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The longing for ignoble things, The strife for triumph more than truth, The hardening of the heart, that brings Irreverence for the dreams of youth.--LONGFELLOW
After his week at Thorndale Park, Captain Morville returned to make his farewell visit at Hollywell, before joining his regiment at Cork, whence it was to sail for the Mediterranean. He reckoned much on this visit, for not even Laura herself could fathom the depth of his affection for her, strengthening in the recesses where he so sternly concealed it, and viewing her ever as more faultless since she had been his own. While she was his noble, strong-minded, generous, fond Laura, he could bear with his disappointment in his sister, with the loss of his home, and with the trials that had made him a grave, severe man. She had proved the strength of her mind by the self-command he had taught her, and for which he was especially grateful to her, as it made him safer and more unconstrained, able to venture on more demonstration than in those early days when every look had made her blush and tremble.
Mr. Edmonstone brought the carriage to fetch him from the station, and quickly began,--
'I suppose, as you have not written, you have found nothing out?'
'And you could do nothing with him. Eh?'
'No; I could not get a word of explanation, nor break through the fence of pride and reserve. I must do him the justice to say that he bears the best of characters at Oxford; and if there were any debts I could not get at them from the tradesmen.'
'Well, well, say no more about it; he is an ungrateful young dog, and I am sick of it. I only wish I could wash my hands of him altogether. It was mere folly to expect any of that set could ever come to good. There's everything going wrong all at once now; poor little Amy breaking her heart after him, and, worse than all, there's poor Charlie laid up again,' said Mr. Edmonstone, one of the most affectionate people in the world; but his maundering mood making him speak of Charles's illness as if he only regarded it as an additional provocation for himself.
'Charles ill!' exclaimed Philip.
'Yes; another, of those formations in the joint. I hoped and trusted that was all over now; but he is as bad as ever,--has not been able to move for a week, and goodness knows when he will again.'
'Indeed! I am very sorry. Is there as much pain as before?'
'Oh, yes. He has not slept a wink these four nights. Mayerne talks of opium; but he says he won't have it till he has seen you, he is so anxious about this unlucky business. If anything could persuade me to have Guy back again it would be that this eternal fretting after him is so bad for poor Charlie.'
'It is on Amy's account that it is impossible to have him here,' said Philip.
'Ay! He shall never set eyes on Amy again unless all this is cleared up, which it never will be, as I desire mamma to tell her. By the bye, Philip, Amy said something of your having a slip with Charles on the stairs.'
There was very nearly an accident; but I believed he was not hurt. I hope it has nothing to do with this illness?'
'He says it was all his own fault,' said Mr. Edmonstone, 'and that he should have been actually down but for you.'
'But is it really thought it can have caused this attack?'
'I can hardly suppose so; but Thompson fancies there may have been some jar. However, don't distress yourself; I dare say it would have come on all the same.'
Philip did not like to be forgiven by Mr. Edmonstone, and there was something very annoying in having this mischance connected with his name, though without his fault; nor did he wish Charles to have the kind of advantage over him that might be derived from seeming to pass over his share in the misfortune.
When they arrived at Hollywell, it was twilight, but no one was in the drawing-room, generally so cheerful at that time of day; the fire had lately been smothered with coals, and looked gloomy and desolate. Mr. Edmonstone left Philip there, and ran up to see how Charles was, and soon after Laura came in, sprang to his side, and held his hand in both hers.
'You bring no good news?' said she, sadly, as she read the answer in his face. '0! how I wish you had. It would be such a comfort now. You have heard about poor Charlie?'
'Yes; and very sorry I am. But, Laura, is it really thought that accident could have occasioned it?'
'Dr. Mayerne does not think so, only Mr. Thompson talked of remote causes, when Amy mentioned it. I don't believe it did any harm, and Charlie himself says you saved him from falling down-stairs.'
Philip had begun to give Laura his version of the accident, as he had already done to her father, when Mrs. Edmonstone came down, looking harassed and anxious. She told her nephew that Charles was very desirous to see him, and sent him up at once.
There was a fire in the dressing-room, and the door was open into the little room, which was only lighted by a lamp on a small table, where Amy was sitting at work. After shaking hands, she went away, leaving him alone with Charles, who lay in his narrow bed against the wall, fixed in one position, his forehead contracted with pain, his eyelids red and heavy from sleeplessness, his eyes very quick and eager, and his hands and arms thrown restlessly outside the coverings.
'I am very sorry to find you here,' said Philip, coming up to him, and taking, rather than receiving, his hot, limp hand. 'Is the pain very bad?'
'That is a matter of course,' said Charles, in a sharp, quick manner, his voice full of suffering. 'I want to hear what you have been doing at Oxford and St. Mildred's.'
'I am sorry I do not bring the tidings you wish.'
'I did not expect you would. I know you too well; but I want to hear what you have been doing--what he said,' answered Charles, in short, impatient sentences.
'It can be of no use, Charlie. You are not in a state to enter on agitating subjects.'
'I tell you I will hear all,' returned Charles, with increased asperity. 'I know you will say nothing to his advantage that you can help, but still I know you will speak what you think the truth, and I want to judge for myself.'
'You speak as if I was not acting for his good.'
'Palaver!' cried Charles, fully sensible of the advantage his illness gave him. 'I want the facts. Begin at the beginning. Sit down-- there's a chair by you. Now tell me, where did you find him?'
Philip could not set Charles down in his present state, and was obliged to submit to a cross-examination, in which he showed no abatement of his natural acuteness, and, unsparing as he always was, laid himself under no restraint at all. Philip was compelled to give a full history of his researches; and if he had afforded no triumph to Guy, Charles revenged him.
'Pray, what did Guy say when he heard the result of this fine voyage of discovery?'
'I did not see him again.'
'Not see him! not tell him he was so far justified!'
'I had no time--at least I thought not. It would have been useless, for while these mysteries continue, my opinion is unchanged, and there was no benefit in renewing vain disputes.'
'Say no more!' exclaimed Charles. 'You have said all I expected, and more too. I gave you credit for domineering and prejudice, now I see it is malignity.'
As he spoke, Laura entered from the dressing-room, and stood aghast at the words, and then looked imploringly at her cousin. Dr. Mayerne was following her, and Charles called out,--
'Now, doctor, give me as much opium as you please. I only want to be stupefied till the world has turned round, and then you may wake me.'
Philip shook hands with Dr. Mayerne, and, without betraying a shade of annoyance, wished Charles good night; but Charles had drawn the coverings over his head, and would not hear him.
'Poor fellow!' said Philip to Laura, when they were out of the room. 'He is a very generous partisan, and excitement and suffering make him carry his zeal to excess.'
'I knew you could not be angry with him.'
'I could not be angry at this time at far more provocation given by any one belonging to you, Laura.'
Laura's heart had that sensation which the French call "se serrer", as she heard him allude to the long separation to which there seemed no limit; but they could say no more.
'Amy,' said Charles, when she returned to him after dinner, 'I am more than ever convinced that things will right themselves. I never saw prejudice more at fault.'
'Did he tell you all about it?'
'I worked out of him all I could, and it is my belief Guy had the best of it. I only wonder he did not horsewhip Philip round the quadrangle. I wish he had.'
'Oh, no, no! But he controlled himself?'
'If he had not we should have heard of it fast enough;' and Charles told what he had been able to gather, while she sat divided between joy and pain.
Philip saw very little more of Charles. He used to come to ask him how he was once a day, but never received any encouragement to lengthen his visit. These gatherings in the diseased joint were always excessively painful, and were very long in coming to the worst, as well as afterwards in healing; and through the week of Philip's stay at Hollywell, Charles was either in a state of great suffering, or else heavy and confused with opiates. His mother's whole time and thoughts were absorbed in him; she attended to him day and night, and could hardly spare a moment for anything else. Indeed, with all her affection and anxiety for the young lovers, Charles was so entirely her engrossing object, that her first feeling of disappointment at the failure of Philip's journey of investigation was because it would grieve Charlie. She could not think about Guy just then, and for Amy there was nothing for it but patience; and, good little creature, it was very nice to see her put her own troubles aside, and be so cheerful a nurse to her brother. She was almost always in his room, for he liked to have her there, and she could not conquer a certain shrinking from Philip.
Laura had once pleaded hard and earnestly for Guy with Philip, but all in vain; she was only taught to think the case more hopeless than before. Laura was a very kind nurse and sister, but she could better be spared than her mother and Amy, so that it generally fell to her lot to be down-stairs, making the drawing-room habitable. Dr. Mayerne, whenever Charles was ill, used to be more at Hollywell than at his own house, and there were few days that he did not dine there. When Amy was out of the way, Philip used to entertain them with long accounts of Redclyffe, how fine a place it was, how far the estate reached on the Moorworth road, of its capacities for improvement, wastes of moorland to be enclosed or planted, magnificent timber needing nothing but thinning. He spoke of the number of tenantry, and the manorial rights, and the influence in both town and county, which, in years gone by, had been proved to the utmost in many a fierce struggle with the house of Thorndale. Sir Guy Morville might be one of the first men in England if he were not wanting to himself. Mr. Edmonstone enjoyed such talk, for it made him revel in the sense of his own magnanimity in refusing his daughter to the owner of all this; and Laura sometimes thought how Philip would have graced such a position, yet how much greater it was to rest entirely on his own merits.
'Ah, my fine fellow!' muttered Dr. Mayerne to himself one day, when Philip and his uncle had left the room, just after a discourse of this kind, 'I see you have not forgotten you are the next heir.'
Laura coloured with indignation, exclaimed, 'Oh!' then checked herself, as if such an aspersion was not worthy of her taking the trouble to refute it.
'Ah! Miss Edmonstone, I did not know you were there.'
'Yes, you were talking to yourself, just as if you were at home,' said Charlotte, who was specially pert to the old doctor, because she knew herself to be a great pet. 'You were telling some home truths to make Laura angry.'
'Well, he would make a very good use of it if he had it,' said the doctor.
'Now you'll make me angry,' said Charlotte; 'and you have not mended matters with Laura. She thinks nothing short of four-syllabled words good enough for Philip.'
'Hush! nonsense, Charlotte!' said Laura, much annoyed.
'There Charlotte, she is avenging herself on you because she can't scold me' said the doctor, pretending to whisper.
'Charlotte is only growing more wild than ever for want of mamma,' said Laura, trying to laugh it off, but there was so much annoyance evident about her, that Dr. Mayerne said,--
'Seriously, I must apologize for my unlucky soliloquy; not that I thought I was saying much harm, for I did not by any means say or think the Captain wished Sir Guy any ill, and few men who stood next in succession to such a property would be likely to forget it.'
'Yes, but Philip is not like other men,' said Charlotte, who, at fourteen, had caught much of her brother's power of repartee, and could be quite as provoking, when unrestrained by any one whom she cared to obey.
Laura felt it was more for her dignity not to notice this, and replied, with an effort for a laugh,--
'It must be your guilty conscience that sets you apologizing, for you said no harm, as you observe.'
'Yes,' said Dr. Mayerne, good-humouredly. 'He does very well without it, and no doubt he would be one of the first men in the country if he had it; but it is in very good hands now, on the whole. I don't think, even if the lad has been tempted into a little folly just now, that he can ever go very far wrong.'
'No, indeed,' said Charlotte; 'but Charlie and I don't believe he has done anything wrong.'
She spoke in a little surly decided tone, as if her opinion put an end to the matter, and Philip's return closed the discussion.
Divided as the party were between up-stairs and down-stairs, and in the absence of Charles's shrewd observation, Philip and Laura had more opportunity of intercourse than usual, and now that his departure would put an end to suspicion, they ventured on more openly seeking each other. It never could be the perfect freedom that they had enjoyed before the avowal of their sentiments, but they had many brief conversations, giving Laura feverish, but exquisite, delight at each renewal of his rare expressions of tenderness.
'What are you going to do to-day?' he asked, on the last morning before he was to leave Hollywell. 'I must see you alone before I go.'
She looked down, and he kept his eyes fixed on her rather sternly, for he had never before made a clandestine appointment, and he did not like feeling ashamed of it. At last she said,--
'I go to East-hill School this afternoon. I shall come away at half- past three.'
Mary Ross was still absent; her six nephews and nieces having taken advantage of her visit to have the measles, not like reasonable children, all at once, so as to be one trouble, but one after the other, so as to keep Aunt Mary with them as long as possible; and Mr. Ross did not know what would have become of the female department of his parish but for Laura, who worked at school-keeping indefatigably.
Laura had some difficulty in shaking off Charlotte's company this afternoon, and was obliged to make the most of the probability of rain, and the dreadful dirt of the roads. Indeed, she represented it as so formidable, that Mrs. Edmonstone, who had hardly time to look out of window, much less to go out of doors, strongly advised her to stay at home herself; and Charlotte grew all the more eager for the fun. Luckily, however, for Laura, Dr. Mayerne came in, laughing at the reports of the weather; and as he was wanted to prescribe for a poor old man in an opposite direction, he took Charlotte with him to show the way, and she was much better pleased to have him for a companion than the grave Laura.
Philip, in the meantime, had walked all the way to Broadstone, timing his return exactly, that he might meet Laura as she came out of the school, and feel as if it had been by chance. It was a gray, misty November day, and the leaves of the elm-trees came floating round them, yellow and damp.
'You have had a wet walk,' said Laura, as they met.
'It is not quite raining,' he answered; and they proceeded for some minutes in silence, until he said,--'It is time we should come to an understanding.'
She looked at him in alarm, and his voice was immediately gentler; indeed, at times it was almost inaudible from his strong emotion. 'I believe that no affection has ever been stronger or truer than ours.'
'Has been!' repeated Laura, in a wondering, bewildered voice.
'And is, if you are satisfied to leave things as they are.'
'I must be, if you are.'
'I will not say I am satisfied with what must be, as I am situated; but I felt it due to you to set the true state of the case before you. Few would venture their love as I do mine with you, bound in reality, though not formally, with no promise sought or given; yet I am not more assured that I stand here than I am that our love is for ever.'
'I am sure it is!' she repeated fervently. '0 Philip, there never was a time I did not love you: and since that day on Ashen Down, I have loved you with my whole heart. I am sometimes afraid it has left no proper room for the rest, when I find how much more I think of your going away than of poor Charles.'
'Yes,' he said, 'you have understood me as none but you would have done, through coldness and reserve, apparently, even towards yourself, and when to others I have seemed grave and severe beyond my years. You have never doubted, you have recognized the warmth within; you have trusted your happiness to me, and it shall be safe in my keeping, for, Laura, it is all mine.'
'There is only one thing,' said Laura, timidly; 'would it not be better if mamma knew?'
'Laura, I have considered that, but remember you are not bound; I have never asked you to bind yourself. You might marry to-morrow, and I should have no right to complain. There is nothing to prevent you.'
She exclaimed, as if with pain.
'True,' he answered; 'you could not, and that certainty suffices me. I ask no more without your parents' consent; but it would be giving them and you useless distress and perplexity to ask it now. They would object to my poverty, and we should gain nothing; for I would never be so selfish as to wish to expose you to such a life as that of the wife of a poor officer; and an open engagement could not add to our confidence in each other. We must be content to wait for my promotion. By that time'--he smiled gravely--'our attachment will have lasted so many years as to give it a claim to respect.'
'It is no new thing.'
'No newer than our lives; but remember, my Laura, that you are but twenty.'
'You have made me feel much older,' sighed Laura, 'not that I would be a thoughtless child again. That cannot last long, not even for poor little Amy'
'No one would wish to part with the deeper feelings of elder years to regain the carelessness of childhood, even to be exempted from the suffering that has brought them.'
'For instance, these two years have scarcely been a time of great happiness to you.'
'Sometimes,' whispered Laura, 'sometimes beyond all words, but often dreary and oppressive.'
'Heaven knows how unwillingly I have rendered it so. Rather than dim the brightness of your life, I would have repressed my own sentiments for ever.'
'But, then, where would have been my brightness?'
'I would, I say, but for a peril to you. I see my fears were unfounded. You were safe; but in my desire to guard you from what has come on poor Amy, my feelings, though not wont to overpower me, carried me further than I intended.'
'Do not suppose I regret it. No, no, Laura; those were the most precious moments in my life, when I drew from you those words and looks which have been blessed in remembrance ever since; and doubly, knowing, as I do, that you also prize that day.'
'In the midst of much that was adverse, and with a necessity for a trust and self-control of which scarce a woman but yourself would have been capable, you have endured nobly--'
'I could bear anything, if you were not going so far away,'
'You will bear that too, Laura, and bravely. It will not be for ever.'
'How long do you think?'
'I cannot tell. Several years may pass before I have my promotion. It may be that I shall not see that cheek in its fresh bloom again, but I shall find the same Laura that I left, the same in love, and strength, and trust.'
'Ah; I shall grow faded and gray, and you will be a sun-burnt old soldier,' said Laura, smiling, and looking, half sadly, half proudly, up to his noble features; 'but hearts don't change like faces!'
After they came near the house, they walked up and down the lane for a long time, for Philip avoided a less public path, in order to keep up his delusion that he was doing nothing in an underhand way. It grew dark, and the fog thickened, straightening Laura's auburn ringlets, and hanging in dew-drops on Philip's rough coat, but little recked they; it was such an hour as they had never enjoyed before. Philip had never so laid himself open, or assured her so earnestly of the force of his affection; and her thrills of ecstasy overcame the desolate expectation of his departure, and made her sensible of strength to bear seven, ten, twenty years of loneliness and apparent neglect. She knew him, and he would never fail her.
Yet, when at last they went in-doors, and Amy followed her to her room, wondering to find her so wet, and so late, who could have seen the two sisters without reading greater peace and serenity in the face of the younger.
Philip felt an elder brother's interest for poor little Amy. He did not see much of her; but he compassionated her as a victim to her mother's imprudence, hoping she would soon be weaned from her attachment. He thought her a good, patient little thing, so soft and gentle as probably not to have the strength and depth that would make the love incurable; and the better he liked her, the more unfit he thought her for Guy. It would have been uniting a dove and a tiger; and his only fear was, that when he was no longer at hand, Mr. Edmonstone's weak good-nature might be prevailed on to sacrifice her. He did his best for her protection, by making his uncle express a resolution never to admit Guy into his family again, unless the accusation of gambling was completely disproved.
The last morning came, and Philip went to take leave of Charles. Poor Charles was feebler by this time, and too much subdued by pain and languor to receive him as at first, but the spirit was the same; and when Philip wished him good-bye, saying he hoped soon to hear he was better, he returned for answer,
'Good-bye, Philip, I hope soon to hear you are better. I had rather have my hip than your mind.'
He was in no condition to be answered, and Philip repeated his good- bye, little thinking how they were to meet again.
The others were assembled in the hall. His aunt's eyes were full of tears, for she loved him dearly, her brother's only son, early left motherless, whom she had regarded like her own child, and who had so nobly fulfilled all the fondest hopes. All his overbearing ways and uncalled-for interference were forgotten, and her voice gave way as she embraced him, saying,
'God bless you, Philip, wherever you may be. We shall miss you very much!'
Little Amy's hand was put into his, and he squeezed it kindly; but she could hardly speak her 'good-bye,' for the tears that came, because she was grieved not to feel more sorry that her highly-esteemed cousin, so kind and condescending to her, was going away for so very long a time.
'Good-bye, Philip,' said Charlotte; 'I shall be quite grown up by the time you come home.'
'Don't make such uncivil auguries, Puss,' said her father; but Philip heard her not, for he was holding Laura's hand in a grasp that seemed as if it never would unclose.
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