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entail, and sell some land; and the house was insured far short of its value. He wants to get rid of Armstrong and all the finery of the garden; but he is afraid of vexing mamma, and in the meantime he is very glad that we are living more cheaply in the cottage. I really do not think he could conveniently pay such a sum; and just at present, too, I had rather poor Arthur's faults were not brought before him.'
'It comes to this, then;--Is it for your happiness to enter upon an indefinite engagement, and wait for the chance of my working myself up into such a competency as may make our marriage not too imprudent? It cannot, as far as I can see, be for years; it may be never.'
'When I thought you would not have me, I meant to be an old maid,' said Theodora; 'and, Percy, this time you shall not think I do not care for you. If we have to wait for our whole lives, let it be with the knowledge that we belong to each other. I could not give up that now, and'--as he pressed her hand--'mind, I am old enough to be trusted to choose poverty. I know I can live on a little: I trust to you to tell me whenever there is enough.'
'And your father?'
'He will not object--he will rejoice. The way I regarded that dear father was one of the worst sins of that time! It is better it should be as it is. Mamma could not well do without me now; I should be in doubt about leaving her, even if the rest were plain. So that is trouble saved,' she added with a smile.
'If they will see it in the same light! If they will forgive as readily as you do one of the greatest injuries to a young lady.'
'Hush--nonsense. Papa always considered that it served me right. And really this is such perfect content, that I do not know how to understand it. You had always the power of reconciliation in your hands; but, you know, I had not; and, apart from all other feelings, the mere craving for pardon was so painful! It was only yesterday morning that I was thinking it might, at least, come in the other world.'
'The pardon I was begging Violet to seek for me!--I trusted to obtain that, though I little hoped--'
'But indeed, Percy, we must write our letters, or the children will be upon us again.'
Her letter was more easily written than Percy's. He wrote, and tore up, and considered, and talked to her, and wished John was at home, and said that Lord Martindale would be perfectly justified in withdrawing his consent, and declaring him a presumptuous wretch.
'What! when you have rescued his son? No, indeed, papa knows you too well! I have no fears: for though he is not aware of the cost of what you did for Arthur, he is most grateful for what he does know of; he thinks you saved his life, and even without that, he is too kind to me to do what--I could not bear.'
'I will try to believe you.'
'I was thinking that this is just retribution on me, that whereas I led Arthur into temptation, this debt should be the obstacle.'
Perhaps nothing gratified him more than to hear her speak of the loan as if she participated in the loss, not as if she viewed it from the Martindale side of the question, and felt it too much of an obligation.
His letter was not written till just in time for the post, and it travelled in the same cover with hers. Till the answer arrived he was very anxious, came little to the house, and only put on his cheerful air before Arthur, whose spirits could not afford to be lowered. Theodora was secure. She knew that she deserved that there should be difficulties; but at the same time she had the sense that the tide had turned. Pardon had come, and with it hope; and though she tried to school herself to submit to disappointment, she could not expect it. She knew she might trust to her father's kind unworldly temper and sense of justice, now that he was left to himself. And when the letter came, Percy brought it in triumph under the shade of the old green umbrella, which hitherto he had not dared to produce.
Lord Martindale said everything affectionate and cordial. If he grieved at the unpromising prospect, he was wise enough to know it was too late to try to thwart an attachment which had survived such shocks; and he only dwelt on his rejoicing that, after all her trials, his daughter should have merited the restoration of the affection of one whom he esteemed so highly.
He fully forgave the former rejection, and declared that it was with far more hope and confidence of their happiness that he now accorded his sanction than when last it had been asked; and the terms in which he spoke of his daughter seemed to deepen her humility by the strength of their commendation.
Happy days succeeded; the lodgings in Piccadilly were nearly deserted, Percy was always either nursing Arthur, playing with the children, or bringing sheets of Byzantine history for revision; and he was much slower in looking over Theodora's copies of them than in writing them himself. There was much grave quiet talk between the lovers when alone together. They were much altered since the time when their chief satisfaction seemed to lie in teasing and triumphing over one another; past troubles and vague prospects had a sobering influence; and they felt that while they enjoyed their present union as an unlooked-for blessing, it might be only a resting point before a long period of trial, separation, and disappointment. It gave a resigned tone to their happiness, even while its uncertainty rendered it more precious.
All mirthfulness, except what the children called forth, was reserved for Arthur's room; but he thought Percy as gay and light-hearted as ever, and his sister not much less so. Percy would not bring their anxieties to depress the fluctuating spirits, which, wearied with the sameness of a sick-room, varied with every change of weather, every sensation of the hour.
Theodora almost wondered at Percy's talking away every desponding fit of Arthur's, whether about his health, his money matters, or their hopes. She said, though it was most trying to hear him talk of never coming down again, of not living to see the children grow up, and never allowing that he felt better, that she thought, considering how much depended on the impression now made, it might be false kindness to talk away his low spirits. Were they not repentance? Perhaps Percy was right, but she should not have dared to do so.
'Theodora, you do not know the difference between reflection and dejection. Arthur's repentance is too deep a thing for surface talk. It does not depend on my making him laugh or not.'
'If anxiety about himself keeps it up--'
'If I let him believe that I do not think he will recover, for the sake of encouraging his repentance, I should be leaving him in a delusion, and that I have no right to do. Better let him feel himself repenting as having to redeem what is past, than merely out of terror, thinking the temptations have given him up, not that he gives them up. Why, when he told me to sell his saddle-horses the other day, and that he should never ride again, it was nothing, and I only roused him up to hope to be out in the spring. Then he began to lament over his beautiful mare,--but when it came to his saying he had sacrificed Violet's drives for her, and that he had been a selfish wretch, who never deserved to mount a horse again, and ending with a deep sigh, and "Let her go, I ought to give her up," there was reality and sincerity, and I acted on it. No, if Arthur comes out of his room a changed character, it must be by strengthening his resolution, not by weakening his mind, by letting him give way to the mere depression of illness.'
'You believe the change real? Oh, you don't know what the doubt is to me! after my share in the evil, the anxiety is doubly intense! and I cannot see much demonstration except in his sadness, which you call bodily weakness.'
'We cannot pry into hidden things,' Percy answered. 'Watch his wife, and you will see that she is satisfied. You may trust him to her, and to Him in whose hands he is. Of this I am sure, that there is a patient consideration for others, and readiness to make sacrifices that are not like what he used to be. You are not satisfied? It is not as you would repent; but you must remember that Arthur's is after all a boy's character; he has felt his errors as acutely as I think he can feel them, and if he is turning from them, that is all we can justly expect. They were more weakness than wilfulness.'
'Not like mine!' said Theodora; 'but one thing more, Percy--can it be right for him to see no clergyman?'
'Wait,' said Percy again. 'Violet can judge and influence him better than you or I. Depend upon it, she will do the right thing at the right time. Letting him alone to learn from his children seems to me the safest course.'
Theodora acquiesced, somewhat comforted by the conversation, though it was one of those matters in which the most loving heart must submit to uncertainty, in patient hope and prayer.
Just before Christmas, Theodora was summoned home; for her mother was too unwell and dispirited to do without her any longer. Her father offered to come and take her place, but Arthur and Violet decided that it would be a pity to unsettle him from home again. Arthur was now able to sit up for some hours each day, and Percy undertook to be always at hand. He was invited to Brogden for Christmas; but it was agreed between him and Theodora that they must deny themselves the pleasure of spending it together; they thought it unfit to leave Violet even for a few days entirely unassisted.
Mr. Hugh Martindale came to fetch Theodora home. He brought a more satisfactory account of poor Emma, who had never forwarded the promised explanation to Theodora. Lady Elizabeth had applied to him to clear Emma's mind from some of the doubts and difficulties inspired by her friend, and at present, though her spirits were very low, they considered that one great step had been gained, for she had ceased every day to write to Miss Marstone.
Theodora had fixed many hopes on her cousin's interview with Arthur, but they only talked of Brogden news; however, she heard afterwards that Hugh was well satisfied with what he had seen of him, and that he thought Percy's view the safest. It was better to force nothing upon him. It was a sad struggle to resolve to depart, but it was made in thankfulness, when Theodora remembered the feelings with which she had entered that house. She went up in the early morning to wish Arthur good-bye. He raised himself and embraced her fondly.
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