Thus souls by nature pitched too high,
By sufferings plunged too low,
Meet in the church’s middle sky,
Halfway ‘twixt joy and woe;
To practise there the soothing lay,
That sorrow best relieves,
Thankful for all God takes away,
Humbled by all He gives.
— CHRISTIAN YEAR
One Afternoon, late in April, Charles opened the dressing-room door, and paused a moment, smiling. There sat Amabel on the floor before the fire, her hand stretched out, playfully holding back the little one, who, with scanty, flossy, silken curls, hazel eyes and jet-black lashes, plump, mottled arms, and tiny tottering feet, stood crowing and shouting in exulting laughter, having just made a triumphant clutch at her mamma’s hair, and pulled down all the light, shining locks, while under their shade the reddening, smiling face recalled the Amy of days long gone by.
‘That’s right! cried Charles, delighted, ‘pull it all down. Out with mamma’s own curls again!’
‘No, I can never wear my curls again,’ said Amy, so mournfully, that he was sorry he had referred to them; and perceiving this, she smiled sweetly, and pulling a tress to its full length, showed how much too short it was for anything but being put plainly under the cap, to which she restored it.
‘Is Mrs. Henley come?’ she asked.
‘As large as life, and that is saying a good deal. She would make two of Philip. As tall and twice as broad. I thought Juno herself was advancing on me from the station.’
‘How did you get on with her?’
‘Famously; I told her all about everything, and how the affair is to be really quiet, which she had never believed. She could hardly believe my word, when I told her there was to be absolutely no one but ourselves and Mary Ross. She supposed it was for your sake, and I did not tell her it was for their own. It really was providential that the Kilcoran folk disgusted my father with grand weddings, for Philip never could endure one.’
‘Oh, Miss Mischief, there goes my hair again! You know Philip is exceedingly worried about Mr. Fielder. Lord Kilcoran has been writing to ask him to find him a situation.’
‘That is an article they will be seeking all the rest of their lives,’ said Charles. ‘A man is done for when he begins to look for a situation! Yes, those Fielders will be a drag on Philip and Laura for ever; for they don’t quite like to cast them off, feeling as he does that he led to her getting into the scrape, by recommending him; and poor Laura thinking she set the example.’
‘I wish Eva was away from home,’ said Amy, ‘for Aunt Charlotte’s accounts of her vex Laura so much.’
‘Ay! trying to eat her cake and have it, expecting to be Mr. Fielder’s wife, and reign as the earl’s daughter all the same. Poor thing! the day they get the situation will be a sad one for her. She does not know what poortith cauld will be like.’
‘Poor Eva!’ said Amy. ‘I dare say she will shine and be all the better for trouble. There is much that is so very nice in her.’
‘Ay, if she has not spoilt it all by this time — as that creature is doing with your hair! You little monkey, what have you to say to me?’
‘Only to wish you good night. Come, baby, we must go to Anne. Good night, Uncle Charles.’
Just as Amabel had borne off her little girl, Mrs. Edmonstone and Charlotte came in, after conducting Mrs. Henley to her room. Charlotte made a face of wonder and dismay, and Mrs. Edmonstone asked where Amy was.
‘She carried the baby to the nursery just before you came. I wish you had seen her. The little thing had pulled down her hair and made her look so pretty and like herself.’
‘How well her spirits keep up! She has been running up and down stairs all day, helping about everything. Well! we little thought how things would turn out.’
‘And that after all Amy would be the home-bird,’ said Charles. ‘I don’t feel as if it was wrong to rejoice in having her in this sweet, shady brightness, as she is now.’
‘Do you know whether she means to go to church tomorrow? I don’t like to ask.’
‘I know she does,’ said Charlotte. ‘She told me so.’
‘I hope it will not be too much for her! Dear Amy.’
‘She would say it was wrong to have our heads fuller of her than of our bride,’ said Charles.
‘Poor Laura!’ said Mrs. Edmonstone. ‘I am glad it is all right at last. They have both gone through a great deal.’
‘And not in vain,’ added Charles. ‘Philip is —’
‘Oh, I say not a word against him!’ cried Mrs. Edmonstone. ‘He is most excellent; he will be very distinguished — he will make her very happy. Yes.’
‘In fact,’ said Charles, ‘he is made to be one of the first in this world, and to be first by being above it; and the only reason we are almost discontented is, that we compare him with one who was too good for this world.’
‘It is not only that.’
‘Ah! you did not see him at Redclyffe, or you would do more than simply forgiving him as a Christian.’
‘I am very sorry for him.’
‘That is not quite enough,’ said Charles, smiling, with a mischievous air, though fully in earnest. ‘Is it, Charlotte? She must take him home to her mamma’s own heart.’
‘No, no, that is asking too much, Charlie,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone. ‘Only one ever was —’ then breaking off —‘and I can never think of Philip as I used to do.’
‘I like him much better now,’ said Charlotte.
‘For my part,’ said Charles, ‘I never liked him — nay, that’s too mild, I could not abide him, I rebelled against him, heart, soul, and taste. If it had not been for Guy, his fashion of goodness would have made me into an extract of gall and wormwood, at the very time you admired him, and yet a great deal of it was genuine. But it is only now that I have liked him. Nay, I look up to him, I think him positively noble and grand, and when I see proofs of his being entirely repentant, I perceive he is a thorough great man. If I had not seen one greater, I should follow his young man’s example and take him for my hero model.’
‘As if you wanted a hero model,’ whispered Charlotte, in a tone between caressing and impertinence.
‘I’ve had one!’ returned Charles, also aside.
‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, going on with her own thoughts, ‘unless there had been a great fund of real goodness, he would never have felt it so deeply. Indeed, even when I best liked Philip, I never thought him capable of such repentance as he has shown.’
‘If mamma wants to like him very much,’ said Charlotte, ‘I think she has only to look at our other company.’
‘Ay!’ said Charles, ‘we want no more explanation of the tone of the “Thank you,” with which he answered the offer to invite his sister.’
‘One comfort is, she can’t stay long. She has got a committee meeting for the Ladies’ Literary and Scientific Association, and must go home for it the day after tomorrow,’ said Charlotte.
‘If you are very good, perhaps she will give you a ticket, Charlotte,’ said her brother, ‘and another for Bustle.’
Mrs. Henley was, meanwhile, highly satisfied with the impression she thought she was making on her aunt’s family, especially on Charles and Charlotte. The latter she patronized, to her extreme though suppressed indignation, as a clever, promising girl; the former, she discovered to be a very superior young man, a most valuable assistant to her brother in his business, and her self-complacency prevented her from finding out how he was playing her off, whenever neither Philip nor Laura were at hand to be hurt by it.
She thought Laura a fine-looking person, like her own family, and fit to be an excellent lady of the house; and in spite of the want of fortune, she perceived that her brother’s choice had been far better than if he had married that poor pale little Amabel, go silent and quiet that she never could make a figure anywhere, and had nothing like the substantive character that her brother must have in a wife.
Could Mrs. Henley have looked behind the scenes she would have marvelled.
‘One kiss for mamma; and one for papa,’ was Amy’s half-uttered morning greeting, as she lifted from her cot her little one, with cheeks flushed by sleep. Morning and evening Amy spoke those words, and was happy in the double kiss that Mary had learnt to connect with them; happy too in holding her up to the picture, and saying ‘papa,’ so that his child might never recollect a time when he had not been a familiar and beloved idea.
A little play with the merry child, then came Anne to take her away; and with a suppressed sigh, Amabel dressed for the first time without her weeds, which she had promised to leave off on Laura’s wedding-day.
‘No, I will not sigh!’ then she thought, ‘it does not put me further from him. He would be more glad than any one this day, and so I must show some sign of gladness.’
So she put on such a dress as would be hers for life — black silk, and face cap over her still plain hair, then with real pleasure she put on Charles’s bracelet, and the silver brooch, which she had last worn the evening when the echoes of Recoara had answered Guy’s last chant. Soon she was visiting Laura, cheering her, soothing her agitation, helping her to dress in her bridal array, much plainer than Amy’s own had been, for it had been the especial wish of both herself and Philip that their wedding should be as quiet and unlike Guy’s as possible. Then Amabel was running down-stairs to see that all was right, thinking the breakfast-table looked dull and forlorn, and calling Charlotte to help her to make it appear a little more festal, with the aid of some flowers. Charlotte wondered to see that she had forgotten how she shunned flowers last summer, for there she was flitting from one old familiar plant to another in search of the choicest, arranging little bouquets with her own peculiar grace and taste, and putting them by each person’s place, in readiness to receive them.
It was as if no one else could smile that morning, except Mr. Edmonstone, who was so pleased to see her looking cheerful, in her altered dress, that he kissed her repeatedly, and confidentially told Mrs. Henley that his little Amy was a regular darling, the sweetest girl in the world, poor dear, except Laura.
Mrs. Henley, in the richest of all silks, looked magnificent and superior. Mrs. Edmonstone had tears in her eyes, and attended to every one softly and kindly, without a word; Charlotte was grave, helpful, and thoughtful; Charles watching every one, and intent on making things smooth; Laura looked fixed in the forced composure which she had long ago learnt, and Philip — it was late before he appeared at all, and when he came down, there was nothing so plainly written on his face as headache.
It was so severe that the most merciful thing was to send him to lie on the sofa in the dressing-room. Amabel said she would fetch him some camphor, and disappeared, while Laura sat still with her forced composure. Her father fidgeted, only restrained by her presence from expressing his fears that Philip was too unwell for the marriage to take place today, and Charles talked cheerfully of the great improvement in his general health, saying this was but a chance thing, and that on the whole he might be considered as quite restored.
Mrs. Henley listened and answered, but could not comprehend the state of things. Breakfast was over, when she heard Amabel speaking to Laura in the ante-room.
‘It will go off soon. Here is a cup of hot coffee for you to take him. I’ll call you when it is time to go.’
Amabel and Charlotte were very busy looking after Laura’s packing up, and putting all that was wanted into the carriage, in which the pair were to set off at once from church, without returning to Hollywell.
At the last moment she went to warn Philip it was time to go, if he meant to walk to church alone, the best thing for his head.
‘It is better,’ said Laura, somewhat comforted.
‘Much better for your bathing it, thank you,’ said Philip, rising; then, turning to Amy — ‘Do I wish you good-bye now?’
‘No, I shall see you at church, unless you don’t like to have my blackness there.’
‘Would we not have our guardian angel, Laura?’ said Philip.
‘You know he would have been there,’ said Amy. ‘No one would have been more glad, so thank you for letting me come.’
‘Thank you for coming,’ said Laura, earnestly. ‘It is a comfort.’
They left her, and she stood a few minutes to enjoy the solitude, and to look from the window at her little girl, whom she had sent out with Anne. She was just about to open the window to call to her, and make her look up with one of her merry shouts of ‘Mamma!’ when Philip came out at the garden-door, and was crossing the lawn. Mary was very fond of him, flattered by the attention of the tallest person in the house, and she stretched her arms, and gave a cry of summons. Amabel watched him turn instantly, take her from her nurse, and hold her in a close embrace, whilst her little round arms met round his neck. She was unwilling to be restored to Anne, and when he left she looked up in his face, and unprompted, held up to him the primroses and violets in her hand.
Those flowers were in his coat when Amabel saw him again at church, and she knew that this spontaneous proof of affection from Guy’s little unconscious child was more precious to him than all the kindnesses she could bestow.
Little space was there for musing, for it was high time to set off for church. Mary Ross met the party at the wicket of the churchyard, took Charles on her arm, and by look and sign inquired for Amy.
‘Bright outwardly,’ he answered, ‘and I think so inwardly. Nothing does her so much good as to represent him. Did you wonder to see her?’
‘No’ said Mary. ‘I thought she would come. It is the crowning point of his forgiveness.’
‘Such forgiveness that she has forgotten there is anything to forgive,’ said Charles.
Philip Morville and Laura Edmonstone stood before Mr. Ross. It was not such a wedding as the last. There was more personal beauty, but no such air of freshness, youth, and peace. He was, indeed, a very fine-looking man, his countenance more noble than it had ever been, though pale and not only betraying the present suffering of the throbbing, burning brow, but with the appearance of a care-worn, harassed man, looking more as if his age was five-and-thirty than eight-and-twenty. And she, in her plain white muslin and quiet bonnet, was hardly bridal-looking in dress, and so it was with her face, still beautiful and brilliant in complexion, but with the weight of care permanent on it, and all the shades of feeling concealed by a fixed command of countenance, unable, however, to hide the oppression of dejection and anxiety.
Yet to the eyes that only beheld the surface, there was nothing but prosperity and happiness in a marriage between a pair who had loved so long and devotedly, and after going through so much for each other’s sake, were united at length, with wealth, honour, and distinction before them. His health was reestablished, and the last spring had proved that his talents would place him in such a position as had been the very object of his highest hopes. Was not everything here for which the fondest and most aspiring wishes could seek? Yet for the very reason that there was sadness at almost every heart, not one tear was shed. Mrs. Edmonstone’s thoughts were less engrossed with the bride than with the young slender figure in black, standing in her own drooping way, her head bent down, and the fingers of her right hand clasping tight her wedding-ring, through her white glove.
The service was over. Laura hung round her mother’s neck in an ardent embrace.
‘Your pardon! O, mamma, I see it all now!’
Poor thing! she had too much failed in a daughter’s part to go forth from her home with the clear, loving, hopeful heart her sister had carried from it! Mrs. Edmonstone’s kiss was a full answer, however, a kiss unlike what it had been with all her efforts for many and many a month.
‘Amy, pray that it may not be visited!’ were the last words breathed to her sister, as they were pressed in each other’s arms.
Philip scarcely spoke, only met their kindnesses with grateful gestures and looks, and brief replies, and the parting was hastened that he might as soon as possible be at rest. His only voluntary speech was as he bade farewell to Amabel —
‘My sister now!’
‘And his brother,’ she answered. ‘Good-bye!’
As soon as Amabel was alone in the carriage with Charles, she leant back, and gave way to a flood of tears.
‘Amy, has it been too much?’
‘No,’ she said, recovering herself; ‘but I am so glad! It was his chief desire. Now everything he wished is fulfilled.’
‘And you are free of your great charge. He has been a considerable care to you, but now he is safe on Laura’s hands, and well and satisfactory; so you have no care but your daughter, and we settle into our home life.’
‘Amy, I do wish I was sure you are happy.’
‘Yes, dear Charlie, indeed I am. You are all so very kind to me, and it is a blessing, indeed, that my own dear home can open to take in me and baby. You know he liked giving me back to you.’
‘And it is happiness, not only thinking it ought to be! Don’t let me tease you, Amy, don’t answer if you had rather not.’
‘Thank you, Charlie, it is happiness. It must be when I remember how very happy he used to be, and there can be nothing to spoil it. When I see how all the duties of his station worry and perplex Philip, I am glad he was spared from it, and had all his freshness and brightness his whole life. It beams out on me more now, and it was such perfect happiness while I had him here, and it is such a pleasure and honour to be called by his name; besides, there is baby. Oh! Charlie, I must be happy — I am; do believe it! Indeed, you know I have you and mamma and all too. And, Charlie, I think he made you all precious to me over again by the way he loved you all, and sent me back, to you especially. Yes, Charlie, you must not fancy I grieve. I am very happy, for he is, and all I have is made bright and precious by him.’
‘Yes,’ said he, looking at her, as the colour had come into her face, and she looked perfectly lovely with eager, sincere happiness; one of her husband’s sweetest looks reflected on her face; altogether, such a picture of youth, joy, and love, as had not been displayed by the bride that morning. ‘Amy, I don’t believe anything could make you long unhappy!’
‘Nothing but my own fault. Nothing else can part me from him,’ she whispered almost to herself.
‘Yes; no one else had such a power of making happy,’ said Charles, thoughtfully. ‘Amy, I really don’t know whether even you owe as much to your husband as I do. You were good for something before, but when I look back on what I was when first he came, I know that his leading, unconscious as it was, brought out the stifled good in me. What a wretch I should have been; what a misery to myself and to you all by this time, and now, I verily believe, that since he let in the sunlight from heaven on me, I am better off than if I had as many legs as other people.’
‘Yes. Nobody else lives in such an atmosphere of petting, and has so little to plague them. Nobody else has such a “mamma,” to say nothing of silly little Amy, or Charlotte, or Miss Morville. And as to being of no use, which I used to pine about — why, when the member for Moorworth governs the country, I mean to govern him.’
‘I am sure you are of wonderful use to every one,’ said Amabel; ‘neither Philip nor papa could get on without you to do their writing for them. Besides, I want you to help me when baby grows older.’
‘Is that the laudable result of that great book on education I saw you reading the other day?’ said Charles. ‘Why don’t you borrow a few hints from Mrs. Henley?’
Amy’s clear, playful laugh was just what it used to be.
‘It is all settled, then, that you go on with us! Not that I ever thought you were going to do anything so absurd as to set up for yourself, you silly little woman: but it seems to be considered right to come to a formal settlement about such a grand personage as my Lady Morville.’
‘Yes; it was better to come to an understanding,’ said Amabel. ‘It was better that papa should make up his mind to see that I can’t turn into a young lady again. You see Charlotte will go out with him and be the Miss Edmonstone for company, and he is so proud of her liveliness and — how pretty she is growing — so that will keep him from being vexed. So now you see I can go on my own way, attend to baby, and take Laura’s business about the school, and keep out of the way of company, so that it is very nice and comfortable. It is the very thing that Guy wished!’
Amabel’s life is here pretty well shown. That of Philip and Laura may be guessed at. He was a distinguished man, one of the most honoured and respected in the country, admired for his talents and excellence, and regarded universally as highly prosperous and fortunate, the pride of all who had any connection with him. Yet it was a harassed, anxious life, with little of repose or relief; and Laura spent her time between watching him and tending his health, and in the cares and representation befitting her station, with little space for domestic pleasure and home comfort, knowing her children more intimately through her sister’s observation than through her own.
Perfect and devoted as ever was their love, and they were thought most admirable and happy people. There was some wonder at his being a grave, melancholy man, when he had all before him so richly to enjoy, contrary to every probability when he began life. Still there was one who never could understand why others should think him stern and severe, and why even his own children should look up to him with love that partook of distant awe and respect, one to whom he never was otherwise than indulgent, nay, almost reverential, in the gentleness of his kindness, and that was Mary Verena Morville.
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University of Adelaide
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02