The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 37

And see

If aught of sprightly, fresh, or free,

With the calm sweetness may compare

Of the pale form half slumbering there.

Therefore this one dear couch about

We linger hour by hour:

The love that each to each we bear,

All treasures of enduring care,

Into her lap we pour.

— LYRA INNOCENTUM

The brother and sisters, left at home together, had been a very sad and silent party, unable to attempt comforting each other. Charlotte’s grief was wild and ungovernable; breaking out into fits of sobbing, and attending to nothing till she was abashed first by a reproof from Mr. Ross, and next by the description of Amabel’s conduct; when she grew ashamed and set herself to atone, by double care, for her neglect of Charles’s comforts.

Charles, however, wanted her little. He had rather be let alone. After one exclamation of, ‘My poor Amy!’ he said not a word of lamentation, but lay hour after hour without speaking, dwelling on the happy days he had spent with Guy — companion, friend, brother — the first beam that had brightened his existence, and taught him to make it no longer cheerless; musing on the brilliant promise that had been cut off; remembering his hopes for his most beloved sister, and feeling his sorrow with imagining hers. It was his first grief, and a very deep one. He seemed to have no comfort but in Mr. Ross, who contrived to come to him every day, and would tell him how fully he shared his affection and admiration for Guy, how he had marvelled at his whole character, as it had shown itself more especially at the time of his marriage, when his chastened temper had been the more remarkable in so young a man, with the world opening on him so brightly. As to the promise lost, that, indeed, Mr. Ross owned, and pleased Charles by saying how he had hoped to watch its fulfilment; but he spoke of its having been, in truth, no blight, only that those fair blossoms were removed where nothing could check their full development or mar their beauty. ‘The hope in earthly furrows sown, would ripen in the sky;’ Charles groaned, saying it was hard not to see it, and they might speak as they would, but that would not comfort him in thinking of his sister. What was his sorrow to hers? But Mr. Ross had strong trust in Amabel’s depth and calm resignation. He said her spirit of yielding would support her, that as in drowning or falling, struggling is fatal, when quietness saves, so it would be with her: and that even in this greatest of all trials she would rise instead of being crushed, with all that was good and beautiful in her purified and refined. Charles heard, strove to believe and be consoled, and brought out his letters, trying, with voice breaking down, to show Mr. Ross how truly he had judged of Amy, then listened with a kind of pleasure to the reports of the homely but touching laments of all the village.

Laura did not, like her brother and sister, seek for consolation from Mr. Ross or Mary. She went on her own way, saying little, fulfilling her household cares, writing all the letters that nobody else would write, providing for Charles’s ease, and looking thoroughly cast down and wretched, but saying nothing; conscious that her brother and sister did not believe her affection for Guy equal to theirs; and Charles was too much dejected, and too much displeased with Philip, to try to console her.

It was a relief to hear, at length, that the travellers had landed, and would be at home in the evening, not till late, wrote Mrs. Edmonstone, because she thought it best for Amabel to go at once to her room, her own old room, for she particularly wished not to be moved from it.

The evening had long closed in; poor Bustle had been shut up in Charlotte’s room, and the three sat together round the fire, unable to guess how they should meet her, and thinking how they had lately been looking forward to greeting their bride, as they used proudly to call her. Charles dwelt on that talk on the green, and his ‘when shall we three meet again?’ and spoke not a word; Laura tried to read; and Charlotte heard false alarms of wheels; but all were so still, that when the wheels really came, they were heard all down the turnpike road, and along the lane, before they sounded on the gravel drive.

Laura and Charlotte ran into the hall, Charles reached his crutches, but his hands shook so much that he could not adjust them, and was obliged to sit down, rising the next minute as the black figures entered together. Amy’s sweet face was pressed to his, but neither spoke. That agitated ‘My dear, dear Charlie!’ was his mother’s, as she threw her arms around him, with redoubled kisses and streaming tears; and there was a trembling tone in his father’s ‘Well, Charlie boy, how have you got on without us?’

They sat down, Charles with his sister beside him, and holding a hand steadier than his own, but hot and feverish to the touch. He leant forward to look at her face, and, as if in answer, she turned it on him. It was the old face, paler and thinner, and the eyelids had a hard reddened look, from want of sleep: but Charles, like his mother at first, was almost awed by the melancholy serenity of the expression. ‘Have you been quite well?’ she asked, in a voice which sounded strangely familiar, in its fond, low tones.

‘Yes, quite.’

There was a pause, followed by an interchange of question and answer between the others, on the journey, and on various little home circumstances. Presently Mrs. Edmonstone said Amy had better come up-stairs.

‘I have not seen Bustle,’ said Amy, looking at Charlotte.

‘He is in my room,’ faltered Charlotte.

‘I should like to see him.’

Charlotte hastened away, glad to wipe her tears when outside the door. Poor Bustle had been watching for his master ever since his departure, and hearing the sounds of arrival, was wild to escape from his prison. He rushed out the moment the door was open, and was scratching to be let into the drawing-room before Charlotte could come up with him. He dashed in, laid his head on Amabel’s knee, and wagged his tail for welcome; gave the same greeting to Mr. and Mrs. Edmonstone, but only for a moment, for he ran restlessly seeking round the room, came to the door, and by his wistful looks made Charlotte let him out. She followed him, and dropping on her knees as soon as she was outside, pressed her forehead to his glossy black head, whispered that it was of no use, he would never come back. The dog burst from her, and the next moment was smelling and wagging his tail at a portmanteau, which he knew as well as she did, and she could hardly refrain from a great outburst of sobbing as she thought what joy its arrival had hitherto been.

Suddenly Bustle bounded away, and as Charlotte stood trying to compose herself enough to return to the drawing-room, she heard the poor fellow whining to be let in at Guy’s bed-room door. At the same time the drawing-room door opened, and anxious that Amy should neither see nor hear him, she ran after him, admitted him, and shut herself in with him in the dark, where, with her hands in his long silky curls, and sitting on the ground, she sobbed over him as long as he would submit to her caresses.

Amabel meantime returned to her room, and looked round on its well-known aspect with a sad smile, as she thought of the prayer with which she had quitted it on her bridal day, and did not feel as if it had been unanswered; for surely the hand of a Father had been with her to support her through her great affliction.

Though she said she was very well, her mother made her go to bed at once, and Laura attended on her with a sort of frightened, respectful tenderness, hardly able to bear her looks of gratitude. The first time the two sisters were alone, Amabel said, ‘Philip is much better.’

Laura, who was settling some things on the table, started back and coloured, then, unable to resist the desire of hearing of him, looked earnestly at her sister.

‘He is gone to Corfu,’ continued Amabel. ‘He only kept Arnaud three days after we were gone, and Arnaud overtook us at Geneva, saying his strength had improved wonderfully. Will you give me my basket? I should like to read you a piece of a note he sent me.’

Laura brought it, and Amabel, holding her hand, looked up at her face, which she vainly tried to keep in order. ‘Dearest, I have been very sorry for you, and so has Guy.’

‘Amy!’ and Laura found herself giving way to her tears, in spite of all her previous exhortations to Charlotte, about self-control; ‘my own, own sister!’ To have Amy at home was an unspeakable comfort.

‘Papa and mamma were both as kind as possible to Philip,’ continued Amabel; ‘but they could not bear to enter on that. So I told him you had told all, and he was very glad.’

‘He was not displeased at my betraying him?’ exclaimed Laura. ‘Oh, no! he was glad; he said it was a great relief, for he was very anxious about you, Laura. He has been so kind to me,’ said Amabel, so earnestly, that Laura received another comfort, that of knowing that her sister’s indignation against him had all passed by. ‘Now I will read you what he says. You see his writing is quite itself again.’

But Laura observed that Amabel only held towards her the ‘Lady Morville’ on the outside, keeping the note to herself, and reading, ‘I have continued to gain strength since you went; so that there is no further need of detaining Arnaud. I have twice been out of doors, and am convinced that I am equal to the journey; indeed, it is hardly possible for me to endure remaining here any longer.’ She read no more, but folded it up, saying, ‘I had rather no one saw the rest. He makes himself so unhappy about that unfortunate going to Sondrio, that he says what is only painful to hear. I am glad he is able to join his regiment, for a change will be the best thing for him.’

She laid her head on the pillow as if she had done with the subject, and Laura did not venture to pursue it, but went down to hear her mother’s account of her.

Mrs. Edmonstone was feeling it a great comfort to have her son to talk to again, and availed herself of it to tell him of Philip, while Laura was absent, and then to return to speak of Amy on Laura’s reentrance. She said, all through the journey, Amy had been as passive and tranquil as possible, chiefly leaning back in the carriage in silence, excepting that when they finally left the view of the snowy mountains, she gazed after them as long as the least faint cloud-like summit was visible. Still she could not sleep, except that now and then she dozed a little in the carriage, but at night she heard every hour strike in turn, and lay awake through all, nor had she shed one tear since her mother had joined her. Mrs. Edmonstone’s anxiety was very great, for she said she knew Amy must pay for that unnatural calmness, and the longer it was before it broke down, the worse it would be for her. However, she was at home, that was one thing to be thankful for, and happen what might, it could not be as distressing as if it had been abroad.

Another night of ‘calm unrest,’ and Amabel rose in the morning, at her usual hour, to put on the garments of her widowhood, where she had last stood as a bride. Charles was actually startled by her entering the dressing-room, just as she used to do, before breakfast, to read with him, and her voice was as steady as ever. She breakfasted with the family, and came up afterwards with Laura, to unpack her dressing-case, and take out the little treasures that she and her husband had enjoyed buying in the continental towns, as presents for the home party.

All this, for which she had previously prepared herself, she underwent as quietly as possible; but something unexpected came on her. Charlotte, trying to pet and comfort her in every possible way, brought in all the best flowers still lingering in the garden, and among them a last blossom of the Noisette rose, the same of which Guy had been twisting a spray, while he first told her of his love.

It was too much. It recalled his perfect health and vigour, his light activity, and enjoyment of life, and something came on her of the sensation we feel for an insect, one moment full of joyous vitality, the next, crushed and still. She had hitherto thought of his feverish thirst and fainting weariness being at rest, and felt the relief, or else followed his spirit to its repose, and rejoiced; but now the whole scene brought back what he once was; his youthful, agile frame, his eyes dancing in light, his bounding step, his gay whistle, the strong hand that had upheld her on the precipice, the sure foot that had carried aid to the drowning sailors, the arm that was to have been her stay for life, all came on her in contrast with — death! The thought swept over her, carrying away every other, and she burst into tears.

The tears would have their course; she could not restrain them when once they began, and her struggles to check them only brought an increase of them. Her sobs grew so violent that Laura, much alarmed, made a sign to Charlotte to fetch her mother; and Mrs. Edmonstone, coming in haste, found it was indeed the beginning of a frightful hysterical attack. The bodily frame had been overwrought to obey the mental firmness and composure, and now nature asserted her rights; the hysterics returned again and again, and when it seemed as if exhaustion had at length produced quiet, the opening of a door, or a sound in the distance, would renew all again.

It was not till night had closed in that Mrs. Edmonstone was at all satisfied about her, and had at length the comfort of seeing her fall into a sound deep sleep; such an unbroken dreamless sleep as had scarcely visited her since she first went to Recoara. Even this sleep did not restore her; she became very unwell, and both Dr. Mayerne and her mother insisted on her avoiding the least exertion or agitation. She was quite submissive, only begging earnestly to be allowed to see Mr. Ross, saying she knew it would do her good rather than harm, and promising to let him leave her the instant she found it too much for her; and though Mrs. Edmonstone was reluctant and afraid, they agreed that as she was so reasonable and docile, she ought to be allowed to judge for herself.

She begged that he might come after church on All Saints’ day. He came, and after his first greeting of peace, Mrs. Edmonstone signed to him to read at once, instead of speaking to her. The beautiful lesson for the day overcame Mrs. Edmonstone so much that she was obliged to go out of Amabel’s sight, but as the words were read, Amy’s face recovered once more the serenity that had been swept away by the sight of the flowers. Peace had returned, and when the calm every-day words of the service were over, she held out her hand to Mr. Ross, and said, ‘Thank you, that was very nice. Now talk to me.’

It was a difficult request, but Mr. Ross understood her, and talked to her as she sought, in a gentle, deep, high strain of hope and faith, very calm and soothing, and with a fatherly kindness that was very pleasant from him who had baptized her, taught her, and whom she had last seen blessing her and her husband. It ended by her looking up to him when it was time for him to go, and saying, ‘Thank you. You will come again when you have time, I hope. My love to dear Mary, I should like to see her soon, but I knew you would do me more good than anybody, and know better how it feels.’

Mr. Ross knew she meant that he must better understand her loss, because he was a widower, and was greatly touched, though he only answered by a blessing, a farewell, and a promise to come very soon to see her again.

Amabel was right, the peace which he had recalled, and the power of resignation that had returned, had a better effect on her than all her mother’s precautions; she began to improve, and in a few days more was able to leave her bed, and lie on the sofa in the dressing-room, though she was still so weak and languid that this was as much as she could attempt. Any exertion was to be carefully guarded against, and her tears now flowed so easily, that she was obliged to keep a check on them lest they might again overpower her. Mr. Ross came again and again, and she was able to tell him much of the grounds for her great happiness in Guy, hear how entirely he had understood him, and be assured that she had done right, and not taken an undue responsibility on herself by the argument she had used to summon Philip, that last evening. She had begun to make herself uneasy about this; for she said she believed she was thinking of nothing but Guy, and had acted on impulse; and she was very glad Mr. Ross did not think it wrong, while Mr. Ross meanwhile was thinking how fears and repentance mingle with the purest sweetest, holiest deeds.

She was able now to take pleasure in seeing Mary Ross; she wrote to Philip at Corfu, and sent for Markham to begin to settle the executor’s business. Poor Markham! the Edmonstones thought he looked ten years older when he arrived, and after his inquiry for Lady Morville, his grunt almost amounted to a sob. The first thing he did was to give Mrs. Edmonstone a note, and a little box sent from Mrs. Ashford. The note was to say that Mrs. Ashford had intended for her wedding present, a little cross made out of part of the wood of the wreck, which she now thought it beat to send to Mrs. Edmonstone, that she might judge whether Lady Morville would like to see it.

Mrs. Edmonstone’s judgment was to carry it at once to Amabel, and she was right, for the pleasure she took in it was indescribable. She fondled it, set it up by her on her little table, made Charlotte put it in different places that she might see what point of view suited it best, had it given back to her, held it in her hands caressingly, and said she must write at once to Mrs. Ashford to thank her for understanding her so well. There was scarcely one of the mourners to be pitied more than Markham, for the love he had set on Sir Guy had been intense, compounded of feudal affection, devoted admiration, and paternal care — and that he, the very flower of the whole race, should thus have been cut down in the full blossom of his youth and hopes, was almost more than the old man could bear or understand. It was a great sorrow, too, that he should be buried so far away from his forefathers; and the hearing it was by his own desire, did not satisfy him, he sighed over it still, and seemed to derive a shade of comfort only when he was told there was to be a tablet in Redclyffe church to the memory of Guy, sixth baronet.

In the evening Markham became very confidential with Charles; telling him about the grievous mourning and lamentation at Redclyffe, when the bells rung a knell instead of greeting the young master and his bride, and how there was scarcely one in the parish that did not feel as if they had lost a son or a brother. He also told more and more of Sir Guy’s excellence, and talked of fears of his own, especially last Christmas; that the boy was too unlike other people, too good to live; and lastly, he indulged in a little abuse of Captain Morville, which did Charles’s heart good, at the same time as it amused him to think how Markham would recollect it, when he came to hear of Laura’s engagement.

In the course of the next day, Markham had his conference with Lady Morville in the dressing-room, and brought her two or three precious parcels, which he would not, for the world, have given into any other hands. He could hardly bear to look at her in her widow’s cap, and behaved to her with a manner varying between his deference and respect to the Lady of Redclyffe, and his fatherly fondness for the wife of ‘his boy.’ As to her legal powers, he would have thought them foolishly bestowed, if they had been conferred by any one save his own Sir Guy, and he began by not much liking to act with her; but he found her so clear-headed, that he was much surprised to find a woman could have so much good sense, and began to look forward with some satisfaction to being her prime minister. They understood each other very well; Amabel’s good sense and way of attending to the one matter in hand, kept her from puzzling and alarming herself by thinking she had more to do than she could ever understand or accomplish; she knew it was Guy’s work, and a charge he had given her — a great proof of his confidence — and she did all that was required of her very well, so that matters were put in train to be completed when she should be of age, in the course of the next January.

When Markham left her she was glad to be alone, and to open her parcels. There was nothing here to make her hysterical, for she was going to contemplate the living soul, and felt almost, as if it was again being alone with her husband. There were his most prized and used books, covered with marks and written notes; there was Laura’s drawing of Sintram, which had lived with him in his rooms at Oxford; there was a roll of music, and there was his desk. The first thing when she opened it was a rough piece of spar, wrapped in paper, on which was written, ‘M. A. D., Sept. 18.’ She remembered what he had told her of little Marianne’s gift. The next thing made her heart thrill, for it was a slip of pencilling in her own writing, ‘Little things, on little wings, bear little souls to heaven.’

Her own letters tied up together, those few that she had written in the short time they were separated just before their marriage! Could that be only six months ago? A great bundle of Charles’s and of Mrs. Edmonstone’s; those she might like to read another time, but not now. Many other papers letters signed S. B. Dixon, which she threw aside, notes of lectures, and memoranda, only precious for the handwriting; but when she came to the lower division; she found it full of verses, almost all the poetry he had ever written.

There were the classical translations that used to make him inaccurate, a scrap of a very boyish epic about King Arthur, beginning with a storm at Tintagel, sundry half ballads, the verses he was suspected of, and never would show, that first summer at Hollywell, and a very touching vision of his fair young mother. Except a translation or two, some words written to suit their favourite airs (a thing that used to seem to come as easily to him as singing to a bird), and a few lively mock heroic accounts of walks or parties, which had all been public property, there was no more that she could believe to have been composed till last year, for he was more disposed to versify in sorrow than in joy. There were a good many written during his loneliness, for his reflections had a tendency to flow into verse, and pouring them out thus had been a great solace. The lines were often imperfect and irregular, but not one that was not deep, pure, and genuine, and here and there scattered with passages of exquisite beauty and harmony, and full of power and grace. No one could have looked at them without owning in them the marks of a thorough poet, but this was not what the wife was seeking, and when she perceived it, though it made her face beam with a sort of satisfied pride, it was a secondary thing. She was studying not his intellect, but his soul; she did not care whether he would have been a poet, what she looked for was the record of the sufferings and struggles of the sad six months when his character was established, strengthened, and settled.

She found it. There was much to which she alone had the clue, too deep, and too obscurely hinted, to be understood at a glance. She met with such evidence of suffering as made her shudder and weep, tokens of the dark thoughts that had gathered round him, of the manful spirit of penitence and patience that had been his stay, and of the gleams that lighted his darkest hours, and showed he had never been quite forsaken. Now and then came a reference which brought home what he had told her; how the thought of his Verena had cheered him when he dared not hope she would be restored. Best of all were the lines written when the radiance of Christmas was, once for all, dispersing the gloom, and the vision opening on him, which he was now realizing. In reading them, she felt the same marvellous sympathy of subdued wondering joy in the victory of which she had partaken as she knelt beside his death-bed. These were the last. He had been too happy for poetry, except one or two scraps in Switzerland, and these had been hers from the time she had detected them.

No wonder Amabel almost lived on those papers! It would not be too much to say she was very happy in her own way when alone with them; the desk on a chair by her sofa. They were too sacred for any one else; she did not for many weeks show one even to her mother; but to her they were like a renewal of his presence, soothing the craving after him that had been growing on her ever since the first few days when his sustaining power had not passed away. As she sorted them, and made out their dates, finding fresh stores of meaning at each fresh perusal she learnt through them, as well as through her own trial, so patiently borne, to enter into his character even more fully than when he was in her sight. Mrs. Edmonstone, who had at first been inclined to dread her constant dwelling on them, soon perceived that they were her great aids through this sad winter.

She had much pleasure in receiving the portrait, which was sent her by Mr. Shene. It was a day or two before she could resolve to look at it, or feel that she could do so calmly. It was an unfinished sketch, taken more with a view to the future picture than to the likeness; but Guy’s was a face to be better represented by being somewhat idealized, than by copying merely the material form of the features. An ordinary artist might have made him like a Morville, but Mr. Shene had shown all that art could convey of his individual self, with almost one of his unearthly looks. The beautiful eyes, with somewhat of their peculiar lightsomeness, the flexible look of the lip, the upward pose of the head, the set of that lock of hair that used to wave in the wind, the animated position, ‘just ready for a start,’ as Charles used to call it, were recalled as far as was in the power of chalk and crayon, but so as to remind Amabel of him more as one belonging to heaven than to earth. The picture used to be on her mantel-shelf all night, the shipwreck cross before it, and Sintram and Redclyffe on each side; and she brought it into the dressing-room with her in the morning, setting it up opposite to the sofa, before settling herself.

Her days were much alike. She felt far from well, or capable of exertion, and was glad it was thought right to keep her entirely upstairs; she only wished to spare her mother anxiety, by being submissive to her care, in case these cares should be the last for her. She did not dwell on the future, nor ask herself whether she looked for life or death. Guy had bidden her not desire the last, and she believed she did not form a wish; but there was repose to her in the belief that she ought not to conceal from herself that there was more than ordinary risk, and that it was right to complete all her affairs in this world, and she was silent when her mother tried to interest her in prospects that might cheer her; as if afraid to fasten on them, and finding more peace in entire submission, than in feeding herself on hope that must be coupled with fear.

Christmas-day was not allowed to pass without being a festival for her, in her quiet room, where she lay, full of musings on his lonely Christmas night last year, his verses folded among her precious books, and the real joy of the season more within her grasp than in the turmoil of last year. She was not afraid now to let herself fancy his voice in the Angel’s Song, and the rainbow was shining on her cloud.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/y/yonge/charlotte/heir-of-redclyffe/chapter37.html

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