'Our future peace,' she said, 'may be in your hands. I trust it confidently to your not suppressing anything. I know beforehand that nothing you, or anyone, can tell me, will show my husband's noble heart in any other light than one. Howsoever it may seem to you to touch me, disregard that. I will speak for myself, before him, and before God afterwards.'
Thus earnestly besought, I made no reference to the Doctor for his permission, but, without any other compromise of the truth than a little softening of the coarseness of Uriah Heep, related plainly what had passed in that same room that night. The staring of Mrs. Markleham during the whole narration, and the shrill, sharp interjections with which she occasionally interrupted it, defy description.
When I had finished, Annie remained, for some few moments, silent, with her head bent down, as I have described. Then, she took the Doctor's hand (he was sitting in the same attitude as when we had entered the room), and pressed it to her breast, and kissed it. Mr. Dick softly raised her; and she stood, when she began to speak, leaning on him, and looking down upon her husband — from whom she never turned her eyes.
'All that has ever been in my mind, since I was married,' she said in a low, submissive, tender voice, 'I will lay bare before you. I could not live and have one reservation, knowing what I know now.'
'Nay, Annie,' said the Doctor, mildly, 'I have never doubted you, my child. There is no need; indeed there is no need, my dear.'
'There is great need,' she answered, in the same way, 'that I should open my whole heart before the soul of generosity and truth, whom, year by year, and day by day, I have loved and venerated more and more, as Heaven knows!'
'Really,' interrupted Mrs. Markleham, 'if I have any discretion at all — '
('Which you haven't, you Marplot,' observed my aunt, in an indignant whisper.) — 'I must be permitted to observe that it cannot be requisite to enter into these details.'
'No one but my husband can judge of that, mama,' said Annie without removing her eyes from his face, 'and he will hear me. If I say anything to give you pain, mama, forgive me. I have borne pain first, often and long, myself.'
'Upon my word!' gasped Mrs. Markleham.
'When I was very young,' said Annie, 'quite a little child, my first associations with knowledge of any kind were inseparable from a patient friend and teacher — the friend of my dead father — who was always dear to me. I can remember nothing that I know, without remembering him. He stored my mind with its first treasures, and stamped his character upon them all. They never could have been, I think, as good as they have been to me, if I had taken them from any other hands.'
'Makes her mother nothing!' exclaimed Mrs. Markleham.
'Not so mama,' said Annie; 'but I make him what he was. I must do that. As I grew up, he occupied the same place still. I was proud of his interest: deeply, fondly, gratefully attached to him. I looked up to him, I can hardly describe how — as a father, as a guide, as one whose praise was different from all other praise, as one in whom I could have trusted and confided, if I had doubted all the world. You know, mama, how young and inexperienced I was, when you presented him before me, of a sudden, as a lover.'
'I have mentioned the fact, fifty times at least, to everybody here!' said Mrs. Markleham.
('Then hold your tongue, for the Lord's sake, and don't mention it any more!' muttered my aunt.)
'It was so great a change: so great a loss, I felt it, at first,' said Annie, still preserving the same look and tone, 'that I was agitated and distressed. I was but a girl; and when so great a change came in the character in which I had so long looked up to him, I think I was sorry. But nothing could have made him what he used to be again; and I was proud that he should think me so worthy, and we were married.' ' — At Saint Alphage, Canterbury,' observed Mrs. Markleham.
('Confound the woman!' said my aunt, 'she WON'T be quiet!')
'I never thought,' proceeded Annie, with a heightened colour, 'of any worldly gain that my husband would bring to me. My young heart had no room in its homage for any such poor reference. Mama, forgive me when I say that it was you who first presented to my mind the thought that anyone could wrong me, and wrong him, by such a cruel suspicion.'
'Me!' cried Mrs. Markleham.
('Ah! You, to be sure!' observed my aunt, 'and you can't fan it away, my military friend!')