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AMY AND CORNEY.
The Frankses remained at rest until the funeral was over, and then Hester would have father and sons go out to follow their calling, while the mother and she did what could be done for the ailing baby, who could not linger long behind Moxy.
Hester had a little money of her own--not much, but enough to restore to decency, with the help of the wife's fingers, the wardrobe of the family. For the present she would not let them leave the house; she must have them in better condition first, and with a little money in their pockets of their own earning. And the very first day, though they went out with heavy hearts, and could hardly have played with much spirit, they brought home more money than any day for weeks before. And Franks as he walked home weary, took some comfort that his Moxy was not with him to trouble his mother with his white face and drawn look.
The same day lord Gartley called, but was informed by Sarah, who opened the door but a chink, that the small-pox was in the house, and that she could admit no one but the doctor. To his exclamation she made answer that her young mistress was perfectly well, but could and would see nobody--was in attendance upon the sick. So his lordship was compelled to go without seeing her, not without a haunting doubt that he was being played upon, and she did not want to see him.
As had happened more than once before, soon after he was gone the major made his appearance. To him Sarah gave the same answer, adding by her mistress's directions, that in the meantime there was no occasion to prosecute inquiry about Mr. Cornelius, for it was all--as Sarah put it--explained, and her mistress would write to him.
But what was Hester to tell her father and mother? Until she knew with certainty the fact of her marriage, she shrank from mentioning Amy; and at present it was impossible to find out anything from Cornelius. She merely wrote, therefore, that she had found him, but very ill; that she would take the best care of him she could, and as soon as he was able to be moved, bring him home to be nursed by his mother.
The great room was for the mean time given over to the Frankses. The wife kept everything tidy, and they managed things their own way. Hester made inquiry now and then, to be sure they were having everything they wanted, but left them to provide for themselves.
She did her best to help Amy without letting her brother suspect her presence, and by degrees she got the room more comfortable for them. Corney had indeed taken a good many things from the house to make habitable the waste expanse, but had been careful not to take anything Sarah would miss.
He was covered with the terrible eruption, and if he survived, which again and again seemed doubtful, would probably be much changed, for Amy could not keep his hands from his face: in trifles the lack of self-restraint is manifested, and its consequences are sometimes grievous.
Hitherto Hester had not let her parents quite know how ill he was--for what may seem a far-fetched reason--not to save them from anxiety, but to save her mother from hearing his father say, the best thing he could do would be to die. Nor was she mistaken: many a time had her father said so to himself. It was simply impossible, he said, that he should ever again speak to him or in any way treat him as a son. He had by his vile conduct ceased to be a son, and he was nowise bound to do anything more for him; though, from mere compassion, he would keep him from starving till he got some employment to which no character was necessary.
He began at last to recover, but it was long before he could be treated otherwise than as a child--so feeble was he, and so unreasonable. The first time he saw and knew Hester, he closed his eyes and turned away his head as if he would have no more of that apparition. She retired; but, watching, presently saw him, in his own sly way, looking through half closed lids to know whether she was gone. When he saw Amy where Hester had stood, his face beamed up. "Amy," he said, "come here;" and when she went, he took her hand and laid it on his cheek, little knowing what a disfigured cheek it was.
"Thank God!" said Hester to herself: she had never seen him look so sweet or loving or lovable, despite his disfigurement.
She took care not to show herself again till he should be a little accustomed to the idea of her presence.
The more she saw of Amy the better she liked her. She treated her patient with so much good sense, showed such a readiness to subordinate her ignorance to the wisdom of others, and such a careful obedience to the directions of the doctor, that she rose every day in Hester's opinion, as well as found a yet deeper place in her heart.
His lordship wrote, making an apology for anything he had said, from anxiety about one whom he loved to distraction, in which he might have presumed on the closeness of their relation to each other. He would gladly talk the whole matter over with her as soon as she gave him leave. For his part he had not a moment's doubt that her good sense, relieved from the immediate pressure of her feelings, which were in themselves but too divine for the needs of this world, would convince her of the reasonableness of all he had sought to urge upon her. As soon as she was able, and judged it safe to admit a visitor, his aunt would be happy to call upon her.
For the present, as he knew she would not admit him, he would content himself with frequent and most anxious inquiries after her, reserving argument and expostulation for a happier, and, he hoped, not very distant time.
Hester smiled a curious smile at the prospect of a call from Miss Vavasor: was she actually going to plead her nephew's cause?
As her brother grew better, and things became easier, the thought of lord Gartley came oftener, with something of the old feeling for the man himself, but mingled with sadness and a strange pity. She would never have been able to do anything for him! It had been in her spiritual presumption to think she could save him by the preciousness of her self-gift to him and the strength of her power over him!
If God cannot save a man by all his good gifts, not even by the gift of a woman offered to his higher nature, but by that refused, the woman's giving of herself a slave to his lower nature can only make him the more unredeemable; while the withholding of herself may do something--may at least, as the years go on, wake in him some sense of what a fool he had been. The man who would go to the dogs for lack of the woman he fancies, will go to the dogs when he has her--may possibly drag her to the dogs with him.
Hester began to see something of this. She recalled how she had never once gained from him a satisfactory reply to anything she said worth saying; she had in her foolishness supplied from her own imagination the defective echoes of his response! Love had made her apt and able to do this; but now that she had yielded entrance to doubt, she saw many things otherwise than before. She loved the man enough to die for him: she would not have one moment hesitated about that; but it was quite another thing to marry him! It was her brother now she had to save! His dear, good little wife was doing all she could for him, but it would take sister and mother and all to save him! She could not do so much for him as Amy now, but by and by there would be his father to meditate with: to that she would give her energy!
But his poor mother! would she recognize him--so terribly scarred and changed? He might in time, being young, grow more like himself, but now he was not pleasant to look upon. Some men are as vain as any women, and Corney was one of those some. While pretending to despise the kindest word concerning his good looks, he had taken the greatest pleasure in them; and the first time he saw himself in a mirror, the look of dismay, of despairing horror that came over his face was as pitiful as it was ludicrous. He had been accustomed to regard himself as one superior on most grounds, on that of good looks in particular, to any one he knew--and now! He could not but admit that he was nothing less than unpleasant to behold--must be so even to those who loved him! It was a pain that in itself could do little to cast out the evil spirit that possessed him, but it was something that that evil spirit, while it remained in him, should be deprived of one source of its nourishment. It was a good thing that from any cause the transgressor should find his ways hard. He dashed the glass from him, and burst into tears which he did not even try to conceal.
It was notable that from that time he was more dejected, and less peevish; and this latter might not be only from returning health, for he had always been more or less peevish at home, where he never thought of cultivating the same conception or idea of himself as before the eyes of the world. Much of supposed goodness is merely a looking of the thing men would like to be considered--originating doubtless sometimes in an admiration of, perhaps in a vague wish to be that thing, but unaccompanied of desire or strength enough to rouse the smallest endeavour after being it. Still Hester found it difficult to bear with his remaining peevishness and bad temper, knowing what he had made of himself, and that he knew she must know it; but at such hard moments she had the good sense to leave him to the soothing ministrations of his wife. Amy never set herself against him: first of all she would show him that she understood what was troubling him: then would say something sympathetic, or petting, or coaxing, and always had her way with him. She had the great advantage that not yet had he once quarrelled with her.
That gave a ground of hope for her influence with him that his sister had long lost. God had made Amy so that she had less trouble from selfishness than all but a few people. Hester, more than Amy, felt her own rights, and was ready to be indignant. She would have far more trouble than Amy in getting rid of the self-asserting self in her, which closes the door against heaven's divinest gifts. In Hester it was no doubt associated with a loftier nature, and the harder victory would have its greater reward, but until finally conquered it must continue to obstruct her walk in the true way. So Hester learned from the sweetness of Amy, as Amy from the unbending principle of Hester.
She at last made up her mind that she would take Cornelius home without giving her father the opportunity of saying he should not come. She would presume that he must go home after such an illness: the result she would wait! The meeting could in no case be a happy one, but if he were not altogether repulsed, if the mean devil in him was not thoroughly roused by the harshness of his father, she would think much had been gained!
With gentle watchfulness she regarded Amy, and was more and more satisfied that, whatever might be wrong, she had had a share in it not as one who did, but as one who endured wrong. The sweetness and devotion with which she seemed to live only for her husband was to Hester, who found it impossible to take such a position even in imagination towards Gartley, in her tenderer moments almost a rebuke. But she could not believe that had Amy known before she married him what kind of person Cornelius was, she would have given herself to him. She did not think how nearly the man she had once accepted stood on the same level of manhood. But Amy was the wife of Cornelius, and that made an eternal difference. Her duty was as plain as Hester's--and the same--to do the best for him!
When he was able to be moved, Hester brought them into the house, and placed them in a comfortable room. She then moved the Frankses into the room they had left, making it over to them, subject to her father's pleasure, for a time at least. With their own entrance through the cellar, they were to live there after their own fashion, and follow their own calling, only they were to let Hester know if they found themselves in any difficulty. And now for the first time in her life she wished she had some means of her own, that she might act with freedom. She had seen hope of freedom in marriage, but now she wished it in independence.
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