The matron who alone has stood
When not a prop seemed left below,
The first lorn hour of widowhood,
Yet, cheered and cheering all the while,
With sad but unaffected, smile.
— CHRISTIAN YEAR
The four months’ wife was a widow before she was twenty-one, and there she sat in her loneliness, her maid weeping, seeking in vain for something to say that might comfort her, and struck with fear at seeing her thus composed. It might be said that she had not yet realized her situation, but the truth was, perhaps, that she was in the midst of the true realities. She felt that her Guy was perfectly happy — happy beyond thought or comparison — and she was so accustomed to rejoice with him, that her mind had not yet opened to understand that his joy left her mourning and desolate.
Thus she remained motionless for some minutes, till she was startled by a sound of weeping — those fearful overpowering sobs, so terrible in a strong man forced to give way.
‘Philip!’ thought she; and withal Guy’s words returned —‘It will be worse for him than for you. Take care of him.’
‘I must go to him,’ said she at once.
She took up a purple prayer-book that she had unconsciously brought in her hand from Guy’s bed, and walked down-stairs, without pausing to think what she should say or do, or remembering how she would naturally have shrunk from the sight of violent grief.
Philip had retired to his own room the night before, overwhelmed by the first full view of the extent of the injuries he had inflicted, the first perception that pride and malevolence had been the true source of his prejudice and misconceptions, and for the first time conscious of the long-fostered conceit that had been his bane from boyhood. All had flashed on him with the discovery of the true purpose of the demand which he thought had justified his persecution. He saw the glory of Guy’s character and the part he had acted — the scales of self-admiration fell from his eyes, and he knew both himself and his cousin.
His sole comfort was in hope for the future, and in devising how his brotherly affection should for the rest of his life testify his altered mind, and atone for past ill-will. This alone kept him from being completely crushed — for he by no means imagined how near the end was, and the physician, willing to spare himself pain, left him in hopes, though knowing how it would be. He slept but little, and was very languid in the morning; but he rose as soon as Arnaud came to him, in order not to occupy Arnaud’s time, as well as to be ready in case Guy should send for him again, auguring well from hearing that there was nothing stirring above, hoping this was a sign that Guy was asleep. So hoped the two servants for a long time, but at length, growing alarmed, after many consultations, they resolved to knock at the door, and learn what was the state of things.
Philip likewise was full of anxiety, and coming to his room door to listen for intelligence, it was the “e morto” of the passing Italians that first revealed to him the truth. Guy dead, Amy widowed, himself the cause — he who had said he would never be answerable for the death of this young man.
Truly had Guy’s threat, that he would make him repent, been fulfilled. He tottered back to his couch, and sank down, in a burst of anguish that swept away all the self-control that had once been his pride. There Amabel found him stretched, face downwards, quivering and convulsed by frightful sobs.
‘Don’t — don’t, Philip,’ said she, in her gentle voice. ‘Don’t cry so terribly!’
Without looking up, he made a gesture with his hand, as if to drive her away. ‘Don’t come here to reproach me!’ he muttered.
‘No, no; don’t speak so. I want you to hear me; I have something for you from him. If you would only listen, I want to tell you how happy and comfortable it was.’ She took a chair and sat down by him, relieved on perceiving that the sobs grew a little less violent.
‘It was very peaceful, very happy,’ repeated she. ‘We ought to be very glad.’
He turned round, and glanced at her for a moment; but he could not bear to see her quiet face. ‘You don’t know what you say,’ he gasped. ‘No; take care of yourself, don’t trouble yourself for such as me!’
‘I must; he desired me,’ said Amabel. ‘You will be happier, indeed, Philip, if you would only think what glory it is, and that he is all safe, and has won the victory, and will have no more of those hard, hard struggles, and bitter repentance. It has been such a night, that it seems wrong to be sorry.’
‘Did you say he spoke of me again?’
‘Yes; here is his Prayer-book. Your father gave it to him, and he meant to have told you about it himself, only he could not talk yesterday evening, and could not part with it till —’
Amy broke off by opening the worn purple cover, and showing the name, in the Archdeacon’s writing. ‘He’s very fond of it,’ she said; ‘it is the one he always uses.’ (Alas! she had not learnt to speak of him in the past tense.)
Philip held out his hand, but the agony of grief returned the next moment. ‘My father, my father! He would have done him justice. If he had lived, this would never have been!’
‘That is over, you do him justice now,’ said Amy. ‘You did, indeed you did, make him quite happy. He said so, again and again. I never saw him so happy as when you began to get better. I don’t think any one ever had so much happiness and it never ceased, it was all quiet, and peace, and joy, till it brightened quite into perfect day — and the angel’s song! Don’t you remember yesterday, how clear and sweet his voice came out in that? and it was the last thing almost he said. I believe’— she lowered her voice —‘I believe he finished it among them.’
The earnest placid voice, speaking thus, in calmness and simplicity, could not fail in soothing him; but he was so shaken and exhausted, that she had great difficulty in restoring him. After a time, he lay perfectly still on the sofa, and she was sitting by, relieved by the tranquillity, when there was a knock at the door, and Arnaud came in, and stood hesitating, as if he hardly knew how to begin. The present fear of agitating her charge helped her now, when obliged to turn her thoughts to the subjects on which she knew Arnaud was come. She went to the door, and spoke low, hoping her cousin might not hear or understand.
‘How soon must it be?’
‘My lady, tomorrow,’ said Arnaud, looking down. ‘They say that so it must be; and the priest consents to have it in the churchyard here. The brother of the clergyman is here, and would know if your ladyship would wish —’
‘I will speak to him,’ said Amabel, reluctant to send such messages through servants.
‘Let me,’ said Philip, who understood what was going on, and was of course impelled to spare her as much as possible.
‘Thank you’ said she, ‘if you are able!’
‘Oh, yes; I’ll go at once!’
‘Stop,’ said she, as he was setting forth; ‘you don’t know what you are going to say.’
He put his hand to his head in confusion.
‘He wished to be buried here,’ said Amabel, ‘and —’
But this renewal of the assurance of the death was too much; and covering his face with his hands, he sank back in another paroxysm of violent sobs. Amabel could not leave him.
‘Ask Mr. Morris to be so good as to wait, and I will come directly,’ said she, then returned to her task of comfort till she again saw Philip lying, with suspended faculties, in the repose of complete exhaustion.
She then went to Mr. Morris, with a look and tone of composure that almost startled him, thanking him for his assistance in the arrangements. The funeral was to be at sunrise the next day, before the villagers began to keep the feast of St. Michael, and the rest was to be settled by Arnaud and Mr. Morris. He then said, somewhat reluctantly, that his brother had desired to know whether Lady Morville wished to see him today, and begged to be sent for; but Amy plainly perceived that he thought it very undesirable for his brother to have any duties to perform today. She questioned herself whether she might not ask him to read to her, and whether it might be better for Philip; but she thought she ought not to ask what might injure him merely for her own comfort; and, besides, Philip was entirely incapable of self-command, and it would not be acting fairly to expose him to the chance of discovering to a stranger, feelings that he would ordinarily guard so scrupulously.
She therefore gratefully refused the offer, and Mr. Morris very nearly thanked her for doing so. He took his leave, and she knew she must return to her post; but first she indulged herself with one brief visit to the room where all her cares and duties had lately centred. A look — a thought — a prayer. The beauteous expression there fixed was a help, as it had ever been in life and she went back again cheered and sustained.
Throughout that day she attended on her cousin, whose bodily indisposition required as much care as his mind needed soothing. She talked to him, read to him, tried to set him the example of taking food, took thought for him as if he was the chief sufferer, as if it was the natural thing for her to do, working in the strength her husband had left her, and for him who had been his chief object of care. She had no time to herself, except the few moments that she allowed herself now and then to spend in gazing at the dear face that was still her comfort and joy; until, at last, late in the evening, she succeeded in reading Philip to sleep. Then, as she sat in the dim candle-light, with everything in silence, a sense of desolation came upon her, and she knew that she was alone.
At that moment a carriage thundered at the door, and she remembered for the first time that she was expecting her father and mother. She softly left the room and closed the door; and finding Anne in the nest room, sent her down.
‘Meet mamma, Anne,’ said she; ‘tell her I am quite well. Bring them here.’
They entered; and there stood Amabel, her face a little flushed, just like, only calmer, the daughter they had parted with on her bridal day, four months ago. She held up her hand as a sign of silence, and said — ‘Hush! don’t wake Philip.’
Mr. Edmonstone was almost angry, and actually began an impatient exclamation, but broke it off with a sob, caught her in his arms, kissed her, and then buried his face in his handkerchief. Mrs. Edmonstone, still aghast at the tidings they had met at Vicenza, and alarmed at her unnatural composure, embraced her; held her for some moments, then looked anxiously to see her weep. But there was not a tear, and her voice was itself, though low and weak, as, while her father began pacing up and down, she repeated —
‘Pray don’t, papa; Philip has been so ill all day.’
‘Philip — pshaw!’ said Mr. Edmonstone, hastily. ‘How are you, yourself, my poor darling?’
‘Quite well, thank you,’ said Amy. ‘There is a room ready for you.’
Mrs. Edmonstone was extremely alarmed, sure that this was a grief too deep for outward tokens, and had no peace till she had made Amabel consent to come up with her, and go at once to bed. To this she agreed, after she had rung for Arnaud, and stood with him in the corridor, to desire him to go at once to Captain Morville, as softly as he could, and when he waked, to say Mr. and Mrs. Edmonstone were come, but she thought he had better not see them to-night; to tell him from her that she wished him good night, and hoped he would, sleep quietly. ‘And, Arnaud, take care you do not let him know the hour tomorrow. Perhaps, as he is so tired, he may sleep till afterwards.’
Mrs. Edmonstone was very impatient of this colloquy, and glad when Amabel ended it, and led the way up-stairs. She entered her little room, then quietly opened another door, and Mrs. Edmonstone found herself standing by the bed, where that which was mortal lay, with its face bright with the impress of immortality.
The shock was great, for he was indeed as a son to her; but her fears for Amabel would not leave room for any other thought.
‘Is not he beautiful?’ said Amy, with a smile like his own.
‘My dear, my dear, you ought not to be here,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, trying to lead her away.
‘If you would let me say my prayers here!’ said she, submissively.
‘I think not. I don’t know how to refuse, if it would be a comfort,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, much distressed, ‘but I can’t think it right. The danger is greater after. And surely, my poor dear child, you have a reason for not risking yourself!’
‘Go, mamma, I ought not to have brought you here; I forgot about infection,’ said Amabel, with the tranquillity which her mother had hoped to shake by her allusion. ‘I am coming.’
She took up Guy’s watch and a book from the table by the bed-side, and came back to her sleeping-room. She wound up the watch, and then allowed her mother to undress her, answering all her inquiries about her health in a gentle, indifferent, matter-of-fact way. She said little of Guy, but that little was without agitation, and in due time she lay down in bed. Still, whenever Mrs. Edmonstone looked at her, there was no sleep in her eyes, and at last she persuaded her to leave her, on the plea that being watched made her more wakeful, as she did not like to see mamma sitting up.
Almost as soon as it was light, Mrs. Edmonstone returned, and was positively frightened, for there stood Amabel, dressed in her white muslin, her white bonnet, and her deep lace wedding-veil. All her glossy hair was hidden away, and her face was placid as ever, though there was a red spot on each cheek. She saw her mother’s alarm, and reassured her by speaking calmly.
‘You know I have nothing else but colours; I should like to wear this, if you will let me.’
‘But, dearest, you must not — cannot go.’
‘It is very near. We often walked there together. I would not if I thought it would hurt me, but I wish it very much indeed. At home by Michaelmas!’
Mrs. Edmonstone yielded, though her mind misgave her, comforted by hoping for the much-desired tears. But Amabel, who used to cry so easily for a trifle, had now not a tear. Her grief was as yet too deep, or perhaps more truly sorrow and mourning had not begun while the influence of her husband’s spirit was about her still.
It was time to set forth, and the small party of mourners met in the long corridor. Mr. Edmonstone would have given his daughter his arm, but she said —
‘I beg your pardon, dear papa, I don’t think I can;’ and she walked alone and firmly.
It was a strange sight that English funeral, so far from England. The bearers were Italian peasants. There was a sheet thrown over the coffin instead of a pall, and this, with the white dress of the young widow, gave the effect of the emblematic whiteness of a child’s funeral; and the impression was heightened by the floating curling white clouds of vapour rising in strange shrouded shadowy forms, like spirit mourners, from the narrow ravines round the grave-yard, and the snowy mountains shining in the morning light against the sky.
Gliding almost like one of those white wreaths of mist, Amabel walked alone, tearless and calm, her head bent down, and her long veil falling round her in full light folds, as when it had caught the purple light on her wedding-day. Her parents were close behind, weeping more for the living than the dead, though Guy had a fast hold of their hearts; and his own mother could scarce have loved him better than Mrs. Edmonstone did. Lastly, were Anne and Arnaud, sincere mourners, especially Arnaud, who had loved and cherished his young master from childhood.
They went to the strangers’ corner of the grave-yard, for, of course the church did not open to a member of another communion of the visible church; but around them were the hills in which he had read many a meaning, and which had echoed a response to his last chant with the promise of the blessing of peace.
The blessing of peace came in the precious English burial-service, as they laid him to rest in the earth, beneath the spreading chestnut-tree, rendered a home by those words of his Mother Church — the mother who had guided each of his steps in his orphaned life. It was a distant grave, far from his home and kindred, but in a hallowed spot, and a most fair one; and there might his mortal frame meetly rest till the day when he should rise, while from their ancestral tombs should likewise awaken the forefathers whose sins were indeed visited on him in his early death; but, thanks to Him who giveth the victory, in death without the sting.
Amabel, in obedience to a sign from her mother, sat on a root of the tree while the Lesson was read, and afterwards she moved forward and stood at the edge of the grave, her hands tightly clasped, and her head somewhat raised, as if her spirit was following her husband to his repose above, rather than to his earthly resting-place.
The service was ended, and she was taking a last long gaze, while her mother, in the utmost anxiety, was striving to make up her mind to draw her away, when suddenly a tall gaunt figure was among them — his face ghastly pale, and full of despair and bewilderment — his step uncertain — his dress disordered.
Amabel turned, went up to him, laid her hand on his arm, and said, softly, and quietly looking up in his face, ‘It is over now, Philip; you had better come home.’
Not attempting to withstand her, he obeyed as if it was his only instinct. It was like some vision of a guiding, succouring spirit, as she moved on, slowly gliding in her white draperies. Mrs. Edmonstone watched her in unspeakable awe and amazement, almost overpowering her anxieties. It seemed as impossible that the one should be Amy as that the other should be Philip, her gentle little clinging daughter, or her proud, imperturbable, self-reliant nephew.
But it was Amy’s own face, when they entered the corridor and she turned back her veil, showing her flushed and heated cheeks, at the same time opening Philip’s door and saying, ‘Now you must rest, for you ought not to have come out. Lie down, and let mamma read to you.’
Mrs. Edmonstone was reluctant, but Amy looked up earnestly and said, ‘Yes, dear mamma, I should like to be alone a little while.’
She then conducted her father to the sitting-room up-stairs.
‘I will give you the papers,’ she said; and leaving him, returned immediately.
‘This is his will,’ she said. ‘You will tell me if there is anything I must do at once. Here is a letter to Mr. Markham, and another to Mr. Dixon, if you will be so kind as to write and enclose them. Thank you, dear papa.’
She drew a blotting-book towards him, saw that there was ink and pen, and left him too much appalled at her ways to say anything.
His task was less hard than the one she had set her mother. Strong excitement had carried Philip to the grave-yard as soon as he learnt what was passing. He could hardly return even with Arnaud’s support, and he had only just reached the sofa before he fell into a fainting-fit.
It was long before he gave any sign of returning life, and when he opened his eyes and saw Mrs. Edmonstone, he closed them almost immediately, as if unable to meet her look. It was easier to treat him in his swoon than afterwards. She knew nothing of his repentance and confession; she only knew he had abused her confidence, led Laura to act insincerely, and been the cause of Guy’s death. She did not know how bitterly he accused himself, and though she could not but see he was miserable, she could by no means fathom his wretchedness, nor guess that her very presence made him conscious how far he was fallen. He was so ill that she could not manifest her displeasure, nor show anything but solicitude for his relief; but her kindness was entirely to his condition, not to himself; and perceiving this, while he thought his confession had been received, greatly aggravated his distress, though he owned within himself that he well deserved it.
She found that he was in no state for being read to; he was completely exhausted, and suffering from violent headache. So when she could conscientiously say that to be left quiet was the best thing for him, she went to her daughter.
Amabel was lying on her bed, her Bible open by her; not exactly reading, but as if she was now and then finding a verse and dwelling on it. Gentle and serene she looked; but would she never weep? would those quiet blue eyes be always sleepless and tearless?
She asked anxiously for Philip, and throughout the day he seemed to be her care. She did not try to get up and go to him, but she was continually begging her mother to see about him. It was a harassing day for poor Mrs. Edmonstone. She would have been glad to have sat by Amabel all the time, writing to Charles, or hearing her talk. Amy had much to say, for she wished to make her mother share the perfect peace and thankfulness that had been breathed upon her during those last hours with her husband, and she liked to tell the circumstances of his illness and his precious sayings, to one who would treasure them almost like herself. She spoke with her face turned away, so as not to see her mother’s tears, but her mild voice unwavering, as if secure in the happiness of these recollections. This was the only comfort of Mrs. Edmonstone’s day, but when she heard her husband’s boots creaking in the corridor, it was a sure sign that he was in some perplexity, and that she must go and help him to write a letter, or make some arrangement. Philip, too, needed attention; but excellent nurse as Mrs. Edmonstone was, she only made him worse. The more he felt she was his kind aunt still, the more he saw how he had wounded her, and that her pardon was an effort. The fond, spontaneous, unreserved affection — almost petting — which he had well-nigh dared to contemn, was gone; her manner was only that of a considerate nurse. Much as he longed for a word of Laura, he did not dare to lead to it — indeed, he was so far from speaking to her of any subject which touched him, that he did not presume even to inquire for Amabel, he only heard of her through Arnaud.
At night sheer exhaustion worked its own cure; he slept soundly, and awoke in the morning revived. He heard from Arnaud that Lady Morville was pretty well, but had not slept; and presently Mrs. Edmonstone came in and took pains to make him comfortable, but with an involuntary dryness of manner. She told him his uncle would come to see him as soon as he was up, if he felt equal to talking over some business. Philip’s brain reeled with dismay and consternation, for it flashed on him that he was heir of Redclyffe. He must profit by the death he had caused; he had slain, and he must take possession of the lands which, with loathing and horror, he remembered that he had almost coveted. Nothing more was wanting. There was little consolation in remembering that the inheritance would clear away all difficulties in the way of his marriage. He had sinned; wealth did not alter his fault, and his spirit could not brook that if spurned in poverty, he should be received for his riches. He honoured his aunt for being cold and reserved, and could not bear the idea of seeing his uncle ready to meet him half-way.
After the first shock he became anxious to have the meeting over, know the worst, and hear on what ground he stood with Laura. As soon as he was dressed, he sent a message to announce that he was ready, and lay on the sofa awaiting his uncle’s arrival, as patiently as he could. Mr. Edmonstone, meantime, was screwing up his courage — not that he meant to say a word of Laura — Philip was too unwell to be told his opinion of him, but now he had ceased to rely on his nephew, he began to dread him and his overbearing ways; and besides he had a perfect horror of witnessing agitation.
At last he came, and Philip rose to meet him with a feeling of shame and inferiority most new to him.
‘Don’t, don’t, I beg,’ said Mr. Edmonstone, with what was meant for dignity. ‘Lie still; you had much better. My stars! how ill you look!’ he exclaimed, startled by Philip’s altered face and figure. ‘You have had a sharpish touch; but you are better, eh?’
‘Yes, thank you.’
‘Well; I thought I had better come and speak to you, if you felt up to it. Here is — here is — I hope it is all right and legal; but that you can tell better than I; and you are concerned in it anyhow. Here is poor Guy’s will, which we thought you had better look over, if you liked, and felt equal, eh?’
‘Thank you,’ said Philip, holding out his hand; but Mr. Edmonstone withheld it, trying his patience by an endless quantity of discursive half-sentences, apparently without connection with each other, about disappointment, and hopes, and being sorry, and prospects, and its ‘being an unpleasant thing,’ and ‘best not raise his expectations:’ during all which time Philip, expecting to hear of Laura, and his heart beating so fast as to renew the sensation of faintness, waited in vain, and strove to gather the meaning, and find out whether he was forgiven, almost doubting whether the confusion was in his own mind or in his uncle’s words. However, at last the meaning bolted out in one comprehensive sentence, when Mr. Edmonstone thought he had sufficiently prepared him for his disappointment — ‘Poor Amy is to be confined in the spring.’
There Mr. Edmonstone stopped short, very much afraid of the effect; but Philip raised himself, his face brightened, as if he was greatly relieved, and from his heart he exclaimed, ‘Thank Heaven!’
‘That’s right! that is very well said!’ answered Mr. Edmonstone, very much pleased. ‘It would be a pity it should go out of the old line after all; and it’s a very generous thing in you to say so.’
‘Oh no!’ said Philip, shrinking into himself at even such praise as this.
‘Well, well,’ said his uncle, ‘you will see he has thought of you, be it how it may. There! I only hope it is right; though it does seem rather queer, appointing poor little Amy executor rather than me. If I had but been here in time! But ’twas Heaven’s will; and so — It does not signify, after all, if it is not quite formal. We understand each other.’
The will was on a sheet of letter-paper, in Arnaud’s stiff French handwriting; it was witnessed by the two Mr. Morrises, and signed on the 27th of September, in very frail and feeble characters. Amabel and Markham were the executors, and Amabel was to be sole guardian, in case of the birth of a child. If it was a son, £1O,OOO was left to Philip himself; if not, he was to have all the plate, furniture, &c., of Redclyffe, with the exception of whatever Lady Morville might choose for herself.
Philip scarcely regarded the legacy (though it smoothed away his chief difficulties) as more than another of those ill-requited benefits which were weighing him to the earth. He read on to a sentence which reproached him so acutely, that he would willingly have hidden from it, as he had done from Guy’s countenance. It was the bequest of £5000 to Elizabeth Wellwood. Sebastian Dixon’s debts were to be paid off; £1000 was left to Marianne Dixon, and the rest of the personal property was to be Amabel’s.
He gave back the paper, with only the words ‘Thank you.’ He did not feel as if it was for him to speak; and Mr. Edmonstone hesitated, made an attempt at congratulating him, broke down, and asked if it was properly drawn up. He glanced at the beginning and end, said it was quite correct, and laid his head down, as if the examination had been a great deal of trouble.
‘And what do you think of Amy’s being under age?’ fidgeted on Mr. Edmonstone. ‘How is she to act, poor dear! Shall I act for her?’
‘She will soon be of age,’ said Philip, wearily.
‘In January, poor darling. Who would have thought how it would have been with her? I little thought, last May — but, holloa! what have I been at?’ cried he, jumping up in a great fright, as Philip, so weak as to be overcome by the least agitation, changed countenance, covered his face with his hands, and turned away with a suppressed sob. ‘I didn’t mean it, I am sure! Here! mamma!’
‘No, no,’ said Philip, recovering, and sitting up; ‘don’t call her, I beg. There is nothing the matter.’
Mr. Edmonstone obeyed, but he was too much afraid of causing a renewal of agitation to continue the conversation; and after walking about the room a little while, and shaking it more than Philip could well bear, he went away to write his letters.
In the meantime, Amabel had been spending her morning in the same quiet way as the former day. She wrote part of a letter to Laura, and walked to the graveyard, rather against her mother’s wish; but she was so good and obedient, it was impossible to thwart her, though Mrs. Edmonstone was surprised at her proposal to join her father and Philip at tea. ‘Do you like it, my dear?’
‘He told me to take care of him,’ said Amabel.
‘I cannot feel that he deserves you should worry yourself about him,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone. ‘If you knew all —’
‘I do know all, mamma — if you mean about Laura. Surely you must forgive. Think how he repents. What, have you not had his letter? Then how did you know?’
‘I learned it from Laura herself. Her trouble at his illness revealed it. Do you say he has written?’
‘Yes, mamma; he told Guy all about it, and was very sorry, and wrote as soon as he was able. Guy sent you a long message. He was so anxious about it.’
Amabel showed more eagerness to understand the state of the case, than she had about anything else. She urged that Philip should be spoken to, as soon as possible, saying the suspense must be grievous, and dwelling on his repentance. Mrs. Edmonstone promised to speak to papa, and this satisfied her; but she held her resolution of meeting Philip that evening, looking on him as a charge left her by her husband, and conscious that, as she alone understood how deep was his sorrow, she could make the time spent with her parents less embarrassing.
Her presence always soothed him, and regard for her kept her father quiet; so that the evening passed off very well. Mrs. Edmonstone waited on both; and, in Amy’s presence, was better able to resume her usual manner towards her nephew, and he sat wondering at the placidity of Amy’s pale face. Her hair was smoothed back, and she wore a cap — the loss of her long shady curls helping to mark the change from the bright days of her girlhood; but the mournfulness of her countenance did not mar the purity and serenity that had always been its great characteristic; and in the faint sweet smile with which she received a kind word or attention, there was a likeness to that peculiar and beautiful expression of her husband’s, so as, in spite of the great difference of feature and colouring, to give her a resemblance to him.
All this day had been spent by Mr. Edmonstone in a fret to get away from Recoara, and his wife was hardly less desirous to leave it than himself, for she could have no peace or comfort about Amabel, till she had her safely at home. Still she dreaded proposing the departure, and even more the departure itself; and, in spite of Mr. Edmonstone’s impatience, she let her alone till she had her mourning; but when, after two days of hard work, Anne had nearly managed to complete it, she made up her mind to tell her daughter that they ought to set out.
Amabel replied by mentioning Philip. She deemed him a sort of trust, and had been reposing in the thought of making him a reason for lingering in the scene where the brightness of her life had departed from her. Mrs. Edmonstone would not allow that she ought to remain for his sake, and told her it was her duty to resolve to leave the place. She said, ‘Yes, but for him;’ and it ended in Mrs. Edmonstone going, without telling her, to inform him that she thought Amy ought to be at home as soon as possible; but that it was difficult to prevail on her, because she thought him as yet not well enough to be left. He was, of course, shocked at being thus considered, and as soon as he next saw Amabel, told her, with great earnestness, that he could not bear to see her remaining there on his account; that he was almost well, and meant to leave Recoara very soon; the journey was very easy, the sea voyage would be the best thing for him, and he should be glad to get to the regimental doctor at Corfu.
Amabel sighed, and knew she ought to be convinced. The very pain it gave her to lose sight of that green, grave, the chestnut-tree, and the white mountain; to leave the rooms and passages which still, to her ears, were haunted by Guy’s hushed step and voice, and to part with the window where she used each wakeful night to retrace his profile as he had stood pausing before telling her of his exceeding happiness; that very pain made her think that opposition would be selfish. She must go some time or other, and it was foolish to defer the struggle; she must not detain her parents in an infected place, nor keep her mother from Charles. She therefore consented, and let them do what they pleased — only insisting on Arnaud’s being left with Philip.
Philip did not think this necessary, but yielded, when she urged it as a relief to her own mind; and Arnaud, though unwilling, and used to his own way, could make no objection when she asked it as a personal favour. Arnaud was, at his own earnest wish, to continue in her service; and, as soon as Philip was able to embark, was to follow her to Hollywell.
All this time nothing passed about Laura. Amabel asked several times whether papa had spoken, but was always answered, ‘Not yet;’ and at last Mrs. Edmonstone, after vainly trying to persuade him, was obliged to give it up. The truth was, he could not begin; he was afraid of his nephew, and so unused to assume superiority over him that he did not know what to do, and found all kinds of reasons for avoiding the embarrassing scene. Since Philip still must be dealt with cautiously, better not enter on the subject at all. When reminded that the suspense was worse than anything, he said, no one could tell how things would, turn out, and grew angry with his wife for wishing him to make up a shameful affair like that, when poor Guy had not been dead a week, and he had been the death of him; but it was just like mamma, she always spoilt him. He had a great mind to vow never to consent to his daughter’s marrying such an overbearing, pragmatical fellow; she ought to be ashamed of even thinking of him, when he was no better than her brother’s murderer.
After this tirade, Mrs. Edmonstone might well feel obliged to tell Amabel, that papa must not be pressed any further; and, of course, if he would not speak, she could not (nor did she wish it).
‘Then, mamma,’ said Amabel, with the air of decision that had lately grown on her, ‘I must tell him. I beg your pardon,’ she added, imploringly; ‘but indeed I must. It is hard on him not to hear that you had not his letter, and that Laura has told. I know Guy would wish me, so don’t be displeased, dear mamma.’
‘I can’t be displeased with anything you do.’
‘And you give me leave?’
‘To be sure I do — leave to do anything but hurt yourself.’
‘And would it be wrong for me to offer to write to him? No one else will, and it will be sad for him not to hear. It cannot be wrong, can it?’ said she, as the fingers of her right hand squeezed her wedding-ring, a habit she had taken up of late.
‘Certainly not, my poor darling. Do just as you think fit. I am sorry for him, for I am sure he is in great trouble, and I should like him to be comforted — if he can. But, Amy, you must not ask me to do it. He has disappointed me too much.’
Mrs. Edmonstone left the room in tears.
Amabel went up to the window, looked long at the chestnut-tree, then up into the sky, sat down, and leant her forehead on her hand in meditation, until she rose up, cheered and sustained, as if she had been holding council with her husband.
She did not over-estimate Philip’s sufferings from suspense and anxiety. He had not heard a word of Laura; how she had borne his illness, nor how much displeasure his confession had brought upon her; nor could he learn what hope there was that his repentance was accepted. He did not venture to ask; for after engaging to leave all to them, could he intrude his own concerns on them at such a time? It was but a twelvemonth since he had saddened and shadowed Guy’s short life and love with the very suffering from uncertainty that he found so hard to bear. As he remembered this, he had a sort of fierce satisfaction in enduring this retributive justice; though there were moods when he felt the torture so acutely, that it seemed to him as if his brain would turn if he saw them depart, and was left behind to this distracting doubt.
The day had come, on which they were to take their first stage, as far as Vicenza, and his last hopes were fading. He tried to lose the sense of misery by bestirring himself in the preparations; but he was too weak, and Mrs. Edmonstone, insisting on his attempting no more, sent him back: to his own sitting-room.
Presently there was a knock, and in came Amabel, dressed, for the first time, in her weeds, the blackness and width of her sweeping crape making her young face look smaller and paler, while she held in her hand some leaves of chestnut, that showed where she had been. She smiled a little as she came in, saying, ‘I am come to you for a little quiet, out of the bustle of packing up. I want you to do something for me.’
‘Anything for you.’
‘It is what you will like to do,’ said she, with that smile, ‘for it is more for him than for me. Could you, without teasing yourself, put that into Latin for me, by and by? I think it should be in Latin, as it is in a foreign country.’
She gave him a paper in her own writing.
GUY MORVILLE, OF REDCLYFFE, ENGLAND. DIED THE EVE OF ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS, 18 — AGED 21 1/2. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS.
‘Will you be so kind as to give it to Arnaud when it is done?’ she continued; ‘he will send it to the man who is making the cross. I think the kind people here will respect it.’
‘Yes,’ said Philip,’ it is soon done, and thank you for letting me do it. But, Amy, I would not alter your choice; yet there is one that seems to me more applicable “Greater love hath no man —”’
‘I know what you mean,’ said Amy; ‘but that has so high a meaning that he could not bear it to be applied to him.’
‘Or rather, what right have I to quote it?’ said Philip, bitterly. ‘His friend! No, Amy; you should rather choose, “If thine enemy thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” I am sure they are burning on mine,’ and he pressed his hand on his forehead.
‘Don’t say such things. We both know that, at the worst of times, he looked on you as a sincere friend.’
Philip groaned, and she thought it best to go on to something else. ‘I like this best,’ she said. ‘It will be nice to think of far away. I should like, too, for these Italians to see the stranger has the same creed as themselves.’
After a moment’s pause, during which he looked at the paper, he said, ‘Amy, I have one thing to ask of you. Will you write my name in the Prayer-book?’
‘That I will,’ said she, and Philip drew it from under the sofa cushion, and began putting together his pocket gold pen. While he was doing this, she said, ‘Will you write to me sometimes? I shall be so anxious to know how you get on.’
‘Yes, thank you,’ said he; with a sigh, as if he would fain have said more.
She paused; then said, abruptly, ‘Do you know they never had your letter?’
‘Ha! Good heavens!’ cried he, starting up in consternation; ‘then they don’t know it!’
‘They do. Sit down, Philip, and hear. I wanted to tell you about it. They know it. Poor Laura was so unhappy when you were ill, that mamma made it out from her.’
He obeyed the hand that invited him back to his seat, and turned his face earnestly towards her. He must let her be his comforter, though a moment before his mind would have revolted at troubling the newly-made widow with his love affairs. Amabel told him, as fully and clearly as she could, how the truth had come out, how gently Laura had been dealt with, how Charles had been trying to soften his father, and papa had not said one angry word to her.
‘They forgive her. Oh, Amy, thanks indeed! You have taken away one of the heaviest burdens. I am glad, indeed, that she spoke first. For my own part, I see through all their kindness and consideration how they regard me.’
‘They know how sorry you are, and that you wrote to tell all,’ said Amabel. ‘They forgive, indeed they do; but they cannot bear to speak about it just yet.’
‘If you forgive, Amy,’ said he, in a husky voice, ‘I may hope for pardon from any.’
‘Hush! don’t say that. You have been so kind, all this time, and we have felt together so much, that no one could help forgetting anything that went before. Then you will write to me; and will you tell me how to direct to you?’
‘You will write to me?’ cried Philip, brightening for a moment with glad surprise. ‘Oh, Amy, you will quite overpower me with your goodness! — The coals of fire,’ he finished, sinking his voice, and again pressing his hand to his brow.
‘You must not speak so, Philip,’ then looking at him, ‘Is your head aching?’
‘Not so much aching as —’ he paused, and exclaimed, as if carried away in spite of himself, ‘almost bursting with the thoughts of — of you, Amy — of him whom I knew too late — wilfully misunderstood, envied, persecuted; who — oh! Amy, Amy, if you could guess at the anguish of but one of my thoughts, you would know what the first murderer meant when he said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”’
‘I can’t say don’t think,’ said Amy, in her sweet, calm tone; ‘for I have seen how happy repentance made him, but I know it must be dreadful. I suppose the worse it is at the time, the better it must be afterwards. And I am sure this Prayer-book’— she had her hand on it all the time, as if it was a pleasure to her to touch it again —‘must be a comfort to you. Did you not see that he made me give it to you to use that day, when, if ever, there was pardon and peace —’
‘I remember,’ said Philip, in a low, grave, heartfelt tone; and as she took the pen, and was writing his name below the old inscription, he added, ‘And the date, Amy, and — yes,’ as he saw her write ‘From G. M.’—‘but put from A. F. M. too. Thank you! One thing more;’ he hesitated, and spoke very low, ‘You must write in it what you said when you came to fetch me that day — “A broken”’—
As she finished writing, Mrs. Edmonstone came in. ‘My Amy, all is ready. We must go. Good-bye, Philip,’ said she, in the tone of one so eager for departure as to fancy farewells would hasten it. However, she was not more eager than Mr. Edmonstone, who rushed in to hurry them on, shaking hands cordially with Philip, and telling him to make haste and recover his good looks. Amabel held out her hand. She would fain have said something cheering, but the power failed her. A deep colour came into her cheeks; she drew her thick black veil over her face, and turned away.
Philip came down-stairs with them, saw her enter the carriage followed by her mother, Mr. Edmonstone outside. He remembered the gay smile with which he last saw her seated in that carriage, and the active figure that had sprung after her; he thought of the kind bright eyes that had pleaded with him for the last time, and recollected the suspicions and the pride with which he had plumed himself on his rejection, and thrown away the last chance.
Should he ever see Amabel again? He groaned and went back to the deserted rooms.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15