Hester had not yet gone to see Miss Dasomma because of the small-pox.
Second causes are God's as much as first, and Christ made use of them as his father's way. It were a sad world indeed if God's presence were only interference, that is, miracle. The roundabout common ways of things are just as much his as the straight, miraculous ones--I incline to think more his, in the sense that they are plainly the ways he prefers. In all things that are, he is--present even in the evil we bring into the world, to foil it and bring good out of it. We are always disbelieving in him because things do not go as we intend and desire them to go. We forget that God has larger ends, even for us, than we can see, so his plans do not fit ours. If God were not only to hear our prayers, as he does ever and always, but to answer them as we want them answered, he would not be God our Saviour, but the ministering genius of our destruction.
But now Hester thought she might visit her friend. She had much to say to her and ask of her. First she told her of herself and lord Gartley. Miss Dasomma threw her arms about her, and broke into a flood of congratulation. Hester looked a little surprised, and was indeed a little annoyed at the vehemence of her pleasure. Miss Dasomma hastened to excuse herself.
"My dear," she said, "the more I saw of that man, the more I thought and the more I heard about him, his ways, and his surroundings, the more I marvelled you should ever have taken him for other than the most wordly, shallow, stunted creature. It was the very impossibility of your understanding the mode of being of such a man that made it possible for him to gain on you. Believe me, if you had married him, you would have been sick of him--forgive the vulgar phrase--yes, and hopeless of him, in six weeks."
"There was more and better in him than you imagine," returned Hester, hurt that her friend should think so badly of the man she loved, but by no means sure that she was wrong.
"That may be," answered her friend; "but I am certain also that if you had married him, you would have done him no good."
Then Hester went on with her tale of trouble. Her brother Cornelius had been behaving very badly, she said, and had married a young woman without letting them know. Her father and mother were unaware of the fact as yet, and she dreaded having to communicate it to them. He had been very ill with the small-pox, and she must take him home; but what to do with his wife until she had broken the matter to them, she did not know. She knew her father would be very angry, and until he should have got over it a little she dared not have her home: in a word she was at her wits' end.
"One question, excuse me if I ask," said Miss Dasomma: "are they married?"
"I am not sure; but I am sure she believes they are."
Then she told her what she knew of Amy. Miss Dasomma fell a thinking.
"Could I see her?" she said at length.
"Surely; any time," replied Hester, "now that Corney is so much better."
Miss Dasomma called, and was so charmed with Amy that she proposed to Hester she should stay with her.
This was just what Hester wished but had not dared to propose.
Now came the painful necessity not only of breaking to the young wife that she must be parted from her husband for a while, but--which was much worse--of therein revealing that he had deceived her.
Had Cornelius not been ill and helpless, and characterless, he would probably have refused to go home; but he did not venture a word of opposition to Hester's determination. He knew she had not told Amy anything, but saw that, if he refused, she might judge it necessary to tell her all. And notwithstanding his idiotic pretence of superiority, he had a kind of thorough confidence in Hester. In his sickness something of the old childish feeling about her as a refuge from evil had returned upon him, and he was now nearly ready to do and allow whatever she pleased, trusting to her to get him out of the scrape he was in: she could do more than any one else, he was sure!
"But now tell me, on your word of honour," she said to him that same night, happening to find herself alone with him, "are you really and truly married to Amy?"
She was delighted to see him blaze up in anger.
"Hester, you insult us both!" he said.
"No, Cornelius," returned Hester, "I have a right to distrust you--but I distrust only you. Whatever may be amiss in the affair, I am certain you alone are to blame--not Amy."
Thereupon Cornelius swore a solemn oath that Amy was as much his lawful wife as he knew how to make her.
"Then what is to be done with her when you go home? You cannot expect she will be welcomed. I have not dared tell them of your marriage--only of your illness. The other must be by word of mouth."
"I don't know what's to be done with her. How should I know!" answered Cornelius with a return of his old manner. "I thought you would manage it all for me! This cursed illness--"
"Cornelius," said Hester, "this illness is the greatest kindness God could show you."
"Well, we won't argue about that!--Sis, you must get me out of the scrape!"
Hester's heart swelled with delight at the sound of the old loving nursery-word. She turned to him and kissed him.
"I will do what I honestly can, Cornelius," she said.
"All right!" replied Corney. "What do you mean to do?"
"Not to take Amy down with us. She must wait till I have told."
"Then my wife is to be received only on sufferance!" he cried.
"You can hardly expect to be otherwise received yourself. You have put your wife at no end of disadvantage by making her your wife without the knowledge of your family. For yourself, when a man has taken money not his own; when he has torn the hearts of father and mother with anguish such as neither ever knew before--ah, Corney! if you had seen them as I saw them, you would not now wonder that I tremble at the thought of your meeting. If you have any love for poor Amy, you will not dream of exposing her to the first outbreak of a shocked judgment. I cannot be sure what my mother might think, but my father would take her for your evil genius! It is possible he may refuse to see yourself!"
"Then I'm not going. Better stay here and starve!"
"If so, I must at once tell Amy what you have done. I will not have the parents on whom you have brought disgrace and misery supposed guilty of cruelty. Amy must know all about it some day, but it ought to come from yourself--not from me. You will never be fit for honest company till for very misery you have told your wife."
Hester thought she must not let him fancy things were going back into the old grooves--that his crime would become a thing of no consequence, and pass out of existence, ignored and forgotten. Evil cannot be destroyed without repentance.
He was silent as one who had nothing to answer.
"So now," said Hester, "will you, or must I, tell Amy that she cannot go home?"
He thought for a moment.
"I will," he said.
Hester left him and sent Amy to him. In a few minutes she returned. She had wept, but was now, though looking very sad, quite self-possessed.
"Please, miss," she said--but Hester interrupted her.
"You must not call me miss, Amy," she said. "You must call me Hester. Am I not your sister?"
A gleam of joy shot from the girl's eyes, like the sun through red clouds.
"Then you have forgiven me!" she cried, and burst into tears.
"No, Amy, not that! I should have had to know something to forgive first. You may have been foolish; everybody can't always be wise, though everybody must try to do right. But now we must have time to set things straighter, without doing more mischief, and you mustn't mind staying a little while with Miss Dasomma."
"Does she know all about it, miss---Hester?" asked Amy; and as she called her new sister by her name, the blood rushed over her face.
"She knows enough not to think unfairly of you, Amy."
"And you won't be hard upon him when he hasn't me to comfort him--will you, Hester?"
"I will think of my new sister who loves him," replied Hester. "But you must not think I do not love him too. And oh, Amy! you must be very careful over him. No one can do with him what you can. You must help him to be good, for that is the chief duty of every one towards a neighbour, and particularly of a wife towards a husband."
Amy was crying afresh, and made no answer; but there was not the most shadowy token of resentment in her weeping.
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