'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.
He spent a few days in London on his way, came to call on Colonel Martindale, and was much with him, as Violet afterwards found, though she did not know of it at the time.
She perceived the renewal of his influence in a project of which Arthur began to talk, of leaving the army and establishing himself at Boulogne. Though by rigid economy and self-denial she had continued to make the original sum apportioned to her cover all household expenses, and his promotion had brought an increase of income, Arthur declared that, with such a family, his means were inadequate to the requirements of his profession, and that unless his father could assist them further, they must reside abroad. Lord Martindale treated the threat with great displeasure, and to Violet it was like annihilation. When thankful for Mark Gardner's absence, she was to be made to pursue him, probably in order that he might continue to prey on Arthur in secret, and then, at the year's end, bring them as witnesses that he had abstained from open transgression; she was to see her husband become the idling Englishman abroad, in the society most likely to be his ruin; to have her children exposed to the disadvantages of a foreign education--what more was wanting to her distress? She ventured to expostulate on their account; but Arthur laughed, and told her they would learn French for nothing; and when she spoke of the evils of bringing up a boy in France, it was with the look which pained her so acutely, that she was answered, 'No fear but that he will be looked after: he is of consequence in the family.'
Never had the future looked so desolate; but sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof. She had the root of peace and strength, and had long been trained in patient trust and endurance. To pray, to strive, to dwell on words of comfort, to bear in mind the blessings of the cross, to turn resolutely from gloomy contemplations, and to receive thankfully each present solace,--these were the tasks she set herself, and they bore the fruit of consolation and hidden support. Her boy's affection and goodness, the beauty and high health of her little girls, and the kindlier moments when Arthur's better nature shone out, were balm and refreshment, because she accepted them as gifts from the Fatherly Hand that laid the trial upon her.