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.
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.