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- Heartsease or Brother's Wife - 40/144 -
'How distressing! How wretched! It would have killed me long before! How did she bear it? I know it was patiently, but I cannot understand it!'
'Her letters will best show you. It was the perfect trust that it was good for us; but what she underwent in those last three years we never knew. Her brother was at Constantinople. I could not go to Elsdale, and there was no one to interfere. We could not guess from her cheerful letters how she was wearing herself out, bearing his caprices, giving up sleep and exercise. I knew how it would be the first moment I met her, when I went to Elsdale to the funeral; but it was supposed to be only over-fatigue, and her aunt, Lady Fotheringham, took her home to recover. She grew worse, and went to London for advice. There I met her, and--and there she herself told me she had disease of the heart, and could not live a year.'
Violet gave a sort of sob.
'She held up to me that cross--that first gift--she bade me think of the subjection of wills and affections it betokened. Little had we once thought of that meaning!'
'And then?' asked Violet, with face flushed and hands clasped.
'Lady Fotheringham took her to Worthbourne.'
'Could you be with her?'
'Yes. One of the especial subjects of thankfulness was that I was well enough to stay with her. She was perfectly happy and contented, chiefly concerned to soften it to me. It was as if she had finished her work, and was free to enjoy, as she sank into full repose, sunsets, hoar frosts, spring blossoms, the having me with her, her brother's return--everything was a pleasure. I can hardly call it a time of grief, when she was so placid and happy. All the wishing and scheming was over, and each day that I could look at her in her serenity, was only too precious.'
'Was there much suffering?'
'At times there was, but in general there was only languor. She used to lie by the window, looking so smiling and tranquil, that it was hard to believe how much she had gone through; and so peaceful, that we could not dare to wish to bring her back to care and turmoil. The last time she was able to talk to me, she showed me the cross still round her neck, and said she should like to think it would be as much comfort to any one else as it had been to her. I did not see her again till I was called in for her last look on anything earthly, when the suffering was passed, and there was peaceful sinking.'
Violet was crying too much for words, until at last she managed to say, 'How could you--what could you do?'
'My illness was the best thing that could happen to me.'
'How sorry you must have been to get well.'
'Her wings were grown, To heaven she's flown, 'Cause I had none I'm left.'
'Those lines haunted me when I found myself reviving to the weary useless life I spend here.'
'O how can you call it so?' cried Violet. 'How could Arthur and I do without you?'
There was a sound up-stairs, and she started to the door, ran up, but came down in a few moments. 'He is awake and better,' she said. 'I cannot come down again, for Sarah must go to supper. Good night; thank you for what you have told me;' then, with an earnest look, 'only I can't bear you to say your life is useless. You don't know how we look to you.'
'Thank you for your kind listening,' he answered. 'It has done me a great deal of good; but do not stay,' as he saw her evidently longing to return to her child, yet lingering in the fear of unkindness to him. 'I am glad he is better; you and he must both have a good night.'
John was indeed refreshed by the evening's conversation. It had disclosed to him a new source of comfort, for hitherto his grief had never known the relief of sympathy. His whole soul had been fixed on one object from his boyhood; the hopes of deserving Helen had been his incentive to exertion in his youth, and when disabled by sickness, he had always looked forward to a new commencement of active usefulness with her. It had been a life of waiting: patient, but without present action, and completely wrapped up in a single attachment and hope. When that was taken from him he had not failed in faith and submission, but he had nothing to occupy him or afford present solace and interest; he had no future save lonely waiting still, until he should again rejoin her who had been his all on earth.
However, the effort made to reconcile his brother with the family had produced an unlooked-for influence, and enlarged his sphere of interest. At first came languid amusement in contemplating the pretty young bride, then liking and compassion for her, then the great anxiety in her illness, and afterwards real affection and solicitude for her and her child had filled his mind, and detached him from his own sorrows; and he now became sensible that he had, indeed, while trying to serve her and his brother, done much for his own relief. What she said of their dependence on him was not only a pleasure to him, but it awoke him to the perception that he had not been so utterly debarred from usefulness as he had imagined, and that he had neglected much that might have infinitely benefited his brother, sister, and father. He had lived for himself and Helen alone!
He tried to draw out Helen's example to teach Violet to endure, and in doing so the other side of the lesson came home to himself. Helen's life had been one of exertion as well as of submission. It had not been merely spent in saying, 'Thy will be done,' but in doing it; she had not merely stood still and uncomplaining beneath the cross, but she had borne it onward in the service of others.
Sweeter 'tis to hearken Than to bear a part, Better to look on happiness Than to carry a light heart, Sweeter to walk on cloudy hills, With a sunny plain below, Than to weary of the brightness Where the floods of sunshine flow.--ALFORD
One morning John received a letter from Constantinople, which he had scarcely opened before he exclaimed, 'Ha! what does he mean? Given up his appointment! Coming home! It is just like him. I must read you what he says, it is, so characteristic.'
'You must have been provoked at my leaving you all this time in doubt what to do with our precious tour, but the fact is, that I have been making a fool of myself, and as the Crusaders are the only cover my folly has from the world, I must make the most of them. I give out that my literary affairs require my presence; but you, as the means of putting me into my post, deserve an honest confession. About six weeks ago, my subordinate, Evans, fell sick--an estimable chicken- hearted fellow. In a weak moment, I not only took his work on my hands, but bored myself by nursing him, and thereby found it was a complaint only to be cured by my shoes.'
'Shoes! exclaimed Violet. John read on.
'It was a dismal story of an engagement to a clergyman's daughter; her father just dead, she reduced to go out as a governess, and he having half nothing of his own, mending the matter by working himself into a low fever, and doing his best to rid her of all care on his account. Of course I rowed him well, but I soon found I had the infection--a bad fit of soft-heartedness came over me.'
'Oh!' cried Violet, ‘he gives up for this poor man's sake.'
'I thought all peace was over if I was to see poor Evans enacting the enamoured swain every day of my life, for the fellow had not the grace to carry it off like a man--besides having his business to do; or, if he should succeed in dying, I should not only be haunted by his ghost, but have to convey his last words to the disconsolate governess. So, on calculation, I thought trouble would be saved by giving notice that I was going home to publish the Crusaders, and sending him to fetch his bride, on whose arrival I shall bid a long farewell to the Grand Turk. I fancy I shall take an erratic course through Moldavia and some of those out-of-the-way locations, so you need not write to me again here, nor think of me till you see me about the end of August. I suppose about that time Theodora will have finished the course of severe toil reserved for young ladies every spring, so I shall come straight home expecting to see you all.'
'Home; does that mean Martindale?' said Violet.
'Yes. He has never looked on any place but Brogden as his home.'
'You don't think he repents of what he has done?'
'No, certainly not. He has seen what a long engagement is.'
'Yes; I almost wonder at his writing to you in that tone.'
'He banters because he cannot bear to show his real feeling. I am not anxious about him. He has L300 a year of his own, and plenty of resources,--besides, the baronetcy must come to him. He can afford to do as he pleases.'
'What a noble character he must be!' said Violet; 'it is like a story. How old is he?'
'About nine-and-twenty. I am glad you should see him. He is a very
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