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A stranger's roof to hold thy head, A stranger's foot thy grave to tread; Desert and rock, and Alp and sea, Spreading between thy home and thee.--SEWELL
Mary Ross was eager for the first report from Hollywell the next morning, and had some difficulty in keeping her attention fixed on her class at school. Laura and Charlotte came in together in due time, and satisfied her so far as to tell her that Amy was very well.
'Is Captain Morville come?' thought Mary. 'No, I cannot guess by Laura's impressive face. Never mind, Charles will tell me all between services.'
The first thing she saw on coming out of school was the pony carriage, with Charles and Captain Morville himself. Charlotte, who was all excitement, had time to say, while her sister was out of hearing,--
'It is all made up now, Mary, and I really am very sorry for Philip.'
It was fortunate that Mary understood the amiable meaning this speech was intended to convey, and she began to enter into its grounds in the short conference after church, when she saw the alteration in the whole expression of countenance.
'Yes,' said Charles, who as usual remained at the vicarage during the two services, and who perceived what passed in her mind, 'if it is any satisfaction to you to have a good opinion of your fellow-sponsor, I assure you that I am converted to Amy's opinion. I do believe the black dog is off his back for good and all.'
'I never saw any one more changed,' said Mary.
'Regularly tamed,' said Charles. He is something more like his old self to-day than last night, and yet not much. He was perfectly overpowered then--so knocked up that there was no judging of him. To- day he has all his sedateness and scrupulous attention, but all like a shadow of former time--not a morsel of sententiousness, and seeming positively grateful to be treated in the old fashion.'
'He looks very thin and pale. Do you think him recovered?'
'A good way from it,' said Charles. 'He is pretty well to-day, comparatively, though that obstinate headache hangs about him. If this change last longer than that and his white looks, I shall not even grudge him the sponsorship Amy owed me.'
'Very magnanimous!' said Mary. 'Poor Laura! I am glad her suspense is over. I wondered to see her at school.'
'They are very sad and sober lovers, and it is the best way of not making themselves unbearable, considering--Well, that was a different matter. How little we should have believed it, if any one had told us last year what would be the state of affairs to-day. By the bye, Amy's godson is christened to-day.'
'Didn't you hear that the Ashfords managed to get Amy asked if she would dislike their calling their boy by that name we shall never hear again, and she was very much pleased, and made offer in her own pretty way to be godmother. I wonder how Markham endures it! I believe he is nearly crazy. He wrote me word he should certainly have given up all concern with Redclyffe, but for the especial desire of--.What a state of mind he will be in, when he remembers how he has been abusing the captain to me!'
The afternoon was fresh and clear, and there was a spring brightness in the sunshine that Amabel took as a greeting to her little maiden, as she was carried along the churchyard path. Many an eye was bent on the mother and child, especially on the slight form, unseen since she had last walked down the aisle, her arm linked in her bridegroom's.
'Little Amy Edmonstone,' as they had scarcely learnt to cease from calling her, before she was among them again, the widowed Lady Morville; and with those kind looks of compassion for her, were joined many affectionate mourning thoughts of the young husband and father, lying far away in his foreign grave, and endeared by kindly remembrances to almost all present. There was much of pity for his unconscious infant, and tears were shed at the thought of what the wife must be suffering; but if the face could have been seen beneath the thick crape folds of her veil, it would have shown no tears--only a sweet, calm look of peace, and almost gladness.
The babe was on her knees when the time for the christening came; she was awake, and now and then making a little sound and as she was quieter with her than any one else, Amabel thought she might herself carry her to the font.
It was deep, grave happiness to stand there, with her child in her arms, and with an undefined sense that she was not alone as if in some manner her husband was present with her; praying with her prayers, and joining in offering up their treasure; when the babe was received into Mr. Ross's arms, and Amy, putting back her veil, gazed up with a wistful but serene look.
'To her life's end?' Therewith came a vision of the sunrise at Recoara, and the more glorious dawn that had shone in Guy's dying smile, and Amabel knew what would be her best prayer for his little Mary Verena, as she took her back, the drops glistening on her brow, her eyes open, and arms outspread. It was at that moment that Amabel was first thrilled with a look in her child that was like its father. She had earnestly and often sought a resemblance without being able honestly to own that she perceived any; but now, though she knew not in what it consisted, there was something in that baby face that recalled him more vividly than picture or memory.
'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.'
Those words seemed to come from her own heart. She had brought Guy's daughter to be baptized, and completed his work of pardon, and she had a yearning to be departing in peace, whither her sunshine was gone. But he had told her not to wish that his child should be motherless; she had to train her to be fit to meet him. The sunshine was past, but she had plenty to do in the shade, and it was for his sake. She would, therefore, be content to remain to fulfil her duties among the dear ones to whom he had trusted her for comfort, and with the sense of renewed communion with him that she had found in returning again to church.
So felt Amabel, as she entered into the calm that followed the one year in which she had passed through the great events of life, and known the chief joy and deepest grief that she could ever experience.
It was far otherwise with her sister. Laura's term of trouble seemed to be ending, and the spring of life beginning to dawn on her.
Doubt and fear were past, she and Philip were secure of each other, he was pardoned, and they could be together without apprehension, or playing tricks with their consciences; but she had as yet scarcely been able to spend any time with him; and as Charles said, their ways were far more grave and less lover-like than would have seemed natural after their long separation.
In truth, romantic and uncalculating as their attachment was, they never had been lover-like. They had never had any fears or doubts; her surrender of her soul had been total, and every thought, feeling, and judgment had taken its colour from him as entirely as if she had been a wife of many years' standing. She never opened her mind to perceive that he had led her to act wrongly, and all her unhappiness had been from anxiety for him, not repentance on her own account; for so complete was her idolatry, that she entirely overlooked her failure in duty to her parents.
It took her by surprise when, as they set out together that evening to walk home from East-hill, he said, as soon as they were apart from the village--
'Laura, you have more to forgive than all.'
'Don't, speak so, Philip, pray don't. Do you think I would not have borne far more unhappiness willingly for your sake? Is it not all forgotten as if it had not been?'
'It is not unhappiness I meant,' he replied, 'though I cannot bear to think of what you have undergone. Unhappiness enough have I caused indeed. But I meant, that you have to forgive the advantage I took of your reliance on me to lead you into error, when you were too young to know what it amounted to.'
'It was not an engagement,' faltered Laura.
'Laura, don't, for mercy's sake, recall my own hateful sophistries,' exclaimed Philip, as if unable to control the pain it gave him; 'I have had enough of that from my sister;' then softening instantly: 'it was self-deceit; a deception first of myself, then of you. You had not experience enough to know whither I was leading you, till I had involved you; and when the sight of death showed me the fallacy of the salve to my conscience, I had nothing for it but to confess, and leave you to bear the consequences. 0 Laura! when I think of my conduct towards you, it seems even worse than that towards--towards your brother-in-law!'
His low, stern tone of bitter suffering and self-reproach was something new and frightful to Laura. She clung to his arm and tried to say--'0, don't speak in that way! You know you meant the best. You could not help being mistaken.'
'If I did know any such thing, Laura! but the misery of perceiving that my imagined anxiety for his good,--his good, indeed! was but a cloak for my personal enmity--you can little guess it.'
Laura tried to say that appearances were against Guy, but he would not hear.
'If they were, I triumphed in them. I see now that a shade of honest desire to see him exculpated would have enabled me to find the clue. If I had gone to St. Mildred's at once--interrogated him as a friend-- seen Wellwood--but dwelling on the ifs of the last two years can bring nothing but distraction,' he added, pausing suddenly.
'And remember,' said Laura, 'that dear Guy himself was always grateful to you. He always upheld that you acted for his good. Oh! the way he took it was the one comfort I had last year.'
'The acutest sting, and yet the only balm,' murmured Philip; 'see, Laura,' and he opened the first leaf of Guy's prayer-book, which he had been using at the christening.
A whispered 'Dear Guy!' was the best answer she could make, and the tears were in her eyes. 'He was so very kind to me, when he saw me that unhappy wedding-day.'
'Did Amy tell you his last words to me?'
'No,' said Laura.
'God bless you and my sister!' he repeated, so low that she could hardly hear.
'Amy left that for you to tell,' said Laura, as her tears streamed fast. How can we speak of her, Philip?'
'Only as an angel of pardon and peace!' he answered.
'I don't know how to tell you of all her kindness,' said Laura; 'half the bitterness of it seemed to be over when once she was in the house again, and, all the winter, going into her room was like going into some peaceful place where one must find comfort.'
'"Spirits of peace, where are ye" I could have said, when I saw her drive away at Recoara, and carry all good angels with her except those that could not but hover round that grave.'
'How very sad it must have been! Did--'
'Don't speak of it; don't ask me of it' said Philip, hastily. 'There is nothing in my mind but a tumult of horror and darkness that it is madness to remember. Tell me of yourself--tell me that you have not been hurt by all that I have brought on you.'
'Oh, no!' said Laura 'besides, that is all at an end.'
'All an end! Laura, I fear in joining your fate to mine, you will find care and grief by no means at an end. You must be content to marry a saddened, remorseful man, broken down in health and spirits, his whole life embittered by that fatal remembrance, forced to endure an inheritance that seems to have come like the prosperity of the wicked. Yet you are ready to take all this? Then, Laura, that precious, most precious love, that has endured through all, will be the one drop of comfort through the rest of my life.
She could but hear such words with thrills of rejoicing affection; and on they walked, Laura trembling and struck with sorrow at the depth of repentance he now and then disclosed, though not in the least able to fathom it, thinking it all his nobleness of mind, justifying him to herself, idolizing him too much to own he had ever been wrong; yet the innate power of tact and sympathy teaching her no longer to combat his self-reproaches, and repeat his former excuses, but rather to say something soothing and caressing, or put in some note of thankfulness and admiration of Amy and Guy. This was the best thing she could do for him, as she was not capable, like Amy, of acknowledging that his repentance was well-founded. She was a nurse, not a physician, to the wounded spirit; but a very good and gentle nurse she was, and the thorough enjoyment of her affection and sympathy, the opening into confidence, and the freedom from doubt and suspense, were comforts that were doing him good every hour.
The christening party consisted only of the Rosses, and Dr. Mayerne, who had joined them at East-hill church, and walked home with Mr. Edmonstone. They could not have been without him, so grateful were they for his kindness all through their anxious winter, and Mr. Edmonstone was well pleased to tell him on the way home that they might look to having a wedding in the family; it had been a very long attachment, constancy as good as a story, and he could all along have told what was the matter, when mamma was calling in the doctor to account for Laura's looking pale.
The doctor was not surprised at the news, for perhaps he, too, had had some private theory about those pale looks; but, knowing pretty well the sentiments Charles had entertained the winter before last, he was curious to find out how he regarded this engagement. Charles spoke of it in the most ready cordial way. 'Well, doctor, so you have heard our news! I flatter myself we have as tall and handsome a pair of lovers to exhibit here, as any in the United Kingdom, when we have fattened him a little into condition.'
'Never was there a better match,' said Dr. Mayerne. 'Made for each other all along. One could not see them without feeling it was the first chapter of a novel.'
When Mrs. Edmonstone came in, the doctor was a little taken aback. He thought her mind must be with poor Sir Guy, and was afraid the lovers had been in such haste as to pain Lady Morville; for there was a staidness and want of "epanchement du coeur" of answering that was very unlike her usual warm manner. At dinner, Mr. Edmonstone was in high spirits, delighted at Amy's recovery, happy to have a young man about the house again, charmed to see two lovers together, pleased that Laura should be mistress of Redclyffe, since it could not belong to Amy's child; altogether, as joyous as ever. His wife, being at ease about Amy, did her best to smile, and even laugh, though sad at heart all the time, as she missed the father from the christening feast, and thought how happy she had been in that far different reunion last year. It might be the same with Charles; but the outward effect was exhibited in lively nonsense; Charlotte's spirits were rising fast, and only Philip and Laura themselves were grave and silent, she, the more so, because she was disappointed to find that the one walk back from East-hill, much as he had enjoyed it, had greatly tired Philip. However, the others talked enough without them; and Mr. Edmonstone was very happy, drinking the health of Miss Morville, and himself carrying a bit of the christening cake to the mamma in the drawing-room.
There sat Amabel by the fire, knowing that from henceforth she must exert herself to take part in the cheerfulness of the house, and willing to join the external rejoicing in her child's christening, or at least not to damp it by remaining up-stairs. Yet any one but Mr. Edmonstone would have seen more sadness than pleasure in the sweet smile with which she met and thanked him; but they were cheerful tones in which she replied, and in her presence everything was hushed and gentle, subdued, yet not mournful. The spirit of that evening was only recognized after it was past, and then it ever grew fairer and sweeter in recollection, so as never to be forgotten by any of those who shared it.
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