The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 38

The coldness from my heart is gone,

But still the weight is there,

And thoughts which I abhor will come

To tempt me to despair.

— SOUTHEY

Amabel’s one anxiety was for Philip. For a long time nothing was heard of him at Hollywell, and she began to fear that he might have been less fit to take care of himself than he had persuaded her to believe. When at length tidings reached them, it was through the De Courcys. ‘Poor Morville,’ wrote Maurice, ‘had been carried ashore at Corfu, in the stupor of a second attack of fever. He had been in extreme danger for some time, and though now on the mend, was still unable to give any account of himself.’

In effect, it was a relapse of the former disease, chiefly affecting the brain, and his impatience to leave Recoara, and free himself from Arnaud, had been a symptom of its approach, though it fortunately did not absolutely overpower him till after he had embarked for Corfu, and was in the way to be tended with the greatest solicitude. Long after the fever was subdued, and his strength returning, his mind was astray, and even when torturing delusions ceased, and he resumed the perception of surrounding objects, memory and reflection wavered in dizzy confusion, more distressing than either his bodily weakness, or the perpetual pain in his head, which no remedy could relieve.

The first date to which he could afterwards recur, though for more than a week he had apparently been fully himself, was a time when he was sitting in an easy-chair by the window, obliged to avert his heavy eyes from the dazzling waters of the Corcyran bay, where Ulysses’ transformed ship gleamed in the sunshine, and the rich purple hills of Albania sloped upwards in the distance. James Thorndale was, as usual, with him, and was explaining that there had been a consultation between the doctor and the colonel, and they had decided that as there was not much chance of restoring his health in that climate in the spring.

‘Spring!’ he interrupted, with surprise and eagerness, ‘Is it spring?’

‘Hardly — except that there is no winter here. This is the 8th of January.’

He let his head fall on his hand again, and listened with indifference when told he was to be sent to England at once, under the care of his servant, Bolton, and Mr. Thorndale himself, who was resolved to see him safe in his sister’s hands. He made no objection; he had become used to be passive, and one place was much the same to him as another; so he merely assented, without a question about the arrangements. Presently, however, he looked up, and inquired for his letters. Though he had done so before, the request had always been evaded, until now he spoke in a manner which decided his friend on giving him all except one with broad black edges, and Broadstone post-mark; the effect of which, it was thought, might be very injurious to his shattered nerves and spirits.

However, he turned over the other letters without interest, just glancing languidly through them, looked disappointed, and exclaimed —

‘None from Hollywell! Has nothing been heard from them? Thorndale, I insist on knowing whether De Courcy has heard anything of Lady Morville.’

‘He has heard of her arrival in England.’

‘My sister mentions that — more than two months ago — I can hardly believe she has not written, if she was able. She promised, yet how can I expect —’ then interrupting himself, he added, authoritatively, ‘Thorndale, is there no letter for me? I see there is. Let me have it.’

His friend could not but comply, and had no reason to regret having done so; for after reading it twice, though he sighed deeply, and the tears were in his eyes, he was more calm and less oppressed than he had been at any time since his arrival in Corfu. He was unable to write, but Colonel Deane had undertaken to write to Mrs. Henley to announce his coming; and as the cause of his silence must be known at Hollywell, he resolved to let Amabel’s letter wait for a reply till his arrival in England.

It was on a chilly day in February that Mrs. Henley drove to the station to meet her brother, looking forward with a sister’s satisfaction to nursing his recovery, and feeling (for she had a heart, after all) as if it was a renewal of the days, which she regarded with a tenderness mixed with contempt, when all was confidence between the brother and sister, the days of nonsense and romance. She hoped that now poor Philip, who had acted hastily on his romance, and ruined his own prospects for her sake in his boyish days, had a chance of having it all made up to him, and reigning at Redclyffe according to her darling wish.

As she anxiously watched the arrival of the train, she recognized Mr. Thorndale, whom she had known in his school-days as Philip’s protege — but could that be her brother? It was his height, indeed; but his slow weary step as he crossed the platform, and left the care of his baggage to others, was so unlike his prompt, independent air, that she could hardly believe it to be himself, till, with his friend, he actually advanced to the carriage, and then she saw far deeper traces of illness than she was prepared for. A confusion of words took place; greetings on one hand, and partings on the other, for James Thorndale was going on by the train, and made only a few minutes’ halt in which to assure Mrs. Henley that though the landing and the journey had knocked up his patient today, he was much better since leaving Corfu, and to beg Philip to write as soon as possible. The bell rang, he rushed back, and was whirled away.

‘Then you are better,’ said Mrs. Henley, anxiously surveying her brother. ‘You are sadly altered! You must let us take good care of you.’

‘Thank you! I knew you would be ready to receive me, though I fear I am not very good company.’

‘Say no more, my dearest brother. You know both Dr. Henley and myself have made it our first object that our house should be your home.’

‘Thank you.’

‘This salubrious air must benefit you,’ she added. ‘How thin you are! Are you very much fatigued?’

‘Rather,’ said Philip, who was leaning back wearily; but the next moment he exclaimed, ‘What do you hear from Hollywell?’

‘There is no news yet.’

‘Do you know how she is? When did you hear of her?’

‘About a week ago; when she wrote to inquire for you.’

‘She did? What did she say of herself?’

‘Nothing particular, poor little thing; I believe she is always on the sofa. My aunt would like nothing so well as making a great fuss about her.’

‘Have you any objection to show me her letter?’ said Philip, unable to bear hearing Amabel thus spoken of, yet desirous to learn all he could respecting her.

‘I have not preserved it,’ was the answer. ‘My correspondence is so extensive that there would be no limit to the accumulation if I did not destroy the trivial letters.’

There was a sudden flush on Philip’s pale face that caused his sister to pause in her measured, self-satisfied speech, and ask if he was in pain.

‘No,’ he replied, shortly, and Margaret pondered on his strange manner, little guessing what profanation her mention of Amabel’s letter had seemed to him, or how it jarred on him to hear this exaggerated likeness of his own self-complacent speeches.

She was much shocked and grieved to see him so much more unwell than she had expected. He was unfit for anything but to go to bed on his arrival. Dr. Henley said the system had received a severe shock, and it would be long before the effects would be shaken off; but that there was no fear but his health would be completely restored if he would give himself entire rest.

There was no danger that Margaret would not lavish care enough on her brother. She waited on him in his room all the next day, bringing him everything he could want, and trying to make him come down-stairs, for she thought sitting alone there very bad for his spirits; but he said he had a letter to write, and very curious she was to know why he was so long doing it, and why he did not tell her to whom it was addressed. However, she saw when it was put into the post-bag, that it was for Lady Morville.

At last, too late to see any of the visitors who had called to inquire, when the evening had long closed in, she had the satisfaction of seeing Philip enter the drawing-room, and settling him in the most comfortable of her easy-chairs on one side of the fire to wait till the Doctor returned for dinner. The whole apartment was most luxurious, spacious, and richly furnished; the fire, in its brilliant steel setting, glancing on all around, and illuminating her own stately presence, and rich glace silk, as she sat opposite her brother cutting open the leaves of one of the books of the club over which she presided. She felt that this was something like attaining one of the objects for which she used to say and think she married — namely, to be able to receive her brother in a comfortable home. If only he would but look more like himself.

‘Do you like a cushion for your head, Philip? Is it better?’

‘Better since morning, thank you.’

‘Did those headaches come on before your second illness?’

‘I can’t distinctly remember.’

‘Ah! I cannot think how the Edmonstones could leave you. I shall always blame them for that relapse.’

‘It had nothing to do with it. Their remaining was impossible.’

‘On Amabel’s account? No, poor thing, I don’t blame her, for she must have been quite helpless; but it was exactly like my aunt, to have but one idea at a time. Charles used to be the idol, and now it is Amy, I suppose.’

‘If anything could have made it more intolerable for me, it would have been detaining them there for my sake, at such a time.’

‘Ah! I felt a great deal for you. You must have been very sorry for that poor little Amy. She was very kind in writing while you were ill. How did she contrive, poor child? I suppose you took all the head work for her?’

‘I? I was nothing but a burden.’

‘Were you still so very ill?’ said Margaret, tenderly. ‘I am sure you must have been neglected.’

‘Would that I had!’ muttered Philip, so low that she did not catch the words. Then aloud — ‘No care could have been greater than was taken for me. It was as if no one had been ill but myself, and the whole thought of every one had been for me.’

‘Then Amabel managed well, poor thing! We do sometimes see those weak soft characters —’

‘Sister!’ he interrupted.’

‘Have not you told me so yourself?’

‘I was a fool, or worse,’ said he, in a tone of suffering. ‘No words can describe what she proved herself.’

‘Self-possessed? energetic?’ asked Mrs. Henley, with whom those were the first of qualities; and as her brother paused from repugnance to speak of Amabel to one so little capable of comprehending her, she proceeded: ‘No doubt she did the best she could, but she must have been quite inexperienced. It was a very young thing in the poor youth to make her executrix. I wonder the will was valid; but I suppose you took care of that.’

‘I did nothing.’

‘Did you see it?’

‘My uncle showed it to me.’

‘Then you can tell me what I want to hear, for no one has told me anything. I suppose my uncle is to be guardian?’

‘No; Lady Morville.’

‘You don’t mean it? Most lover-like indeed. That poor girl to manage that great property? Everything left to her!’ said Mrs. Henley, continuing her catechism in spite of the unwillingness of his replies. ‘Were there any legacies? I know of Miss Wellwood’s.’

‘That to Dixon’s daughter, and my own,’ he answered.

‘Yours? How was it that I never heard of it? What is it?’

‘Ten thousand,’ said Philip, sadly.

‘I am delighted to hear it!’ cried Margaret. ‘Very proper of Sir Guy — very proper indeed, poor youth. It is well thought of to soften the disappointment.’

Philip started forward. ‘Disappointment!’ exclaimed he, with horror.

‘You need not look as if I wished to commit murder,’ said his sister, smiling. ‘Have you forgotten that it depends on whether it is a son or daughter?’

His dismay was not lessened. ‘Do you mean to say that this is to come on me if the child is a daughter?’

‘Ah! you were so young when the entail was made, that you knew nothing of it. Female heirs were expressly excluded. There was some aunt whom old Sir Guy passed over, and settled the property on my father and you, failing his own male heirs.’

‘No one would take advantage of such a chance,’ said Philip.

‘Do not make any rash resolutions, my dear brother, whatever you do,’ said Margaret. ‘You have still the same fresh romantic generous spirit of self-sacrifice that is generally so soon worn out, but you must not let it allow you —’

‘Enough of this,’ said Philip, hastily, for every word was a dagger.

‘Ah! you are right not to dwell on the uncertainty. I am almost sorry I told you,’ said Margaret. ‘Tell me about Miss Wellwood’s legacy,’ she continued, desirous of changing the subject. ‘I want to know the truth of it, for every one is talking of it.”How comes the world to know of it?’

‘There have been reports ever since his death, and now it has been paid, whatever it is, on Lady Morville’s coming of age. Do you know what it is? The last story I was told was, that it was £2O,OOO, to found a convent to pray for his grand —’

‘Five thousand for her hospital,’ interrupted Philip. ‘Sister!’ he added; speaking with effort, ‘it was for that hospital that he made the request for which we persecuted him.’

‘Ah! I thought so, I could have told you so!’ cried Margaret, triumphant in her sagacity, but astonished, as her brother started up and stood looking at her, as if he could hardly resolve to give credit to her words.

‘You — thought — so,’ he repeated slowly.

‘I guessed it from the first. He was always with that set, and I thought it a very bad thing for him; but as it was only a guess, it was not worth while to mention it: besides, the cheque seemed full evidence. It was the general course, not the individual action.’

‘If you thought so, why not mention it to me? Oh! sister, what would you not have spared me!’

‘I might have done so if it had appeared that it might lead to his exculpation, but you were so fully convinced that his whole course confirmed the suspicions, that a mere vague idea was not worth dwelling on. Your general opinion, of him satisfied me.’

‘I cannot blame you,’ was all his reply, as he sat down again, with his face averted from the light.

And Mrs. Henley was doubtful whether he meant that she had been judicious! She spoke again, unconscious of the agony each word inflicted.

‘Poor youth! we were mistaken in those facts, and of course, all is forgiven and forgotten now; but he certainly had a tremendous temper. I shall never forget that exhibition. Perhaps poor Amabel is saved much unhappiness.’

‘Once for all,’ said Philip, sternly, ‘let me never hear you speak of him thus. We were both blind to a greatness of soul and purity of heart that we shall never meet again. Yours was only prejudice; mine I must call by a darker name. Remember, that he and his wife are only to be spoken of with reverence.’

He composed himself to silence; and Margaret, after looking at him for some moments in wonder, began in a sort of exculpatory tone:

‘Of course we owe him a great deal of gratitude. It was very kind and proper to come to you when you were ill, and his death must have been a terrible shock. He was a fine young man; amiable, very attractive in manner.’

‘No more!’ muttered Philip.

‘That, you always said of him,’ continued she, not hearing, ‘but you have no need to reproach yourself. You always acted the part of a true friend, did full justice to his many good qualities, and only sought his real good.’

‘Every word you speak is the bitterest satire on me,’ said Philip, goaded into rousing himself for a moment. ‘Say no more, unless you would drive me distracted!’

Margaret was obliged to be silent, and marvel, while her brother sat motionless, leaning back in his chair, till Dr. Henley came in; and after a few words to him, went on talking to his wife, till dinner was announced. Philip went with them into the dining-room, but had scarcely sat down before he said he could not stay, and returned to the drawing-room sofa. He said he only wanted quiet and darkness, and sent his sister and her husband back to their dinner.

‘What has he been doing?’ said the Doctor; ‘here is his pulse up to a hundred again. How can he have raised it?’

‘He only came down an hour ago, and has been sitting still ever since.’

‘Talking?’

‘Yes; and there, perhaps, I was rather imprudent. I did not know he could so little bear to hear poor Sir Guy’s name mentioned; and, besides, he did not know, till I told him, that he had so much chance of Redclyffe. He did not know the entail excluded daughters.’

‘Did he not! That accounts for it. I should like to see the man who could hear coolly that he was so near such a property. This suspense is unlucky just now; very much against him. You must turn his thoughts from it as much as possible.’

All the next day, Mrs. Henley wondered why her brother’s spirits were so much depressed, resisting every attempt to amuse or cheer them; but, on the third, she thought some light was thrown on the matter. She was at breakfast with the Doctor when the post came in, and there was a black-edged letter for Captain Morville, evidently from Amabel. She took it up at once to his room. He stretched out his hand for it eagerly, but laid it down, and would not open it while she was in the room. The instant she was gone, however, he broke the seal and read:—

‘Hollywell, February 20th.

‘MY DEAR PHILIP — Thank you much for writing to me. It was a great comfort to see your writing again, and to hear of your being safe in our own country. We had been very anxious about you, though we did not hear of your illness till the worst was over. I am very glad you are at St. Mildred’s, for I am sure Margaret must be very careful of you, and Stylehurst air must be good for you. Every one here is well; Charles growing almost active, and looking better than I ever saw him. I wish I could tell you how nice and quiet a winter it has been; it has been a great blessing to me in every way, so many things have come to me to enjoy. Mr. Ross has come to me every Sunday, and often in the week, and has been so very kind. I think talking to him will be a great pleasure to you when you are here again. You will like to hear that Mr. Shene has sent me the picture, and the pleasure it gives me increases every day. Indeed, I am so well off in every way, that you must not grieve yourself about me, though I thank you very much for what you say. Laura reads to me all the evening from dinner to tea. I am much better than I was in the winter, and am enjoying the soft spring air from the open window, making it seem as if it was much later in the year. ‘Good-bye, my dear cousin; may God bless and comfort you. Remember, that after all, it was God’s will, not your doing; and therefore, as he said himself, all is as it should be, and so it will surely be.

‘Your affectionate cousin,

‘AMABEL F. MORVILLE.’

Childishly simple as this letter might be called, with its set of facts without comment, and the very commonplace words of consolation, it spoke volumes to Philip of the spirit in which it was written — resignation, pardon, soothing, and a desire that her farewell, perhaps her last, should carry with it a token of her perfect forgiveness. Everything from Amabel did him good; and he was so perceptibly better, that his sister exclaimed, when she was next alone with Dr. Henley, ‘I understand it all, poor fellow; I thought long ago, he had some secret attachment; and now I see it was to Amabel Edmonstone.’

‘To Lady Morville?’

‘Yes. You know how constantly he was at Hollywell, my aunt so fond of him? I don’t suppose Amy knew of it; and, of course, she could not be blamed for accepting such an offer as Sir Guy’s; besides, she never had much opinion of her own.’

‘How? No bad speculation for him. She must have a handsome jointure; but what are your grounds?’

‘Everything. Don’t you remember he would not go to the marriage? He mentions her almost like a saint; can’t hear her name from any one else — keeps her letter to open alone, is more revived by it than anything else. Ah! depend upon it, it was to avoid her, poor fellow, that he refused to go to Venice with them.’

‘Their going to nurse him is not as if Sir Guy suspected it.’

‘I don’t suppose he did, nor Amy either. No one ever had so much power over himself.’

Philip would not have thanked his sister for her surmise, but it was so far in his favour that it made her avoid the subject, and he was thus spared from hearing much of Amabel or of Redclyffe. It was bad enough without this. Sometimes in nursery tales, a naughty child, under the care of a fairy, is chained to an exaggeration of himself and his own faults, and rendered a slave to this hateful self. The infliction he underwent in his sister’s house was somewhat analogous, for Mrs. Henley’s whole character, and especially her complacent speeches, were a strong resemblance of his own in the days he most regretted. He had ever since her marriage regarded her as a man looks at a fallen idol, but never had her alteration been so clear to him, as he had not spent much time with her, making her short visits, and passing the chief of each day at Stylehurst. Now, he was almost entirely at her mercy, and her unvarying kindness to him caused her deterioration to pain him all the more; while each self-assertion, or harsh judgment, sounded on his ear like a repetition of his worst and most hateful presumption. She little guessed what she made him endure, for he had resumed his wonted stoicism of demeanour, though the hardened crust that had once grown over his feelings had been roughly torn away, leaving an extreme soreness and tenderness to which an acute pang was given whenever he was reminded, not only of his injuries to Guy, but of the pride and secret envy that had been their root.

At the same time he disappointed her by his continued reserve and depression. The confidence she had forfeited was never to be restored, and she was the last person to know how incapable she was of receiving it, or how low she had sunk in her self-exaltation.

He was soon able to resume the hours of the family, but was still far from well; suffering from languor, pain in the head, want of sleep and appetite; and an evening feverishness. He was unequal to deep reading, and was in no frame for light books; he could not walk far, and his sister’s literary coteries, which he had always despised, were at present beyond his powers of endurance. She hoped that society would divert his thoughts and raise his spirits, and arranged her parties with a view to him; but he never could stay long in the room, and Dr. Henley, who, though proud of his wife and her talents, had little pleasure in her learned circle, used to aid and abet his escape.

Thus Philip got through the hours as best he might, idly turning the pages of new club-books, wandering on the hills till he tired himself, sitting down to rest in the damp air, coming home chilled and fatigued, and lying on the sofa with his eyes shut, to avoid conversation, all the evening. Neither strength, energy, nor intellect would, serve him for more; and this, with the load and the stings of a profound repentance, formed his history through the next fortnight.

He used often to stand gazing at the slowly-rising walls of Miss Wellwood’s buildings, and the only time he exerted himself in his old way to put down any folly in conversation, was when he silenced some of the nonsense talked about her, and evinced his own entire approval of her proceedings.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/y/yonge/charlotte/heir-of-redclyffe/chapter38.html

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