Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 6/The prodigal son - Part 5
THE PRODIGAL SON.
BY DUTTON COOK, AUTHOR OF “PAUL FOSTER’S DAUGHTER,” &c.
“A lytel misgoyng in the gynning causeth mykel errour in the end.”—Chaucer’s “Testament of Love.”
CHAPTER IX. WILFORD’S WOOING.
“It is a very poor thing I offer you, Violet—the love of a ruined man; but, at least, that love is true, and whole, and earnest. Indeed, I never felt my ruin before; and if I wish for wealth now, it is only that I may lay it at your feet. I know how poor my claim is. I know how little I have done to merit your love. I know that my debt of gratitude to you is already more, far more, than I can ever hope to repay. And yet, Violet, I am here—at your feet—to proffer you my heart, and to ask for yours. Give it to me. Give me a motive for life; give me something to make the future precious to me; not because of any deserving of mine, but out of your great goodness and pity. Do I pain you, Violet, talking like this? But indeed I can no more be silent; for I love you, Violet, and that love will find its way into words. It is my only claim; besides that, I have nothing. A broken, wearied man, just escaped from a wreck in which all fortune has gone down. With a mis-spent past, shattered in health, disinherited, fortuneless, there seems a madness and a wrong-doing about my quest. How can I dare to raise my hopes so high as you are, Violet? I cannot justify myself. I cannot reason on the subject. I can only tell you that my love is honest and true. I swear to you that it is. I can only assure you that all man can do to make you happy, dear Violet, I will do. Bid me not despair wholly of winning you. Let me think that you will forget the past, that you will treat it as dead to both of us, and that in the future there may be yet some hope of happiness; that you will permit my journey through life to commence anew from now, with you, Violet, by my side. How light it will seem! How full of joy! Never to look back, to efface all memory of the past by the new life of the future! May this be so, Violet? Oh, say that it may!”
In some such hurried sentences, broken by emotion, impressive from the feverish earnestness with which they were uttered, Wilford Hadfield told the story of his love.
“Madge has betrayed me,” thought Violet, as he began, and she was hurt at first—then appeased—then, as he went on, and his words and fervid tones stirred up strange echoes amongst the depths of her own heart, and the consciousness of her own love for him grew upon her more and more, what could she do but yield to the entrancement of his confession, and with her heart beating tumultuously, steal a soft white hand into his, and fall at last upon his shoulder, tearful, sobbing, crimson with blushes, in a half-swoon of happiness?
"You love me, Violet?" he cried.
He had set such a value upon her love, he could scarcely credit it could be his so readily. It had seemed to be so far from him—at least he had so fancied it—that now, when it came quite near to him—was within his arm's length, as it were—he almost shrunk back, sceptical, paralysed, by a happiness he had thought too great to be real, to be other than imaginary: just as in dreams of great joy, however real they may seem, the dreamer finds himself suspending his belief with the question: "Are not these things too glorious to be true?" Indeed great happiness, like great misery, is dazing, bewildering, stupefying. We cannot receive either on the instant wholly into our intelligences; we must take them piecemeal, and so at last get the entirety through the bars of our minds.
"You love me, Violet?" he repeated.
Was it necessary to ask the question? Was he not sufficiently answered by those dark grey eyes, and the tears glistening upon their lashes, like the morning dew upon the flowers? Was there not reply enough in the trembling parted lips, although no sound came from them?
"You will ignore the past?"
"And think only of the future?"
She was heard at last. Such a soft, timid voice.
A white scared face looked in for a moment at the door, and a pair of large blue eyes opened very wide indeed at what they beheld.
"Perhaps I'd better keep out in the garden," Madge Fuller murmured to herself. "Perhaps I have not done so very wrong after all," and then she concluded with the fearful proposition contained in the words "perhaps it's as well to be indiscreet now and then."
Soon after Wilford passed into Mr. Fuller's surgery.
"Doctor," he began, in a firm voice. "I told you just now that there was yet another reason why I should quit you."
"Are you going to worry me again about this matter, you obstinate boy?"
"You must hear me."
"Am I not safe even in my own surgery?"
"Doctor," Wilford went on seriously. "It would be wrong to conceal this thing from you for one moment longer than absolutely necessary." The doctor looked at his patient, and perceived that he was decidedly in earnest.
"What do you mean, Wilford? Is there anything the matter?"
"This. I love your daughter, Violet."
"What!" cried the doctor, amazed.
"I love your daughter. I believe that love to be returned. I am here to ask your consent to our union."
The doctor turned quite pale.
"You don't mean this," he said. "You're jesting, surely. No—you're not, though. There's no jesting in your face. But can this be? You love Violet?"
"Indeed I do. Is it not a reason why you should wish me hence? For I know how unworthy I am of her. But, oh! let it be a reason for my return—for my coming back here to make her mine!"
"I never dreamt of such a thing as this."
"Indeed I will endeavour to deserve her. Indeed I will devote my whole life to her happiness. Don't think of me as I have been. I am as a new creature henceforward. Indeed, doctor, I am changed."
"But you, old Mr. Hadfield's son, to marry the daughter of a country doctor! What will be thought of such a thing? What will they say at the Grange?"
"What will it matter what they say? Besides, don't think of me as Mr. Hadfield's son; think of me as I am: no more the heir to the Grange and the Hadfield lands; but cast-off, poor, penitent, and yet with a deep love in my heart for Violet! I regret my lost position only because I cannot ask her to share it. If I could ask her to be mistress of the Grange!"
"No, no; that could never have been! Bad enough as it is! quite bad enough. What will they say throughout Grilling Abbots?" and the doctor wiped his forehead. "In what a situation you have placed me. Why all the old women in the town will rise against me. The tea-tables will be up en masse."
"Doctor, O thank you. I see you are relenting."
"I'm not indeed! I'm all in a fever. What I shall be charged with! They will say I brought you here on purpose. That I set a trap for the old Squire's son. By heavens! it is not to be borne. No, Wilford, you must go, I see that plain enough; but as for coming back again—"
"Yet, consider, doctor, for Violet's sake—if she loves me—"
"Does she love you? and Mr. Fuller rubbed his chin meditatively.
"You're sure? You look so. O Violet! I didn't believe you'd do such a thing!"
"But, Mr. Fuller—"
"There—there—don't talk to me. I must think it all over; it requires consideration; a very great deal of consideration. By-and-by I'll tell you more about it. I'll speak to you again. Now, go, leave me, there's a good fellow, let me have some peace. I've a heap of things to do, all sorts of medicines to make up. There—there—go." And Wilford was gently pushed out of the room.
The doctor paced up and down with long strides and unusual rapidity, crumpling up in his excitement a large, many-hued silk handkerchief to quite a ball in his hand.
"I've been an ass," he said, "and that's the simple truth. I ought to have foreseen all this. I ought to have known that some such thing as this was likely to happen. And yet I never gave it a thought; and to see him so sad and ill and broken down as he was when he first came here, who would have expected him to fall in love with Violet? My dear, dear daughter Violet—so like her mother, too. I'm sure I can never part with her. It would quite break my heart. And yet,—if she loves him, as he says she does! It's my fault—it's all my fault for bringing him into the house. But I was so fond of him; I took to him quite as a boy somehow. I never had a son of my own; and he was such a bright, noble, handsome boy. Well, suppose he did quarrel with his father, the old man would be provoking enough when he chose, and irritating enough as I very well know; and if he did leave home, and go a little wrong, and wild, and madcap, whose fault was it I should like to know? hardly all his own, hardly that. And he's poor now; people can't well say—yet they will, I feel sure—that he's much of a match for Violet, or any very great catch for her. Can I consent? Shall I give him my dear, good daughter—the little rogue—so quiet, and demure, and delicate, and in love all the while with this great, grim-looking man? Can I give her to him? Does he deserve it? Is he worthy of her? Well, well. Perhaps no man ever is quite worthy of a woman so pure and good as Violet is; at least I have never met such a one. It's very hard to know what to do. And if it should offend the people at the Grange! O! we must be very careful about that. I must talk to Mrs. Stephen about it. I must be sure to ask her opinion upon the subject."
There was a tap at the door.
"May I come in?"
"Who's there?" And Violet entered.
"What's all this about, Vi? Is it true? I see it is. You love him? O Violet!" She could only throw her arms round his neck, and kiss him impetuously.
"But we must do nothing without Mrs. Stephen, Violet. Her consent is even more important than mine."
"She is in the drawing-room, and she knows all," whispered Violet.
There was the rustle of silk skirts, and Mrs. Stephen entered, bringing Madge with her.
"Dear me! what a crowd in the surgery!—for heaven's sake take care of the bottles!"
"O Mr. Fuller, I'm so delighted at what I have heard! You can't think how pleased I am. My dear Violet—my dear Madge." And thereupon the three ladies embraced each other affectionately, as the manner of their sex is in such cases. Men celebrate festive occasions with bottles of wine—women, with numberless kisses.
"You give your consent, Mr. Fuller?"
"I don't know what to say about it."
"Oh, but you must. They love each other. Never was there a marriage that promised to be happier."
"But it comes upon me so suddenly! I've had no time to think about it at all. And Violet's very young. And Wilford's little better than an invalid. There can be no hurry. Yes; they must wait."
"Wait?" repeated Wilford, joining the group.
"Yes, a year; they must wait a year," the doctor said, determinedly.
"A year!" And Wilford glanced suspiciously round him, as though he dreaded that an intention existed to cheat him of his happiness.
"A year will soon fly away," Mrs. Stephen suggested, smilingly.
"Be it so," Wilford said, suddenly. "Yes, be it so; perhaps it will be better."
Had Violet looked to him to resist that postponement? If so, she acquiesced very soon in the arrangement. She came quite close to him.
"And if you must go, Wilford, if you must leave us for the present, you will write to me—you will be sure to—you will write very often?"
"I will be sure to, Violet."
The doctor looked almost scared at what he had done. He still seemed to cling to the status quo, like a timid bather afraid to let go the rope.
"But we must have Stephen's consent, remember, his unqualified consent."
"I'll answer for Stephen," said Gertrude Hadfield; and she whispered to the doctor, "Do you know, doctor, we were not unprepared for this? Steenie and I have often talked it over, hoping that it might come about. I thought of it directly I found Wilford recovering."
"The deuce you did," muttered Mr. Fuller. "Why it seems that everybody was prepared for it, and thought of it, excepting myself; I begin to think I grow thick-headed as I get older."
Madge thought her father looked rather melancholy. She went up and kissed him.
"You know, papa, I shall be left at home to take care of you, and attend to the house, and make tea and keep the keys of the store-room."
"Yes, Madge, and eat the jam in it," and Mr. Fuller shook his head in half-comical despair.
"Oh, but I shall be a year older," said Madge, with a blush, "and perhaps I shan't be so fond of jam then as I am now."
"Yes, there's a year to come—that's some comfort," groaned the doctor.
Mrs. Stephen drove back to the Grange in her pony-carriage. She soon apprised her husband of all that had happened at the cottage.
"I'm sure it's a very happy thing," Mrs. Stephen commented; "Wilford ought to marry—of course he ought. Men ought all to marry. I'm sure it would be much better for them, and they would be a great deal happier, and it would keep them out of harm's way. I'm sure there wouldn't be half so much mischief, and irregularity, and wickedness in the world if there were more marriages." (Mrs. Stephen had tried the specific and found it answer in her own case. ) "Wilford ought to consider himself very fortunate in having secured such a charming girl as Vi Fuller. Perhaps it would have been different if your father's will hadn't been what it was; of course then—"
"Hush, my dear, don't say anything about that—it should not have altered the case."
"I mean that then he might have looked higher. But she'll make him an admirable wife, and he'll forget all his troubles, and leave off moping and being miserable, and the rest of it. Was that one of the children crying?"
"No, my dear; besides, if it was, Nurse can see to it. I hope you have not over-exerted yourself," &c., &c.
"A year will soon go," said Wilford, as, some days later, he turned his back upon Grilling Abbots. "And she has promised to write very often. Then, a new name, a new life, and Violet mine, there will yet be chance of happiness in the future!"
And he journeyed towards London.
CHAPTER X. TIME FLIES.
There is a certain well-understood though unexpressed convention, by virtue of which the world is bound to laugh at specific subjects. Jokes upon these are constantly "kept standing" as the printers call it, conveniently for the immediate use of the jester never slow to avail himself of the advantage; for as necessary as air to ordinary and unjocose people, is laughter to the jester and he prefers to obtain it surely by an old and well-trod road, rather than risk missing it on a path but newly discovered, however pleasant and inviting otherwise. There is often a doubt about the bran new coin—a golden egg, if I may so say, fresh laid by the Mint—it is suspicious-looking, it may be bad, it is so much brighter than usual; the thin, well-thumbed, dull-shining sovereign, years in circulation, is infinitely preferred. And it is the same with jests: the old are honoured with the established laughter; the new are questioned, and their payment in grins frequently refused.
It seems to me (though of course it is too late in the day to say so now with a view to any alteration), that some of these subjects are rather ill-chosen; are not really so provocative of honest mirth as the jesters would have us believe; have a serious and sometimes painful side, which might fairly exempt them in a great measure from the incessant sallies and rallies of the facetious. Let me mention a few of the topics in respect to which the gentlemen with the caps and bells rely for the bringing down of the mirth and applause of their audience.
These four will do: though of course there are many more on behalf of which and in deprecation of cachinnation much might be urged; and even for all these I do not feel absolutely bound to enter the lists. I am not a Widow, nor am I a Bishop. Perhaps I should only damage the cause of either by defending it; perhaps they are both strong enough to take care of themselves. For the Widow I will only say that I have found, as a rule, her situation to be more forlorn than facetious; while for the Bishop, I could never for the life of me discover from a lay point of view any particular funniness about him—a comfortable and respectable dignitary, no doubt; but what does the community see to laugh at in that fact? I know not. Yet turn to the comic books: how many jokes have been cracked upon the venerable heads of the spiritual lords? It is past all counting. For Impecuniosity, let me confess that on occasions when I have found my banker's account to be at a very low figure, and perhaps the balance on the wrong side of the pass-book—for my credit is good, and I have been permitted to overdraw once or twice—when this has been so, let me hasten to state that I have derived distress and annoyance from the circumstance, and clearly not mirth and amusement. For Love-letters I may have something to urge. Perhaps in my time I may have written such things. Who hasn't? A long time ago.—Oh, yes, that of course!
Read over the last great love-case in the law reports, and you'll surely find that shrieks of laughter followed the putting in evidence of the letters of the poor wretches concerned. They were treated as quite new and exceptional matters, purely funny; it was as though nobody in court had ever heard before of such intensely comic things as love-letters; as though they were brilliant conundrums, or laughable verses from the last burlesque; as though the judge on the bench hadn't written such things himself in days gone by, or the counsel on either side, or the witnesses, or the jury, over and over again—everybody in court, down even to the lawyer's clerks leering in the gulf between the bar and the judgment seat, not very loving or loveable-looking: they are not handsome men, as a rule, are lawyer's clerks, any more than are low-church curates. Are those poor love-letters, then, really such fit subjects for jesting? Granted that they are faded and crumpled and shabby-looking now, the passion that gave them preciousness and vitality clean gone from them, that they are as graceless and unattractive as a balloon with the gas out of it, as illumination lamps blown out at daybreak, as a bottle of hock a week without its cork, "stale, flat, unprofitable," but may we not reverence things typically—not for what they are, but for what they represent—for their past value, not their present? The love may be gone, but at least it was good and true while it lasted; let us gather up its relics with respectful hands, and lock them up safely, not toss them about with a snigger, nor hand them to Betty for the dustbin or the fireplace, or to wrap her curls in at bedtime.
I know that it is the fashion to sneer at Love now-a-days, and the stress the fiction-writer has often laid upon it. For certainly he has been prone to think that often in a man's life there has been a time when such an event as a strong mastering passion has given to his career permanent warp and change and colour; an important fact to look back at and date from in after years, like the Deluge in the world's history. But this is not so, it seems, and the novelist was wrong. "There are no more grand passions, now," says old Fitznoddy, of the Narcissus Club, Pall Mall, "any more than there is good port wine—they went out together." And he represents a general opinion. You mustn't look to Fitznoddy for individuality. Henceforward, then, there should be a list of errata added to all books. You must now, for every time amour occurs read amourette. Cupid is no more the one plump, glorious, mottled, rosy god whom it was a joy to hug tight to one's heart; he is split up into a squad of miserable, tiny, pauper children, very skeleton-like, all sharp corners and hard edges, whom one holds comfortlessly in one's arms—and with difficulty too—like a bundle of firewood with the string cut. The heart is a mere musical instrument—woman turns the handle, and it plays its airs punctually, like a barrel-organ. And these are always the same: there is no variety of emotion. And we court Chloe at forty, to the same tune with which we deluded Daphne at twenty.
Can this be so? Has the old, great, strong, insensate passion of youth really past away? Well, it may be, for youth has gone, too. Life takes great strides now. There is but one step from childhood to middle age, which begins now, I fancy, at eighteen, while senility sets in probably at thirty. The age loves suddenness—it has suppressed transitional periods; the world would abolish twilight if it could. One day we are in the nursery, and the next ordering hair-dye or being measured for wigs. The pace is tremendous. Last week there were some children prattling on my knee: this week, to hear them talk, makes me feel quite an old man—ay! old and foolish.
It will excite little surprise, then, after this, when I say that I adhere very much to the old story-telling creed: that I believe very much in the love, one and ndivisible. It may be a dream—let me have it. It may be the hero of the novelists is not quite so white as he has been painted. Turn to the courageous master romancist. May there not be true love for beautiful Sophy Western, even though there has been—before, or after, or the while—some dalliance with naughty Molly Seagrim? "All men are beasts!" says a single lady of great age whom it is my privilege to know. The criticism is severe: but, at least, men are mortal—the leaven of fallibility is very strong in them; they may come down now and then from the pedestals on which they are often mounted in books; but there is good in them, too, and virtue and bravery and truth. We need not be always pointing to the blue vein in the marble; we need not insist that all coats should be worn with the seamy side out; let us believe in heroes and heroines, though they eat mutton-chops like other people, and in their loves and their love-letters, though perhaps the love has passed from these last, like the scent from the paper, and the hands that penned them may be churchyard dust. Do we admire lovely woman the less for knowing that she wears frisettes in her hair and crinoline? No. Perhaps the more for these evidences of her mortality. We should be frightened at her very likely if she were really an angel, all our talk to her on the subject to the contrary notwithstanding.
I have digressed. I know it. This chapter is much by way of entr'acte. For there is a lapse of time here in the story, and the months are fleeting as I write. A convenient opportunity seemed to offer for pause and a word or two upon the present view of sentiment, especially as this is not quite in accordance with certain notions contained in this story and set forth in a measure by its characters. They, be it said, believe in love, as did the world, I think, before perhaps matrimony, the climax of love, was, to use a vulgarism, "blown upon" by the Divorce Court. And I wanted to set out here two letters, out of many that about this time passed between Wilford Hadfield and Violet Fuller; and it seemed to me, regard being had to the prevalency of certain opinions, that it behoved me to prepare the mind of the reader for the reception of these documents. I wanted, in fact, to avoid the accustomed roar when love-letters are tendered as evidence in a case.
The letters are very simple, yet full, as it seems to me, of a great affection, of a deep tenderness; there is no effort in them, no desire to attitudinise in them on the part of the writers, and so delude each other after the manner of people who don't love. I select them hap-hazard out of a heap. They are not written in the first burst of the discovery of passion, but later in the day, when they had taken that for granted and between them had established a firm substratum of love and faith to which it was hardly necessary for them further to refer.
"Plowden Buildings, Temple.
"My dearest Violet,
"What a relief it is to turn from my books and once more write to you! I look forward all through the day to this moment, and the harder I have toiled the better seems my claim to send you a long letter. Does not this act of letter-writing really bring us nearer together? I am sure I feel that the space between us is now, by some miles, less than what it was this morning. I seem to have travelled through my work, and so brought myself closer to you. Perhaps it is that I may now permit myself to think wholly and exclusively of you, and that my thoughts circle round you and draw you to me as I write. I hear your voice, I know its every charming accent. I look up and see your kind eyes. I stretch out my arms, and I fancy there is little to prevent my grasping your soft white hands. I almost think that if I were to pronounce your name aloud—'Violet!'—I should somehow hear your dear voice answer me. My heart beats quite noisily at the idea of such a thing. How I wish this were all so in reality! How I long to learn yet once more from your own lips that you love me! I can never tire of hearing you say those words. They can never seem monotonous to me—but always new, and beautiful, and magical. I am almost angry with each of your letters that does not contain them explicitly—implication is not sufficient. I should like the precise words written large at the beginning of each letter, and again large at the end. I think that would satisfy me. Oh! if you knew how happy the thought of your love makes me, Violet—what value it gives to my future—how great a change it has made in me in every way! I sometimes pause, wondering if all can be true. Is there this leaven of doubt about all joy? Do those who are happy always stop to question their position and plague themselves with inquiries? 'Is it real?—is it true? Will it last?' But I have been so well acquainted with misery I have, perhaps, bought a right to be incredulous about happiness.
"Do I weary you with all this? Pray forgive me if I do. Indeed I try to conquer all my doubts and misgivings. I try to forget. I try to look forward simply and trustingly. Yet in all my letters I feel there are many lines like those I have written above—made up of self-examinations and forebodings, which must give you pain to combat over and over again. But you always triumph, Violet—at any rate, for a long time—and I hope that the enemy is growing weaker, less frequent in his attacks, and that in the end you will vanquish him altogether.
"Do not all my letters commence something in this way? Do you not rely for certain upon a particular number of lines of wildness and absurdity and unreason before you get to more serious and sober matters? But in beginning to write to you a sort of tumult of emotion seems to carry me out of myself. I cannot instantly concentrate my ideas. I feel dizzy and unnerved with thoughts of you. It would be the same if I were now to see you here—at a moment's notice. The joy would be too much for me almost. I should be dumb for some minutes. I should feel everything to be swimming round me, and I should fall at your feet overwhelmed by the wondrous magic of your presence. So, in writing to you. my hand quite trembles, and my heart is terribly restless; the love surges up in me till I feel half mad with it, and I have to wait a little till I grow more accustomed to its violence.
"Very extravagant all this, isn't it, Violet? And I fancy those charming deep grey eyes looking mildly reproachful, and a smile that would be critical if it wasn't so tender stealing along the lines of your lips. I ought to be calm. I ought to study to conceal emotion more. I ought not to surrender myself to these paroxysms of feeling. Quite right. The more so because you, I know, dear one, believe rather in quietude, which is not always earnestness, though the one sometimes represents the other; but perhaps it is difficult to believe that fever and excitement may be anything more than effervescence after all.
"There: I am still now, my hand shakes no more. Don't you perceive a difference in the writing? I can bear now calmly to contemplate my happiness, and to think of you placidly, Violet. I remember that I am a gentleman very near middle-life (I am, Vi, though you persist in contradicting me!), with a great many grey hairs (I have them, though you are so wilfully blind on the subject, and will ignore them!), living up a good many pairs of stairs in the Temple, studying law. I ought to conduct myself soberly if anybody ought.
"I have given up my lodgings in Bury Street. They were a useless extravagance. We agreed upon that, did we not? and economy is to be the order of the day henceforward. My old friend, George Martin, of whom I have written to you before, and whom I have begged you to like when you see him, if only for my sake—but I am sure you will like him for his own—has been kinder than ever. He has insisted upon my taking up my abode with him, has made room for me in his chambers, and will have it that for some time to come I shall have no want of any other lodgings or rooms of whatever kind. What could I do but comply with an offer so generous? You must like him! He is so genial and frank, and yet so calm and self-contained, withal. Isn't that a recommendation, Vi? He is a little older than I am—handsome, with marked features—a high bald forehead—he declares he lost his hair at twenty-three—and a wonderful smile. He has been called to the bar some years, but he does not practise; he is engaged in literary pursuits, and is a highly accomplished and most worthy gentleman. He writes constantly in the —— and —— Journals, and has been most kind in obtaining work for me. It was through his introduction that my paper appeared in the —— Magazine; the paper you admired so kindly (you don't know what an incentive to work your admiration is, Vi), and which Madge thought a little heavy. She likes 'funnier kind of things,' does she? I am afraid I cannot manage to be very comical, but I'll try, if it be only for her sake, and she shall be at liberty to laugh quite as much at as with me. Can I do more to please her? I am sorry that I found it necessary to speak unfavourably of the new comic novel she admired so much. Tell her, if she likes, she shall herself review the author's next work.
"Will you take Martin's evidence in my favour? He says there is no reason why I should not take high literary rank, or attach to my name a most creditable share of literary fame. I try to believe this. Do you, Vi? How happy it would make me to seem in any way more worthy of you! The disparity between us is too fearful at present. But, there, I will say no more. I know you have already expressed strong disapprobation at what you call my absurd system of undue exaltation of you and depreciation of myself.
"Good-night, Violet, and good-bye. I looked out of window at the calm moon, and wonder whether it is shining into your face as it is into mine, and what you are doing and saying. But, probably, you are in bed long ago, and fast asleep. Has your last thought to-night been of me as mine will be of you? A lovely night. I see the Thames from my window reflecting the stars, and the lamps on the bridge. A lovely night; and in its hush and beauty—with my mind full of thoughts of you—I seem to be nearer to you than ever, and to love you more; but that is hardly possible. Good-night! God preserve and bless you, and make you love me, and me worthy of your love. Good-night, again, my own dearest Violet!
"I love you! Will that do, you restless, impatient man? Or am I to write the words over and over again, beginning and ending every line with them? But if you will not, as you say, though I doubt the fact,—if you will not tire of reading them, don't you think I shall of writing them? When will you give over these doubtings and misgivings? I was in hopes from your former letter that you had quite got rid of your old melancholy. Why did you let it come back to plague you? You frighten me sometimes by the way in which you write to me. Why should you fear that I should cease to love you? Why should I change? What is there in me or in my words that should make you think that I do not know my own mind—that I am feeble, uncertain—that some time or other I shall cease to love you? No, dear Wilford, that will never be. Pray believe it, now and for ever. I have given you my heart past all taking back again; still more, past all giving to another. I love you! There, Monsieur, be content. I have written the words again, and they are true words,—indeed, indeed they are.
"I did not intend to write this sort of letter, I wanted to be quiet and composed;—yes, sir, and perhaps prosy. It is your fault that I fall away from my good intentions. But I read over again your impetuous sentences. I find your trouble and emotion to be contagious. I, too, find my cheeks glowing and my hand trembling. You see what mischief you occasion; you disturb not merely yourself but me also, and what have I done that I should be treated in such a way? But I forgive you. Is not that magnanimous? There—and I have kissed the paper just where I write; you kiss there, too, and consider yourself pardoned, provided that you never offend any more in the same way.
"I have no news, except that we all liked your paper in the ——. Even Madge, who still thinks you might be lighter, was pleased; and papa, though he did not say much, took the paper into the surgery, and, I'm sure, read it over many times quietly and enjoyed it immensely. I feel so happy when I hear you praised. Can you account for that in any way? I like to think that the world is beginning to open its eyes to your great merits; but for heaven's sake, Wilford, don't be tempted to overwork yourself. I am quite sure that you are not too well yet, for all your talk to the contrary. Be careful, mind. I'm certain I shall like Mr. Martin, your friend, and especially if he does not tempt you to sit up too late or to fatigue yourself unnecessarily!
"I am rather tired to-day, for we went last night to a party at the Eastwoods. Madge desires me to say that it was quite a grown-up party, and almost a ball. Tommy Eastwood wore a tail-coat, and blushed superbly when he asked Madge to dance. But he's such a nice boy—it's quite a shame to laugh at him, and we're all going to mend in that respect. Madge looked so pretty—you don't know how proud of her I felt. She wore a white rose from your favourite tree, I may tell you, in her hair, which I think—and so do you, don't you?—to be beautiful in colour, though the people here (except, perhaps, T. Eastwood, Esq.) do not appreciate it. Round her neck was that grand gold chain you were so good as to give her. I love you very much, sir, for loving my darling Madge. You can't think how nice she looked. Her dress was white tarlatan, very full, of course (don't laugh, sir), without trimming of any kind. The whole effect was charming, and you should have seen her eyes—so beautifully blue—so sparkling with happiness! I think I have never seen any one so pretty as my Sister Madge; and she's as good as she's pretty, as you very well know, and T. E. ought to consider himself very happy; but there, I quite forgot, there is to be no more joking on that subject.
"And how was I dressed? I suppose you will be sufficiently interested to inquire. Well, then, I did not have a new dress—economy is the order of the day as you very well remark, and I wore my pink glacé silk, which looked very well, and I did not dance much, but played for the young people—was not that right?—and I sung all my best songs, and I enjoyed myself tolerably, wishing very much that you had been one of the party.
"Mrs. Stephen calls constantly and is most kind. She brought over the baby to see us only this morning. It is such a lovely child, and so good—it never cries—and it has quite the Hadfield expression. Are you determined that it shall not be called after you? Do you know that Gertrude is very angry about that? and she scolds me! as if I was anybody or could do anything. I am very fond of Gertrude—the more I see of her the more I like her; you may think her a little cold at first, but that notion wears off, and indeed it is not founded upon truth. Stephen is teaching Madge to ride—she looks so well upon the white pony—but I think she is really rather frightened, although she would rather die, I believe, than admit it.
"Agnes and Saxon are growing quite tall; they are coming to see us to-morrow; they are nice children, but just a trifle spoiled. Agnes is learning her notes under my tuition; her ear is wonderfully good, and I think she will in time be able to play very nicely. On Friday we are going to tea at Mr. Mainstone's, and papa will accompany us. I'm sure it will do him good. He keeps on saying that he grows too old to go out in the evening unless he is quite obliged, but I know he will enjoy a gossip with dear old Mr. Mainstone. Shall you feel jealous if I tell you I think the old clergyman a very charming person indeed?
"There, I have exhausted quite my stock of news, and tried your patience, very likely; yet—no, I don't really think that. I am sure that what interests me will interest you also in a great measure. Yet these small events in Grilling Abbots must look smaller than ever to you in London, where everything seems to be on such a colossal scale. Surely there are only masses in town—never individuals. How far you are from us! But don't look at our occurrences through the small end of your telescope—magnify them, and you will be nearer to us—well, then, to me! I believe you prefer that I should say that. Adieu, dearest. Madge sends her love—she says, respects,—but she does not mean that. Papa sends all sorts of kind messages. He declares if you won't say anything about your health that he will send up all sorts of physic on the chance of your needing it. Adieu. And I—well—I love you! Will that do?
Dearest Wilford, yours ever,
These samples of the lovers' letters will suffice; there were plenty more of them, however.
Wilford worked hard in London—seldom leaving it—taking few holidays. He was in Paris for three days, but the visit was on business for the most part.
A year after his wooing he went down to Grilling Abbots and wedded—a most quiet wedding—early in the morning at Mr. Mainstone's church. The whole business was over and the happy pair had almost left the place before Grilling Abbots became conscious of what had happened.
"My dear sister, for you are now really my sister,” said Mrs. Stephen as she kissed the blushing bride, “be sure that you bring Wilford back to the Grange.”
They left Grilling Abbots behind. The doctor threw the old shoe after them for luck with most boisterous merriment; but he sobered and saddened suddenly, locking himself up for some hours in the surgery, after the departure of his darling daughter, Violet.
Madge dried the tears which were dimming her blue eyes.
“How dreadfully dull the house will be without them,” she said. Then she assumed her new office. She rattled her keys as though to remind herself of the authority now vested in her, and she determined to visit the store-room just to count the jam-pots, and for no other reason, certainly not.