I sat between them, at my dear girl's side, and felt very melancholy listening to her sweet voice. I think Richard did too; I think he darkened the room for that reason. She had been singing some time, rising between whiles to bend over him and speak to him, when Mr. Woodcourt came in. Then he sat down by Richard and half playfully, half earnestly, quite naturally and easily, found out how he felt and where he had been all day. Presently he proposed to accompany him in a short walk on one of the bridges, as it was a moonlight airy night; and Richard readily consenting, they went out together.
They left my dear girl still sitting at the piano and me still sitting beside her. When they were gone out, I drew my arm round her waist. She put her left hand in mine (I was sitting on that side), but kept her right upon the keys, going over and over them without striking any note.
"Esther, my dearest," she said, breaking silence, "Richard is never so well and I am never so easy about him as when he is with Allan Woodcourt. We have to thank you for that."
I pointed out to my darling how this could scarcely be, because Mr. Woodcourt had come to her cousin John's house and had known us all there, and because he had always liked Richard, and Richard had always liked him, and — and so forth.
"All true," said Ada, "but that he is such a devoted friend to us we owe to you."
I thought it best to let my dear girl have her way and to say no more about it. So I said as much. I said it lightly, because I felt her trembling.
"Esther, my dearest, I want to be a good wife, a very, very good wife indeed. You shall teach me."
I teach! I said no more, for I noticed the hand that was fluttering over the keys, and I knew that it was not I who ought to speak, that it was she who had something to say to me.
"When I married Richard I was not insensible to what was before him. I had been perfectly happy for a long time with you, and I had never known any trouble or anxiety, so loved and cared for, but I understood the danger he was in, dear Esther."
"I know, I know, my darling."
"When we were married I had some little hope that I might be able to convince him of his mistake, that he might come to regard it in a new way as my husband and not pursue it all the more desperately for my sake — as he does. But if I had not had that hope, I would have married him just the same, Esther. Just the same!"
In the momentary firmness of the hand that was never still — a firmness inspired by the utterance of these last words, and dying away with them — I saw the confirmation of her earnest tones.
"You are not to think, my dearest Esther, that I fail to see what you see and fear what you fear. No one can understand him better than I do. The greatest wisdom that ever lived in the world could scarcely know Richard better than my love does."
She spoke so modestly and softly and her trembling hand expressed such agitation as it moved to and fro upon the silent notes! My dear, dear girl!
"I see him at his worst every day. I watch him in his sleep. I know every change of his face. But when I married Richard I was quite determined, Esther, if heaven would help me, never to show him that I grieved for what he did and so to make him more unhappy. I want him, when he comes home, to find no trouble in my face. I want him, when he looks at me, to see what he loved in me. I married him to do this, and this supports me."
I felt her trembling more. I waited for what was yet to come, and I now thought I began to know what it was.
"And something else supports me, Esther."
She stopped a minute. Stopped speaking only; her hand was still in motion.
"I look forward a little while, and I don't know what great aid may come to me. When Richard turns his eyes upon me then, there may be something lying on my breast more eloquent than I have been, with greater power than mine to show him his true course and win him back."
Her hand stopped now. She clasped me in her arms, and I clasped her in mine.
"If that little creature should fail too, Esther, I still look forward. I look forward a long while, through years and years, and think that then, when I am growing old, or when I am dead perhaps, a beautiful woman, his daughter, happily married, may be proud of him and a blessing to him. Or that a generous brave man, as handsome as he used to be, as hopeful, and far more happy, may walk in the sunshine with him, honouring his grey head and saying to himself, 'I thank God this is my father! Ruined by a fatal inheritance, and restored through me!'"
Oh, my sweet girl, what a heart was that which beat so fast against me!
"These hopes uphold me, my dear Esther, and I know they will. Though sometimes even they depart from me before a dread that arises when I look at Richard."
I tried to cheer my darling, and asked her what it was. Sobbing and weeping, she replied, "That he may not live to see his child."