s side? Happily tact was coming with advancing years, and she did not attempt to mingle in the conversation, which was resumed by Charles observing that the strangest part of the affair was the incompatibility of so novelish and imprudent a proceeding with the cautious, thoughtful character of both parties. It was, he said, analogous to a pentagon flirting with a hexagon; whereas Guy, a knight of the Round Table, in name and nature, and Amy, with her little superstitions, had been attached in the most matter-of-fact, hum-drum way, and were in a course of living very happy ever after, for which nature could never have designed them. Mrs. Edmonstone smiled, sighed, hoped they were prudent, and wondered whether camphor and chloride of lime were attainable at Recoara.

Laura came down no more that day, for she was worn out with agitation, and it was a relief to be sufficiently unwell to be excused facing her father and Charles. She had little hope that Charlotte had not heard all; but she might seem to believe her ignorant, and could, therefore, endure her waiting on her, with an elaborate kindness and compassion, and tip-toe silence, far beyond the deserts of her slight indisposition.

In the evening, Charles and his mother broke the tidings to Mr. Edmonstone as gently as they could, Charles feeling bound to be the cool, thinking head in the family. Of course Mr. Edmonstone stormed, vowed that he could not have believed it, then veered round, and said he could have predicted it from the first. It was all mamma’s fault for letting him be so intimate with the girls — how was a poor lad to be expected not to fall in love? Next he broke into great wrath at the abuse of his confidence, then at the interference with Guy, then at the intolerable presumption of Philip’s thinking of Laura. He would soon let him know what he thought of it! When reminded of Philip’s present condition, he muttered an Irish imprecation on the fever for interfering with his anger, and abused the ‘romantic folly’ that had carried Guy to nurse him at Recoara. He was not so much displeased with Laura; in fact he thought all young ladies always ready to be fallen in love with, and hardly accountable for what their lovers might make them do, and he pitied her heartily, when he heard of her sitting up all night. Anything of extravagance in love met with sympathy from him, and there was no effort in his hearty forgiveness of her. He vowed that she should give the fellow up, and had she been present, would have tried to make her do so at a moment’s warning; but in process of time he was convinced that he must not persecute her while Philip was in extremity, and though, like Charles, he scorned the notion of his death, and, as if it was an additional crime, pronounced him to be as strong as a horse, he was quite ready to put off all proceedings till his recovery, being glad to defer the evil day of making her cry.

So when Laura ventured out, she met with nothing harsh; indeed, but for the sorrowful kindness of her family towards her, she could hardly have guessed that they knew her secret.

Her heart leapt when Amabel’s letter was silently handed to her, and she saw the news of Philip’s amendment, but a sickening feeling succeeded, that soon all forbearance would be at an end, and he must hear that her weakness had betrayed his secret. For the present, however, nothing was said, and she continued in silent dread of what each day might bring forth, till one afternoon, when the letters had been fetched from Broadstone, Mrs. Edmonstone, with an exclamation of dismay, read aloud:—

‘Recoara, September 8th.

‘DEAREST MAMMA — Don’t be very much frightened when I tell you that Guy has caught the fever. He has been ailing since Sunday, and yesterday became quite ill; but we hope it will not be so severe an illness as Philip’s was. He sleeps a great deal, and is in no pain, quite sensible when he is awake. Arnaud is very useful, and so is Anne; and he is so quiet at night, that he wants no one but Arnaud, and will not let me sit up with him. Philip is better.

‘Your most affectionate,

‘A.F.M.’

The reading was followed by a dead silence, then Mr. Edmonstone said he had always known how it would be, and what would poor Amy do?

Mrs. Edmonstone was too unhappy to answer, for she could see no means of helping them. Mr. Edmonstone was of no use in a sick-room, and she had never thought it possible to leave Charles. It did not even occur to her that she could do so till Charles himself suggested that she must go to Amy.

‘Can you spare me?’ said she, as if it was a new light.

‘Why not? Who can be thought of but Amy? She ought not to be a day longer without you.’

‘Dr. Mayerne would look in on you,’ said she, considering, ‘and Laura can manage for you.’

‘Oh, I shall do very well. Do you think I could bear to keep you from her?’

‘Some one must go,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, ‘and even if I could think of letting Laura run the risk, this unhappy affair about Philip puts her going out of the question.’

‘No one but you can go, said Charles; ‘it is of no use to talk of anything else.’

It was settled that if the next account was not more favourable, Mr. and Mrs. Edmonstone should set off for Recoara. Laura heard, in consternation at the thought of her father’s meeting Philip, still weak and unwell, without her, and perhaps with Guy too ill to be consulted. And oh! what would Philip think of her? Her weakness had disclosed his secret, and sunk her beneath him, and he must hear it from others. She felt as if she could have thrown herself at her mother’s feet as she implored her to forbear, to spare him, to spare her. Her mother pitied her incoherent distress, but it did not make her feel more in charity with Philip. She would not promise that the subject should, not be discussed, but she tried to reassure Laura by saying that nothing should be done that could retard his recovery.

With this Laura was obliged to content herself; and early the second morning, after the letter arrived, she watched the departure of her father and mother.

She had expected to find the care of Charles very anxious work, but she prospered beyond her hopes. He was very kind and considerate, and both he and Charlotte were so sobered by anxiety, that there was no fear of their spirits overpowering her.

Mary Ross used to come almost every afternoon to inquire. One day she found Charles alone, crutching himself slowly along the terrace, and she thought nothing showed the forlorn state of the family so much as to see him out of doors with no one for a prop.

‘Mary! Just as I wanted you!’

‘What account?’ said she, taking the place of one of the crutches.

‘Excellent; the fever and drowsiness seem to be going off. It must have been a light attack, and the elders will hardly come in time for mamma to have any nursing. So there’s Guy pretty well off one’s mind.’

‘And Amy?’

‘This was such a long letter, and so cheerful, that she must be all right. What I wanted to speak to you about was Laura. You know the state of things. Well, the captain — I wish he was not so sorry, it deprives one of the satisfaction of abusing him — the captain, it seems, was brought to his senses by his illness, confessed all to Guy, and now has written to tell the whole truth to my father.’

‘Has he? That is a great relief!’

‘Not that I have seen his letter; Laura ran away with it, and has not said a word of it. I know it from one to papa from Amy, trying to make the best of it, and telling how thoroughly he is cut up. She says he all but fainted after writing. Fancy that poor little thing with a great man, six foot one, fainting away on her hands!’

‘I thought he was pretty well again.’

‘He must be to have written at all, and a pretty tolerably bitter pill it must have been to set about it. What a thing for him to have had to tell Guy, of all people — I do enjoy that! So, of course, Guy takes up his cause, and sends a message, that is worth anything, as showing he is himself better, though in any one else it would be a proof of delirium. My two brothers-in-law might sit for a picture of the contrast.’

‘Then you think Mr. Edmonstone will consent?’

‘To be sure; we shall have him coming home, saying —

It is a fine thing to be father inlaw

To a very magnificent three-tailed bashaw.

He will never hold out against Guy and Amy, and Philip will soon set up a patent revolver, to be turned by the little god of love on the newest scientific principles.’

‘Where is Laura?’ said Mary, smiling.

‘I turned her out to walk with Charlotte, and I want some counsel, as mamma says I know nothing of lovers.’

‘Because I know so much?’

‘You know feminine nature I want to know what is the best thing to do for Laura. Poor thing! I can’t bear to see her look so wretched, worrying herself with care of me. I have done the best I could by taking Charlotte’s lessons, and sending her out to mope alone, as she likes best; but I wish you would tell me how to manage her.’

‘I know nothing better for her than waiting on you.’

‘That’s hard,’ said Charles, ‘that having made the world dance attendance on me for my pleasure, I must now do it for theirs. But what do you think about telling her of this letter, or showing it, remembering that not a word about her troubles has passed between us?’

‘By all means tell her. You must judge about showing it, but I should think the opening for talking to her on the subject a great gain.’

‘Should you? What, thinking as I do of the man? Should I not be between the horns of a dilemma if I had to speak the honest truth, yet not hurt her feelings?’

‘She has been so long shut up from sympathy, that any proof of kindness must be a comfort.’

‘Well, I should like to do her some good, but it will be a mercy, if she does not make me fall foul of Philip! I can get up a little Christian charity, when my father or Charlotte rave at him, but I can’t stand hearing him praised. I take the opportunity of saying so while I can, for I expect he will come home as her betrothed, and then we shall not be able to say one word.’

‘No, I dare say he will be so altered and subdued that you will not be so disposed to rail. This confession is a grand thing. Good-bye I must get back to church. Poor Laura! how busy she has been about her sketch there lately.’

‘Yes, she has been eager about finishing it ever since Guy began to be ill. Good-bye. Wish me well through my part of confidant to-night. It is much against the grain, though I would give something to cheer up my poor sister.’

‘I am sure you would,’ thought Mary to herself, as she looked back at him: ‘what a quantity of kind, right feeling there in under that odd, dry manner, that strives to appear to love nothing but a joke.’

As soon as Charlotte was gone to bed, Charles, in accordance with his determination, said to Laura —

‘Have you any fancy for seeing Amy’s letter?’

‘Thank you;’ and, without speaking, Laura took it. He forbore to watch her expression as she read. When she had finished, her face was fixed in silent unhappiness.

‘He has been suffering a great deal, I am sure,’ said Charles, kindly. It was the first voluntary word of compassion towards Philip that Laura had heard, and it was as grateful as unexpected. Her face softened, and tears gushed from her eyes as she said —

‘You do not know how much. There he is grieving for me! thinking they will be angry with me, and hurting himself with that! Oh! if this had but come before they set off!’

‘Guy and Amy will tell them of his having written.’

‘Dear, dear Guy and Amy! He speaks so earnestly of their kindness. I don’t fear it so much now he and Guy understand each other.’

Recollecting her love, Charles refrained, only saying, ‘You can rely on their doing everything to make it better.’

‘I can hardly bear to think of what we owe to them,’ said Laura. ‘How glad I am that Amy was there after he wrote, when he was so much overcome! Amy has written me such a very kind note; I think you must see that — it is so like her own dear self.’

She gave it to him, and he read:—

‘MY DEAREST — I never could tell you before how we have grieved for you ever since we knew it. I am so sorry I wrote such dreadful accounts; and Guy says he wants to ask your pardon, if he ever said anything that pained you about Philip. I understand all your unhappiness now, my poor dear; but it will be better now it is known. Don’t be reserved, with Charlie, pray; for if he sees you are unhappy, he will be so very kind. I have just seen Philip again, and found him rested and better. He is only anxious about you; but I tell him I know you will be glad it is told.

‘Your most affectionate sister,

‘A. F. M.’

‘Laura’ said Charles, finishing the letter, ‘Amy gives you very good advice, as far as I am concerned. I do want to be of as much use to you as I can — I mean as kind.’

‘I know — I know; thank you,’ said Laura, struggling with her tears. ‘You have been — you are; but —’

‘Ay,’ thought Charles, ‘I see, she won’t be satisfied, if my kindness includes her alone. What will my honesty let me say to please her? Oh! I know. — You must not expect me to say that Philip has, behaved properly, Laura, nothing but being in love could justify such a delusion; but I do say that there is greatness of mind in his confessing it, especially at a time when he could put it off, and is so unequal to agitation.’

It was the absence of any tone of satire that made this speech come home to Laura as it was meant. There was no grudging in the praise, and she answered, in a very low, broken voice —

‘You will think so still more when you see this note, which he sent open, inside mine, to be given to papa when I had told my own story. Oh, his considerateness for me!’

She gave it to him. The address, ‘C. Edmonstone, Esq.,’ was a mere scrawl, and within the writing was very trembling and weak. Charles remarked it, and she answered by saying that her own letter began in his own strong hand, but failed and grew shaky at the end, as if from fatigue and agitation. The words were few, brief, and simple, very unlike his usual manner of letter-writing.

‘MY DEAR UNCLE — My conduct has been unjustifiable — I feel it. Do not visit it on Laura — I alone should suffer. I entreat your pardon, and my aunt’s, and leave all to you. I will write more at length. Be kind to her. — Yours affectionately,

‘PH. M.’

‘Poor Philip!’ said Charles, really very much touched. From that moment, Laura no longer felt completely isolated, and deprived of sympathy. She sat by Charles till late that night, and told him the whole history of her engagement, much relieved by the outpouring of her long-hidden griefs, and comforted by his kindness, though he could not absolutely refrain from words and gestures of censure. It was as strange that Charles should be the first person to whom Laura told this history, as that Guy should have been Philip’s first confidant.

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