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Chapter 48


Further Intelligence

Five or six days after
this Mr. Lawrence paid us the honour of a call; and when he and I
were alone together - which I contrived as soon as possible by
bringing him out to look at my cornstacks - he showed me another
letter from his sister. This one he was quite willing to submit to
my longing gaze; he thought, I suppose, it would do me good. The
only answer it gave to my message was this:-

'Mr. Markham is at
liberty to make such revelations concerning me as he judges
necessary. He will know that I should wish but little to be said on
the subject. I hope he is well; but tell him he must not think of
me.'

I can give you a few
extracts from the rest of the letter, for I was permitted to keep
this also - perhaps, as an antidote to all pernicious hopes and
fancies.


* * * * * * *

He is decidedly better,
but very low from the depressing effects of his severe illness and
the strict regimen he is obliged to observe - so opposite to all
his previous habits. It is deplorable to see how completely his
past life has degenerated his once noble constitution, and vitiated
the whole system of his organization. But the doctor says he may
now be considered out of danger, if he will only continue to
observe the necessary restrictions. Some stimulating cordials he
must have, but they should be judiciously diluted and sparingly
used; and I find it very difficult to keep him to this. At first,
his extreme dread of death rendered the task an easy one; but in
proportion as he feels his acute suffering abating, and sees the
danger receding, the more intractable he becomes. Now, also, his
appetite for food is beginning to return; and here, too, his long
habits of self-indulgence are greatly against him. I watch and
restrain him as well as I can, and often get bitterly abused for my
rigid severity; and sometimes he contrives to elude my vigilance,
and sometimes acts in opposition to my will. But he is now so
completely reconciled to my attendance in general that he is never
satisfied when I am not by his side. I am obliged to be a little
stiff with him sometimes, or he would make a complete slave of me;
and I know it would be unpardonable weakness to give up all other
interests for him. I have the servants to overlook, and my little
Arthur to attend to, - and my own health too, all of which would be
entirely neglected were I to satisfy his exorbitant demands. I do
not generally sit up at night, for I think the nurse who has made
it her business is better qualified for such undertakings than I
am; - but still, an unbroken night's rest is what I but seldom
enjoy, and never can venture to reckon upon; for my patient makes
no scruple of calling me up at an hour when his wants or his
fancies require my presence. But he is manifestly afraid of my
displeasure; and if at one time he tries my patience by his
unreasonable exactions, and fretful complaints and reproaches, at
another he depresses me by his abject submission and deprecatory
self-abasement when he fears he has gone too far. But all this I
can readily pardon; I know it is chiefly the result of his
enfeebled frame and disordered nerves - what annoys me the most, is
his occasional attempts at affectionate fondness that I can neither
credit nor return; not that I hate him: his sufferings and my own
laborious care have given him some claim to my regard - to my
affection even, if he would only be quiet and sincere, and content
to let things remain as they are; but the more he tries to
conciliate me, the more I shrink from him and from the
future.

'Helen, what do you
mean to do when I get well?' he asked this morning. 'Will you run
away again?'

'It entirely depends
upon your own conduct.'

'Oh, I'll be very
good.'

'But if I find it
necessary to leave you, Arthur, I shall not "run away": you know I
have your own promise that I may go whenever I please, and take my
son with me.'

'Oh, but you shall have
no cause.' And then followed a variety of professions, which I
rather coldly checked.

'Will you not forgive
me, then?' said he.

'Yes, - I have
forgiven you: but I know you cannot love me as you once did - and I
should be very sorry if you were to, for I could not pretend to
return it: so let us drop the subject, and never recur to it again.
By what I have done for you, you may judge of what I
will
do - if it be not incompatible with the higher duty I owe
to my son (higher, because he never forfeited his claims, and
because I hope to do more good to him than I can ever do to you);
and if you wish me to feel kindly towards you, it is deeds
not words which must purchase my affection and
esteem.'

His sole reply to this
was a slight grimace, and a scarcely perceptible shrug. Alas,
unhappy man! words, with him, are so much cheaper than deeds; it
was as if I had said, 'Pounds, not pence, must buy the article you
want.' And then he sighed a querulous, self-commiserating sigh, as
if in pure regret that he, the loved and courted of so many
worshippers, should be now abandoned to the mercy of a harsh,
exacting, cold-hearted woman like that, and even glad of what
kindness she chose to bestow.

'It's a pity, isn't
it?' said I; and whether I rightly divined his musings or not, the
observation chimed in with his thoughts, for he answered - 'It
can't be helped,' with a rueful smile at my penetration.


* * * * * * *

I have seen Esther
Hargrave twice. She is a charming creature, but her blithe spirit
is almost broken, and her sweet temper almost spoiled, by the still
unremitting persecutions of her mother in behalf of her rejected
suitor - not violent, but wearisome and unremitting like a
continual dropping. The unnatural parent seems determined to make
her daughter's life a burden, if she will not yield to her
desires.

'Mamma does all she
can,' said she, 'to make me feel myself a burden and incumbrance to
the family, and the most ungrateful, selfish, and undutiful
daughter that ever was born; and Walter, too, is as stern and cold
and haughty as if he hated me outright. I believe I should have
yielded at once if I had known, from the beginning, how much
resistance would have cost me; but now, for very obstinacy's sake,
I will stand out!'

'A bad motive for a
good resolve,' I answered. 'But, however, I know you have better
motives, really, for your perseverance: and I counsel you to keep
them still in view.'

'Trust me I will. I
threaten mamma sometimes that I'll run away, and disgrace the
family by earning my own livelihood, if she torments me any more;
and then that frightens her a little. But I will do it, in good
earnest, if they don't mind.'

'Be quiet and patient a
while,' said I, 'and better times will come.'

Poor girl! I wish
somebody that was worthy to possess her would come and take her
away - don't you,
Frederick?


* * * * * * *

If the perusal of this
letter filled me with dismay for Helen's future life and mine,
there was one great source of consolation: it was now in my power
to clear her name from every foul aspersion. The Millwards and the
Wilsons should see with their own eyes the bright sun bursting from
the cloud - and they should be scorched and dazzled by its beams; -
and my own friends too should see it - they whose suspicions had
been such gall and wormwood to my soul. To effect this I had only
to drop the seed into the ground, and it would soon become a
stately, branching herb: a few words to my mother and sister, I
knew, would suffice to spread the news throughout the whole
neighbourhood, without any further exertion on my part.

Rose was delighted; and
as soon as I had told her all I thought proper - which was all I
affected to know - she flew with alacrity to put on her bonnet and
shawl, and hasten to carry the glad tidings to the Millwards and
Wilsons - glad tidings, I suspect, to none but herself and Mary
Millward - that steady, sensible girl, whose sterling worth had
been so quickly perceived and duly valued by the supposed Mrs.
Graham, in spite of her plain outside; and who, on her part, had
been better able to see and appreciate that lady's true character
and qualities than the brightest genius among them.

As I may never have
occasion to mention her again, I may as well tell you here that she
was at this time privately engaged to Richard Wilson - a secret, I
believe, to every one but themselves. That worthy student was now
at Cambridge, where his most exemplary conduct and his
diligent perseverance in the pursuit of learning carried him safely
through, and eventually brought him with hard- earned honours, and
an untarnished reputation, to the close of his collegiate career.
In due time he became Mr. Millward's first and only curate - for
that gentleman's declining years forced him at last to acknowledge
that the duties of his extensive parish were a little too much for
those vaunted energies which he was wont to boast over his younger
and less active brethren of the cloth. This was what the patient,
faithful lovers had privately planned and quietly waited for years
ago; and in due time they were united, to the astonishment of the
little world they lived in, that had long since declared them both
born to single blessedness; affirming it impossible that the pale,
retiring bookworm should ever summon courage to seek a wife, or be
able to obtain one if he did, and equally impossible that the
plain-looking, plain-dealing, unattractive, unconciliating Miss
Millward should ever find a husband.

They still continued to
live at the vicarage, the lady dividing her time between her
father, her husband, and their poor parishioners, - and
subsequently her rising family; and now that the Reverend Michael
Millward has been gathered to his fathers, full of years and
honours, the Reverend Richard Wilson has succeeded him to the
vicarage of Linden-hope, greatly to the satisfaction of its
inhabitants, who had so long tried and fully proved his merits, and
those of his excellent and well-loved partner.

If you are interested
in the after fate of that lady's sister, I can only tell you - what
perhaps you have heard from another quarter - that some twelve or
thirteen years ago she relieved the happy couple of her presence by
marrying a wealthy tradesman of L-; and I don't envy him his
bargain. I fear she leads him a rather uncomfortable life, though,
happily, he is too dull to perceive the extent of his misfortune. I
have little enough to do with her myself: we have not met for many
years; but, I am well assured, she has not yet forgotten or
forgiven either her former lover, or the lady whose superior
qualities first opened his eyes to the folly of his boyish
attachment.

As for Richard Wilson's
sister, she, having been wholly unable to recapture Mr. Lawrence,
or obtain any partner rich and elegant enough to suit her ideas of
what the husband of Jane Wilson ought to be, is yet in single
blessedness. Shortly after the death of her mother she withdrew the
light of her presence from Ryecote Farm, finding it impossible any
longer to endure the rough manners and unsophisticated habits of
her honest brother Robert and his worthy wife, or the idea of being
identified with such vulgar people in the eyes of the world, - and
took lodgings in - the county town, where she lived, and still
lives, I suppose, in a kind of close-fisted, cold, uncomfortable
gentility, doing no good to others, and but little to herself;
spending her days in fancy-work and scandal; referring frequently
to her 'brother the vicar,' and her 'sister, the vicar's lady,' but
never to her brother the farmer and her sister the farmer's wife;
seeing as much company as she can without too much expense, but
loving no one and beloved by none - a cold-hearted, supercilious,
keenly, insidiously censorious old maid.

Anne Bronte