Beneath a tapering ash-tree’s shade
Three graves are by each other laid.
Around the very place doth brood
A strange and holy quietude.
Late on the afternoon of the 6th of March, Mary Ross entered by the half-opened front door at Hollywell, just as Charles appeared slowly descending the stairs.
‘Well! how is she?’ asked Mary eagerly.
‘Poor little dear!’ he answered, with a sigh; ‘she looks very nice and comfortable.’
‘What, you have seen her?’
‘I am at this moment leaving her room.’
‘She is going on well, I hope?’
‘Perfectly well. There is one comfort at least,’ said Charles, drawing himself down the last step.
‘Dear Amy! And the babe — did you see it?’
‘Yes; the little creature was lying by her, and she put her hand on it, and gave one of those smiles that are so terribly like his; but I could not have spoken about it for the world. Such fools we be!’ concluded Charles, with an attempt at a smile.
‘It is healthy?’
‘All a babe ought to be, they say, all that could be expected of it, except the not being of the right sort, and if Amy does not mind that, I don’t know who should,’ and Charles deposited himself on the sofa, heaving a deep sigh, intended to pass for the conclusion of the exertion.
‘Then you think she is not disappointed?’
‘Certainly not. The first thing she said when she was told it was a girl, was, “I am so glad!” and she does seem very happy with it, poor little thing! In fact, mamma thinks she had so little expected that it would go well with herself, or with it, that now it is all like a surprise.’
There was a silence, first broken by Charles saying, ‘You must be content with me — I can’t send for anyone. Bustle has taken papa and Charlotte for a walk, and Laura is on guard over Amy, for we have made mamma go and lie down. It was high time, after sitting up two nights, and meaning to sit up a third.’
‘Has she really — can she bear it?’
‘Yes; I am afraid I have trained her in sitting up, and Amy and all of us know that anxiety hurts her more than fatigue. She would only lie awake worrying herself, instead of sitting peaceably by the fire, holding the baby, or watching Amy, and having a quiet cry when she is asleep. For, after all, it is very sad!’ Charles was trying to brave his feelings, but did not succeed very well. ‘Yesterday morning I was properly frightened. I came into the dressing-room, and found mamma crying so, that I fully believed it was all wrong, but she was just coming to tell us, and was only overcome by thinking of not having him to call first, and how happy he would have been.’
‘And the dear Amy herself!’
‘I can’t tell. She is a wonderful person for keeping herself composed when she ought. I see she has his picture in full view, but she says not a word, except that mamma saw her today, when she thought no one was looking, fondling the little thing, and whispering to it —“Guy’s baby!” and “Guy’s little messenger!”’ Charles gave up the struggle, and fairly cried, but in a moment rallying his usual tone, he went on, half laughing — ‘To be sure, what a morsel of a creature it is! It is awful to see anything so small calling itself a specimen of humanity!’
‘It is your first acquaintance with infant humanity, I suppose? Pray, did you ever see a baby?’
‘Not to look at. In fact, Mary, I consider it a proof of your being a rational woman that you have not asked me whether it is pretty.’
‘I thought you no judge of the article.’
‘No, it was not to inspect it that Amy sent for me; though after all it was for a business I would almost as soon undertake, a thing I would not do for any other living creature.’
‘Then I know what it is. To write some kind message to Captain Morville. Just like the dear Amy!’
‘Just like her, and like no one else, except — Of course my father wrote him an official communication yesterday, very short; but the fact must have made it sweet enough, savage as we all were towards him, as there was no one else to be savage to, unless it might be poor Miss Morville, who is the chief loser by being of the feminine gender,’ said Charles, again braving what he was pleased to call sentimentality. ‘Well, by and by, my lady wants to know if any one has written to “poor Philip,” as she will call him, and, by no means contented by hearing papa had, she sends to ask me to come to her when I came in from wheeling in the garden; and receives me with a request that I would write and tell him how well she is, and how glad, and so on. There’s a piece of work for me!’
‘Luckily you are not quite so savage as you pretend, either to him, or your poor little niece.’
‘Whew! I should not care whether she was niece or nephew but for him; at least not much, as long as she comforted Amy; but to see him at Redclyffe, and be obliged to make much of him at the same time, is more than I can very well bear; though I may as well swallow it as best I can, for she will have me do it, as well as on Laura’s account. Amy believes, you know, that he will think the inheritance a great misfortune; but that is only a proof that she is more amiable than any one else.’
‘I should think he would not rejoice.’
‘Not exactly; but I have no fear that he will not console himself by thinking of the good he will do with it. I have no doubt that he was thoroughly cut up, and I could even go the length of believing that distress of mind helped to bring on the relapse, but it is some time ago. And as to his breaking his heart after the first ten minutes at finding himself what he has all his life desired to be, in a situation where the full influence of his talents may be felt,’ said Charles, with a shade of imitation of his measured tones, ‘why that, no one but silly little Amy would ever dream of.’
‘Well, I dare say you will grow merciful as you write.’
‘No, that is not the way to let my indignation ooze out at my fingers’ ends. I shall begin by writing to condole with Markham. Poor man! what a state he must be in; all the more pitiable because he evidently had entirely forgotten that there could ever be a creature of the less worthy gender born to the house of Morville; so it will take him quite by surprise. What will he do, and how will he ever forgive Mrs. Ashford, who, I see in the paper, has a son whom nobody wants, as if for the express purpose of insulting Markham’s feelings! Well-a-day! I should have liked to have had the sound of Sir Guy Morville still in my ears, and yet I don’t know that I could have endured its being applied to a little senseless baby! And, after all, we are the gainers; for it would have been a forlorn thing to have seen Amy go off to reign queen-mother at Redclyffe — and most notably well would she have reigned, with that clear little head. I vow ’tis a talent thrown away! However, I can’t grumble. She is much happier without greatness thrust on her, and for my own part, I have my home-sister all to myself, with no rival but that small woman — and how she will pet her!’
‘And how you will! What a spoiling uncle you will be! But now, having heard you reason yourself into philosophy, I’ll leave you to write. We were so anxious, that I could not help coming. I am so glad that little one thrives! I should like to leave my love for Amy, if you’ll remember it.’
‘The rarity of such a message from you may enable me. I was lying here alone, and received the collected love of five Harpers to convey up-stairs, all which I forgot; though in its transit by Arnaud and his French, it had become “that they made their friendships to my lady and Mrs. Edmonstone.”’
Charles had not talked so like himself for months; and Mary felt that Amabel’s child, if she had disappointed some expectations, had come like a spring blossom, to cheer Hollywell, after its long winter of sorrow and anxiety. She seemed to have already been received as a messenger to comfort them for the loss, greatest of all to her, poor child, though she would never know how great. Next Mary wondered what kind of letter Charles would indite, and guessed it would be all the kinder for the outpouring he had made to her, the only person with whom he ventured to indulge in a comfortable abuse of Philip, since his good sense taught him that, ending as affairs must, it was the only wise way to make the best of it, with father, mother, and Charlotte, all quite sufficiently disposed to regard Philip with aversion without his help.
Philip was at breakfast with the Henleys, on the following morning, a Sunday — or rather, sitting at the breakfast-table, when the letters were brought in. Mrs. Henley, pretending to be occupied with her own, had an eager, watchful eye on her brother, as one was placed before him. She knew Mr. Edmonstone’s writing, but was restrained from exclaiming by her involuntary deference for her brother. He flushed deep red one moment, then turned deadly pale, his hand, when first he raised it, trembled, but then became firm, as if controlled by the force of his resolution. He broke the black seal, drew out the letter, paused another instant, unfolded it, glanced at it, pushed his chair from the table, and hastened to me door.
‘Tell me, tell me, Philip, what is it?’ she exclaimed, rising to follow him.
He turned round, threw the letter on the table, and with a sign that forbade her to come with him, left the room.
‘Poor fellow! how he feels it! That poor young creature!’ said she, catching up the letter for explanation.
‘Ha! No! Listen to this, Dr. Henley. Why, he must have read it wrong!’
‘Hollywell, March 5th.
‘DEAR PHILIP — I have to announce to you that Lady Morville was safely confined this morning with a daughter. I shall be ready to send all the papers and accounts of the Redclyffe estate to any place you may appoint as soon as she is sufficiently recovered to transact business. Both she and the infant are as well as can be expected.
— Yours sincerely,
‘A daughter!’ cried Dr. Henley. ‘Well, my dear, I congratulate you! It is as fine a property as any in the kingdom. We shall see him pick up strength now.’
‘I must go and find him. He surely has mistaken!’ said Margaret, hastening in search of him; but he was not to be found, and she saw him no more till she found him in the seat at church.
She hardly waited to be in the churchyard, after the service, before she said, ‘Surely you mistook the letter!’
‘No, I did not.’
‘You saw that she is doing well, and it is a girl.’
‘And will you not let me congratulate you?’
She was interrupted by some acquaintance; but when she looked round he was nowhere to be seen, and she was obliged to be content with telling every one the news. One or two of her many tame gentlemen came home with her to luncheon, and she had the satisfaction of dilating on the grandeur of Redclyffe. Her brother was not in the drawing-room, but answered when she knocked at his door.
‘Luncheon is ready. Will you come down?’
‘Is any one there?’
‘Mr. Brown and Walter Maitland. Shall I send you anything, or do you like to come down?’
‘I’ll come, thank you,’ said he, thus secured from a tete-a-tete.
‘Had you better come? Is not your head too bad?’
‘It will not be better for staying here; I’ll come.’
She went down, telling her visitors that, since his illness, her brother always suffered so much from excitement that he was too unwell to have derived much pleasure from the tidings: and when he appeared his air corresponded with her account, for his looks were of the gravest and sternest. He received the congratulations of the gentlemen without the shadow of a smile, and made them think him the haughtiest and most dignified landed proprietor in England.
Mrs. Henley advised strongly against his going to church, but without effect, and losing him in the crowd coming out, saw him no more till just before dinner-time. He had steeled himself to endure all that she and the Doctor could inflict on him that evening, and he had a hope of persuading Amabel that it would be only doing justice to her child to let him restore her father’s inheritance, which had come to him through circumstances that could not have been foreseen. He was determined to do nothing like an act of possession of Redclyffe till he had implored her to accept the offer; and it was a great relief thus to keep it in doubt a little longer, and not absolutely feel himself profiting by Guy’s death and sitting in his seat. Not a word, however, must be said to let his sister guess at his resolution, and he must let her torture him in the meantime. He was vexed at having been startled into betraying his suffering, and was humiliated at the thought of the change from that iron imperturbability, compounded of strength, pride, and coldness in which he had once gloried.
Dr. Henley met him with a shake of the hand, and hearty exclamation:—
‘I congratulate you, Sir Philip Morville.’
‘No; that is spared me,’ was his answer.
‘Hem! The baronetcy?’
‘Yes,’ said Margaret, ‘I thought you knew that only goes to the direct heir of old Sir Hugh. But you must drop the “captain” at least. You will sell out at once?’
He patiently endured the conversation on the extent and beauty of Redclyffe, wearing all the time a stern, resolute aspect, that his sister knew to betoken great unhappiness. She earnestly wished to understand him, but at last, seeing how much her conversation increased his headache, she desisted, and left him to all the repose his thoughts could give him. He was very much concerned at the tone of the note from his uncle, as if it was intended to show that all connection with the family was to be broken off. He supposed it had been concerted with some one; with Charles, most likely — Charles, who had judged him too truly, and with his attachment to Guy, and aversion to himself, was doubtless strengthening his father’s displeasure, all the more for this hateful wealth. And Laura? What did she feel?
Monday morning brought another letter. At first, he was struck with the dread of evil tidings of Amabel or her babe, especially when he recognized Charles’s straggling handwriting; and, resolved not to be again betrayed, he carried it up to read in his own room before his sister had noticed it. He could hardly resolve to open it, for surely Charles would not write to him without necessity; and what, save sorrow, could cause that necessity? He saw that his wretchedness might be even more complete! At length he read it, and could hardly believe his own eyes as he saw cheering words, in a friendly style of interest and kindliness such as he would never have expected from Charles, more especially now.
‘Hollywell, March 6th.
‘MY DEAR PHILIP — I believe my father wrote to you in haste yesterday, but I am sure you will be anxious for further accounts, and when there is good news there is satisfaction in conveying it. I know you will be glad to hear our affairs are very prosperous; and Amy, whom I have just been visiting, is said by the authorities to be going on as well as possible. She begs me to tell you of her welfare, and to assure you that she is particularly pleased to have a daughter; or, perhaps, it will be more satisfactory to have her own words. “You must tell him how well I am, Charlie, and how very glad. And tell him that he must not vex himself about her being a girl, for that is my great pleasure; and I do believe, the very thing I should have chosen if I had set to work to wish.” You know Amy never said a word but in all sincerity, so you must trust her, and I add my testimony that she is in placid spirits, and may well be glad to escape the cares of Redclyffe. My father says he desired Markham to write to you on the business matters. I hope the sea-breezes may do you good. All the party here are well; but I see little of them now, all the interest of the house is upstairs.
— Your affectionate,
‘C. M, EDMONSTONE.
P. S. The baby is very small, but so plump and healthy, that no one attempts to be uneasy about her.’
Never did letter come in better time to raise a desponding heart. Of Amabel’s forgiveness he was already certain; but that she should have made Charles his friend was a wonder beyond all others. It gave him more hope for the future than he had yet been able to entertain, and showed him that the former note was no studied renunciation of him, but only an ebullition of Mr. Edmonstone’s disappointment.
It gave him spirit enough to undertake what he had long been meditating, but without energy to set about it — an expedition to Stylehurst. Hitherto it had been his first walk on coming to St. Mildred’s, but now the distance across the moor was far beyond his powers; and even that length of ride was a great enterprise. It was much further by the carriage road, and his sister never liked going there. He had never failed to visit his old home till last year, and he felt almost glad that he had not carried his thoughts, at that time, to his father’s grave. It was strange that, with so many more important burdens on his mind, it had been this apparent trivial omission, this slight to Stylehurst, that, in both his illnesses, had been the most frequently recurring idea that had tormented him in his delirium. So deeply, securely fixed is the love of the home of childhood in men of his mould, in whom it is perhaps the most deeply rooted of all affections.
Without telling his sister his intention, he hired a horse, and pursued the familiar moorland tracks. He passed South Moor Farm; it gave him too great a pang to look at it; he rode on across the hills where he used to walk with his sisters, and looked down into narrow valleys where he had often wandered with his fishing-rod, lost in musings on plans for attaining distinction, and seeing himself the greatest man of his day. Little had he then guessed the misery which would place him in the way to the coveted elevation, or how he would loathe it when it lay within his grasp.
There were the trees round the vicarage, the church spire, the cottages, whose old rough aspect, he knew so well, the whole scene, once ‘redolent of joy and youth:’ but how unable to breathe on him a second spring! He put up his horse at the village inn, and went to make his first call on Susan, the old clerk’s wife, and one of the persons in all the world who loved him best. He knocked, opened the door, and saw her, startled from her tea-drinking, looking at him as a stranger.
‘Bless us! It beant never Master Philip!’ she exclaimed, her head shaking very fast, as she recognized his voice. ‘Why, sir, what a turn you give me! How bad you be looking, to be sure!’
He sat down and talked with her, with feelings of comfort. Tidings of Sir Guy’s death had reached the old woman, and she was much grieved for the nice, cheerful-spoken young gentleman, whom she well remembered; for she, like almost every one who had ever had any intercourse with him, had an impression left of him, as of something winning, engaging, brightening, like a sunbeam. It was a refreshment to meet with one who would lament him for his own sake, and had no congratulations for Philip himself; and the ‘Sure, sure, it must have been very bad for you,’ with which old Susan heard of the circumstances, carried more of the comfort of genuine sympathy than all his sister’s attempts at condolence.
She told him how often Sir Guy had been at Stylehurst, how he had talked to her about the archdeacon; and especially she remembered his helping her husband one day when he found him trimming the ash over the archdeacon’s grave. He used to come very often to church there, more in the latter part of his stay; there was one Sunday — it was the one before Michaelmas — he was there all day, walking in the churchyard, and sitting in the porch between services.
‘The Sunday before Michaelmas!’ thought Philip, the very time when he had been most earnest in driving his uncle to persecute, and delighting himself in having triumphed over Guy at last, and obtained tangible demonstration of his own foresight, and his cousin’s vindictive spirit. What had he been throwing away? Where had, in truth, been the hostile spirit?
He took the key of the church, and walked thither alone, standing for several minutes by the three graves, with a sensation as if his father was demanding of him an account of the boy he had watched, and brought to his ancestral home, and cared for through his orphaned childhood. But for the prayer-book, the pledge that there had been peace at the last, how could he have borne it?
Here was the paved path he had trodden in early childhood, holding his mother’s hand, where, at each recurring vacation during his school days, he had walked between his admiring sisters, in the consciousness that he was the pride of his family and of all the parish. Of his family? Did he not remember his return home for the last time before that when he was summoned thither by his father’s death? He had come with a whole freight of prizes, and letters full of praises; and as he stood, in expectation of the expression of delighted satisfaction, his father laid his hand on his trophy, the pile of books, saying, gravely — ’ All this would I give, Philip, for one evidence of humility of mind.’
It had been his father’s one reproof. He had thought it unjust and unreasonable, and turned away impatiently to be caressed and admired by Margaret. His real feelings had been told to her, because she flattered them and shared them, he had been reserved and guarded with the father who would have perceived and repressed that ambition and the self-sufficiency which he himself had never known to exist, nor regarded as aught but sober truth. It had been his bane, that he had been always too sensible to betray outwardly his self-conceit, in any form that could lead to its being noticed.
He opened the church door, closed it behind him, and locked himself in.
He came up to the communion rail, where he had knelt for the first time twelve years ago, confident in himself, and unconscious of the fears with which his father’s voice was trembling in the intensity of his prayer for one in whom there was no tangible evil, and whom others thought a pattern of all that could be desired by the fondest hopes.
He knelt down, with bowed head, and hands clasped. Assuredly, if his father could have beheld him then, it would have been with rejoicing. He would not have sorrowed that robust frame was wasted, and great strength brought low; that the noble features were worn, the healthful cheek pale, and the powerful intellect clouded and weakened; he would hardly have mourned for the cruel grief and suffering, such would have been his joy that the humble, penitent, obedient heart had been won at last. Above all, he would have rejoiced that the words that most soothed that wounded spirit were — ‘A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.’
There was solace in that solemn silence; the throbs of head and heart were stilled in the calm around. It was as if the influences of the prayers breathed for him by his father, and the forgiveness and loving spirit there won by Guy, had been waiting for him there till he came to take them up, for thenceforth the bitterest of his despair was over, and he could receive each token of Amabel’s forgiveness, not as heaped coals of fire, but as an earnest of forgiveness sealed in heaven.
The worst was over, and though he still had much to suffer, he was becoming open to receive comfort; the blank dark remorse in which he had been living began to lighten, and the tone of his mind to return.
He spoke more cheerfully to Susan when he restored the key; but she had been so shocked at his appearance, that when, the next day, a report reached her that Mr. Philip was now a grand gentleman, and very rich, she answered —
‘Well, if it be so, I am glad of it, but he said never a word of it to me, and it is my belief he would give all the money as ever was coined, to have the poor young gentleman back again. Depend upon it, he hates the very sound of it.’
At the cost of several sheets of paper, Philip at length completed a letter to Mr. Edmonstone, which, when he had sent it, made his suspense more painful.
‘St. Mildred’s, March 12th.
‘MY DEAR MR. Edmonstone — It is with a full sense of the unfitness of intruding such a subject upon you in the present state of the family, that I again address you on the same topic as that on which I wrote to you from Italy, at the first moment at which I have felt it possible to ask your attention. I was then too ill to be able to express my contrition for all that has passed; in fact, I doubt whether it was even then so deep as at present, since every succeeding week has but added to my sense of the impropriety of my conduct, and my earnest desire for pardon. I can hardly venture at such a time to ask anything further, but I must add that my sentiments towards your daughter are unaltered, and can never cease but with my life, and though I know I have rendered myself unworthy of her, and my health, both mental and bodily, is far from being reestablished, I cannot help laying my feelings before you, and entreating that you will put an end to the suspense which has endured for so many months, by telling me to hope that I have not for ever forfeited your consent to my attachment. At least, I trust to your kindness for telling me on what terms I am for the present to stand with your family. I am glad to hear such favourable reports of Lady Morville, and with all my heart I thank Charles for his letter.
‘Yours ever affectionately,
‘P. H. MORVILLE.’
He ardently watched for a reply. He could not endure the idea of receiving it where Margaret’s eyes could scan the emotion he could now only conceal by a visible rigidity of demeanour, and he daily went himself to the post-office, but in vain. He received nothing but business letters, and among them one from Markham, with as much defiance and dislike in its style as could be shown, in a perfectly formal, proper letter. Till he had referred to Lady Morville, he would not make any demonstration towards Redclyffe, and evaded all his sister’s questions as to what he was doing about it, and when he should take measures for leaving the army, or obtaining a renewal of the baronetcy.
Anxiety made him look daily more wretchedly haggard; the Doctor was at fault, Mrs. Henley looked sagacious, while his manner became so dry and repellent that visitors went away moralizing on the absurdity of “nouveaux riches” taking so much state on them.
He wondered how soon he might venture to write to Amabel, on whom alone he could depend; but he felt it a sort of profanity to disturb her.
He had nearly given up his visits to the post in despair, when one morning he beheld what never failed to bring some soothing influence, namely, the fair pointed characters he had not dared to hope for. He walked quickly into the promenade, sat down, and read:—
‘Hollywell, March 22nd.
‘MY DEAR PHILIP — Papa does not answer your letter, because he says speaking is better than writing, and we hope you are well enough to come to us before Sunday week. I hope to take our dear little girl to be christened on that day, and I want you to be so kind as to be her godfather. I ask it of you, not only in my own name, but in her father’s, for I am sure it is what he would choose. Her Aunt Laura and Mary Ross are to be her godmothers, I hope you will not think me very foolish and fanciful for naming her Mary Verena, in remembrance of our old readings of Sintram. She is a very healthy, quiet creature, and I am getting on very well. I am writing from the dressing-room, and I expect to be down-stairs in a few days. If you do not dislike it very much, could you be so kind as to call upon Miss Wellwood, and pay little Marianne Dixon’s quarter for me? It is £1O, and it will save trouble if you would do it; besides that, I should like to hear of her and the little girl. I am sorry to hear you are not better — perhaps coming here may do you good. — Four o’clock. I have been keeping my letter in hopes of persuading papa to put in a note, but he says he had rather send a message that he is quite ready to forgive and forget, and it will be best to talk it over when you come.”
‘Your affectionate cousin,
‘A. F. MORVILLE.’
It was well he was not under his sister’s eye, for he could not read this letter calmly, and he was obliged to take several turns along the walk before he could recover his composure enough to appear in the breakfast-room, where he found his sister alone, dealing her letters into separate packets of important and unimportant.
‘Good morning, Philip. Dr. Henley is obliged to go to Bramshaw this morning, and has had an early breakfast. Have you been out?’
‘Yes, it is very fine — I mean it will be-the haze is clearing.’
Margaret saw that he was unusually agitated, and not by grief; applied herself to tea-making, and hoped his walk had given him an appetite; but there seemed little chance of this so long were his pauses between each morsel, and so often did he lean back in his chair.
‘I am going to leave you on — on Friday,’ he said at length, abruptly.
‘Oh, are you going to Redclyffe?’
‘No; to Hollywell. Lady Morville wishes me to be her little girl’s sponsor; I shall go to London on Friday, and on, the next day.’
‘I am glad they have asked you. Does she write herself? Is she pretty well?
‘Yes; she is to go down-stairs in a day or two.’
‘I am rejoiced that she is recovering so well. Do you know whether she is in tolerable spirits?’
‘She writes cheerfully.’
‘How many years is it since I saw her? She was quite a child, but very sweet-tempered and attentive to poor Charles,’ said Mrs. Henley, feeling most amiably disposed towards her future sister-in-law.
‘Just so. Her gentleness and sweet temper were always beautiful; and she has shown herself under her trials what it would be presumptuous to praise.’
Margaret had no doubt now, and thought he was ready for more open sympathy.
‘You must let me congratulate you now on this unexpected dawn of hope, after your long trial, my dear brother. It is a sort of unconscious encouragement you could hardly hope for.’
‘I did not know you knew anything of it,’ said Philip.
‘Ah! my dear brother, you betrayed yourself. You need not be disconcerted; only a sister could see the real cause of your want of spirits. Your manner at each mention of her, your anxiety, coupled with your resolute avoidance of her —’
‘Of whom? Do you know what you are talking of, sister!’ said Philip, sternly.
‘Of Amabel, of course.’
Philip rose, perfectly awful in his height and indignation.
‘Sister!’ he said — paused, and began again. ‘I have been attached to Laura Edmonstone for years past, and Lady Morville knows it.’
‘To Laura!’ cried Mrs. Henley, in amaze. ‘Are you engaged?’ and, as he was hardly prepared to answer, she continued, ‘If you have not gone too far to recede, only consider before you take any rash step. You come into this property without ready money, you will find endless claims, and if you marry at once, and without fortune, you will never be clear from difficulties.’
‘I have considered,’ he replied, with cold loftiness that would have silenced any one, not of the same determined mould.
‘You are positively committed, then!’ she said, much vexed. ‘Oh, Philip! I did not think you would have married for mere beauty.’
‘I can hear no more discussion on this point,’ answered Philip, in the serious, calm tone that showed so much power over himself and every one else.
It put Margaret to silence, though she was excessively disappointed to find him thus involved just at his outset, when he might have married so much more advantageously. She was sorry, too, that she had shown her opinion so plainly, since it was to be, and hurt his feelings just as he seemed to be thawing. She would fain have learned more; but he was completely shut up within himself, and never opened again to her. She had never before so grated on every delicate feeling in his mind; and he only remained at her house because in his present state of health, he hardly knew where to bestow himself till it was time for him to go to Hollywell.
He went to call on Miss Wellwood, to whom his name was no slight recommendation, and she met him eagerly, asking after Lady Morville, who, she said, had twice written to her most kindly about little Marianne.
It was a very pleasant visit, and a great relief. He looked at the plans, heard the fresh arrangements, admired, was interested, and took pleasure in having something to tell Amabel. He asked for Marianne, and heard that she was one of the best of children — amiable, well-disposed, only almost too sensitive. Miss Wellwood said it was remarkable how deep an impression Sir Guy had made upon her, and how affectionately she remembered his kindness; and her distress at hearing of his death had been far beyond what such a child could have been supposed to feel, both in violence and in duration.
Philip asked to see her, knowing it would please Amabel, and in she came — a long, thin, nine-year-old child, just grown into the encumbering shyness, that is by no means one of the graces of “la vieillesse de l’enfance”.
He wished to be kind and encouraging; but melancholy, added to his natural stateliness, made him very formidable; and poor Marianne was capable of nothing beyond ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
He told her he was going to see Lady Morville and her little girl, whereat she eagerly raised her eyes, then shrank in affright at anything so tall, and so unlike Sir Guy. He said the baby was to be christened next Sunday, and Miss Wellwood helped him out by asking the name.
‘Mary,’ he said, for he was by no means inclined to explain the Verena, though he knew not half what it conveyed to Amabel.
Lastly, he asked if Marianne had any message; when she hung down her head, and whispered to Miss Wellwood, what proved to be ‘My love to dear little cousin Mary.’
He promised to deliver it, and departed, wishing he could more easily unbend.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15