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There is a Rock, and nigh at hand, A shadow in a weary land, Who in that stricken Rock hath rest, Finds water gushing from its breast.--NEALE
In the meantime the days passed at Recoara without much change for the better or worse. After the first week, Guy's fever had diminished; his pulse was lower, the drowsiness ceased, and it seemed as if there was nothing to prevent absolute recovery. But though each morning seemed to bring improvement, it never lasted; the fever, though not high, could never be entirely reduced, and strength was perceptibly wasting, in spite of every means of keeping it up.
There was not much positive suffering, very little even of headache, and he was cheerful, though speaking little, because he was told not to excite or exhaust himself. Languor and lassitude were the chief causes of discomfort; and as his strength failed, there came fits of exhaustion and oppression that tried him severely. At first, these were easily removed by stimulants; but remedies seemed to lose their effect, and the sinking was almost death-like.
'I think I could bear acute pain better!' he said one day; and more than once the sigh broke from him almost unconsciously,--'Oh for one breath of Redclyffe sea-wind!' Indeed, it seemed as if the close air of the shut-in-valley, at the end of a long hot day was almost enough to overwhelm him, weak as he had become. Every morning, when Amabel let in the fresh breeze at the window, she predicted it would be a cool day, and do him good; every afternoon the wind abated, the sun shone full in, the room was stifling, the faintness came on, and after a few vain attempts at relieving it, Guy sighed that there was nothing for it but quiet, and Amy was obliged to acquiesce. As the sun set, the breeze sprung up, it became cooler, he fell asleep, awoke revived, was comfortable all the evening, and Amy left him at eleven or twelve, with hopes of his having a good night.
It seemed to her as if ages had passed in this way, when one evening two letters were brought in.
'From mamma!' said she; 'and this one,' holding it up, 'is for you. It must have been hunting us everywhere. How many different directions!'
'From Markham,' said Guy. 'It must be the letter we were waiting for.'
The letter to tell them Redclyffe was ready to receive them! Amabel put it down with a strange sensation, and opened her mother's. With a start of joy she exclaimed--
'They are coming--mamma and papa!'
'Then all is right!'
'If we do not receive a much better account,' read Amy, 'we shall set off early on Wednesday, and hope to be with you not long after you receive this letter.'
'Oh I am so glad! I wonder how Charlie gets on without her.'
'It is a great comfort,' said Guy.
'Now you will see what a nurse mamma is!'
'Now you will be properly cared for.'
'How nice it will be! She will take care of you all night, and never be tired, and devise everything I am too stupid for, and make you so comfortable!'
'Nay, no one could do that better than you, Amy. But it is joy indeed- -to see mamma again--to know you are safe with her. Everything comes to make it easy!' The last words were spoken very low; and she did not disturb him by saying anything till he asked about the rest of the letter, and desired her to read Markham's to him.
This cost her some pain, for it had been written in ignorance of even Philip's illness, and detailed triumphantly the preparations at Redclyffe, hinting that they must send timely notice of their return, or they would disappoint the tenantry, who intended grand doings, and concluding with a short lecture on the inexpediency of lingering in foreign parts.
'Poor Markham,' said Guy.
She understood; but these things did not come on her like a shock now, for he had been saying them more or less ever since the beginning of his illness; and fully occupied as she was, she never opened her mind to the future. After a long silence, Guy said--
'I am very sorry for him. I have been making Arnaud write to him for me.'
'Oh, have you?'
'It was better for you not to do it, Arnaud has written for me at night. You will send it, Amy, and another to my poor uncle.'
'Very well,' said she, as he looked at her.
'I have told Markham,' said he presently, 'to send you my desk. There are all sorts of things in it, just as I threw them in when I cleared out my rooms at Oxford. I had rather nobody but you saw some of them. There is nothing of any importance, so you may look at them when you please, or not at all.'
She gazed at him without answering. If there had been any struggle to retain him, it would have been repressed by his calmness; but the thought had not come on her suddenly, it was more like an inevitable fate seen at first at a distance, and gradually advancing upon her. She had never fastened on the hope of his recovery, and it had dwindled in an almost imperceptible manner. She kept watch over him, and followed his thoughts, without stretching her mind to suppose herself living without him; and was supported by the forgetfulness of self, which gave her no time to realize her feelings.
'I should like to have seen Redclyffe bay again,' said Guy, after a space. 'Now that mamma is coming, that is the one thing. I suppose I had set my heart on it, for it comes back to me how I reckoned on standing on that rock with you, feeling the wind, hearing the surge, looking at the meeting of earth and sky, and the train of sunlight.' He spoke slowly, pausing between each recollection,--'You will see it some day,' he added. 'But I must give it up; it is earth after all, and looking back.'
Through the evening, he seemed to be dwelling on thoughts of his own, and only spoke to tell her of some message to friends at Redclyffe, or Hollywell, to mention little Marianne Dixon, or some other charge that he wished to leave. She thought he had mentioned almost every one with whom he had had any interchange of kindness at either of his homes, even to old nurse at Hollywell, remembering them all with quiet pleasure. At half-past eleven, he sent her to bed, and she went submissively, cheered by thinking him likely to sleep.
As soon as she could conscientiously call the night over, she returned to him, and was received with one of the sweet, sunny, happy looks that had always been his peculiar charm, and, of late, had acquired an expression almost startling from their very beauty and radiance. It was hardly to be termed a smile, for there was very little, if any, movement of the lips, it was more like the reflection of some glory upon the whole countenance.
'You have had a good night?' she said.
'I have had my wish, I have seen Redclyffe;' then, seeing her look startled, 'Of course, it was a sort of wandering; but I never quite lost the consciousness of being here, and it was very delightful. I saw the waves, each touched with light,--the foam--the sea-birds, floating in shade and light,--the trees--the Shag--the sky--oh! such a glory as I never knew--themselves--but so intensely glorious!'
'I am glad' said Amabel, with a strange participation of the delight it had given him.
'I don't understand such goodness!' he continued. 'As if it were not enough to look to heaven beyond, to have this longing gratified, which I thought I ought to conquer. Oh, Amy! is not that being Fatherly!'
'Now after that, and with mamma's coming (for you will have her if I don't see her), I have but one wish unfulfilled.'
'Ah! a clergyman.'
'Yes, but if that is withheld, I must believe it is rightly ordered. We must think of that Sunday at Stylehurst and Christmas-day, and that last time at Munich.'
'Oh, I am so glad we stayed at Munich for that!'
'Those were times, indeed! and many more. Yes; I have been a great deal too much favoured already, and now to be allowed to die just as I should have chosen--'
He broke off to take what Amabel was preparing for him, and she felt his pulse. There was fever still, which probably supplied the place of strength, for he said he was very comfortable, and his eyes were as bright as ever; but the beats were weak and fluttering, and a thrill crossed her that it might be near; but she must attend to him, and could not think.
When it was time for her to go down to breakfast with Philip, Guy said, 'Do you think Philip could come to me to-day? I want much to speak to him.'
'I am sure he could.'
'Then pray ask him to come, if it will not tire him very much.'
Philip had, the last two mornings, risen in time to breakfast with Amabel, in the room adjoining his own; he was still very weak, and attempted no more than crossing the room, and sitting in the balcony to enjoy the evening air. He had felt the heat of the weather severely, and had been a good deal thrown back by his fatigue and agitation the day he wrote the letter, while also anxiety for Guy was retarding his progress, though he only heard the best side of his condition. Besides all this, his repentance both for his conduct with regard to Laura and the hard measure he had dealt to Guy was pressing on him increasingly; and the warm feelings, hardened and soured by early disappointment, regained their force, and grew into a love and admiration that made it still more horrible to perceive that he had acted ungenerously towards his cousin.
When he heard of Guy's desire to see him, he was pleased, said he was quite able to walk up-stairs, had been thinking of offering to help her by sitting with him, and was very glad to hear he was well enough to wish for a visit. She saw she must prepare him for what the conversation was likely to be.
'He is very anxious to see you,' she said. 'He is wishing to set all in order. And if he does speak about--about dying, will you be so kind as not to contradict him?'
'There is no danger?' cried Philip, startling, with a sort of agony. 'He is no worse? You said the fever was lower.'
'He is rather better, I think; but he wishes so much to have everything arranged, that I am sure it will be better for him to have it off his mind. So, will you bear it, please, Philip?' ended she, with an imploring look, that reminded him of her childhood.
'How do you bear it?' he asked.
'I don't know--I can't vex him.'
Philip said no more, and only asked when he should come.
'In an hour's time, perhaps, or whenever he was ready,' she said, 'for he could rest in the sitting-room before coming in to Guy.'
He found mounting the stairs harder than he had expected, and, with aching knees and gasping breath, at length reached the sitting-room, where Amabel was ready to pity him, and made him rest on the sofa till he had fully recovered. She then conducted him in; and his first glance gave him infinite relief, for he saw far less change than was still apparent in himself. Guy's face was at all times too thin to be capable of losing much of its form, and as he was liable to be very much tanned, the brown, fixed on his face by the sunshine of his journey had not gone off, and a slight flush on his cheeks gave him his ordinary colouring; his beautiful hazel eyes were more brilliant than ever; and though the hand he held out was hot and wasted, Philip could not think him nearly as ill as he had been himself, and was ready to let him talk as he pleased. He was reassured, too, by his bright smile, and the strength of his voice, as he spoke a few playful words of welcome and congratulation. Amy set a chair, and with a look to remind Philip to be cautious, glided into her own room, leaving the door open, so as to see and hear all that passed, for they were not fit to be left absolutely alone together.
Philip sat down; and after a little pause Guy began:
'There were a few things I wanted to say, in case you should be my successor at Redclyffe.'
A horror came over Philip; but he saw Amy writing at her little table, and felt obliged to refrain.
'I don't think of directing you,' said Guy, 'You will make a far better landlord than I; but one or two things I should like.'
'Anything you wish!'
'Old Markham. He has old-world notions and prejudices, but his soul is in the family and estate. His heart will be half broken, for me, and if he loses his occupation, he will be miserable. Will you bear with him, and be patient while he lives, even if he is cross and absurd in his objections, and jealous of all that is not me?'
'Thank you. Then there is Coombe Prior. I took Wellwood's pay on myself. Will you? And I should like him to have the living. Then there is the school to be built; and I thought of enclosing that bit of waste, to make gardens for the people; but that you'll do much better. Well; don't you remember when you were at Redclyffe last year' (Philip winced) 'telling Markham that bit of green by Sally's gate ought to be taken into the park? I hope you won't do that, for it is the only place the people have to turn out their cows and donkeys. And you won't cut them off from the steps from the Cove, for it saves the old people from being late for church? Thank you. As to the rest, it is pleasant to think it will be in such hands if--'
That 'if' gave Philip some comfort, though it did not mean what he fancied. He thought of Guy's recovery; Guy referred to the possibility of Amabel's guardianship.
'Amy has a list of the old people who have had so much a week, or their cottages rent-free,' said Guy. 'If it comes to you, you will not let them feel the difference? And don't turn off the old keeper Brown; he is of no use, but it would kill him. And Ben Robinson, who was so brave in the shipwreck, a little notice now and then would keep him straight. Will you tell him I hope he will never forget that morning- service after the wreck? He may be glad to think of it when he is as I am now. You tell him, for he will mind more what comes from a man.'
All this had been spoken with pauses for recollection, and for Philip's signs of assent. Amabel came to give him some cordial; and as soon as she had retreated he went on:--
'My poor uncle; I have written--that is, caused Arnaud to write to him. I hope this may sober him; but one great favour I have to ask of you. I can't leave him money, it would only be a temptation; but will you keep an eye on him, and let Amy rely on you to tell her when to help him I can't ask any one else, and she cannot do it for herself; but you would do it well. A little kindness might save him; and you don't know how generous a character it is, run to waste. Will you undertake this?'
'To be sure I will!'
'Thank you very much. You will judge rightly; but he has delicate feelings. Yes, really; and take care you don't run against them.'
Another silence followed; after which Guy said, smiling with his natural playfulness, 'One thing more. You are the lawyer of the family, and I want a legal opinion. I have been making Arnaud write my will. I have wished Miss Wellwood of St. Mildred's to have some money for a sisterhood she wants to establish. Now, should I leave it to herself or name trustees?'
Philip heard as if a flash of light was blinding him, and he interrupted, with an exclamation:--
'Tell me one thing! Was that the thousand pounds?'
'Yes. I was not at liberty to--'
He stopped, for he was unheard. At the first word Philip had sunk on his knees, hiding his face on the bed-clothes, in an agony of self- abasement, before the goodness he had been relentlessly persecuting.
'It was that?' he said, in a sort of stifled sob. 'Oh, can you forgive me?'
He could not look up; but he felt Guy's hand touch his head, and heard him say, 'That was done long ago. Even as you pardoned my fierce rage against you, which I trust is forgiven above. It has been repented!'
As he spoke there was a knock at the door, and, with the instinctive dread of being found in his present posture, Philip sprang to his feet. Amabel went to the door, and was told that the physician was down- stairs with two gentlemen; and a card was given her, on which she read the name of an English clergyman.
'There, again!' said Guy. 'Everything comes to me. Now it is all quite right.'
Amabel was to go and speak to them, and Guy would see Mr. Morris, the clergyman, as soon as the physician had made his visit. 'You must not go down,' he then said to Philip. 'You will wait in the sitting-room, won't you? We shall want you again, you know,' and his calm brightness was a contrast to Philip's troubled look. 'All is clear between us now,' he added, as Philip turned away.
Long ago, letters had been written to Venice, begging that if an English clergyman should travel that way he might be told how earnestly his presence was requested; this was the first who had answered the summons. He was a very young man, much out of health, and travelling under the care of a brother, who was in great dread of his doing anything to injure himself. Amabel soon perceived that, though kind and right-minded, he could not help them, except as far as his office was concerned. He was very shy, only just in priest's orders; he told her he had never had this office to perform before, and seemed almost to expect her to direct him; while his brother was so afraid of his over-exerting himself, that she could not hope he would take charge of Philip.
However, after the physician had seen Guy, she brought Mr. Morris to him, and came forward, or remained in her room, according as she was wanted. She thought her husband's face was at each moment acquiring more unearthly beauty, and feeling with him, she was raised above thought or sensation of personal sorrow.
When the first part of the service was over, and she exchanged a few words, out of Guy's hearing, with Mr. Morris, he said to her, as from the very fullness of his heart, 'One longs to humble oneself to him. How it puts one to shame to hear such repentance with such a confession!'
The time came when Philip was wanted. Amabel had called in Anne and the clergyman's brother, and went to fetch her cousin. He was where she had left him in the sitting-room, his face hidden in his arms, crossed on the table, the whole man crushed, bowed down, overwhelmed with remorse.
'We are ready. Come, Philip.'
'I cannot; I am not worthy,' he answered, not looking up.
'Nay, you are surely in no uncharitableness with him now,' said she, gently.
A shudder expressed his no.
'And if you are sorry--that is repentance--more fit now than ever-- Won't you come? Would you grieve him now?'
'You take it on yourself, then,' said Philip, almost sharply, raising his haggard face.
She did not shrink, and answered, 'A broken and contrite heart, 0 God, Thou wilt not despise.'
It was a drop of balm, a softening drop. He rose, and trembling from head to foot, from the excess of his agitation, followed her into Guy's room.
The rite was over, and stillness succeeded the low tones, while all knelt in their places. Amabel arose first, for Guy, though serene, looked greatly exhausted, and as she sprinkled him with vinegar, the others stood up. Guy looked for Philip, and held out his hand. Whether it was his gentle force, or of Philip's own accord Amabel could not tell; but as he lay with that look of perfect peace and love, Philip bent down over him and kissed his forehead.
'Thank you!' he faintly whispered. 'Good night. God bless you and my sister.'
Philip went, and he added to Amy, 'Poor fellow! It will be worse for him than for you. You must take care of him.'
She hardly heard the last words, for his head sunk on one side in a deathlike faintness, the room was cleared of all but herself, and Anne fetched the physician at once.
At length it passed off, and Guy slept. The doctor felt his pulse, and she asked his opinion of it. Very low and unequal, she was told: his strength was failing, and there seemed to be no power of rallying it, but they must do their best to support him with cordials, according to the state of his pulse. The physician could not remain all night himself, but would come as soon as he could on the following day.
Amabel hardly knew when it was that he went away; the two Mr. Morrises went to the other hotel; and she made her evening visit to Philip. It was all like a dream, which she could afterwards scarcely remember, till night had come on, and for the first time she found herself allowed to keep watch over her husband.
He had slept quietly for some time, when she roused him to give him some wine, as she was desired to do constantly. He smiled, and said, 'Is no one here but you?'
'My own sweet wife, my Verena, as you have always been. We have been very happy together.'
'Indeed we have,' said she, a look of suffering crossing her face, as she thought of their unclouded happiness. 'It will not be so long before we meet again.'
'A few months, perhaps'--said Amabel, in a stifled voice, 'like your mother--'
'No, don't wish that, Amy. You would not wish it to have no mother.'
'You will pray--' She could say no more, but struggled for calmness.
'Yes,' he answered, 'I trust you to it and to mamma for comfort. And Charlie--I shall not rob him any longer. I only borrowed you for a little while,' he added, smiling. 'In a little while we shall meet. Years and months seem alike now. I am sorry to cause you so much grief, my Amy, but it is all as it should be, and we have been very happy.'
Amy listened, her eyes intently fixed on him, unable to repress her agitation, except by silence. After some little time, he spoke again. 'My love to Charlie--and Laura--and Charlotte, my brother and sisters. How kindly they have made me one of them! I need not ask Charlotte to take care of Bustle, and your father will ride Deloraine. My love to him, and earnest thanks, for you above all, Amy. And dear mamma! I must look now to meeting her in a brighter world; but tell her how I have felt all her kindness since I first came in my strangeness and grief. How kind she was! how she helped me and led me, and made me know what a mother was. Amy, it will not hurt you to hear it was your likeness to her that first taught me to love you. I have been so very happy, I don't understand it.'
He was again silent, as in contemplation, and Amabel's overcoming emotion had been calmed and chastened down again, now that it was no longer herself that was spoken of. Both were still, and he seemed to sleep a little. When next he spoke, it was to ask if she could repeat their old favourite lines in "Sintram". They came to her lips, and she repeated them in a low, steady voice.
When death, is coming near, And thy heart shrinks in fear, And thy limbs fail, Then raise thy hands and pray To Him who smooths the way Through the dark vale. Seest thou the eastern dawn! Hear'st thou, in the red morn, The angel's song? Oh! lift thy drooping head, Thou, who in gloom and dread Hast lain so long. Death comes to set thee free, Oh! meet him cheerily, As thy true friend And all thy fears shall cease, And In eternal peace Thy penance end.
'In eternal peace,' repeated Guy; 'I did not think it would have been so soon. I can't think where the battle has been. I never thought my life could be so bright. It was a foolish longing, when first I was ill, for the cool waves of Redclyffe bay and that shipwreck excitement, if I was to die. This is far better. Read me a psalm, Amy, "Out of the deep."'
There was something in his perfect happiness that would not let her grieve, though a dull heavy sense of consternation was growing on her. So it went on through the night--not a long, nor a dreary one--but more like a dream. He dozed and woke, said a few tranquil words, and listened to some prayer, psalm, or verse, then slept again, apparently without suffering, except when he tried to take the cordials, and this he did with such increasing difficulty, that she hardly knew how to bear to cause him so much pain, though it was the last lingering hope. He strove to swallow them, each time with the mechanical 'Thank you,' so affecting when thus spoken; but at last he came to, 'It is of no use; I cannot.'
Then she knew all hope was gone, and sat still, watching him. The darkness lessened, and twilight came. He slept, but his breath grew short, and unequal; and as she wiped the moisture on his brow, she knew it was the death-damp.
Morning light came on--the church bell rang out matins--the white hills were tipped with rosy light. His pulse was almost gone--his hand was cold. At last he opened his eyes. 'Amy! he said, as if bewildered, or in pain.
'I don't see.'
At that moment the sun was rising, and the light streamed in at the open window, and over the bed; but it was "another dawn than ours" that he beheld as his most beautiful of all smiles beamed over his face, and he said, 'Glory in the Highest!--peace--goodwill'--A struggle for breath gave an instant's look of pain, then he whispered so that she could but just hear--'The last prayer.' She read the Commendatory Prayer. She knew not the exact moment, but even as she said 'Amen' she perceived it was over. The soul was with Him with whom dwell the spirits of just men made perfect; and there lay the earthly part with a smile on the face. She closed the dark fringed eyelids--saw him look more beautiful than in sleep--then, laying her face down on the bed, she knelt on. She took no heed of time, no heed of aught that was earthly. How long she knelt she never knew, but she was roused by Anne's voice in a frightened sob--'My lady, my lady--come away! Oh, Miss Amabel, you should not be here.'
She lifted her head, and Anne afterwards told Mary Ross, 'she should never forget how my lady looked. It was not grief: it was as if she had been a little way with her husband, and was just called back.'
She rose--looked at his face again--saw Arnaud was at hand--let Anne lead her into the next room, and shut the door.
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