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But no kind influence deign they shower, Till pride be quelled and love be free.--SCOTT
Kilcoran was about twenty miles from Cork, and Captain Morville was engaged to go and spend a day or two there. Maurice de Courcy drove him thither, wishing all the way for some other companion, since no one ever ventured to smoke a cigar in the proximity of 'Morville'; and, besides, Maurice's conversational powers were obliged to be entirely bestowed on his horse and dog, for the captain, instead of, as usual, devoting himself to suit his talk to his audience, was wrapped in the deepest meditation, now and then taking out a letter and referring to it.
This letter was the reply jointly compounded by Mr. Edmonstone and Charles, and the subject of his consideration was, whether he should accept the invitation to the wedding. Charles had taken care fully to explain how the truth respecting the cheque had come out, and Philip could no longer suspect that it had been a fabrication of Dixon's; but while Guy persisted in denial of any answer about the thousand pounds, he thought the renewal of the engagement extremely imprudent. He was very sorry for poor little Amy, for her comfort and happiness were, he thought, placed in the utmost jeopardy, with such a hot temper, under the most favourable circumstances; and there was the further peril, that when the novelty of the life with her at Redclyffe had passed off, Guy might seek for excitement in the dissipation to which his uncle had probably already introduced him. In the four years' probation, he saw the only hope of steadying Guy, or of saving Amy, and he was much concerned at the rejection of his advice, entirely for their sakes, for he could not condescend to be affronted at the scornful, satirical tone towards himself, in which Charles's little spitefulness was so fully apparent.
The wedding was a regular sacrifice, and Amabel was nothing but a victim; but an invitation to Hollywell had a charm for him that he scarcely could resist. To see Laura again, after having parted, as he thought, for so many years, delighted him in anticipation; and it would manifest his real interest in his young cousins, and show that he was superior to taking offence at the folly of Charles or his father.
These were his first thoughts and inclinations; his second were, that it was contrary to his principles to sanction so foolish and hasty a marriage by his presence; that he should thus be affording a triumph to Guy, and to one who would use it less moderately--to Charles. It would be more worthy of himself, more consistent with his whole course of conduct, to refuse his presence, instead of going amongst them when they were all infatuated, and unable to listen to sober counsel. If he stayed away now, when Guy should have justified his opinion, they would all own how wisely he had acted, and would see the true dignity which had refused, unlike common minds, to let his complaisance draw him into giving any sanction to what he so strongly disapproved. Laura, too, would pass through this trying time better if she was not distracted by watching him; she would understand the cause of his absence, and he could trust her to love and comprehend him at a distance, better than he could trust her to hear the marriage-service in his presence without betraying herself. Nor did he wish to hear her again plead for the confession of their engagement; and, supposing any misadventure should lead to its betrayal, what could be more unpleasant than for it to be revealed at such a time, when Charles would so turn it against him, that all his influence and usefulness would be for ever at an end?
Love drew him one way, and consistency another. Captain Morville had never been so much in the condition of Mahomet's coffin in his life; and he grew more angry with his uncle, Charles, and Guy, for having put him in so unpleasant a predicament. So the self-debate lasted all the way to Kilcoran and he only had two comforts--one, that he had sent the follower who was always amenable to good advice, safe out of the way of Lady Eveleen, to spend his leave of absence at Thorndale--the other, that Maurice de Courcy was, as yet, ignorant of the Hollywell news, and did not torment him by talking about it.
This satisfaction, however, lasted no longer than till their arrival at Kilcoran; for, the instant they entered the drawing-room, Lady Eveleen exclaimed, '0 Maurice, I have been so longing for you to come! Captain Morville, I hope you have not told him, for I can't flatter myself to be beforehand with you, now at least.'
'He has told me nothing,' said Maurice; 'indeed, such bad company has seldom been seen as he has been all the way.'
'You don't mean that you don't know it? How delightful! 0, mamma! think of knowing something Captain Morville does not!'
'I am afraid I cannot flatter you so far,' said Philip, knowing this was no place for allowing his real opinion to be guessed.
'Then you do know?' said Lady Kilcoran, sleepily; 'I am sure it is a subject of great rejoicing.'
'But what is it, Eva? Make haste and tell,' said Maurice.
'No; you must guess!'
'Why, you would not be in such a way about it if it was not a wedding.'
'Right, Maurice; now, who is it?'
'One of the Edmonstones, I suppose. 'Tis Laura?'
'What, not Laura! I thought she would have been off first. Somebody's got no taste, then, for Laura is the prettiest girl I know.'
'Ah! your heart has escaped breaking this time, Maurice. It is that little puss, Amy, that has made a great conquest. Now guess.'
'Oh! young Morville, of course. But what possessed him to take Amy, and leave Laura?'
'Perhaps Laura was not to be had. Men are so self-sufficient, that they always think they may pick and choose. Is it not so, Captain Morville? I like Sir Guy better than most men, but Laura is too good for any one I know. If I could make a perfect hero, I would at once, only Charles would tell me all the perfect heroes in books are bores. How long have you known of it, Captain Morville?'
'For the last ten days.'
'And you never mentioned it?'
'I did not know whether they intended to publish it.'
'Now, Captain Morville, I hope to make some progress in your good opinion. Of course, you believe I can't keep a secret; but what do you think of my having known it ever since last summer, and held my tongue all that time?'
'A great effort, indeed,' said Philip, smiling. 'It would have been greater, I suppose, if the engagement had been positive, not conditional.'
'Oh! every one knew what it must come to. No one could have the least fear of Sir Guy. Yes; I saw it all. I gave my little aid, and I am sure I have a right to be bridesmaid, as I am to be. Oh! won't it be charming? It is to be the grandest wedding that ever was seen. It is to be on Whit-Tuesday; and papa is going to take me and Aunt Charlotte; for old Aunt Mabel says Aunt Charlotte must go. There are to be six bridesmaids, and a great party at the breakfast; everything as splendid as possible; and I made Mrs. Edmonstone promise from the first that we should have a ball. You must go, Maurice.'
'I shall be on the high seas!'
'Oh yes, that is horrid! But you don't sail with the regiment, I think, Captain Morville. You surely go?'
'I am not certain,' said Philip; especially disgusted by hearing of the splendour, and thinking that he had supposed Guy would have had more sense; and it showed how silly Amy really was, since she was evidently only anxious to enjoy the full paraphernalia of a bride.
'Not certain!' exclaimed Maurice and Eveleen, in a breath.
'I am not sure that I shall have time. You know I have been intending to make a walking tour through Switzerland before joining at Corfu.'
'And you really would prefer going by yourself--"apart, unfriended, melancholy, slow."'
'Very slow, indeed,' said Maurice.
'A wedding is a confused melancholy affair,' said Philip. 'You know I am no dancing man, Lady Eveleen; one individual like myself can make little difference to persons engrossed with their own affairs; I can wish my cousins well from a distance as well as at hand; and though they have been kind enough to ask me, I think that while their house is overflowing with guests of more mark, my room will be preferred to my company.'
'Then you do not mean to go?' said Lady Kilcoran. 'I do not,' she continued, 'for my health is never equal to so much excitement, and it would only be giving poor Mrs. Edmonstone additional trouble to have to attend to me.'
'So you really mean to stay away?' said Eveleen.
'I have not entirely decided.'
'At any rate you must go and tell old Aunt Mabel all about them,' said Eveleen. 'She is so delighted. You will be quite worshipped, at the cottage, for the very name of Morville. I spend whole hours in discoursing on Sir Guy's perfections.'
Philip could not refuse; but his feelings towards Guy were not warmed by the work he had to go through, when conducted to the cottage, where lived old Lady Mabel Edmonstone and her daughter, and there required to dilate on Guy's excellence. He was not wanted to speak of any of the points where his conscience would not let him give a favourable report; it was quite enough for him to tell of Guy's agreeable manners and musical talents, and to describe the beauty and extent of Redclyffe. Lady Mabel and Miss Edmonstone were transported; and the more Philip saw of the light and superficial way in which the marriage was considered, the more unwilling he became to confound himself with such people by eagerness to be present at it, and to join in the festivities. Yet he exercised great forbearance in not allowing one word of his disapproval or misgivings to escape him; no censure was uttered, and Lady Eveleen herself could not make out whether he rejoiced or not. He was grave and philosophical, superior to nonsensical mirth, that was all that she saw; and he made himself very agreeable throughout his visit, by taking condescending interest in all that was going on, and especially to Lady Eveleen, by showing that he thought her worthy of rational converse.
He made himself useful, as usual. Lord Kilcoran wanted a tutor for his two youngest boys, and it had been proposed to send them to Mr. Wellwood, at his curacy at Coombe Prior. He wished to know what Captain Morville thought of the plan; and Philip, thinking that Mr. Wellwood had been very inattentive to Guy's proceedings at St. Mildred's, though he would not blame him, considered it very fortunate that he had a different plan to recommend. One of the officers of his regiment had lately had staying with him a brother who had just left Oxford, and was looking out for a tutorship, a very clever and agreeable young man, whom he liked particularly, and he strongly advised Lord Kilcoran to keep his sons under his own eye, and place them under the care of this gentleman. His advice, especially when enforced by his presence, was almost sure to prevail, and thus it was in the present case.
The upshot of his visit was, that he thought worse and worse of the sense of the whole Edmonstone connection,--considered that it would be of no use for him to go to Hollywell,--adhered to his second resolution, and wrote to his uncle a calm and lofty letter, free from all token of offence, expressing every wish for the happiness of Guy and Amabel, and thanking his uncle for the invitation, which, however, he thought it best to decline, much as he regretted losing the opportunity of seeing Hollywell and its inhabitants again. His regiment would sail for Corfu either in May or June; but he intended, himself, to travel on foot through Germany and Italy, and would write again before quitting Ireland.
'So,' said Charles, 'there were at the marriage the Picanninies, and the Joblillies, and the Garryulies, but not the grand Panjandrum himself.'
'Nor the little round button at top!' rejoined Charlotte.
'Well, it's his own look out,' said Mr. Edmonstone. 'It is of a piece with all the rest.'
'I am sure we don't want him,' said Charlotte.
'Not in this humour,' said her mother.
Amy said nothing; and if she did not allow herself to avow that his absence was a relief, it was because she saw it was a grief and disappointment to Guy.
Laura was, of course, very much mortified,--almost beyond the power of concealment. She thought he would have come for the sake of seeing her, and she had reckoned so much on this meeting that it was double vexation. He did not know what he was missing by not coming; and she could not inform him, for writing to him was impossible, without the underhand dealings to which they would never, either of them, have recourse. So much for herself; and his perseverance in disapproval, in spite of renewed explanation, made her more anxious and sorry on Amy's account. Very mournful were poor Laura's sensations; but there was no remedy but to try to bewilder and drive them away in the bustle of preparation.
Guy had to go and take his degree, and then return to make his own preparations at Redclyffe. Amy begged him, as she knew he would like, to leave things alone as much as possible; for she could not bear old places to be pulled to pieces to suit new-comers; and she should like to find it just as he had been used to it.
He smiled, and said, 'It should only be made habitable.' She must have a morning-room, about which he would consult Mrs. Ashford: and he would choose her piano himself. The great drawing-room had never been unpacked since his grandmother's time, so that must be in repair; and, as for a garden, they would lay it out together. There could not be much done; for though they did not talk of it publicly, lest they should shock Mr. Edmonstone, they meant to go home directly after their marriage.
To Oxford, then, went Guy; his second letter announced that he had done tolerably well on his examination; and it came round to the Edmonstones, that it was a great pity he had not gone up for honours, as he would certainly have distinguished himself.
Redclyffe was, of course, in a state of great excitement at the news that Sir Guy was going to be married. Markham was very grand with the letter that announced it, and could find nothing to grumble about but that the lad was very young, and it was lucky it was no worse.
Mrs. Ashford was glad it was so good a connection, and obtained all the intelligence she could from James Thorndale, who spoke warmly of the Hollywell family in general; and, in particular, said that the young ladies looked after schools and poor people,--that Miss Edmonstone was very handsome and clever--a very superior person; but as to Miss Amabel, he did not know that there was anything to say about her. She was just like other young ladies, and very attentive to her invalid brother.
Markham's enmity to Mr. Ashford had subsided at the bidding of his master; and he informed him one day, with great cordiality, that Sir Guy would be at home the next. He was to sleep that night at Coombe Prior, and ride to Redclyffe in the morning; and, to the great delight of the boys, it was at the parsonage door that he dismounted.
Mrs. Ashford looked up in his bright face, and saw no more of the shade that had perplexed her last winter. His cheeks were deeper red as she warmly shook hands with him; and then the children sprung upon him for their old games,--the boys claiming his promise, with all their might, to take them out to the Shag. She wondered when she should venture to talk to him about Miss Amabel. He next went to find Markham, and met him before he reached his house. Markham was too happy not to grant and grumble more than ever.
'Well, Sir Guy; so here you are! You've lost no time about it, however. A fine pair of young housekeepers, and a pretty example of early marriages for the parish!'
Guy laughed. 'You must come and see the example, Markham. I have a message from Mr. and Mrs. Edmonstone, to ask you to come to Hollywell at Whitsuntide.'
Grunt! 'You are making a fool of me, Sir Guy. What's a plain old man like me to do among all your lords and ladies, and finery and flummery? I'll do no such thing.'
'Not to oblige me?'
'Oblige you? Nonsense! Much you'll care for me!'
'Nay, Markham, you must not stay away. You, my oldest and best friend,--my only home friend. I owe all my present happiness to you, and it would really be a great disappointment to me if you did not come. She wishes it, too.'
'Well, Sir Guy,' and the grunt was of softer tone, 'if you do choose to make a fool of me, I can't help it. You must have your own way; though you might have found a friend that would do you more credit.'
'Then I may say that you will come?'
'Say I am very much obliged to Mr. and Mrs. Edmonstone for their invitation. It is very handsome of them.'
'Then you will have the settlements ready by that time. You must, Markham.'
'I'll see about it.'
'And the house must be ready to come home to at once.'
'You don't know what you are talking of, Sir Guy!' exclaimed Markham, at once aghast and angry.
'Yes, I do. We don't intend to turn the house upside down with new furniture.'
'You may talk as you please, Sir Guy, but I know what's what; and it is mere nonsense to talk of bringing a lady to a house in this condition. A pretty notion you have of what is fit for your bride! I hope she knows what sort of care you mean to take of her!'
'She will be satisfied,' said Guy. 'She particularly wishes not to have everything disarranged, I only must have two rooms furnished for her.'
'But the place wants painting from head to foot, and the roof is in such a state--'
'The roof? That's serious!'
'Serious; I believe so. You'll have it about your ears in no time, if you don't look sharp.'
'I'll look this minute,' said Guy, jumping up. 'Will you come with me?'
Up he went, climbing about in the forest of ancient timbers, where he could not but be convinced that there was more reason than he could wish in what Markham said, and that his roof was in no condition to bring his bride to. Indeed it was probable that it had never been thoroughly repaired since the time of old Sir Hugh, for the Morvilles had not been wont to lay out money on what did not make a display. Guy was in dismay, he sent for the builder from Moorworth; calculated times and costs; but, do what he would, he could not persuade himself that when once the workmen were in Redclyffe, they would be out again before the autumn.
Guy was very busy during the fortnight he spent at home. There were the builder and his plans, and Markham and the marriage settlements, and there were orders to be given about the furniture. He came to Mrs. Ashford about this, conducted her to the park, and begged her to be so kind as to be his counsellor, and to superintend the arrangement. He showed her what was to be Amy's morning-room--now bare and empty, but with the advantages of a window looking south, upon the green wooded slope of the park, with a view of the church tower, and of the moors, which were of very fine form. He owned himself to be profoundly ignorant about upholstery matters, and his ideas of furniture seemed to consist in prints for the walls, a piano, a bookcase, and a couch for Charles.
'You have heard about Charles?' said he, raising his bright face from the list of needful articles which he was writing, using the window- seat as a table.
'Not much,' said Mrs. Ashford. 'Is he entirely confined to the sofa?'
'He cannot move without crutches; but no one could guess what he is without seeing him. He is so patient, his spirits never flag; and it is beautiful to see how considerate he is, and what interest he takes in all the things he never can share, poor fellow. I don't know what Hollywell would be without Charlie! I wonder how soon he will be able to come here! Hardly this year, I am afraid, for things must be comfortable for him, and I shall never get them so without Amy, and then it will be autumn. Well, what next? Oh, you said window- curtains. Some blue sort of stuff, I suppose, like the drawing-room ones at Hollywell. What's the name of it?'
In fact, Mrs. Ashford was much of his opinion, that he never would make things comfortable without Amy, though he gave his best attention to the inquiries that were continually made of him; and where he had an idea, carried it out to the utmost. He knew much better what he was about in the arrangements for Coombe Prior, where he had installed his friend, Mr. Wellwood, and set on foot many plans for improvements, giving them as much attention as if he had nothing else to occupy his mind. Both the curate and Markham were surprised that he did not leave these details till his return home; but he answered,--
'Better do things while we may. The thought of this unhappy place is enough to poison everything; and I don't think I could rest without knowing that the utmost was being done for it.'
He was very happy making arrangements for a village feast on the wedding-day. The Ashfords asked if he would not put it off till his return, and preside himself.
'It won't hurt them to have one first. Let them make sure of all the fun they can,' he answered; and the sentiment was greatly applauded by Edward and Robert, who followed him about more than ever, and grew so fond of him, that it made them very angry to be reminded of the spirit of defiance in which their acquaintance had begun. Nevertheless they seemed to be preparing the same spirit for his wife, for when their mother told them they must not expect to monopolize him thus when he was married, they declared, that they did not want a Lady Morville at all, and could not think why he was so stupid as to want a wife.
Their father predicted that he would never have time to fulfil his old engagement of taking them out to the Shag Rock, but the prediction was not verified, for he rowed both them and Mr. Ashford thither one fine May afternoon, showed them all they wanted to see, and let them scramble to their heart's content. He laughed at their hoard of scraps of the wood of the wreck, which they said their mamma had desired them to fetch for her.
So many avocations came upon Guy at once,--so many of the neighbours came to call on him,--such varieties of people wanted to speak to him,- -the boys followed him so constantly,--and he had so many invitations from Mr. Wellwood and the Ashfords, that he never had any time for himself, except what must be spent in writing to Amabel. There was a feeling upon him, that he must have time to commune with himself, and rest from this turmoil of occupation, in the solitude of which Redclyffe had hitherto been so full. He wanted to be alone with his old home, and take leave of it, and of the feelings of his boyhood, before beginning on this new era of his life; but whenever he set out for a solitary walk, before he could even get to the top of the crag, either Markham marched up to talk over some important question,--a farmer waylaid him to make some request,--some cottager met him, to tell of a grievance,--Mr. Wellwood rode over,--or the Ashford boys rushed up, and followed like his shadow.
At length, on Ascension day, the last before he was to leave Redclyffe, with a determination that he would escape for once from his pursuers, he walked to the Cove as soon as he returned from morning service, launched his little boat and pushed off into the rippling whispering waters. It was a resumption of the ways of his boyhood; it seemed like a holiday to have left all these cares behind him, just as it used to be when all his lessons were prepared, and he had leave to disport himself, by land or water, the whole afternoon, provided he did not go out beyond the Shag Rock. He took up his sculls and rowed merrily, singing and whistling to keep time with their dash, the return to the old pleasure quite enough at first, the salt breeze, the dashing waves, the motion of the boat. So he went on till he had come as far as his former boundary, then he turned and gazed back on the precipitous rocks, cleft with deep fissures, marbled with veins of different shades of red, and tufted here and therewith clumps of samphire, grass, and a little brushwood, bright with the early green of spring. The white foam and spray were leaping against their base, and roaring in their hollows; the tract of wavelets between glittered in light, or heaved green under the shadow of the passing clouds; the sea-birds floated smoothly in sweeping undulating lines,
As though life's only call and care Were graceful motion;
the hawks poised themselves high in air near the rocks. The Cove lay in sunshine, its rough stone chimneys and rude slate roofs overgrown with moss and fern, rising rapidly, one above the other, in the fast descending hollow, through which a little stream rushed to the sea,-- more quietly than its brother, which, at some space distant, fell sheer down over the crag in a white line of foam, brawling with a tone of its own, distinguishable among all the voices of the sea contending with the rocks. Above the village, in the space where the outline of two hills met and crossed, rose the pinnacled tower of the village church, the unusual height of which was explained by the old custom of lighting a beacon-fire on its summit, to serve as a guide to the boats at sea. Still higher, apparently on the very brow of the beetling crag that frowned above, stood the old Gothic hall, crumbling and lofty, a fit eyrie for the eagles of Morville. The sunshine was indeed full upon it; but it served to show how many of the dark windows were without the lining of blinds and curtains, that alone gives the look of life and habitation to a house. How crumbled by sea-wind were the old walls, and the aspect altogether full of a dreary haughtiness, suiting with the whole of the stories connected with its name, from the time when it was said the very dogs crouched and fled from the presence of the sacrilegious murderer of the Archbishop, to the evening when the heir of the line lay stretched a corpse before his father's gate.
Guy sat resting on his oars, gazing at the scene, full of happiness, yet with a sense that it might be too bright to last, as if it scarcely befitted one like himself. The bliss before him, though it was surely a beam from heaven, was so much above him, that he hardly dared to believe it real: like a child repeating, 'Is it my own, my very own?' and pausing before it will venture to grasp at a prize beyond its hopes. He feared to trust himself fully, lest it should carry him away from his self-discipline, and dazzle him too much to let him keep his gaze on the light beyond; and he rejoiced in this time of quiet, to enable him to strive for power over his mind, to prevent himself from losing in gladness the balance he had gained in adversity.
It was such a check as he might have wished for, to look at that grim old castle, recollect who he was, and think of the frail tenure of all earthly joy, especially for one of the house of Morville. Could that abode ever be a home for a creature like Amy, with the bright innocent mirth that seemed too soft and sweet ever to be overshadowed by gloom and sorrow? Perhaps she might be early taken from him in the undimmed beauty of her happiness and innocence, and he might have to struggle through a long lonely life with only the remembrance of a short-lived joy to lighten it; and when he reflected that this was only a melancholy fancy, the answer came from within, that there was nothing peculiar to him in the perception that earthly happiness was fleeting. It was best that so it should be, and that he should rest in the trust that brightened on him through all,--that neither life nor death, sorrow nor pain, could separate, for ever, him and his Amy.
And he looked up into the deep blue sky overhead, murmuring to himself, 'In heart and mind thither ascend, and with Him continually dwell,' and gazed long and intently as he rocked on the green waters, till he again spoke to himself,--'Why stand ye here gazing up into heaven?' then pulled vigorously back to the shore, leaving a shining wake far behind him.
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