But nature to its inmost part
Faith had refined; and to her heart
A peaceful cradle given,
Calm as the dew drops free to rest
Within a breeze-fanned rose’s breast
Till it exhales to heaven.
It had long been a promise that Mr. Edmonstone should take Charlotte to visit her grandmamma, in Ireland. They would have gone last autumn, but for Guy’s illness, and now Aunt Charlotte wrote to hasten the performance of the project. Lady Mabel was very anxious to see them, she said; and having grown much more infirm of late, seemed to think it would be the last meeting with her son. She talked so much of Mrs. Edmonstone and Laura, that it was plain that she wished extremely for a visit from them, though she did not like to ask it, in the present state of the family.
A special invitation was sent to Bustle; indeed, Charles said Charlotte could not have gone without his permission, for he reigned like a tyrant over her, evidently believing her created for no purpose but to wait on him, and take him to walk.
Laura was a great favourite at the cottage of Kilcoran, and felt she ought to offer to go. Philip fully agreed, and held out home hopes of following as soon as the session, was over, and he had been to Redclyffe about some business that had been deferred too long.
And now it appeared that Mr. Edmonstone had a great desire to take his wife, and she herself said, that under any other circumstances she should have been very desirous of going. She had not been to Ireland for fifteen years, and was sorry to have seen so little of her mother-in-law; and now that it had been proved that Charles could exist without her, she would not have hesitated to leave him, but for Amabel’s state of health and spirits, which made going from home out of the question.
Charles and Amabel did not think so. It was not to be endured, that when grandmamma wished for her, she should stay at home for them without real necessity; besides, the fatigue, anxiety, and sorrow she had undergone of late, had told on her, and had made her alter perceptibly, from being remarkably fresh and youthful, to be somewhat aged; and the change to a new scene, where she could not be distressing herself at every failure in cheerfulness of poor Amy’s, was just the thing to do her good.
Amabel was not afraid of the sole charge of Charles or of the baby, for she had been taught but too well to manage for herself, she understood Charles very well, and had too much quiet good sense to be fanciful about her very healthy baby. Though she was inexperienced, with old nurse hard by, and Dr. Mayerne at Broadstone, there was no fear of her not having good counsel enough. She was glad to be of some use, by enabling her mother to leave Charles, and her only fear was of being dull company for him; but as he was so kind as to bear it, she would do her best, and perhaps their neighbours would come and enliven him sometimes.
Charles threw his influence into the same scale. His affectionate observation had shown him that it oppressed Amabel’s spirits to be the object of such constant solicitude, and he was convinced it would be better for her, both to have some necessary occupation and to be free from that perpetual mournful watching of her mother’s that caused her to make the efforts to be cheerful which did her more harm than anything else.
To let her alone to look and speak as she pleased without the fear of paining and disappointing those she loved, keep the house quiet, and give her the employment of household cares and attending on himself, was, he thought, the best thing for her; and he was full of eagerness and pleasure at the very notion of being of service to her, if only by being good for nothing but to be waited on. He thought privately that the spring of his mother’s mind had been so much injured by the grief she had herself suffered for ‘her son Guy,’ her cruel disappointment in Laura, and the way in which she threw herself into all Amy’s affliction, that there was a general depression in her way of observing and attending Amy, which did further harm; and that to change the current of her thoughts, and bring her home refreshed and inspirited, would be the beginning of improvement in all. Or, as he expressed it to Dr. Mayerne, ‘We shall set off on a new tack.’
His counsel and Mr. Edmonstone’s wishes at length decided mamma, on condition that Mary Ross and Dr. Mayerne would promise to write on alternate weeks a full report, moral and physical, as Charles called it. So in due time the goods were packed, Mrs. Edmonstone cried heartily over the baby, advised Amabel endlessly about her, and finally looked back through her tears, as she drove away, to see Charles nodding and waving his hand at the bay-window, and Amabel standing with her parting smile and good-bye on the steps.
The reports, moral and physical, proved that Charles had judged wisely. Amabel was less languid as she had more cause for exertion, and seemed relieved by the absence of noise and hurry, spending more time down-stairs, and appearing less weary in the evening. She still avoided the garden, but she began to like short drives with her brother in the pony-carriage, when he drove on in silence, and let her lean back and gaze up into the sky, or into the far distance, undisturbed. Now and then he would be rejoiced by a bright, genuine smile, perfectly refreshing, at some of the pretty ways of the babe, a small but plump and lively creature, beginning to grasp with her hands, laugh and gaze about with eyes that gave promise of the peculiar colour and brilliancy of her father’s. Amabel was afraid she might be tempted into giving Charles too much of the little lady’s society; but he was very fond of her, regarding her with an odd mixture of curiosity and amusement, much entertained with watching what he called her unaccountable manners, and greatly flattered when he could succeed in attracting her notice. Indeed, the first time she looked full at him with a smile on the verge of a laugh, it completely overcame him, by the indescribably forcible manner in which it suddenly recalled the face which had always shone on him like a sunbeam. Above all, it was worth anything to see the looks she awoke in her mother, for which he must have loved her, even had she not been Guy’s child.
In the evening, especially on Sunday, Amabel would sometimes talk to him as she had never yet been able to do, about her last summer’s journey, and her stay at Recoara, and his way of listening and answering had in it something that gave her great pleasure; while, on his side, he deemed each fresh word of Guy’s a sort of treasure for which to be grateful to her. The brother and sister were a great help and happiness to each other; Amabel found herself restored to Charles, as Guy had liked to think of her, and Charles felt as if the old childish fancies were fulfilled, in which he and Amy were always to keep house together. He was not in the least dull; and though his good-natured visitors in the morning were welcome, and received with plenty of his gay lively talk, he did not by any means stand in need of the compassion they felt for him, and could have done very well without them; while the evenings alone with Amy had in them something so pleasant that they were almost better than those when Mr. Ross and Mary came to tea. He wrote word to his mother that she might be quite at ease about them, and he thought Amy would get through the anniversaries of September better while the house was quiet, so that she need not think of trying to hurry home.
He was glad to have done so, for the letters, which scarcely missed a day in being written by his mother and Charlotte, seemed to show that their stay was likely to be long. Lady Mabel was more broken than they had expected, and claimed a long visit, as she was sure it would be their last, while the Kilcoran party had taken possession of Laura and Charlotte, as if they never meant to let them go. Charlotte wrote her brother very full and very droll accounts of the Iricisms around her which she enjoyed thoroughly, and Charles, declaring he never expected to see little Charlotte come out in the character of the facetious correspondent, used to send Mary Ross into fits of laughing by what he read to her. Mr. Fielder, the tutor, wrote Charlotte, was very nearly equal to Eveleen’s description of him, but very particularly agreeable, in fact, the only man who had any conversation, whom she had seen since she had been at Kilcoran.
‘Imagine,’ said Charles, ‘the impertinent little puss setting up for intellectual conversation, forsooth!’
‘That’s what comes of living with good company,’ said Mary.
The brother and sister used sometimes to drive to Broadstone to fetch their letters by the second post.
‘Charlotte, of course,’ said Charles, as he opened one. ‘My Lady Morville, what’s yours?’
‘Only Mr. Markham,’ said Amabel, ‘about the winding up of our business together, I suppose. What does Charlotte say?’
‘Charlotte is in a fit of impudence, for which she deserves chastisement,’ said Charles, unable to help laughing, as he read —
‘Our last event was a call from the fidus Achates, who, it seems, can no longer wander up and down the Mediterranean without his pius Aeneas, and so has left the army, and got a diplomatic appointment somewhere in Germany. Lord Kilcoran has asked him to come and stay here, and Mabel and I are quite sure he comes for a purpose. Of course he has chosen this time, in order that he may be able to have his companion before his eyes, as a model for courtship, and I wish I had you to help me look on whenever Philip comes, as that laugh I must enjoy alone with Bustle. However, when Philip will come we cannot think, for we have heard nothing of him this age, not even Laura, and she is beginning to look very anxious about him. Do tell us if you know anything about him. The last letter was when parliament was prorogued, and he was going to Redclyffe, at least three weeks ago.’
‘I wonder if Mr. Markham mentions him,’ said Amabel, hastily unfolding her letter, which was, as she expected, about the executors’ business, but glancing on to the end, she exclaimed —
‘Ah! here it is. Listen, Charlie. “Mr. Morville has been here for the last few weeks, and is, I fear, very unwell. He has been entirely confined to the house, almost ever since his arrival, by violent headache, which has completely disabled him from attending to business; but he will not call in any advice. I make a point of going to see him every day, though I believe my presence is anything but acceptable, as in his present state of health and spirits, I cannot think it right that he should be left to servants.” Poor fellow! Redclyffe has been too much for him.’
‘Over-worked, I suppose,’ said Charles. ‘I thought he was coming it pretty strong these last few weeks.’
‘Not even writing to Laura! How very bad he must be! I will write at once to ask Mr. Markham for more particulars.’
She did so, and on the third day they drove again to fetch the answer. It was a much worse account. Mr. Morville was, said Markham, suffering dreadfully from headache, and lay on the sofa all day, almost unable to speak or move, but resolved against having medical advice, though his own treatment of himself did not at all succeed in relieving him. There was extreme depression of spirits, and an unwillingness to see any one. He had positively refused to admit either Lord Thorndale or Mr. Ashford, and would hardly bear to see Markham himself, who, indeed, only forced his presence on him from thinking it unfit to leave him entirely to the servants, and would be much relieved if some of Mr. Morville’s friends were present to free him from the responsibility.
‘Hem!’ said Charles. ‘I can’t say it sounds comfortable.’
‘It is just as I feared!’ said Amy. ‘Great excitability of brain and nerve, Dr. Mayerne said. All the danger of a brain fever again! Poor Laura! What is to be done?’
Charles was silent.
‘It is for want of some one to talk to him,’ said Amabel. ‘I know how he broods over his sad recollections, and Redclyffe must make it so much worse. If mamma and Laura were but at home to go to him, it might save him, and it would be fearful for him to have another illness, reduced as he is. How I wish he was here!’
‘He cannot come, I suppose,’ said Charles, ‘or he would be in Ireland.’
‘Yes. How well Guy knew when he said it would be worse for him than for me! How I wish I could do something now to make up for running away from him in Italy. If I was but at Redclyffe!’
‘Do you really wish it?’ said Charles, surprised.
‘Yes, if I could do him any good.’
‘Would you go there?’
‘If I had but papa or mamma to go with me.’
‘Do you think I should do as well?’
‘If you think there would be any use in it, and choose to take the trouble of lugging me about the country, I don’t see why you should not.’
‘Oh! Charlie, how very, kind! How thankful poor Laura will be to you! I do believe it will save him!’ cried Amabel, eagerly.
‘But, Amy,’— he paused —‘shall you like to see Redclyffe?’
‘Oh! that is no matter,’ said she, quickly. ‘I had rather see after Philip than anything. I told you how he was made my charge, you know. And Laura! Only will it not be too tiring for you?’
‘I can’t see how it should hurt me. But I forget, what is to be done about your daughter?’
‘I don’t know what harm it could do her,’ said Amy, considering. ‘Mrs. Gresham brought a baby of only three months old from Scotland the other day, and she is six. It surely cannot hurt her, but we will ask Dr. Mayerne.’
‘Mamma will never forgive us if we don’t take the doctor into our councils.’
‘Arnaud can manage for us. We would sleep in London, and go on by an early train, and we can take our — I mean my — carriage, for the journey after the railroad. It would not be too much for you. How soon could we go?’
‘The sooner the better,’ said Charles. ‘If we are to do him any good, it must be speedily, or it will be a case of shutting the stable-door. Why not tomorrow?’
The project was thoroughly discussed that evening, but still with the feeling as if it could not be real, and when they parted at night they said — ‘We will see how the scheme looks in the morning.’
Charles was still wondering whether it was a dream, when the first thing he heard in the court below his window was —
‘Here, William, here’s a note from my lady for you to take to Dr. Mayerne.’
‘They be none of them ill?’ answered William’s voice.
‘O no; my lady has been up this hour, and Mr. Charles has rung his bell. Stop, William, my lady said you were to call at Harris’s and bring home a “Bradshaw”.’
Reality, indeed, thought Charles, marvelling at his sister, and his elastic spirits throwing him into the project with a sort of enjoyment, partaking of the pleasure of being of use, the spirit of enterprise, and the ‘fun’ of starting independently on an expedition unknown to all the family.
He met Amabel with a smile that showed both were determined. He undertook to announce the plan to his mother, and she said she would write to tell Mr. Markham that as far as could be reckoned on two such frail people, they would be at Redclyffe the next evening, and he must use his own discretion about giving Mr. Morville the note which she enclosed.
Dr. Mayerne came in time for breakfast, and the letter from Markham was at once given to him.
‘A baddish state of things, eh, doctor!’ said Charles. ‘Well, what do you think this lady proposes? To set off forthwith, both of us, to take charge of him. What do you think of that, Dr. Mayerne?’
‘I should say it was the only chance for him,’ said the doctor, looking only at the latter. ‘Spirits and health reacting on each other, I see it plain enough. Over-worked in parliament, doing nothing in moderation, going down to that gloomy old place, dreaming away by himself, going just the right way to work himself into another attack on the brain, and then he is done for. I don’t know that you could do a wiser thing than go to him, for he is no more fit to tell what is good for him than a child.’ So spoke the doctor, thinking only of the patient till looking up at the pair he was dismissing to such a charge, the helpless, crippled Charles, unable to cross the room without crutches, and Amabel, her delicate face and fragile figure in her widow’s mourning, looking like a thing to be pitied and nursed with the tenderest care, with that young child, too, he broke off and said —‘But you don’t mean you are in earnest?’
‘Never more so in our lives,’ said Charles; on which Dr. Mayerne looked so wonderingly and inquiringly at Amabel, that she answered —
‘Yes that we are, if you think it safe for Charles and baby.’
‘Is there no one else to go? What’s become of his sister?’
‘That would never do,’ said Charles, ‘that is not the question;’ and he detailed their plan.
‘Well, I don’t see why it should not succeed,’ said the doctor, ‘or how you can any of you damage yourselves.’
‘And baby?’ said Amy.
‘What should happen to her, do you think?’ said the doctor with his kind, reassuring roughness. ‘Unless you leave her behind in the carriage, I don’t see what harm she could come to, and even then, if you direct her properly, she will come safe to hand.’ Amabel smiled, and saying she would fetch her to be inspected, ran up-stairs with the light nimble step of former days.
‘There goes one of the smallest editions of the wonders of the world!’ said Charles, covering a sigh with a smile. ‘You don’t think it will do her any harm?’
‘Not if she wishes it. I have long thought a change, a break, would be the best thing for her — poor child! — I should have sent her to the sea-side if you had been more movable, and if I had not seen every fuss about her made it worse.’
‘That’s what I call being a reasonable and valuable doctor,’ said Charles. ‘If you had routed the poor little thing out to the sea, she would have only pined the more. But suppose the captain turns out too bad for her management, for old Markham seems in a proper taking?’
‘Hem! No, I don’t expect it is come to that.’
‘Be that as it may, I have a head, if nothing else, and some one is wanted. I’ll write to you according as we find Philip.’
The doctor was wanted for another private interview, in which to assure Amabel that there was no danger for Charles, and then, after promising to come to Redclyffe if there was occasion, and engaging to write and tell Mrs. Edmonstone they had his consent, he departed to meet them by and by at the station, and put Charles into the carriage.
A very busy morning followed; Amabel arranged household affairs as befitted the vice-queen; took care that Charles’s comforts were provided for; wrote many a note; herself took down Guy’s picture, and laid it in her box, before Anne commenced her packing; and lastly, walked down to the village to take leave of Alice Lamsden.
Just as the last hues of sunset were fading, on the following evening, Lady Morville and Charles Edmonstone were passing from the moor into the wooded valley of Redclyffe. Since leaving Moorworth not a word had passed. Charles sat earnestly watching his sister; though there was too much crape in the way for him to see her face, and she was perfectly still, so that all he could judge by was the close, rigid clasping together of the hands, resting on the sleeping infant’s white mantle. Each spot recalled to him some description of Guy’s, the church-tower, the school with the two large new windows, the park wall, the rising ground within. What was she feeling? He did not dare to address her, till, at the lodge-gate, he exclaimed —‘There’s Markham;’ and, at the same time, was conscious of a feeling between hope and fear, that this might after all be a fool’s errand, and a wonder how they and the master of the house would meet if it turned out that they had taken fright without cause.
At his exclamation, Amy leant forward, and beckoned. Markham came up to the window, and after the greeting on each side, walked along with his hand on the door, as the carriage slowly mounted the steep hill, answering her questions: ‘How is he?’
‘No better. He has been putting on leeches, and made himself so giddy, that yesterday he could hardly stand.’
‘And they have not relieved him?’
‘Not in the least. I am glad you are come, for it has been an absurd way of going on.’
‘Is he up?’
‘Yes; on the sofa in the library.’
‘Did you give him my note? Does he expect us?’
‘No, I went to see about telling him this morning, but found him so low and silent, I thought it was better not. He has not opened a letter this week, and he might have refused to see you, as he did Lord Thorndale. Besides, I didn’t know how he would take my writing about him, though if you had not written, I believe I should have let Mrs. Henley know by this time.’
‘There is an escape for him,’ murmured Charles to his sister.
‘We have done the best in our power to receive you’ proceeded Markham; ‘I hope you will find it comfortable, Lady Morville, but —’
‘Thank you, I am not afraid,’ said Amy, smiling a little. Markham’s eye was on the little white bundle in her lap, but he did not speak of it, and went on with explanations about Mrs. Drew and Bolton and the sitting-room, and tea being ready.
Charles saw the great red pile of building rise dark, gloomy, and haunted-looking before them. The house that should have been Amabel’s! Guy’s own beloved home! How could she bear it? But she was eagerly asking Markham how Philip should be informed of their arrival, and Markham was looking perplexed, and saying, that to drive under the gateway, into the paved court, would make a thundering sound, that he dreaded for Mr. Morville. Could Mr. Charles Edmonstone cross the court on foot? Charles was ready to do so; the carriage stopped, Amabel gave the baby to Anne, saw Arnaud help Charles out; and turning to Markham, said, ‘I had better go to him at once. Arnaud will show my brother the way.’
‘The sitting-room, Arnaud’ said Markham, and walked on fast with her, while Charles thought how strange to see her thus pass the threshold of her husband’s house, come thither to relieve and comfort his enemy.
She entered the dark-oak hall. On one side the light shone cheerfully from the sitting-room, the other doors were all shut. Markham hesitated, and stood reluctant.
‘Yes, you had better tell him I am here,’ said she, in the voice, so gentle, that no one perceived its resolution.
Markham knocked at one of the high heavy doors, and softly opened it. Amabel stood behind it, and looked into the room, more than half dark, without a fire, and very large, gloomy, and cheerless, in the gray autumn twilight, that just enabled her to see the white pillows on the sofa, and Philip’s figure stretched out on it. Markham advanced and stood doubtful for an instant, then in extremity, began —‘Hem! Lady Morville is come, and —’
Without further delay she came forward, saying —‘How are you, Philip?’
He neither moved nor seemed surprised, he only said, ‘So you are come to heap more coals on my head.’
A thrill of terror came over her, but she did not show it, as she said, ‘I am sorry to find you so poorly.’
It seemed as if before he had taken her presence for a dream; for, entirely roused, he exclaimed, in a tone of great surprise, ‘Is it you, Amy?’ Then sitting up, ‘Why? When did you come here?’
‘Just now. We were afraid you were ill, we heard a bad account of you, so we have taken you by storm: Charles, your goddaughter, and I, are come to pay you a visit.’
‘Charles! Charles here?’ cried Philip, starting up. ‘Where is he?’
‘Coming in,’ said Amy; and Philip, intent only on hospitality, hastened into the hall, and met him at the door, gave him his arm and conducted him where the inviting light guided them to the sitting-room. The full brightness of lamp and fire showed the ashy paleness of his face; his hair, rumpled with lying on the sofa, had, on the temples, acquired a noticeable tint of gray, his whole countenance bore traces of terrible suffering; and Amabel thought that even at Recoara she had never seen him look more wretchedly ill.
‘How did you come?’ he asked. ‘It was very kind. I hope you will be comfortable.’
‘We have taken good care of ourselves,’ said Amy. ‘I wrote to Mr. Markham, for I thought you were not well enough to be worried with preparations. We ought to beg your pardon for breaking on you so unceremoniously.’
‘If any one should be at home here —’ said Philip, earnestly; — then interrupting himself, he shaded his eyes from the light, ‘I don’t know how to make you welcome enough. When did you set off?’
‘Yesterday afternoon,’ said Charles; ‘we slept in London, and came on today.’
‘Have you dined?’ said Philip, looking perplexed to know where the dinner could come from.
‘Yes; at K— — thank you.’
‘What will you have? I’ll ring for Mrs. Drew.’
‘No, thank you; don’t tease yourself. Mrs. Drew will take care of us. Never mind; but how bad your head is!’ said Amabel, as he sat down on the sofa, leaning his elbow on his knee, and pressing his hand very hard on his forehead. ‘You must lie down and keep quiet, and never mind us. We only want a little tea. I am just going to take off my bonnet, and see what they have done with baby, and then I’ll come down. Pray lie still till then. Mind he does, Charlie.’
They thought she was gone; but the next moment there she was with the two pillows from the library sofa, putting them under Philip’s head, and making him comfortable; while he, overpowered by a fresh access of headache, had neither will nor power to object. She rang, asked for Mrs. Drew, and went.
Philip lay, with closed eyes, as if in severe pain: and Charles, afraid to disturb him, sat feeling as if it was a dream. That he, with Amy and her child, should be in Guy’s home, so differently from their old plans, so very differently from the way she should have arrived. He looked round the room, and everywhere knew what Guy’s taste had prepared for his bride — piano, books, prints, similarities to Hollywell, all with a fresh new bridal effect, inexpressibly melancholy. They brought a thought of the bright eye, sweet voice, light step, and merry whistle; and as he said to himself ‘gone for ever,’ he could have hated Philip, but for the sight of his haggard features, gray hairs, and the deep lines which, at seven-and-twenty, sorrow had traced on his brow. At length Philip turned and looked up.
‘Charles,’ he said, ‘I trust you have not let her run any risk.’
‘No: we got Dr. Mayerne’s permission.’
‘It is like all the rest,’ said Philip, closing his eyes again. Presently he asked: ‘How did you know I was not well?’
‘Markham said something in a business letter that alarmed Amy. She wrote to inquire, and on his second letter we thought we had better come and see after you ourselves.’
No more was said till Amabel returned. She had made some stay up-stairs, talking to Mrs. Drew, who was bewildered between surprise, joy, and grief; looking to see that all was comfortable in Charles’s room, making arrangements for the child, and at last relieving herself by a short space of calm, to feel where she was, realize that this was Redclyffe, and whisper to her little girl that it was her father’s own home. She knew it was the room he had destined for her; she tried, dark as it was, to see the view of which he had told her, and looked up, over the mantel-piece, at Muller’s engraving of St. John. Perhaps that was the hardest time of all her trial, and she felt as if, without his child in her arms, she could never have held up under the sense of desolation that came over her, left behind, while he was in his true home. Left, she told herself, to finish the task he had begun, and to become fit to follow him. Was she not in the midst of fulfilling his last charge, that Philip should be taken, care of? It was no time for giving way, and here was his own little messenger of comfort looking up with her sleepy eyes to tell her so. Down she must go, and put off ‘thinking herself into happiness’ till the peaceful time of rest; and presently she softly reentered the sitting-room, bringing to both its inmates in her very presence such solace as she little guessed, in her straightforward desire to nurse Philip, and take care Charles was not made uncomfortable.
That stately house had probably never, since its foundation, seen anything so home-like as Amabel making tea and waiting on her two companions; both she and Charles pleasing each other by enjoying the meal, and Philip giving his cup to be filled again and again, and wondering why one person’s tea should taste so unlike another’s.
He was not equal to conversation, and Charles and Amabel were both tired, so that tea was scarcely over before they parted for the night; and Amy, frightened at the bright and slipperiness of the dark-oak stairs, could not be at peace till she had seen Arnaud help Charles safely up them, and made him promise not to come down without assistance in the morning.
She was in the sitting-room soon after nine next morning, and found breakfast on one table, and Charles writing a letter on the other.
‘Well,’ said he, as she kissed him, ‘all right with you and little miss?’
‘Quite, thank you. And are you rested?’
‘Slept like a top; and what did you do? Did you sleep like a sensible woman?’
‘Pretty well, and baby was very good. Have you heard anything of Philip?’
‘Bolton thinks him rather better, and says he is getting up.’
‘How long have you been up?’
‘A long time. I told Arnaud to catch Markham when he came up, as he always does in a morning to see after Philip, and I have had a conference with him and Bolton, so that I can lay the case before Dr. Mayerne scientifically.’
‘What do you think of it?’
‘I think we came at the right time. He has been getting more and more into work in London, taking no exercise, and so was pretty well knocked up when he came here; and this place finished it. He tried to attend to business about the property, but it always ended in his head growing so bad, he had to leave all to Markham, who, by the way, has been thoroughly propitiated by his anxiety for him. Then he gave up entirely; has not been out of doors, written a note, nor seen a creature the last fortnight, but there he has lain by himself in the library, given up to all manner of dismal thoughts without a break.’
‘How dreadful!’ said Annabel, with tears in her eyes. ‘Then he would not see Mr. Ashford? Surely, he could have done something for him.’
‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Charles, lowering his voice,’ from what Bolton says, I think he had a dread of worse than brain fever.’
She shuddered, and was paler, but did not speak.
‘I believe,’ continued Charles, ‘that it is one half nervous and the oppression of this place, and the other half, the over-straining of a head that was already in a ticklish condition. I don’t think there was any real danger of more than such a fever as he had at Corfu, which would probably have been the death of him; but I think he dreaded still worse, and that his horror of seeing any one, or writing to Laura, arose from not knowing how far he could control his words.’
‘O! I am glad we came,’ repeated Amabel, pressing her hands together.
‘He has been doctoring himself,’ proceeded Charles; ‘and probably has kept off the fever by strong measures, but, of course, the more he reduced his strength, the greater advantage he gave to what was simply low spirits. He must have had a terrible time of it, and where it would have ended I cannot guess, but it seems to me that most likely, now that he is once roused, he will come right again.’
Just as Charles had finished speaking, he came down, looking extremely ill, weak, and suffering; but calmed, and resting on that entire dependence on Amabel which had sprung up at Recoara.
She would not let him go back to his gloomy library, but made him lie on the sofa in the sitting-room, and sat there herself, as she thought a little quiet conversation between her and Charles would be the best thing for him. She wrote to Laura, and he sent a message, for he could not yet attempt to write; and Charles wrote reports to his mother and Dr. Mayerne; a little talk now and then going on about family matters.
Amabel asked Philip if he knew that Mr. Thorndale was at Kilcoran.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘he believed there was a letter from him, but his eyes had ached too much of late to read.’
Mrs. Ashford sent in to ask whether Lady Morville would like to see her. Amabel’s face flushed, and she proposed going to her in the library; but Philip, disliking Amy’s absence more than the sight of a visitor, begged she might come to the sitting-room.
The Ashfords had been surprised beyond measure at the tidings that Lady Morville had actually come to Redclyffe, and had been very slow to believe it; but when convinced by Markham’s own testimony, Mrs. Ashford’s first idea had been to go and see if she could be any help to the poor young thing in that great desolate house, whither Mrs. Ashford had not been since, just a year ago, Markham had conducted her to admire his preparations. There was much anxiety, too, about Mr. Morville, of whose condition, Markham had been making a great mystery, and on her return, Mr. Ashford was very eager for her report.
Mr. Morville, she said, did look and seem very far from well, but Lady Morville had told her they hoped it was chiefly from over fatigue, and that rest would soon restore him. Lady Morville herself was a fragile delicate creature, very sweet looking, but so gentle and shrinking, apparently, that it gave the impression of her having no character at all, not what Mrs. Ashford would have expected Sir Guy to choose. She had spoken very little, and the chief of the conversation had been sustained by her brother.
‘I was very much taken with that young Mr. Edmonstone,’ said Mrs. Ashford; ‘he is about three-and-twenty, sadly crippled, but with such a pleasing, animated face, and so extremely agreeable and sensible, I do not wonder at Sir Guy’s enthusiastic way of talking of him. I could almost fancy it was admiration of the brother transferred to the sister.’
‘Then after all you are disappointed in her, and don’t lament, like Markham, that she is not mistress here?’
‘No: I won’t say I am disappointed; she is a very sweet creature. O yes, very! but far too soft and helpless for such a charge as this property, unless she had her father or brother to help her. But I must tell you that she took me to see her baby, a nice little lively thing, poor little dear! and when we were alone, she spoke rather more, begged me to send her godson to see her, thanked me for coming, but crying stopped her from saying more. I could grow very fond of her. No, I don’t wonder at him, for there is a great charm in anything so soft and dependent.
Decidedly, Mary Ross had been right when she said, that except Sir Guy, there was no one so difficult to know as Amy.
In the afternoon, Charles insisted on Amabel’s going out for fresh air and exercise, and she liked the idea of a solitary wandering; but Philip, to her surprise, offered to come with her, and she was too glad to see him exert himself, to regret the musings she had hoped for; so out they went, after opening the window to give Charles what he called an airing, and he said, that in addition he should ‘hirple about a little to explore the ground-floor of the house.’
‘We must contrive some way for him to drive out,’ said Philip, as he crossed the court with Amabel; ‘and you too. There is no walk here, but up hill or down.’
Up-hill they went, along the path leading up the green slope, from which the salt wind blew refreshingly. In a few minutes, Amabel found herself on a spot which thrilled her all over.
There lay before her Guy’s own Redclyffe bay; the waves lifting their crests and breaking, the surge resounding, the sea-birds skimming round, the Shag Rock dark and rugged, the scene which seemed above all the centre of his home affections, which he had so longed to show her, that it had cost him an effort on his death-bed to resign the hope; the leaping waves that he said he would not change for the white-headed mountains. And now he was lying among those southern mountains, and she stood in the spot where he had loved to think of seeing her; and with Philip by her side. His sea, his own dear sea, the vision of which had cheered, his last day, like the face of a dear old friend; his sea, rippling and glancing on, unknowing that the eyes that had loved it so well would gaze on it no more; the wind that he had longed for to cool his fevered brow, the rock which had been like a playmate in his boyhood, and where he had perilled his life, and rescued so many. It was one of the seasons when a whole gush of fresh perceptions of his feelings, like a new meeting with himself, would come on her, her best of joys; and there she stood, gazing fixedly, her black veil fluttering in the wind, and her hands pressed close together, till Philip, little knowing what the sight was to her, shivered, saying it was very cold and windy, and without hesitation she turned away, feeling that now Redclyffe was precious indeed.
She brought her mind back to listen, while Philip was considering of means of taking Charles out of doors; he supposed there might be some vehicle about the place; but he thought there was no horse. Very unlike was this to the exact Philip. The great range of stables was before them, where the Morvilles had been wont to lodge their horses as sumptuously as themselves, and Amabel proposed to go and see what they could find; but nothing was there but emptiness, till they came to a pony in one stall, a goat in another, and one wheelbarrow in the coach-house.
On leaving it, under the long-sheltered sunny wall, they came in sight of a meeting between the baby taking the air in Anne’s arms, and Markham, who had been hovering about all day, anxious to know how matters were going on. His back was towards them, so that he was unconscious of their approach, and they saw how he spoke to Anne, looked fixedly at the child, made her laugh, and finally took her in his arms, as he had so often carried her father, studying earnestly her little face. As soon as he saw them coming, he hastily gave her back to Anne, as if ashamed to be thus caught, but he was obliged to grunt and put his hand up to his shaggy eyelashes, before he could answer Amabel’s greeting.
He could hardly believe his eyes, that here was Mr. Morville, who yesterday was scarcely able to raise his head from the pillow, and could attend to nothing. He could not think what Lady Morville had done to him, when he heard him inquiring and making arrangements about sending for a pony carriage, appearing thoroughly roused, and the dread of being seen or spoken to entirely passed away, Markham was greatly rejoiced, for Mr. Morville’s illness, helplessness, and dependence upon himself, had softened and won him to regard him kindly as nothing else would have done; and his heart was entirely gained when, after they had wished him good-bye, he saw Philip and Amabel walk on, overtake Anne, Amy take the baby and hold her up to Philip, who looked at her with the same earnest interest. From thenceforward Markham knew that Redclyffe was nothing but a burden to Mr. Morville, and he could bear to see it in his possession since like himself, he seemed to regard Sir Guy’s daughter like a disinherited princess.
This short walk fatigued Philip thoroughly. He slept till dinner-time, and when he awoke said it was the first refreshing dreamless sleep he had had for weeks. His head was much better, and at dinner he had something like an appetite.
It was altogether a day of refreshment, and so were the ensuing ones. Each day Philip became stronger, and resumed more of his usual habits. From writing a few lines in Amabel’s daily letter to Laura, he proceeded to filling the envelope, and from being put to sleep by Charles’s reading, to reading aloud the whole evening himself. The pony carriage was set up, and he drove Charles out every day, Amabel being then released from attending him, and free to enjoy herself in her own way in rambles about the house and park, and discoveries of the old haunts she knew so well by description.
She early found her way to Guy’s own room, where she would walk up and down with her child in her arms, talking to her, and holding up to her, to be admired, the treasures of his boyhood, that Mrs. Drew delighted to keep in order. One day, when alone in the sitting-room, she thought of trying the piano he had chosen for her. It was locked, but the key was on her own split-ring, where he had put it for her the day he returned from London. She opened it, and it so happened, that the first note she struck reminded her of one of the peculiarly sweet and deep tones of Guy’s voice. It was like awaking its echo again, and as it died away, she hid her face and wept. But from that time the first thing she did when her brother and cousin were out, was always to bring down her little girl, and play to her, watching how she enjoyed the music.
Little Mary prospered in the sea air, gained colour, took to springing and laughing; and her intelligent lively way of looking about brought out continually more likeness to her father. Amabel herself was no longer drooping and pining, her step grew light and elastic, a shade of pink returned to her cheek, and the length of walk she could take was wonderful, considering her weakness in the summer. Every day she stood on the cliff and looked at ‘Guy’s sea,’ before setting out to visit the cottages, and hear the fond rough recollections of Sir Guy, or to wander far away into the woods or on the moor, and find the way to the places he had loved. One day, when Philip and Charles came in from a drive, they overtook her in the court, her cloak over her arm, her crape limp with spray, her cheeks brightened to a rosy glow by the wind, and a real smile as she looked up to them. When Charles was on his sofa, she stooped over him and whispered, ‘James and Ben Robinson have taken me out to the Shag!’
She saw Mr. Wellwood, and heard a good account of Coombe Prior. She made great friends with the Ashfords, especially little Lucy and the baby. She delighted in visits to the cottages, and Charles every day wondered where was the drooping dejection that she could not shake off at home. She would have said that in Guy’s own home, ‘the joy’ had come to her, no longer in fitful gleams and held by an effort for a moment, but steadily brightening. She missed him indeed, but the power of finding rest in looking forward to meeting him, the pleasure of dwelling on the days he had been with her, and the satisfaction of doing his work for the present, had made a happiness for her, and still in him, quiet, grave, and subdued, but happiness likely to bloom more and more brightly throughout her life. The anniversary of his death was indeed a day of tears, but the tears were blessed ones, and she was more full of the feeling that had sustained her on that morning, than she had been through all the year before.
Charles and Philip, meanwhile, proceeded excellently together, each very anxious for the comfort of the other. Philip was a good deal overwhelmed at first by the quantity of business on his hands, and setting about it while his head was still weak, would have seriously hurt himself again, if Charles had not come to his help, worked with a thorough good will, great clearness and acuteness, and surprised Philip by his cleverness and perseverance. He was elated at being of so much use; and begged to be considered for the future as Philip’s private secretary, to which the only objection was, that his handwriting was as bad as Philip’s was good; but it was an arrangement so much to the benefit of both parties, that it was gladly made. Philip was very grateful for such valuable assistance; and Charles amused himself with triumphing in his importance, when he should sit in state on his sofa at Hollywell, surrounded with blue-books, getting up the statistics for some magnificent speech of the honourable member for Moorworth.
In the meantime, Charles and Amabel saw no immediate prospect of their party returning from Ireland, and thought it best to remain at Redclyffe, since Philip had so much to do there; and besides, events were occurring at Kilcoran which would have prevented his visit, even without his illness.
One of the first drives that Charles and Philip took, after the latter was equal to any exertion, was to Thorndale. There Charles was much amused by the manner in which Philip was received, and he himself, for his sake; and as he said to Amabel on his return, there was no question now, that the blame of spoiling Philip did not solely rest at Hollywell.
Finding only Lady Thorndale at home, and hearing that Lord Thorndale was in the grounds, Philip went out to look for him, leaving Charles on the sofa, under her ladyship’s care. Charles, with a little exaggeration, professed that he had never been so flattered in his whole life, as he was by the compliments that reflected on him as the future brother-in-law of Philip; and that he had really begun to think even Laura not half sensible enough of her own happiness. Lady Thorndale afterwards proceeded to inquiries about the De Courcy family, especially Lady Eveleen; and Charles, enlightened by Charlotte, took delight in giving a brilliant description of his cousin’s charms, for which he was rewarded by very plain intimations of the purpose for which her son James was gone to Kilcoran.
On talking the visit over, as they drove home, Charles asked Philip if he had guessed at his friend’s intentions. ‘Yes,’ he answered.
‘Then you never took the credit of it. Why did you not tell us?’
‘I knew it from himself, in confidence.’
‘Oh!’ said Charles, amusing himself with the notion of the young man’s dutifully asking the permission of his companion, unshaken in allegiance though the staff might be broken, and the book drowned deeper than did ever plummet sound. Philip spoke no more, and Charles would ask no more, for Philip’s own affairs of the kind were not such as to encourage talking of other people’s. No explanation was needed why he should now promote an attachment which he had strongly disapproved while James Thorndale was still in the army.
A day or two after, however, came a letter from Charlotte, bringing further news, at which Charles was so amazed, that he could not help communicating it at once to his companions.
‘So! Eveleen won’t have him!’
‘What?’ exclaimed both.
‘You don’t mean that she has refused Thorndale?’ said Philip.
‘Even so!’ said Charles. ‘Charlotte says he is gone. “Poor Mr. Thorndale left us this morning, after a day of private conferences, in which he seems to have had no satisfaction, for his resolute dignity and determination to be agreeable all the evening were”— ahem —“were great. Mabel cannot get at any of the real reasons from Eveleen, though I think I could help her, but I can’t tell you.”’
‘Charlotte means mischief.’ said Charles, as he concluded.
‘I am very sorry!’ said Philip. ‘I did think Lady Eveleen would have been able to estimate Thorndale. It will be a great disappointment — the inclination has been of long standing. Poor Thorndale!’
‘It would have been a very good thing for Eva,’ said Amabel. ‘Mr. Thorndale is such a sensible man.’
‘And I thought his steady sense just what was wanting to bring out all her good qualities that are running to waste in that irregular home,’ said Philip. ‘What can have possessed her?’
‘Ay! something must have possessed her,’ said Charles. ‘Eva was always ready to be fallen in love with on the shortest notice, and if there was not something prior in her imagination, Thorndale would not have had much difficulty. By the bye, depend upon it, ’tis the tutor.’
Philip looked a little startled, but instantly reassuring himself, said —
‘George Fielder! Impossible! You have never seen him!’
‘Ah! don’t you remember her description!’ said Amy, in a low voice, rather sadly.
The very reason, Amy,’ said Charles; ‘it showed that he had attracted her fancy.’
Philip smiled a little incredulously.
‘Ay!’ said Charles, ‘you may smile, but you handsome men can little appreciate the attractiveness of an interesting ugliness. It is the way to be looked at in the end. Mark my words, it is the tutor.’
‘I hope not!’ said Philip, as if shaken in his confidence. ‘Any way it is a bad affair. I am very much concerned for Thorndale.’
So sincerely concerned, that his head began to ache in the midst of some writing. He was obliged to leave it to Charles to finish, and go out to walk with Amy.
Amabel came in before him, and began to talk to Charles about his great vexation at his friend’s disappointment.
‘I am almost sorry you threw out that hint about Mr. Fielder,’ said she. ‘Don’t you remember how he was recommended?’
‘Ah! I had forgotten it was Philip’s doing; a bit of his spirit of opposition,’ said Charles. ‘Were not the boys to have gone to Coombe Prior?’
‘Yes’ said Amabel, ‘that is the thing that seems to have made him so unhappy about it. I am sure I hope it is not true,’ she added, considering, ‘for, Charlie, you must know that Guy had an impression against him.’
‘Had he?’ said Charles, anxiously.
‘It was only an impression, nothing he could accuse him of, or mention to Lord Kilcoran. He would have told no one but me, but he had seen something of him at Oxford, and thought him full of conversation, very clever, only not the sort of talk he liked.’ ‘I don’t like that. Charlotte concurs in testifying to his agreeableness; and in the dearth of intellect, I should not wonder at Eva’s taking up with him. He would be a straw to the drowning. It looks dangerous.’
They were very anxious for further intelligence, but received none, except that Philip had a letter from his friend, on which his only comment was a deep sigh, and ‘Poor Thorndale! She little knows what she has thrown away!’ Letters from Kilcoran became rare; Laura scarcely wrote at all to Philip, and though Mrs. Edmonstone wrote as usual, she did not notice the subject; while Charlotte’s gravity and constraint, when she did achieve a letter to Charles, were in such contrast to her usual free and would-be satirical style, that such eyes as her brother’s could hardly fail to see that something was on her mind.
So it went on week after week, Charles and Amabel wondering when they should ever have any notice to go home, and what their family could be doing in Ireland. October had given place to November, and more than a week of November had passed, and here they still were, without anything like real tidings.
At last came a letter from Mrs. Edmonstone, which Amabel could not read without one little cry of surprise and dismay, and then had some difficulty in announcing its contents to Philip.
‘Kilcoran, Nov. 8th.
‘My Dearest Amy — You will be extremely surprised at what I have to tell you, and no less grieved. It has been a most unpleasant, disgraceful business from beginning to end, and the only comfort in it to us is the great discretion and firmness that Charlotte has shown. I had better, however, begin at the beginning, and tell you the history as far as I understand it myself. You know that Mr. James Thorndale has been here, and perhaps you know it was for the purpose of making an offer to Eveleen. Every one was much surprised at her refusing him, and still more when, after much prevarication, it came out that the true motive was her attachment to Mr. Fielder, the tutor. It appeared that they had been secretly engaged for some weeks, ever since they had perceived Mr. Thorndale’s intentions, and not, as it was in poor Laura’s case, an unavowed attachment, but an absolute engagement. And fancy Eva justifying it by Laura’s example! There was of course great anger and confusion. Lord Kilcoran was furious, poor Lady Kilcoran had nervous attacks, the gentleman was dismissed from the house, and supposed to be gone to England, Eva shed abundance of tears, but after a great deal of vehemence she appeared subdued and submissive. We were all very sorry for her, as there is much that is very agreeable and likely to attract her in Mr. Fielder, and she always had too much mind to be wasted in such a life as she leads here. It seemed as if Laura was a comfort to her, and Lady Kilcoran was very anxious we should stay as long as possible. This was all about three weeks or a month ago; Eva was recovering her spirits, and I was just beginning a letter to tell you we hoped to be at home in another week, when Charlotte came into my room in great distress to tell me that Eveleen and Mr. Fielder were on the verge of a run-away marriage. Charlotte had been coming back alone from a visit to grandmamma, and going down a path out of the direct way to recall Bustle, who had run on, she said, as if he scented mischief, came, to her great astonishment, on Eveleen walking arm-inarm with Mr. Fielder! Charlie will fancy how Charlotte looked at them! They shuffled, and tried to explain it away, but Charlotte was too acute for them, or rather, she held steadily to “be that as it may, Lord Kilcoran ought to know it.” They tried to frighten her with the horrors of betraying secrets, but she said none had been confided to her, and mamma would judge. They tried to persuade her it was the way of all lovers, and appealed to Laura s example, but there little Charlotte was less to be shaken than on any point. “I did not think them worthy to hear their names,” she said to me, “but I told them, that I had seen that the truest and deepest of love had a horror of all that was like wrong, and as to Philip and Laura, they little knew what they had suffered; besides, theirs was not half so bad.” I verily believe these were the very words she used to them. At last Eva threw herself on her mercy, and begged so vehemently that she would only wait another day, that she suspected, and, with sharpness very like Charlie’s, forced from Eva that they were to marry the next morning. Then she said it would be a great deal better that they should abuse her and call her a spy than do what they would repent of all their lives; she begged Eva’s pardon, and cried so much that Eva was in hopes she would relent, and then came straight to me, very unhappy, and not in the least triumphant in her discovery. You can guess what a dreadful afternoon we had, I don’t think any one was more miserable than poor Charlotte, who stayed shut up in my room all day, dreading the sight of any one, and expecting to be universally called a traitor. The end was, that after much storming, Lord Kilcoran, finding Eveleen determined, and anxious to save her the discredit of an elopement, has agreed to receive Mr. Fielder, and they are to be married from this house on the 6th of December, though what they are to live upon no one can guess. The Kilcorans are very anxious to put the best face on the matter possible, and have persuaded us, for the sake of the family, to stay for the wedding; indeed, poor Lady Kilcoran is so completely overcome, that I hardly like to leave her till this is over. How unpleasant the state of things in the house is no one can imagine, and very, very glad shall I be to get back to Hollywell and my Amy and Charlie. Dearest Amy,
‘Your most affectionate.
The news was at length told, and Philip was indeed thunder-struck at this fresh consequence of his interference. It threatened at first to overthrow his scarcely recovered spirits, and but for the presence of his guests, it seemed as if it might have brought on a renewal of the state from which they had restored him.
‘Yes,’ said Charles to Amy, when they talked it over alone, ‘It seems as if good people could do wrong with less impunity than others. It is rather like the saying about fools and angels. Light-minded people see the sin, but not the repentance, so they imitate the one without being capable of the other. Here are Philip and Laura finishing off like the end of a novel, fortune and all, and setting a very bad example to the world in general.’
‘As the world cannot see below the surface,’ said Amy, ‘how distressed Laura, must be! You see, mamma does not say one word about her.’
Philip had not much peace till he had written to Mr. Thorndale, who was going at once to Germany, not liking to return home to meet the condolences. Mrs. Edmonstone had nearly the whole correspondence of the family on her hands; for neither of her daughters liked to write, and she gave the description of the various uncomfortable scenes that took place. Lord de Courcy’s stern and enduring displeasure, and his father’s fast subsiding violence; Lady Kilcoran’s distress, and the younger girls’ excitement and amusement; but she said she thought the very proper and serious way in which Charlotte viewed it, would keep it from doing them much harm, provided, as was much to be feared, Lord Kilcoran did not end by keeping the pair always at home, living upon him till Mr. Fielder could get a situation. In fact, it was difficult to know what other means there were of providing for them.
At last the wedding took place, and Mrs. Edmonstone wrote a letter, divided between indignation at the foolish display that had attended it, and satisfaction at being able at length to fix the day for the meeting at Hollywell. No one could guess how she longed to be at home again, and to be once more with Charlie.
Nor were Charles and Amabel less ready to go home, though they could both truly say that they had much enjoyed their stay at Redclyffe. Philip was to come with them, and it was privately agreed that he should return to Redclyffe no more till he could bring Laura with him. Amabel had talked of her sister to Mrs. Ashford, and done much to smooth the way; and even on the last day or two, held a few consultations with Philip, as to the arrangements that Laura would like. One thing, however, she must ask for her own pleasure. ‘Philip,’ said she, ‘you must let me have this piano.’
His answer was by look and gesture.
‘And I want very much to ask a question, Philip. Will you tell me which is Sir Hugh’s picture?’
‘You have been sitting opposite to it every day at dinner.’
‘That!’ exclaimed Amy. ‘From what I heard, I fully expected to have known Sir Hugh’s in a moment, and I often looked at that one, but I never could see more likeness than there is in almost all the pictures about the house.’
She went at once to study it again, and wondered more.
‘I have seen him sometimes look like it; but it is not at all the strong likeness I expected.’
Philip stood silently gazing, and certainly the countenance he recalled, pleading with him to desist from his wilfulness, and bending over him in his sickness, was far unlike in expression to the fiery youth before him. In a few moments more, Amabel had run up-stairs, and brought down Mr. Shene’s portrait. There was proved to be more resemblance than either of them had at first sight credited. The form of the forehead, nose, and short upper lip were identical, so were the sharply-defined black eyebrows, the colour of the eyes; and the way of standing in both had a curious similarity; but the expression was so entirely different, that strict comparison alone proved, that Guy’s animated, contemplative, and most winning countenance, was in its original lineaments entirely the same with that of his ancestor. Although Sir Hugh’s was then far from unprepossessing, and bore as yet no trace of his unholy passions, it bought to Amabel’s mind the shudder with which Guy had mentioned his likeness to that picture, and seemed to show her the nature he had tamed.
Philip, meanwhile, after one glance at Mr. Shene’s portrait, which he had not before seen, had turned away, and stood leaning against the window-frame. When Amy had finished her silent comparison, and was going to take her treasure back, he looked up, and said, ‘Do you dislike leaving that with me for a few minutes?’
‘Keep it as long as you like,’ said she, going at once, and she saw him no more till nearly an hour after; when, as she was coming out of her own room, he met her, and gave it into her hands, saying nothing except a smothered ‘Thank you;’ but his eyelids were so swollen and heavy, that Charles feared his head was bad again, while Amy was glad to perceive that he had had the comfort of tears.
Every one was sorry to wish Lady Morville and her brother good-bye, only consoling themselves with hoping that their sister might be like them; and as to little Mary, the attention paid to her was so devoted and universal, that her mamma thought it very well she should receive the first ardour of it while she was too young to have her head turned.
They again slept a night in London, and in the morning Philip took Charles for a drive through the places he had heard of, and was much edified by actually beholding. They were safely at home the same evening, and on the following, the Hollywell party was once more complete, gathered round Charles’s sofa in a confusion of welcomes and greetings.
Mrs. Edmonstone could hardly believe her eyes, so much had Charles’s countenance lost its invalid look, and his movements were so much more active; Amabel, too, though still white and thin, had a life in her eye and an air of health most unlike her languor and depression.
Every one looked well and happy but Laura, and she had a worn, faded, harassed aspect, which was not cheered even by Philip’s presence; indeed, she seemed almost to shrink from speaking to him. She was the only silent one of the party that evening, as they gathered round the dinner or tea-table, or sat divided into threes or pairs, talking over the subjects that would not do to be discussed in public. Charlotte generally niched into Amy’s old corner by Charles, hearing about Redclyffe, or telling about Ireland. Mrs. Edmonstone and Amy on the opposite sides of the ottoman, their heads meeting over the central cushion, talking in low, fond, inaudible tones; Mr. Edmonstone going in and out of the room, and joining himself to one or other group, telling and hearing news, and sometimes breaking up the pairs; and then Mrs. Edmonstone came to congratulate Charles on Amy’s improved looks, or Charlotte pressed up close to Amy to tell her about grandmamma. For Charlotte could not talk about Eveleen, she had been so uncomfortable at the part she had had to act, that all the commendation she received was only like pain and shame, and her mother was by no means dissatisfied that it should be so, since a degree of forwardness had been her chief cause of anxiety in Charlotte; and it now appeared that without losing her high spirit and uncompromising sense of right, her sixteenth year was bringing with it feminine reserve.
Laura lingered late in Amabel’s room, and when her mother had wished them good night, and left them together, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, Amy! I am so glad to be come back to you. I have been so very miserable!’
‘But you see he is quite well,’ said Amy. ‘We think him looking better than in the summer.’
‘O yes! Oh, Amy, what have you not done? If you could guess the relief of hearing you were with him, after that suspense!’ But as if losing that subject in one she was still more eager about, ‘What did he think of me?’
‘My dear,’ said Amabel, ‘I don’t think I am the right person to tell you that.’
‘You saw how it struck him when he heard of my share in it.’
‘Yours? Mamma never mentioned you.’
‘Always kind!’ said Laura. ‘Oh, Amy! what will you think of me when I tell I knew poor Eva’s secret all the time? What could I do, when Eva pleaded my own case? It was very different, but she would not see it, and I felt as if I was guilty of all. Oh, how I envied Charlotte.’
‘Dear Laura, no wonder you were unhappy!’
‘Nothing hitherto has been equal to it! said Laura. ‘There was the misery of his silence, and the anxiety that you, dearest, freed me from, then no sooner was that over than this was confided to me. Think what I felt when Eva put me in mind of a time when I argued in favour of some such concealment in a novel! No, you can never guess what I went through, knowing that he would think me weak, blameable, unworthy!’
‘Nay, he blames himself too much to blame you.’
‘No, that he must not do! It was my fault from the beginning. If I had but gone at once to mamma!’
‘Oh, I am so glad!’ exclaimed Amy, suddenly.
‘I mean,’ said Amy, looking down, ‘now you have said that, I am sure you will be happier.’
‘Happier, now I feel and see how I have lowered myself even in his sight?’ said Laura, drooping her head and hiding her face in her hands, as she went on in so low a tone that Amy could hardly hear her. ‘I know it all now. He loves me still, as he must whatever he has once taken, into that deep, deep heart of his: he will always; but he cannot have that honouring, trusting, confiding love that — you enjoyed and deserved, Amy — that he would have had if I had cared first for what became me. If I had only at first told mamma, he would not even have been blamed; he would have been spared half this suffering and self-reproach; he would have loved me more; Eva might not have been led astray, at least she could not have laid it to my charge — and I could lift up my head,’ she finished, as she hung it almost to her knees.
Her sister raised the head, laid it on her own bosom, and kissed, the cheeks and brow again and again. ‘Dearest, dearest Laura, I am so sorry for you; but I am sure you must feel freer and happier now you know it all, and see the truth.’
‘I don’t know!’ said Laura, sadly.
‘And at least you will be better able to comfort him.’
‘No, no, I shall only add to his self-reproach. He will see more plainly what a wretched weak creature he fancied had firmness and discretion. Oh, what a broken reed I have been to him!’
‘There is strength and comfort for us all to lean upon,’ said Amy. ‘But you ought to go to bed. Shall I read to you, Laura? you are so tired, I should like to come and read you to sleep.’
Laura was not given to concealments; that fatal one had been her only insincerity, and she never thought of doing otherwise than telling the whole of her conduct in Ireland to Philip. She sat alone with him the next morning, explained all, and entreated his pardon, humiliating herself so much, that he could not bear to hear her.
‘It was the fault of our whole lifetime, Laura,’ said he, recovering himself, when a few agitated words had passed on either side. ‘I taught you to take my dictum for law, and abused your trusty and perverted all the best and most precious qualities. It is I who stand first to bear the blame, and would that I could bear all the suffering! But as it is, Laura, we must look to enduring the consequence all our lives, and give each other what support we may.’
Laura could hardly brook his self-accusation, but she could no longer argue the point; and there was far more peace and truth before them than when she believed him infallible, and therefore justified herself for all she had done in blind obedience to him.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02