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but my fears for him saved me from fainting, at finding myself, after so many years of banishment, sheltered in the arms of him who had once sworn to love and cherish me for ever.
I cannot dwell on that scene, at once so full of pain and pleasure.
When the duke had in some measure recovered himself, and I had become more composed, and I was seated by his side with his dear emaciated hand in mine, he told me that the sight of me at the little village church at — , five years since, had so strongly brought back to his mind all his treachery and all my wrongs, that he had never known one hour's happiness since.
“Though I have been blessed, my dearest Theresa,” he said, “ with a fond and excellent wife and a son, whose unequalled goodness and affection have been my pride and comfort, have possessed rank and wealth sufficient to satisfy the most ambitious and craving, yet all, all was unavailing to quench the feeling of remorse and still the voice of conscience.”
I implored him to cease upbraiding himself, as I had always pitied more than blamed him. He only answered by a faint smile, and pressure of my hand.
After the silence of a few minutes he said, “ You see the state to which remorse and grief have brought me. I am only a shadow of my former self; though scarcely four years older than you, my sweet Theresa, yet the harassing effect of an uneasy conscience has made me feel and look almost old enough to be your father. Can you, will you, my darling Theresa, consent once more to unite yourself to one now so shattered and altered, and who, unless you consent to share the remainder of his short life, (for short, I fear, it will now be,) must sink under the sorrow which has so long oppressed him. To be able to leave you in the station you so well deserve, will be some consolation under the affliction of parting with you. My son, my dear, my generous son is not only willing, but anxious that I should inake you this only reparation in my power. My daughter has been dead many years, and there is no one beside whose feelings I
need consult on this interesting subject. Speak, Theresa, speak peace to my throbbing heart.”
I could not speak, my tongue seemed tied, but tears coming at length to my relief, I was at last able to pour out all my gratitude and all my love.
It was finally settled that I should come again the following day with Lady Eustace, whom the duke wished much to see, and thank for all her goodness to me through so many years of desolation and care.
Fearful that he might become exhausted if I prolonged my stay, I took an affectionate leave of him, and hastened back to the saloon, where I found Lady Eustace and Lord St. George. After the latter had urged us to return on the morrow, which we promised to do, we left the house. The next morning, attended by my indefatigable friend, I returned to Beaulieu House, and found to my joy, that though still very weak, the duke had passed a better night, and was much more composed than he had been for many weeks.
After half an hour's quiet conversation with him, I introduced Lady Eustace into his dressing-room. She was deeply affected at witnessing the strong affection and bitter remorse he displayed.
It was the earnest wish of the duke that we should be united the following day, so fearful was he that death might deprive him of the power of rendering me, as he said, justice.
1, however, at last prevailed upon him to put off the ceremony till he should have gained a little more strength.
I need not dwell on the interval which elapsed before our union. Whether his mind being so relieved had that effect, I know not, but certain it is that he rallied wonderfully, and to my joy, was able to walk across the room without assistance at the end of three weeks from the day I first saw him.
At the expiration of a month we were married, there being present his generous son, dear Lady Eustace, and Captain and Mrs. Howard.
I have now been married five years, and the duke, contrary to all appearance, has in great measure recovered his health. His kindness to me is unbounded, as is that of his dear son, who married the year after his father and I were united. The marquis has two sweet children, who are the delight of the duke and myself. Our mode of life is retired and happy. We reside principally at the delightful villa at Twickenham, which my noble husband has settled upon me for my life. He has given up his princely castle to his son.
Lady Eustace is our principal guest; indeed she almost lives with us.
Captain Howard has been amply provided for by my generous husband, therefore all my anxiety respecting his excellent wife and child is removed, and after all my trials and troubles I have not now a care upon earth.
It is singular enough that among the numerous names left at Beaulieu House after my marriage, the only one which I recognized as having formerly known, was the Dowager Marchioness of Pryddstowe.