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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 110/144 -
'I am glad it is safe; it was John's charge, and he ought to restore it: but you will dream of it, like poor little Johnnie, if you take it so much to heart. I should not have told you at night. Put it out of your head, and let us sleep in peace.'
'Good night, dear sister. Thank you for talking to me. O, this is better than the night we parted before.'
'As much better as it is to have found one's anchor than to be tossed at the will of the waves. That was a frightful time. Thank heaven that you made me feel for the cable! There is a dreary voyage to come, but after all, every day we end the Creed with "The life everlasting."'
What have I? Shall I dare to tell? A comfortless and hidden well, A well of love, it may be deep, I trust it is, and never dry. What matter if the waters sleep In silence and obscurity?--WORDSWORTH
Violet experienced the trials to which she knew she was returning. For some time past her husband's habits had been growing less and less domestic, and his disappointment alienated him still more. It was as if Mrs. Nesbit had left behind her a drop of poison, that perverted and envenomed the pride he used to take in his son, as heir to the family honours, and made him regard the poor child almost in the light of a rival, while he seemed to consider the others as burdens, and their number a hardship and misfortune.
He was so impatient of interruption from them, that Violet kept them carefully out of his way, while he was in the house, and this was seldom for a long space of time. All the fancied trials of the first year of her marriage seemed to have actually come upon her! She hardly saw him from morning to night, and when he did spend an evening at home, he was sullen and discontented, and found fault with everything. She was far from well, but his days of solicitude were gone by, and he was too much wrapped up in his own concerns to perceive her failure in strength, and the effort it cost her to be cheerful. The children were her great solace, but the toil of attending to them was almost beyond her powers, and if it had not been for her boy, she felt as if she must have been quite overwhelmed. Quiet, gentle, and thoughtful, he was a positive assistance in the care of his sisters; and to read with him, hear his remarks, watch his sweet obedience, and know herself the object of his earnest affection, was her chief enjoyment, though even here there was anxiety. His innocence and lovingness had something unearthly, and there was a precocious understanding, a grave serious turn of mind, and a want of childish mirth, which added to the fears caused by his fragile health. Play was not nearly so pleasant to him as to sit by her, reading or talking, or to act as her little messenger; and it was plain that he missed fondness from his father almost as much as she did for him. To be in the room with papa was his most earnest desire, and it saddened her to see that little slight figure silent in the corner, the open book on his lap, but his pale face, soft dark eyes, and parted lips, intent on every movement of his father, till the instant a want was expressed, or the least occasion for a service offered, there was a bound to execute it, and the inattentive indifferent 'thank you' was enough to summon up the rosy hue of delight. Would Arthur only have looked, how could he have helped being touched? But he continued neglectful and unheeding, while the child's affection seemed to thrive the more under disregard.
Violet's only satisfaction was in the absence of Mr. Gardner. She heard constantly from Lady Elizabeth Brandon; but there was little that was hopeful in that quarter. Emma's heart was more entirely in the power of her suitor than even their fears had anticipated. She had kept so entirely aloof from gentlemen, and so suspiciously repelled the most ordinary attention, that when once she had permitted any intimacy the novelty gave it a double charm. He had come upon her at first as one bowed down with sorrow for the follies of his youth, seeking only for the means of repairing what was past, and professing that happiness was over, and all he could hope was to evidence the depth of his repentance by his devotion and self- sacrifice in the cause of the Church. Then, when at unawares he allowed it to be discovered by Theresa that the heart, supposed to be awake only to remorse, had been gained by the earnestness and excellence of her young friend, and that in her was the most powerful means of consoling and aiding him, when he seemed sunk in the depths of despair at having allowed his sentiments to transpire, and only too much humiliated by the idea of being named together with Miss Brandon, it was impossible but that Emma's gentle and enthusiastic spirit should go more than half way to raise him from his despondency. She could not believe his errors so great, after all; or even if they were, who would not overlook them, and rejoice to have the power of comforting such a penitent? Theresa Marstone, with a woman's latent love of romance, was prime confidante to both, encouraged all, and delighted in the prospect of being supreme in the Priory, and moulding the pattern household of the pair formed and united under her auspices.
In the midst of such a dream as this, what chance had Lady Elizabeth of convincing the friends that their penitent, scarcely persuaded to relinquish plans of a hermitage, was a spendthrift adventurer, seeking to repair his extravagance with the estates of Rickworth?
Emma shed indignant tears, and protested that it was cruel to bring up his past faults; talked of the Christian duty of forgiving the returning sinner; and when Lady Elizabeth showed that he had very recently been engaged in his usual courses, Theresa, with a sensible face and reasonable voice, argued that ordinary minds could not enter into the power of the Church's work, and adduced many cases of equally sudden change of life.
She did not mention whether there was always the heiress of ten thousand a year ready as a reward.
The list of charges against Mark's character deepened every day, and added to poor Lady Elizabeth's horror, but he always contrived to render them as nothing to Emma. He had always confessed them beforehand, either to her or to Theresa, with strong professions of sorrow, and so softened and explained away, that they were ready to receive each fresh accusation as an exaggeration of a fault long past, and deeply regretted, and only admired their injured Mark the more. Lady Elizabeth wrote to beg Violet to give her the clue which she had said Arthur possessed to Mark's actual present character.
In much distress Violet wrote the letter, mentioning some disgraceful transactions which she knew to have been taking place at the very time when the good curate believed his friend sincerely repentant. She had heard them, not from Arthur, but from Mrs Bryanstone, who always learnt from her brother every such piece of gossip, but still, after what had passed, and Lady Elizabeth's appeal direct to Arthur, she thought it her duty to tell him before she sent the letter, and to ask if the facts were correct.
It was a most unpleasant duty; but Arthur was not in such a mood as when first she had mentioned the subject to him. He muttered something about the intense folly of a woman who could believe a word out of Gardner's mouth; said if Emma desired to be made miserable for life she could not take a better way; wished he had never set eyes on the fellow, and then, grumbling at Violet's begging him to read the letter, he cast his eye over it, and said it was all true, and there was worse, too, if Lady Elizabeth did but know it; but what this was he would not tell her. He made no objection to her sending the letter, saying he supposed it must be done, since she was asked; but it was all her doing, and Lady Elizabeth might have gone to some one else; and inconsistently ended with, 'After all, what's the use of making such an uproar about it? Such things have happened twenty times before, and will again.'
'Not with my poor Emma, I hope. Imagine her with such a man as that!'
'Well! there are plenty of such couples. I wonder what would become of the world if wives were not better than their husbands.'
Every rational person at Gothlands thought this letter conclusive; Emma herself was shaken; but a walk in the shrubbery with Mark settled it in her mind that his newly-formed wishes of amendment had then been weak--he had not then seen her, he had not learnt so much as at present. He had not been able to confess these deeds, because others, who had now spoken, were concerned in them; but now it was a relief to be able to tell all to his Emma! The end of it was, that Emma herself was almost ready to press forward the marriage, so as to give him the means of clearing himself from the debts, which, as he insinuated, were the true cause of Colonel Martindale's accusations. He forgave him, however, though if all was known of his dealings with Arthur Martindale--! And then there was a long confidential talk with Theresa Marstone, after which she told Lady Elizabeth that, though Mr. Gardner spared Emma's feelings with regard to her friend, there could be no doubt that Colonel Martindale had done much to lead him astray.
At last, as a dutiful concession, Emma resolved on a compromise, and put him on his probation for a year. This was particularly inconvenient to him, but he was very resigned and humble; 'perhaps he had hoped more from her affection, but he knew it was his penalty, and must submit. If there was but some religious house to which he could retire for the intermediate space; for he dreaded the effect of being sent back to the world.'
Theresa was wrought upon to counsel haste; but Emma had principle at the bottom of her effervescence of folly, and was too right-minded, as well as too timid, to act in direct opposition to her mother, however she might be led to talk. Therefore they parted, with many tears on Emma's part, and tender words and promises on Mark's. Lady Elizabeth had little hope that he would not keep them; but she took advantage of the reprieve to conduct Emma to make visits amongst her relations--sober people, among whom sense was more likely to flourish, and among whom Mr. Gardner could never dare to show himself.
He went, as he told Emma, to seek for some continental convent, where perhaps be might be received as a boarder, and glean hints for the Priory. Ordinary minds believed that his creditors being suspicious of the delay of his marriage with the heiress, had contributed to this resolution.
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