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HOME > Classical Novels > The House Behind the Cedars33 > IX DOUBTS AND FEARS
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 Rena's heart was too heavy with these misgivings2 for her to keep them to herself. On the morning after the conversation with Tryon in which she had promised him an answer within a week, she went into her brother's study, where he usually spent an hour after breakfast before going to his office. He looked up amiably3 from the book before him and read trouble in her face.  
"Well, Rena, dear," he asked with a smile, "what's the matter? Is there anything you want—money, or what? I should like to have Aladdin's lamp—though I'd hardly need it—that you might have no wish unsatisfied."
He had found her very backward in asking for things that she needed. Generous with his means, he thought nothing too good for her. Her success had gratified his pride, and justified4 his course in taking her under his protection.
"Thank you, John. You give me already more than I need. It is something else, John. George wants me to say when I will marry him. I am afraid to marry him, without telling him. If he should find out afterwards, he might cast me off, or cease to love me. If he did not know it, I should be forever thinking of what he would do if he SHOULD find it out; or, if I should die without his having learned it, I should not rest easy in my grave for thinking of what he would have done if he HAD found it out."
Warwick's smile gave place to a grave expression at this somewhat comprehensive statement. He rose and closed the door carefully, lest some one of the servants might overhear the conversation. More liberally endowed than Rena with imagination, and not without a vein5 of sentiment, he had nevertheless a practical side that outweighed6 them both. With him, the problem that oppressed his sister had been in the main a matter of argument, of self-conviction. Once persuaded that he had certain rights, or ought to have them, by virtue7 of the laws of nature, in defiance8 of the customs of mankind, he had promptly9 sought to enjoy them. This he had been able to do by simply concealing10 his antecedents and making the most of his opportunities, with no troublesome qualms11 of conscience whatever. But he had already perceived, in their brief intercourse12, that Rena's emotions, while less easily stirred, touched a deeper note than his, and dwelt upon it with greater intensity13 than if they had been spread over the larger field to which a more ready sympathy would have supplied so many points of access;—hers was a deep and silent current flowing between the narrow walls of a self-contained life, his the spreading river that ran through a pleasant landscape. Warwick's imagination, however, enabled him to put himself in touch with her mood and recognize its bearings upon her conduct. He would have preferred her taking the practical point of view, to bring her round to which he perceived would be a matter of diplomacy14.
"How long have these weighty thoughts been troubling your small head?" he asked with assumed lightness.
"Since he asked me last night to name our wedding day."
"My dear child," continued Warwick, "you take too tragic15 a view of life. Marriage is a reciprocal arrangement, by which the contracting parties give love for love, care for keeping, faith for faith. It is a matter of the future, not of the past. What a poor soul it is that has not some secret chamber16, sacred to itself; where one can file away the things others have no right to know, as well as things that one himself would fain forget! We are under no moral obligation to inflict17 upon others the history of our past mistakes, our wayward thoughts, our secret sins, our desperate hopes, or our heartbreaking disappointments. Still less are we bound to bring out from this secret chamber the dusty record of our ancestry18.
'Let the dead past bury its dead.'
George Tryon loves you for yourself alone; it is not your ancestors that he seeks to marry."
"But would he marry me if he knew?" she persisted.
Warwick paused for reflection. He would have preferred to argue the question in a general way, but felt the necessity of satisfying her scruples19, as far as might be. He had liked Tryon from the very beginning of their acquaintance. In all their intercourse, which had been very close for several months, he had been impressed by the young man's sunny temper, his straightforwardness20, his intellectual honesty. Tryon's deference21 to Warwick as the elder man had very naturally proved an attraction. Whether this friendship would have stood the test of utter frankness about his own past was a merely academic speculation23 with which Warwick did not trouble himself. With his sister the question had evidently become a matter of conscience,—a difficult subject with which to deal in a person of Rena's temperament24.
"My dear sister," he replied, "why should he know? We haven't asked him for his pedigree; we don't care to know it. If he cares for ours, he should ask for it, and it would then be time enough to raise the question. You love him, I imagine, and wish to make him happy?"
It is the highest wish of the woman who loves. The enamored man seeks his own happiness; the loving woman finds no sacrifice too great for the loved one. The fiction of chivalry25 made man serve woman; the fact of human nature makes woman happiest when serving where she loves.
"Yes, oh, yes," Rena exclaimed with fervor26, clasping her hands unconsciously. "I'm afraid he'd be unhappy if he knew, and it would make me miserable27 to think him unhappy."
"Well, then," said Warwick, "suppose we should tell him our secret and put ourselves in his power, and that he should then conclude that he couldn't marry you? Do you imagine he would be any happier than he is now, or than if he should never know?"
Ah, no! she could not think so. One could not tear love out of one's heart without pain and suffering.
There was a knock at the door. Warwick opened it to the nurse, who stood with little Albert in her arms.
"Please, suh," said the girl, with a curtsy, "de baby 's be'n oryin' an' frettin' fer Miss Rena, an' I 'lowed she mought want me ter fetch 'im, ef it wouldn't 'sturb her."
"Give me the darling," exclaimed Rena, coming forward and taking the child from the nurse. "It wants its auntie. Come to its auntie, bless its little heart!"
Little Albert crowed with pleasure and put up his pretty mouth for a kiss. Warwick found the sight a pleasant one. If he could but quiet his sister's troublesome scruples, he might erelong see her fondling beautiful children of her own. Even if Rena were willing to risk her happiness, and he to endanger his position, by a quixotic frankness, the future of his child must not be compromised.
"You wouldn't want to make George unhappy," Warwick resumed when the nurse retired28. "Very well; would you not be willing, for his sake, to keep a secret—your secret and mine, and that of the innocent child in your arms? Would you involve all of us in difficulties merely to secure your own peace of mind? Doesn't such a course seem just the least bit selfish? Think the matter over from that point of vi............
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