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I forgave thee all the blame, I could not forgive the praise.--TENNYSON
'If ever there was a meddlesome coxcomb on this earth!' Such was the exclamation that greeted the ears of Guy as he supported Charles into the breakfast-room; and, at the same time, Mr. Edmonstone tossed a letter into Guy's plate, saying,--
'There's something for you to read.'
Guy began; his lips were tightly pressed together; his brows made one black line across his forehead, and his eye sparkled even through his bent-down eyelashes; but this lasted only a few moments; the forehead smoothed, again, and there was a kind of deliberate restraint and force upon himself, which had so much power, that no one spoke till he had finished, folded it up with a sort of extra care, and returned it, only saying,
'You should not show one such letters, Mr. Edmonstone.'
'Does not it beat everything?' cried Mr. Edmonstone. 'If that is not impertinence, I should like to know what is! But he has played my Lord Paramount rather too long, as I can tell him! I ask his consent, forsooth! Probation, indeed! You might marry her to-morrow, and welcome. There, give it to mamma. See if she does not say the same. Mere spite and malice all along.'
Poor Laura! would no one refute such cruel injustice? Yes, Guy spoke, eagerly,--
'No no; that it never was. He was quite right under his belief.'
'Don't tell me! Not a word in his favour will I hear!' stormed on Mr. Edmonstone. 'Mere envy and ill-will.'
'I always told him so,' said Charles. 'Pure malignity!'
'Nonsense, Charlie!' said Guy, sharply; 'there is no such thing about him.'
'Come, Guy; I can't stand this,' said Mr. Edmonstone. 'I won't have him defended; I never thought to be so deceived; but you all worshipped the boy as if every word that came out of his mouth was Gospel truth, and you've set him up till he would not condescend to take an advice of his own father, who little thought what an upstart sprig he was rearing; but I tell him he has come to the wrong shop for domineering-- eh, mamma?'
'Well!' cried Mrs. Edmonstone, who had read till near the end with tolerable equanimity; this really is too bad!'
'Mamma and all!' thought poor Laura, while her mother continued,--'It is wilful prejudice, to say the least,--I never could have believed him capable of it!'
Charles next had the letter, and was commenting on it in a style of mingled sarcasm and fury; while Laura longed to see it justify itself, as she was sure it would.
'Read it, all of you--every bit,' said Mr. Edmonstone, 'that you may see this paragon of yours!'
'I had rather not,' said Amy, shrinking as it came towards her.
'I should like you to do so, if you don't dislike it very much,' said Guy.
She read in silence; and then came the turn of Laura, who marvelled at the general injustice as she read.
'CORK, April 8th.
'MY DEAR UNCLE,--I am much obliged to you for the communication of your intention with regard to Amabel; but, indeed, I must say I am a good deal surprised that you should have so hastily resolved on so important a step, and have been satisfied with so incomplete an explanation of circumstances which appeared to you, as well as to myself, to show that Guy's character was yet quite unsettled, and his conduct such as to create considerable apprehension that he was habitually extremely imprudent, to say the least of it, in the management of his own affairs. How much more unfit, therefore, to have the happiness of another intrusted to him? I believe--indeed, I understood you to have declared to me that you were resolved never to allow the engagement to be renewed, unless he should, with the deference which is only due to you as his guardian, consent to clear up the mystery with which he has thought fit to invest all his pecuniary transactions, and this, it appears, he refuses, as he persists in denying all explanation of his demand for that large sum of money. As to the cheque, which certainly was applied to discreditable uses, though I will not suffer myself to suppose that Guy was in collusion with his uncle, yet it is not at all improbable that Dixon, not being a very scrupulous person, may, on hearing of the difficulties in which his nephew has been placed, come forward to relieve him from his embarrassment, in the hope of further profit, by thus establishing a claim on his gratitude. In fact, this proof of secretly renewed intercourse with Dixon rather tends to increase the presumption that there is something wrong. I am not writing this in the expectation that the connection should be entirely broken off, for that, indeed, would be out of the question as things stand at present, but for my little cousin's sake, as well as his own, I entreat of you to pause. They are both extremely young--so young, that if there was no other ground, many persons would think it advisable to wait a few years; and why not wait until the time fixed by his grandfather for his coming into possession of his property? If the character of his attachment to Amabel is firm and true, the probation may be of infinite service to him, as keeping before him, during the most critical period of his life, a powerful motive for restraining the natural impetuosity of his disposition; while, on the other hand, if this should prove to have been a mere passing fancy for the first young lady into whose society he has been thrown on terms of easy familiar intercourse, you will then have the satisfaction of reflecting that your care and caution have preserved your daughter from a life of misery. My opinion has never altered respecting him, that he is brave and generous, with good feelings and impulses, manners peculiarly attractive, and altogether a character calculated to inspire affection, but impetuous and unsteady, easily led into temptation, yet obstinate in reserve, and his temper of unchecked violence. I wish him happiness of every kind; and, as you well know, would, do my utmost for his welfare; but my affection for your whole family, and my own conscientious conviction, make me feel it my duty to offer this remonstrance, which I hope will be regarded as by no means the result of any ill-will, but simply of a sincere desire for the good of all parties, such as can only be evinced by plain speaking.
Ail the time Laura was reading, Guy was defending Philip against the exaggerated abuse that Mr. Edmonstone and Charles were pouring out, till at last, Mrs. Edmonstone, getting out of patience, said,--
'My dear Guy, if we did not know you so well, we should almost accuse you of affectation.'
'Then I shall go away,' said Guy, laughing as he rose. 'Can you come out with me?' said he, in a lower tone, leaning over the back of Amy's chair.
'No; wait a bit,' interposed Mr. Edmonstone; 'don't take her out, or you won't be to be found, anywhere, and I want to speak to you before I write my letter, and go to the Union Meeting. I want to tell Master Philip, on the spot, that the day is fixed, and we snap our fingers at him and his probation. Wait till twenty-five! I dare say!'
At 'I want to speak to you,' the ladies had made the first move towards departure, but they were not out of hearing at the conclusion. Guy looked after Amy, but she would not look round, and Charles lay twisting Bustle's curls round his fingers, and smiling to himself at the manner in which the letter was working by contraries. The overthrow of Philip's influence was a great triumph for him, apart from the way in which it affected his friend and his sister.
Mr. Edmonstone was disappointed that Guy would not set about fixing the day, in time for him to announce it in a letter to be written in the course of an hour. Guy said he had not begun on the subject with Amy, and it would never do to hurry her. Indeed, it was a new light to himself that Mr. Edmonstone would like it to take place so soon.
'Pray, when did you think it was to be?' said Mr. Edmonstone. 'Upon my word, I never in all my days saw a lover like you, Guy!'
'I was too happy to think about the future; besides, I did not know whether you had sufficient confidence in me.'
'Confidence, nonsense! I tell you if I had a dozen daughters, I would trust them all to you.'
Guy smiled, and was infected by Charles's burst of laughing, but Mr. Edmonstone went on unheeding--'I have the most absolute confidence in you! I am going to write to Philip this minute, to tell him he has played three-tailed Bashaw rather too long. I shall tell him it is to be very soon, at any rate; and that if he wishes to see how I value his pragmatical advice, he may come and dance at the wedding. I declare, your mamma and that colonel of his have perfectly spoilt him with their flattery! I knew what would come of it; you all would make a prodigy of him, till he is so puffed up, that he entirely forgets who he is!'
'Not I' said Charles; 'that can't be laid to my door.'
'But I'll write him such a letter this instant as shall make him remember what he is, and show him who he has to deal with. Eh, Charlie?'
'Don't you think,' said Guy, preparing to go, 'that it might be better to wait a day or two, till we see our way clearer, and are a little cooler?'
'I tell you, Guy, there is no one that puts me out of patience now, but yourself. You are as bad as Philip himself. Cool? I am coolness itself, all but what's proper spirit for a man to show when his family is affronted, and himself dictated to, by a meddling young jackanapes. I'll serve him out properly!'
A message called him away. Guy stood looking perplexed and sorrowful.
'Never mind,' said Charles, 'I'll take care the letter is moderate. Besides, it is only Philip, and he knows that letter-writing is not his forte.'
'I am afraid things will be said in irritation, which you will both regret. There are justice and reason in the letter.'
'There shall be more in the answer, as you will see.'
'No, I will not see. It is Mr. Edmonstone's concern, not mine. I am the last person who should have anything to do with it.'
'Just what the individual in question would not have said.'
'Would you do one thing to oblige me, Charlie?'
'Anything but not speaking my mind to, or of, the captain.'
'That is the very thing, unluckily. Try to get the answer put off till to-morrow, and that will give time to look at this letter candidly.'
'All the candour in the world will not make me think otherwise than that he is disappointed at being no longer able to make us the puppets of his malevolence. Don't answer, or if you do, tell me what you say in favour of that delicate insinuation of his.'
Guy made a step towards the window, and a step back again. ''Tis not fair to ask such questions,' he replied, after a moment. 'It is throwing oil on the fire. I was trying to forget it. He neither knows my uncle nor the circumstances.'
'Well, I am glad there is a point on which you can't even pretend to stand up for him, or I should have thought you crazed with Quixotism. But I am keeping you when you want to be off to Amy. Never mind Mr. Ready-to-halt; I shall wait till my father comes back. If you want the letter put off you had better give some hopes of--Oh! he is gone, and disinterested advice it is of mine, for what is to become of me without Amy remains to be proved. Laura, poor thing, looks like Patience on a monument. I wonder whether Philip's disgrace has anything to do with it. Hum! If mamma's old idea was right, the captain has been more like moth and candle than consistent with his prudence, unless he thought it "a toute epreuve". I wonder what came to pass last autumn, when I was ill, and mamma's head full of me. He may not intend it, and she may not know it, but I would by no means answer for Cupid's being guiltless of that harassed look she has had ever since that ball-going summer. Oh! there go that pretty study, Amy and her true knight. As to Guy, he is more incomprehensible than ever; yet there is no avoiding obeying him, on the principle on which that child in the "Moorland cottage" said she should obey Don Quixote.'
So when his father came in, Charles wiled him into deferring the letter till the next day, by giving him an indistinct hope that some notion when the marriage would be, might be arrived at by that time. He consented the more readily, because he was in haste to investigate a complaint that had just been made of the union doctor; but his last words to his wife and son before he went, were--'Of course, they must marry directly, there is nothing on earth to wait for. Live at Redclyffe alone? Not to be thought of. No, I'll see little Amy my Lady Morville, before Philip goes abroad, if only to show him I am not a man to be dictated to.'
Mrs. Edmonstone sighed; but when he was gone, she agreed with Charles that there was nothing to wait for, and that it would be better for Guy to take his wife at once with him, when he settled at Redclyffe. So it must be whenever Amy could make up her mind to it; and thereupon they made plans for future meetings, Charles announcing that the Prince of the Black Isles would become locomotive, and Charlotte forming grand designs upon Shag Island.
In the meantime, Guy and Amy were walking in the path through the wood, where he began: 'I would not have asked you to do anything so unpleasant as reading that letter, but I thought you ought to consider of it.'
'It was just like himself! How could he?' said Amy, indignantly.
'I wonder whether he will ever see his own harshness?' said Guy. 'It is very strange, that with all his excellence and real kindness, there should be some distortion in his view of all that concerns me. I cannot understand it.'
'You must let me call it prejudice, Guy, in spite of your protest. It is a relief to say something against him.'
'Amy, don't be venomous!' said Guy, in a playful tone of reproach.
'Yes; but you know it is not me whom he has been abusing.'
'Well,' said Guy, musingly, 'I suppose it is right there should be this cloud, or it would be too bright for earth. It has been one of my chief wishes to have things straight with Philip, ever since the time he stayed at Redclyffe as a boy. I saw his superiority then; but it fretted me, and I never could make a companion of him. Ever since, I have looked to his approval as one of the best things to be won. It shows his ascendancy of character; yet, do what I will, the mist has gone on thickening between us; and with reason, for I have never been able to give him the confidence he required, and his conduct about my uncle has so tried my patience, that I never have been quite sure whether I ought to avoid him or not.'
'And now you are the only person who will speak for him. I don't wonder papa is provoked with you,' said she, pretending to be wilful. 'I only hope you don't want to make me do the same. I could bear anything better than his old saying about your attractive manners and good impulses, and his opinion that has never altered. 0 Guy, he is the most provoking person in all the world. Don't try to make me admire him, nor be sorry for him.'
'Not when you remember how he was looked on here? and how, without doing anything worthy of blame, nay, from his acting unsparingly, as he thought right, every one has turned against him? even mamma, who used to be so fond of him?'
'No, not Laura, and I am thankful to her for it; for all this makes me feel as if I had supplanted him.'
'Yes, yes, yes, it is like you; but don't ask me to feel that yet,' said Amy, with tears in her eyes,' or I shall be obliged to tell you what you won't like to hear, about his tone of triumph that terrible time last year. It was so very different, I don't think I could ever forgive him, if it had not made me so miserable too.'
Guy pressed her arm. 'Yes; but he thought himself right. He meant to do the kindest thing by you,' said he, so entirely without effort, that no one could doubt it came straight from his heart. 'So he thinks still, Amy; there is fairness, justice, good sense in his letter, and we must not blind our eyes to it, though there is injustice, at least, harshness. I did fail egregiously in my first trial.'
'And, Amy, I wanted to ask what you think about the four years he speaks of. Do you think, as he says, my habits might be more fixed, and altogether you might have more confidence?'
'I don't look on you quite as he does now,' said Amy, with a very pretty smile. 'Do you think his opinion of you will ever alter?'
'But what do you think? Is there not some reason in what he says?'
'The only use I can see is, that perhaps I should be wiser at twenty- four, and fitter to take care of such a great house; but then you have been always helping me to grow wiser, and I am not much afraid but that you will be patient with me. Indeed, Guy, I don't know whether it is a thing I ought to say,' she added, blushing, 'but I think it would be dismal for you to go and live all alone at Redclyffe.'
'Honestly, Amy,' replied he, after a little pause, 'if you feel so, and your father approves, I don't think it will be better to wait. I know your presence is a safeguard, and if the right motives did not suffice to keep me straight, and I was only apparently so from hopes of you, why then I should be so utterly good for nothing at the bottom, if not on the surface, that you had better have nothing to say to me.'
Amy laughed incredulously.
'That being settled,' proceeded Guy, 'did you hear what your father said as you left the breakfast-room?'
She coloured all over, and there was silence. 'What did you answer?' said she, at length.
'I said, whatever happened, you must not be taken by surprise in having to decide quickly. Do you wish to have time to think? I'll go in and leave you to consider, if you like.'
'I only want to know what you wish,' said Amy, not parting with his arm.
'I had rather you did just as suits you best. Of course, you know what my wish must be.'
Amy walked on a little way in silence. 'Very well,' said she, presently, 'I think you and mamma had better settle it. The worst'-- she had tears in her eyes--'the going away--mamma--Charlie--all that will be as bad at one time as at another.' The tears flowed faster. 'It had better be as you all like best.'
'0 Amy! I wonder at myself for daring to ask you to exchange your bright cheerful home for my gloomy old house.'
'No, your home,' said Amy, softly.
'I used to wonder why it was called gloomy; but it will be so no more when you are there. Yet there is a shadow hanging over it, which makes it sometimes seem too strange that you and it should be brought together.'
'I have read somewhere that there is no real gloom but what people raise for themselves.'
'True. Gloom is in sin, not sorrow. Yes, there would be no comfort if I were not sure that if aught of grief or pain should come to you through me, it will not, cannot really hurt you, my Amy.'
'No, unless by my own fault, and you will help me to meet it. Hark! was that a nightingale?'
'Yes, the first! How beautiful! There--don't you see it? Look on that hazel, you may see its throat moving. Well!' when they had listened for a long time,--'after all, that creature and the sea will hardly let one speak of gloom, even in this world, to say nothing of other things.
'The sea! I am glad I have never seen it, because now you will show it to me for the first time.'
'You will never, can never imagine it, Amy! and he sung,--
'With all tones of waters blending, Glorious is the breaking deep, Glorious, beauteous, without ending, Songs of ocean never sleep.'
A silence followed, only broken by the notes of the birds, and presently by the strokes of the great clock. Guy looked at his watch.
'Eleven, Amy! I must go to my reading, or you will have to be very much ashamed of me.'
For, after the first few days, Guy had returned to study regularly every day. He said it was a matter of necessity, not at all of merit, for though he did not mean to try for honours, Amy must not marry a plucked man. His whole career at Oxford had been such a struggle with the disadvantages of his education, that all his diligence had, he thought, hardly raised him to a level with his contemporaries. Moreover, courtship was not the best preparation for the schools, so that though he knew he had done his best, he expected no more than to pass respectably, and told Amy it was very good of her to be contented with a dunce, whereat she laughed merrily. But she knew him too well to try to keep him lingering in the April sunshine, and in they went, Guy to his Greek, and Amy to her mother. Charlotte's lessons had been in abeyance, or turned over to Laura of late, and Mrs. Edmonstone and her dressing-room were always ready for the confidences of the family, who sought her there in turn--all but one, and that the one whose need was the sorest.
Amy and her mother comforted themselves with a good quiet cry, that was not exactly sorrowful, and came to the conclusion that Guy was the most considerate person in the world, and they would do whatever best suited him and papa. So, when Mr. Edmonstone came home, he was rewarded for putting off the letter by finding every one willing to let the marriage take place whenever he pleased. There were various conferences in the dressing-room, and Guy and Amy both had burning faces when they came down to dinner. Laura beheld them with a throbbing heart, while she mechanically talked to Dr. Mayerne, as if nothing was going on. She was glad there was no singing that evening, for she felt incapable of joining; and when at night Charles and his father talked of sitting up to write to Philip, the misery was such that she had no relief till she had shut herself in her room, to bear or to crush the suffering as best she might.
She was still sitting helpless in her wretchedness when Amy knocked at the door, and came in glowing with blushes and smiles, though her eyelashes were dewy with tears.
'Laura, dearest! if you would not be so very unhappy! I wish I knew what to do for you.'
Laura laid her head on her shoulder, and cried. It was a great comfort, little as Amy could understand her trouble. Amy kissed her, soothed her caressingly, cried too, and said, in broken sentences, how often they would be together, and how comfortable it was that Charlie was so much better, and Charlotte quite a companion.
'Then you have fixed the day?' whispered Laura, at last.
'The Tuesday in Whitsun-week,' returned Amy, resting her forehead on Laura's shoulder. 'They all thought it right.'
Laura flung her arms round her, and wept too much to speak.
'Dear, dear Laura!' said Amy, after a time, 'it is very kind of you, but--'
'Oh, Amy! you don't know. You must not think so much better of me than I deserve. It is not only--No, I would not be so selfish, if but--but- -' Never had her self-command so given way.
'Ah! you are unhappy about Philip,' said Amy; and Laura, alarmed lest she might have betrayed him, started, and tried to recover herself; but she saw Amy was quite unsuspicious, and the relief from this fright helped her through what her sister was saying,-- 'Yes, you, who were so fond of him, must be vexed at this unkindness on his part.'
'I am sure it is his real wish for your good,' murmured Laura.
'I dare say!' said Amy, with displeasure. Then changing her tone, 'I beg your pardon, dear Laura, but I don't think I can quite bear to hear any one but Guy defend him.'
'It is very generous.'
'Oh, is not it, Laura? and he says he is so grieved to see us turned against Philip, after being so fond of him; he says it makes him feel as if he had supplanted him, and that he is quite thankful to you for taking his part still.'
'How shall I bear it?' sighed Laura, to herself.
'I wonder whether he will come?' said Amy, thoughtfully.
'He will,' said Laura.
'You think so?' said Amy. 'Well, Guy would be glad. Yes. 0 Laura, if Philip would learn to do Guy justice, I don't think there would be any more to wish!'
'He will in time,' said Laura. 'He is too generous not to be won by such generosity as Guy's; and when all this is forgotten, and all these accusations have been lived down, he will be the warmest of friends.'
'Yes,' said Amy, as if she wished to be convinced; 'but if he would only leave off saying his opinion has never altered, I think I could bring myself to look on him as Guy wants me to do. Good night! dear Laura, and don't be unhappy. Oh! one thing I must tell you; Guy made Charles promise to do all he could not to let it be a hasty letter. Now, good night!'
Poor Laura, she knew not whether gratitude to Guy was not one of her most painful sensations. She wished much to know what had been said in the letter; but only one sentence transpired, and that was, that Mr. Edmonstone had never heard it was necessary to apply to a nephew for consent to a daughter's marriage. It seemed as if it must have been as cutting as Charles could make it; but Laura trusted to Philip's knowledge of the family, and desire for their good, to make him forgive it, and the expectation of seeing him again at the wedding, cheered her. Indeed, a hope of still greater consequences began to rise in her mind, after Charles one day said to her, 'I think you ought to be much obliged to Guy. This morning, he suddenly exclaimed, "I say, Charlie, I wish you would take care Amy's fortune is not settled on her so that it can't be got rid of." I asked how he meant to make ducks and drakes of it; and he explained, that if either of you two did not happen to marry for money, like Amy, it might do you no harm.'
'We are very much obliged to him,' said Laura, more earnestly than Charles had expected. 'Do you know what it is, Charlie?'
'Oh! you want to calculate the amount of your obligation! Somewhere about five thousand pounds, I believe.'
Charles watched Laura, and the former idea recurred, as he wondered whether there was any particular meaning in her inquiry.
Meaning, indeed, there was. Laura knew nothing about the value of money; she did not know what Philip had of his own; how far five, or even ten, thousand would go in enabling them to marry, or whether it was available in her father's lifetime; but she thought this prospect might smooth the way to the avowal of their attachment, as effectually as his promotion; she reckoned on relief from the weary oppression of secrecy, and fully expected that it would all be told in the favourable juncture, when her parents were full of satisfaction in Amy's marriage. Gratitude to Guy would put an end to all doubt, dislike, and prejudice, and Philip would receive him as a brother.
These hopes supported Laura, and enabled her to take part with more appearance of interest in the consultations and arrangements for the marriage, which were carried on speedily, as the time was short, and Mr. Edmonstone's ideas were on a grand scale. It seemed as if he meant to invite all the world, and there were no limits to his views of breakfast, carriages, and splendours. His wife let him run on without contradiction, leaving the plans either to evaporate or condense, as time might prove best. Guy took Amy out walking, and asked what she thought of it.
'Do you dislike it very much?' she said.
'I can hardly tell. Of course, as a general rule, the less parade and nonsense the better; but if your father wishes it, and if people do find enjoyment in that way, it seems hard they should not have all they can out of it.'
'Oh, yes; the school children and poor people,' said Amy.
'How happy the Ashford children will be, feasting the poor people at Redclyffe! Old Jonas Ledbury will be in high glory.'
'To be sure it does not seem like merit to feast one's poor neighbours rather than the rich. It is so much pleasanter.'
'However, since the poor will be feasted, I don't think the rich ones will do us much harm.'
'I am sure I shall know very little about them,' said Amy.
'The realities are so great to us, that they will swallow up the accessories. There must be the church, and all that; and for the rest, Amy, I don't think I shall find out whether you wear lace or grogram.'
'There's encouragement for me!' said Amy, laughing. 'However, what I mean is, that I don't care about it, if I am not obliged to attend, and give my mind, to those kind of things just then, and that mamma will take care of.'
'Is it not a great trouble for her? I forgot that. It was selfish; for we slip out of the fuss, and it all falls on her.'
'Yes,' said Amy; 'but don't you think it would tease her more to have to persuade papa out of what he likes, and alter every little matter? That would be worry, the rest only exertion; and, do you know, I think,' said she, with a rising tear, 'that it will be better for her, to keep her from thinking about losing me.'
'I see. Very well, we will take the finery quietly. Only one thing, Amy, we will not be put out of,--we will not miss the full holy-day service.'
'Oh, yes; that will be the comfort.'
'One other thing, Amy. You know I have hardly a friend of my own; but there is one person I should like to ask,--Markham. He has been so kind, and so much attached to me; he loved my father so devotedly, and suffered so much at his death, that it is a pity he should not be made happy; and very happy he will be.'
'And there is one person I should like to ask, Guy, if mamma thinks we can do it. I am sure little Marianne ought to be one of my bridesmaids. Charlotte would take care of her, and it would be very nice to have her.'
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