The men who learn endurance, are they who call the whole world, brother. I have turned FROM the world, and I pay the penalty.'
Edward would have interposed, but he went on without giving him time.
'It is too late to evade it now. I sometimes think, that if I had to live my life once more, I might amend this fault--not so much, I discover when I search my mind, for the love of what is right, as for my own sake. But even when I make these better resolutions, I instinctively recoil from the idea of suffering again what I have undergone; and in this circumstance I find the unwelcome assurance that I should still be the same man, though I could cancel the past, and begin anew, with its experience to guide me.'
'Nay, you make too sure of that,' said Edward.
'You think so,' Mr Haredale answered, 'and I am glad you do. I know myself better, and therefore distrust myself more. Let us leave this subject for another--not so far removed from it as it might, at first sight, seem to be. Sir, you still love my niece, and she is still attached to you.'
'I have that assurance from her own lips,' said Edward, 'and you know--I am sure you know--that I would not exchange it for any blessing life could yield me.'
'You are frank, honourable, and disinterested,' said Mr Haredale; 'you have forced the conviction that you are so, even on my once- jaundiced mind, and I believe you. Wait here till I come back.'
He left the room as he spoke; but soon returned with his niece. 'On that first and only time,' he said, looking from the one to the other, 'when we three stood together under her father's roof, I told you to quit it, and charged you never to return.'
'It is the only circumstance arising out of our love,' observed Edward, 'that I have forgotten.'
'You own a name,' said Mr Haredale, 'I had deep reason to remember. I was moved and goaded by recollections of personal wrong and injury, I know, but, even now I cannot charge myself with having, then, or ever, lost sight of a heartfelt desire for her true happiness; or with having acted--however much I was mistaken--with any other impulse than the one pure, single, earnest wish to be to her, as far as in my inferior nature lay, the father she had lost.'
'Dear uncle,' cried Emma, 'I have known no parent but you. I have loved the memory of others, but I have loved you all my life. Never was father kinder to his child than you have been to me, without the interval of one harsh hour, since I can first remember.'
'You speak too fondly,' he answered, 'and yet I cannot wish you were less partial; for I have a pleasure in hearing those words, and shall have in calling them to mind when we are far asunder, which nothing else could give me. Bear with me for a moment longer, Edward, for she and I have been together many years; and although I believe that in resigning her to you I put the seal upon her future happiness, I find it needs an effort.'
He pressed her tenderly to his bosom, and after a minute's pause, resumed:
'I have done you wrong, sir, and I ask your forgiveness--in no common phrase, or show of sorrow; but with earnestness and sincerity. In the same spirit, I acknowledge to you both that the time has been when I connived at treachery and falsehood--which if I did not perpetrate myself, I still permitted--to rend you two asunder.'
'You judge yourself too harshly,' said Edward. 'Let these things rest.'
'They rise in judgment against me when I look back, and not now for the first time,' he answered. 'I cannot part from you without your full forgiveness; for busy life and I have little left in common now, and I have regrets enough to carry into solitude, without addition to the stock.'
'You bear a blessing from us both,' said Emma. 'Never mingle thoughts of me--of me who owe you so much love and duty--with anything but undying affection and gratitude for the past, and bright hopes for the future.'
'The future,' returned her uncle, with a melancholy smile, 'is a bright word for you, and its image should be wreathed with cheerful hopes.