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Blest, though every tear that falls Doth in its silence of past sorrow tell, And makes a meeting seem most like a dear farewell.--WORDSWORTH
On Saturday afternoon, about half-past five, Philip Morville found himself driving up to the well-known front door of Hollywell. At the door he heard that every one was out excepting Lady Morville, who never came down till the evening, save for a drive in the carriage.
He entered the drawing-room, and gazed on the scene where he had spent so many happy hours, only darkened by that one evil spot, that had grown till it not only poisoned his own mind, but cast a gloom over that bright home.
All was as usual. Charles's sofa, little table, books, and inkstand, the work-boxes on the table, the newspaper in Mr. Edmonstone's old folds. Only the piano was closed, and an accumulation of books on the hinge told how long it had been so; and the plants in the bay window were brown and dry, not as when they were Amabel's cherished nurslings. He remembered Amabel's laughing face and abundant curls, when she carried in the camellia, and thought how little he guessed then that he should be the destroyer of the happiness of her young life. How should he meet her--a widow in her father's house--or look at her fatherless child? He wondered how he had borne to come thither at all, and shrank at the thought that this very evening, in a few hours, he must see her.
The outer door opened, there was a soft step, and Amabel stood before him, pale, quiet, and with a smile of welcome. Her bands of hair looked glossy under her widow's cap, and the deep black of her dress was relieved by the white robes of the babe that lay on her arm. She held out her hand, and he pressed it in silence.
'I thought you would like just to see baby,' said she, in a voice something like apology.
He held out his arms to take it, for which Amy was by no means prepared. She was not quite happy even in trusting it in her sister's arms, and she supposed he had never before touched an infant. But that was all nonsense, and she would not vex him with showing any reluctance; so she laid the little one on his arm, and saw his great hand holding it most carefully, but the next moment he turned abruptly from her. Poor silly little Amy, her heart beat not a little till he turned back, restored the babe, and while he walked hastily to the window, she saw that two large tear-drops had fallen on the white folds of its mantle. She did not speak; she guessed how much he must feel in thus holding Guy's child, and, besides, her own tears would now flow so easily that she must be on her guard. She sat down, settled the little one on her knee, and gave him time to recover himself.
Presently he came and stood by her saying, in a most decided tone, 'Amabel, you must let me do this child justice.'
She looked up, wondering what he could mean.
'I will not delay in taking steps for restoring her inheritance,' said he, hoping by determination to overpower Amabel, and make her believe it a settled and a right thing.
'0 Philip, you are not thinking of that!'
'It is to be done.'
'You would not be so unkind to this poor little girl,' said Amy, with a persuasive smile, partaking of her old playfulness, adding, very much in earnest, 'Pray put it out of your head directly, for it would be very wrong.'
The nurse knocked at the door to fetch the baby, as Amabel had desired. When this interruption was over, Philip came and sat down opposite to her, and began with his most decided manner:--
'You must listen to me, Amy, and not allow any scruples to prevent you from permitting your child to be restored to her just rights. You must see that the estate has come to me by circumstances such that no honest man can be justified in retaining it. The entail was made to exclude females, only because of the old Lady Granard. It is your duty to consent.'
'The property has always gone in the male line,' replied Amabel.
'There never was such a state of things. Old Sir Guy could never have thought of entailing it away from his own descendant on a distant cousin. It would be wrong of me to profit by these unforeseen contingencies, and you ought not, in justice to your child, to object.'
He spoke so forcibly and decidedly that he thought he must have prevailed. But not one whit convinced, Amabel answered, in her own gentle voice, but beginning with a business-like argument:--'Such a possibility was contemplated. It was all provided for in the marriage settlements. Indeed, I am afraid that, as it is, she will be a great deal too rich. Besides, Philip, I am sure this is exactly what Guy would have chosen,' and the tears rose in her eyes. 'The first thing that came into my head when she was born, was, that it was just what he wished, that I should have her for myself, and that you should take care of Redclyffe. I am certain now that he hoped it would be so. I know--indeed I do--that he took great pleasure in thinking of its being in your hands, and of your going on with all he began. You can't have forgotten how much he left in your charge? If you were to give it up, it would be against his desire; and with that knowledge, how could I suffer it? Then think what a misfortune to her, poor little thing, to be a great heiress, and how very bad for Redclyffe to have no better a manager than me! Oh, Philip, can you not see it is best as it is, and just as he wished?'
He almost groaned-- 'If you could guess what a burden it is.'
'Ah! but you must carry it, not throw it down on such hands as mine and that tiny baby's,' said she, smiling.
'It would have been the same if it had been a boy.'
'Yes; then I must have done the best I could, and there would have been an end to look to, but I am so glad to be spared. And you are so fit for it, and will make it turn to so much use to every one.'
'I don't feel as if I should ever be of use to any one,' said Philip, in a tone of complete dejection.
'Your head is aching,' said she, kindly.
'It always does, more or less,' replied he, resting it on his hand.
'I am so sorry. Has it been so ever since you were ill? But you are better? You look better than when I saw you last.'
'I am better on the whole, but I doubt whether I shall ever be as strong as I used to be. That ought to make me hesitate, even if--' then came a pause, while he put his hand over his face, and seemed struggling with irrepressible emotion; and after all he was obliged to take two walks to the window before he could recover composure, and could ask in a voice which he tried to make calm and steady, though his face was deeply flushed-- 'Amy, how is Laura?'
'She is very well,' answered Amabel. 'Only you must not be taken by surprise if you see her looking thinner.'
'And she has trusted--she has endured through all?' said he, with inquiring earnestness.
'And they--your father and mother--can forgive?'
'They do--they have. But, Philip, it was one of the things I came down to say to you. I don't think you must expect papa to begin about it himself. You know he does not like awkwardness, though he will be very glad when once it is done, and ready to meet you half way.' He did not answer, and after a silence Amabel added, 'Laura is out of doors. She and Charlotte take very long walks.'
'And is she really strong and well, or is it that excited overdoing of employment that I first set her upon?' he asked, anxiously.
'She is perfectly well, and to be busy has been a great help to her,' said Amabel. 'It was a great comfort that we did not know how ill you had been at Corfu, till the worst was over. Eveleen only mentioned it when you were better. I was very anxious, for I had some fears from the note that you sent by Arnaud. I am very glad to see you safe here, for I have felt all along that we forsook you; but I could not help it.'
'I am very glad you did not stay. The worst of all would have been that you should have run any risk.'
'There is the carriage,' said Amy. 'Mamma and Charlie have been to Broadstone. They thought they might meet you by the late train.'
Philip's colour rose. He stood up--sat down; then rising once more, leant on the mantel-piece, scarcely knowing how to face either of them- -his aunt, with her well-merited displeasure, and Charles, who when he parted with him had accused him so justly--Charles, who had seen through him and had been treated with scorn.
A few moments, and Charles came in, leaning on his mother. They both shook hands, exclaimed at finding Amabel downstairs, and Mrs. Edmonstone asked after Philip's health in her would-be cordial manner. The two ladies then went up-stairs together, and thus ended that conference, in which both parties had shown rare magnanimity, of which they were perfectly unconscious; and perhaps the most remarkable part of all was that Philip quietly gave up the great renunciation and so- called sacrifice, with which he had been feeding his hopes, at the simple bidding of the gentle-spoken Amabel--not even telling her that he resigned it. He kept the possessions which he abhorred, and gave up the renunciation he had longed to make, and in this lay the true sacrifice, the greater because the world would think him the gainer.
When the mother and daughter were gone, the cousins were silent, Philip resting his elbow on the mantel-shelf and his head on his hand, and Charles sitting at the end of the sofa, warming first one hand, then the other, while he looked up to the altered face, and perceived in it grief and humiliation almost as plainly as illness. His keen eyes read that the sorrow was indeed more deeply rooted than he had hitherto believed, and that Amabel's pity had not been wasted; and he was also struck by the change from the great personal strength that used to make nothing of lifting his whole weight.
'I am sorry to see you so pulled down,' said he. 'We must try if we can doctor you better than they did at St. Mildred's. Are you getting on, do you think?'
He had hardly ever spoken to Philip, so entirely without either bitterness or sarcasm, and his manner hardly seemed like that of the same person.
'Thank you, I am growing stronger; but as long as I cannot get rid of this headache, I am good for nothing.'
'You have had a long spell of illness indeed,' said Charles. 'You can't expect to shake off two fevers in no time. Now all the anxiety is over, you will brighten like this house.'
'But tell me, what is thought of Amabel? Is she as well as she ought to be?'
'Yes, quite, they say--has recovered her strength very fast, and is in just the right spirits. She was churched yesterday, and was not the worse for it. It was a trial, for she had not been to East-hill since- -since last May.'
'It is a blessing, indeed,' said Philip, earnestly.
'She has been so very happy with the baby,' said Charles. 'You hear what its name is to be?'
'Yes, she told me in her letter.'
'To avoid having to tell you here, I suppose. Mary is for common wear, Verena is for ourselves. She asked if it would be too foolish to give such a name, and mamma said the only question was, whether she would like indifferent people to ask the reason of it.'
Philip lapsed into thought, and presently said, abruptly, 'When last we parted you told me I was malignant. You were right.'
'Shake hands!' was all Charles's reply, and no more was said till Charles rose, saying it was time to dress. Philip was about to help him, but he answered, 'No, thank you, I am above trusting to anything but my own crutches now; I am proud to show you what feats I can perform.'
Charles certainly did get on with less difficulty than heretofore, but it was more because he wanted to spare Philip fatigue than because he disdained assistance, that he chose to go alone. Moreover, he did what he had never done for any one before--he actually hopped the whole length of the passage, beyond his own door to do the honours of Philip's room, and took a degree of pains for his comfort that seemed too marvellous to be true in one who had hitherto only lived to be attended on.
By the time he had settled Philip, the rest of the party had come home, and he found himself wanted in the dressing-room, to help his mother to encourage his father to enter on the conversation with Philip in the evening, for poor Mr. Edmonstone was in such a worry and perplexity, that the whole space till the dinner-bell rang was insufficient to console him in. Laura, meanwhile, was with Amabel, who was trying to cheer her fluttering spirits and nerves, which, after having been so long harassed, gave way entirely at the moment of meeting Philip again. How would he regard her after her weakness in betraying him for want of self-command? Might he not be wishing to be free of one who had so disappointed him, and only persisting in the engagement from a sense of honour! The confidence in his affection, which had hitherto sustained her, was failing; and not all Amabel could say would reassure her. No one could judge of him but herself, his words were so cautious, and he had so much command over himself, that nobody could guess. Of course he felt bound to her; but if she saw one trace of his being only influenced by honour and pity, she would release him, and he should never see the struggle.
She had worked herself up into almost a certainty that so it would be, and Amabel was afraid she would not be fit to go down to dinner; but the sound of the bell, and the necessity of moving, seemed to restore the habit of external composure in a moment. She settled her countenance, and left the room.
Charlotte, meantime, had been dressing alone, and raging against Philip, declaring she could never bear to speak to him, and that if she was Amy she would never have chosen him for a godfather. And to think of his marrying just like a good hero in a book, and living very happy ever after! To be sure she was sorry for poor Laura; but it was all very wrong, and now they would be rewarded! How could Charlie be so provoking as to talk about his sorrow! She hoped he was sorry; and as to his illness, it served him right.
All this Charlotte communicated to Bustle; but Bustle had heard some mysterious noise, and insisted on going to investigate the cause; and Charlotte, finding her own domain dark and cold, and private conferences going on in Amabel's apartment and the dressing-room, was fain to follow him down-stairs, as soon as her toilet was complete, only hoping Philip would keep out of the way.
But, behold, there he was; and even Bustle was propitiated, for she found him, his nose on Philip's knee, looking up in his face, and wagging his tail, while Philip stroked and patted him, and could hardly bear the appealing expression of the eyes, that, always wistful, now seemed to every one to be looking for his master.
To see this attention to Bustle won Charlotte over in a moment. 'How are you, Philip? Good dog, dear old Bustle!' came in a breath, and they were both making much of the dog, when she amicably asked if he had seen the baby, and became eager in telling about the christening.
The dinner-bell brought every one down but Amabel. The trembling hands of Philip and Laura met for a moment, and they were in the dining-room.
Diligently and dutifully did Charles and Mrs. Edmonstone keep up the conversation; the latter about her shopping, the former about the acquaintances who had come to speak to him as he sat in the carriage. As soon as possible, Mrs. Edmonstone left the dining-room, then Laura flew up again to the dressing-room, sank down on a footstool by Amabel's side, and exclaiming, '0 Amy, he is looking so ill!' burst into a flood of tears.
The change had been a shock for which Laura had not been prepared. Amy, who had seen him look so much worse, had not thought of it, and it overcame Laura more than all her anxieties, lest his love should be forfeited. She sobbed inconsolably over the alteration, and it was long before Amabel could get her to hear that his face was much less thin now, and that he was altogether much stronger; it was fatigue and anxiety to-night, and to-morrow he would be better. Laura proceeded to brood over her belief that his altered demeanour, his settled melancholy, his not seeking her eye, his cold shake of the hand, all arose from the diminution of his love, and his dislike to be encumbered with a weak, foolish wife, with whom he had entangled himself when he deemed her worthy of him. She dwelt on all this in silence, as she sat at her sister's feet, and Amy left her to think, only now and then giving some caress to her hair or cheek, and at each touch the desolate waste of life that poor Laura was unfolding before herself was rendered less dreary by the thought, 'I have my sister still, and she knows sorrow too.' Then she half envied Amy, who had lost her dearest by death, and held his heart fast to the last; not, like herself, doomed to see the love decay for which she had endured so long--decay at the very moment when the suspense was over.
Laura might justly have envied Amabel, though for another reason; it was because in her cup there was no poison of her own infusing.
There she stayed till Charlotte came to summon her to tea, saying the gentlemen, except Charles, were still in the dining-room.
They had remained sitting over the fire for a considerable space, waiting for each other to begin, Mr. Edmonstone irresolute, Philip striving to master his feelings, and to prevent increasing pain and confusion from making him forget what he intended, to say. At last, Mr. Edmonstone started up, pulled out his keys, took a candle, and said, 'Come to the study--I'll give you the Redclyffe papers.'
'Thank you,' said Philip, also rising, but only because he could not sit while his uncle stood. 'Not to-night, if you please. I could not attend to them.'
'What, your head? Eh?'
'Partly. Besides, there is another subject on which I hope you will set me at rest before I can enter on any other.'
'Yes--yes--I know,' said Mr. Edmonstone, moving uneasily.
'I am perfectly conscious how deeply I have offended.'
Mr. Edmonstone could not endure the apology.
'Well, well,' he broke in nervously, 'I know all that, and it can't be helped. Say no more about it. Young people will be foolish, and I have been young and in love myself.'
That Captain Morville should live to be thankful for being forgiven in consideration of Mr. Edmonstone's having been young!
'May I then consider myself as pardoned, and as having obtained your sanction?'
'Yes, yes, yes; and I hope it will cheer poor Laura up again a little. Four years has it gone on? Constancy, indeed! and it is time it should be rewarded. We little thought what you were up to, so grave and demure as you both were. So you won't have the papers to-night? I can't say you do look fit for business. Perhaps Laura may suit you better--eh, Philip?'
Love-making was such a charming sight to Mr. Edmonstone, that having once begun to look on Philip and Laura as a pair of lovers, he could not help being delighted, and forgetting, as well as forgiving, all that had been wrong.
They did not, however, exactly answer his ideas; Laura did not once look up, and Philip, instead of going boldly to take the place next her, sat down, holding his hand to his forehead, as if too much overpowered by indisposition to think of anything else. Such was in great measure the case; he was very much fatigued with the journey, and these different agitating scenes had increased the pain in his head to a violent degree; besides which, feeling that his aunt still regarded him as she did at Recoara, he could not bear to make any demonstration towards Laura before her, lest she might think it a sort of triumphant disregard of her just displeasure.
Poor Laura saw in it both severe suffering and dislike to her; and the more she understood from her father's manner what had passed in the other room, the more she honoured him for the sacrifice he was making of himself.
Mrs. Edmonstone waited on the headache with painful attention, but they all felt that the only thing to be done for the two poor things was to let them come to an explanation; so Charlotte was sent to bed, her mother went up to Amy, Charles carried off his father to the study, and they found themselves alone.
Laura held down her face, and struggled to make her palpitating heart and dry tongue suffer her to begin the words to which she had wound herself up. Philip raised his hands from his eyes as the door shut, then rose up, and fixed them on Laura. She, too, looked up, as if to begin; their eyes met, and they understood all. He stepped towards her, and held out his hands. The next moment both hers were clasped in his--he had bent down and kissed her brow.
No words of explanation passed between them. Laura knew he was her own, and needed no assurance that her misgivings had been vain. There was a start of extreme joy, such as she had known twice before, but it could be only for a moment while he looked so wretchedly unwell. It did but give her the right to attend to him. The first thing she said was to beg him to lie down on the sofa; her only care was to make him comfortable with cushions, and he was too entirely worn out to say anything he had intended, capable only of giving himself up to the repose of knowing her entirely his own, and of having her to take care of him. There he lay on the sofa, with his eyes shut, and Laura's hand in his, while she sat beside him, neither of them speaking; and, excepting that she withdrew her hand, neither moved when the others returned.
Mrs. Edmonstone compassionated him, and showed a great deal of solicitude about him, trying hard to regard him as she used to do, yet unable to bring back the feeling, and therefore, do what she would, failing to wear its semblance.
Laura, sad, anxious, and restless, had no relief till she went to wish her sister good night. Amabel, who was already in bed, stretched out her hand with a sweet look, beaming with affection and congratulation.
'You don't want to be convinced now that all is right!' said she.
'His head is so dreadfully bad!' said Laura.
'Ah! it will get better now his mind is at rest.'
'If it will but do so!'
'And you know you must be happy to-morrow, because of baby.'
'My dear,' said Mrs. Edmonstone, coming in, 'I am sorry to prevent your talk, but Amy must not be kept awake. She must keep her strength for to-morrow'
'Good night, then, dear, dear Laura. I am so glad your trouble is over, and you have him again!' whispered Amabel, with her parting kiss; and Laura went away, better able to hope, to pray, and to rest, than she could have thought possible when she left the drawing-room.
'Poor dear Laura,' said Mrs. Edmonstone, sighing; 'I hope he will soon be better.'
'Has it been very uncomfortable?'
'I can't say much for it, my dear. He was suffering terribly with his head, so that I should have been quite alarmed if he had not said it was apt to get worse in the evening; and she, poor thing, was only watching him. However, it is a comfort to have matters settled; and papa and Charlie are well pleased with him. But I must not keep you awake after driving Laura away. You are not over-tired to-night I hope, my dear?'
'Oh, no; only sleepy. Good night, dearest mamma.'
'Good night, my own Amy;' then, as Amy put back the coverings to show the little face nestled to sleep on her bosom, 'good night, you little darling! don't disturb your mamma. How comfortable you look! Good night, my dearest!'
Mrs. Edmonstone looked for a moment, while trying to check the tears that came at the thought of the night, one brief year ago, when she left Amy sleeping in the light of the Easter moon. Yet the sense of peace and serenity that had then given especial loveliness to the maiden's chamber on that night, was there still with the young widow. It was dim lamplight now that beamed on the portrait of her husband, casting on it the shade of the little wooden cross in front, while she was shaded by the white curtains drawn from her bed round the infant's little cot, so as to shut them both into the quiet twilight, where she lay with an expression of countenance that, though it was not sorrow, made Mrs. Edmonstone more ready to weep than if it had been; so with her last good night she left her.
And Amabel always liked to be shut in by herself, dearly as she loved them all, and mamma especially; there was always something pleasant in being able to return to her own world, to rest in the thoughts of her husband, and in the possession of the little unconscious creature that had come to inhabit that inner world of hers, the creature that was only his and hers.
She had from the first always felt herself less lonely when quite alone, before with his papers, and now with his child; and could Mrs. Edmonstone have seen her face, she would have wept and wondered more, as Amy fondled and hushed her babe, whispering to it fond words which she could never have uttered in the presence of any one who could understand them, and which had much of her extreme youthfulness in them. Not one was so often repeated or so endearing as 'Guy's baby! Guy's own dear little girl!' It did not mean half so much when she called it her baby; and she loved to tell the little one that her father had been the best and the dearest, but he was gone away, and would she be contented to be loving and good with only her mother to take care of her, and tell her, as well as she could, what a father hers was, when she was old enough to know about him?
To-night, Amy told her much in that soft, solemn, murmuring tone, about what was to befall her to-morrow, and the great blessings to be given to her, and how the poor little fatherless one would be embraced in the arms of His mercy, and received by her great Father in heaven:--'Ay, and brought nearer to your own papa, and know him in some inner way, and he will know his little child then, for you will be as good and pure and bright as he, and you will belong to the great communion of saints to-morrow, you precious little one, and be so much nearer to him as you will be so much better than I. Oh! baby, if we can but both endure to the end!'
With such half-uttered words, Amabel Morville slept the night before her babe's christening.
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