"And who had saved him?" we all exclaimed.
"Amina, a girl whom he was courting, and by whom he was beloved. She was carrying home to her father a large sledge-hammer which he had lent to a neighbour. Passing alone through that wild region, she saw the desperate situation of the two men, recognised her lover struggling with the gendarme, heard the shouts of the latter to his comrades, and rushed to the spot."
"A brave girl," exclaimed Henry.
"How did the romance end?" asked Mrs. Ernsley.
"Ah! there's the point," said Sir Edmund. "I asked Lorenzo if he did not love the girl twice as much since her gallant conduct. 'I was very grateful to her,' he answered, 'but I was no longer in love with her.' I exclaimed in astonishment, but he persisted; it was very odd certainly, she had saved his life, and he would have done anything to serve her; 'But you know, gentlemen,' he added, 'one cannot help being in love, or not being in love; and when I looked at Amina's black eyes, I could not help shuddering, for I remembered the look they had, when she gave Giacomo that last blow, and it was not pleasant, and in short I could not be in love with her, and there was an end of it.'"
"And is it possible," exclaimed Mrs. Ernsley, "that he was so ungrateful as to forsake her?"
"No; he told me he would have married her, if she had wished it, but she did not; 'Perhaps,' he said, 'she saw I was no longer in love with her; but she did not seem to care much, and there was an end of it,' as he said before. Now I own I cannot understand the fellow's feeling; if anybody had saved my life, as Amina saved his, I really believe I should have fallen in love with her, had she been old and ugly; but a handsome girl, whom he was in love with before, that she should lose his heart, in consequence of the very act for which he should have adored her, passes, I confess, my comprehension. But Edward Middleton disagreed with me; he thought it perfectly natural. 'It was hard upon her,' he said, 'and could no be defended on the ground of reason; but there were instincts, impulses, more powerful than reason itself; and unjust and cruel as it might seem, he could not wonder at the change in Lorenzo's feelings.'"
"How strange!" said Henry Lovell; "how like Edward, too; though not quite so moral and just, as he generally piques himself upon being."
"Ay," said Sir Edmund, "I must do him the justice to say, that he added, 'Had I been Lorenzo, I should have felt myself bound to devote my life to Amina, to have made her happy at the expense of my own happiness; but there is, to me, something so dreadful in life destroyed, in death dealt by the hand of a woman, under any circumstances whatever.'"—
As Sir Edmund was saying these last words, I felt the sick faint sensation that had been coming over me during the last few minutes, suddenly increase, and he was interrupted by Mrs. Ernsley exclaiming, "Good Heavens, Miss Middleton, how pale you look! are you ill?"
Mrs. Brandon, who heard her, rushed to me; by a strong effort, I recovered myself, swallowed the glass of water she brought, and walked to the piano-forte, where Rosa Moore was singing.
I laid my head on the comer of the instrument, and as my tears fell fast, I breathed more freely. When, later, Sir Edmund apologised to me for having made me ill with his horrid story, and Henry whispered to me, "Mrs. Ernsley has just announced that you are of the same species as Miss Farnley, who cannot hear of death, or of wounds, without swooing, but that you are only a somewhat better actress," I was able to smile, and speak gaily. Soon after, I went to bed; as I undressed, I thought of these lines of Scott:—
"O I many a shaft at random sent, Finds mark the archer little meant And many a word, at random spoken. May soothe or wound a heart nigh broken."
That night I had little sleep, and when I woke in the morning, my pillow was still wet with tears.
"Yes, deep within and deeper yet The rankling shaft of conscience hide; Quick let the melting eye forget The tears that in the heart abide. ...................... Thus oft the mourner's wayward heart Tempts him to hide his grief and die; Too feeble for confession's smart— Too proud to bear a pitying eye."
The following day was Sunday, and some of us drove, some of us walked, to the village church. It was about two miles distant from the house by the carriage road, but the path that led thither by a short cut across the park, through a small wood, down a steep hill, and up another still steeper, and then by a gentle descent into the village, was not much more than a mile in length. It was a beautiful walk, and the view from the top of that last hill was enough to repay the fatigue of scrambling up that winding path, exposed to the burning heat of the sun, and that is not saying a little. As the last bell had not begun to ring, we sat down on the stile on the brow of the hill, to wait for it, and in the meantime I looked with delight on the picture before my eyes. The little footpath wound down through the daisy-enamelled grass to the edge of a pond of clear water, that lay between the field and the road, and was shaded by half a dozen magnificent oaks, elms, and horse-chesnuts, beyond the little village, which did not seem to contain more than seven or eight cottages, each half-buried in trees, or overgrown with creepers, except one red brick house, that flared in all the pride of newness, and of the gaudy flowers in its spruce little garden. In the middle of the irregular square, or rather of the wide part of the village road, for it could not be called a street, stood a tall May-pole, still adorned with two or three faded remnants of the streamers which had decorated it a month before. On an eminence beyond the village stood the church; one of those small old beautiful parish churches, with one square gray tower, and two wide porches; around it grew yews and thorn trees, of various shapes and sizes, intermingling their white flowers and dark foliage in graceful contrast.
After a few moments' rest we walked on to the churchyard, and sat down upon a tombstone close to the principal porch. All the people of the village were assembled, sitting, or standing in groups, waiting for the clergyman's arrival. Mr. Brandon was just telling me, in answer to my expressions of admiration for a picturesque, ivy-grown old wall and house, which formed one of the boundaries of the churchyard, that they were part of the ruins of an ancient palace of King John's, when the carriage arrived, and we all went into church. It looked smaller still within than without, but its rude architecture had something religious as well as rustic about it, and the simple singing of the morning hymn by the school children seemed in accordance with it. As usual my mind wandered during the whole of the service, and though I knelt when others knelt, and stood when they stood, and though my lips mechanically repeated the responses, I never prayed except when occasionally some words in the Liturgy or in the Bible struck upon the secret feeling of my heart, and drew from it a mental ejaculation, a passionate appeal to Heaven, which was rather the cry of a wounded spirit than a direct address to the God between whom and my soul I felt as if the link of communion was broken. That day, however, little as I regularly attended to the service it had a soothing effect upon me. There was an old monument exactly opposite our seat, to which my eyes were continually reverting. It was that of a knight crusader and of his wife; their statues were lying side by side, in that rigid repose which unites the appearance of sleep and of death. There was peace in each line of those sculptured figures—an intensity of repose, the more striking from its association with some of the emblems of war. As I looked upon them I longed to be resting too.
The clergyman was reading the morning lesson at that moment, and these words attracted my attention, "And they all fell seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest; in the first days in the beginning of barley-harvest; and Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest, until water dropped upon them out of Heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night."
These words seemed to answer my thoughts; why I cannot tell, perhaps no one but myself could understand what that connection was, and yet it struck me so powerfully that I felt as if a chink had suddenly opened, and given me a glimpse into another world. There was quietness and confidence and strength, in the midst of torture, agony, and despair. The mother, who had lost all her sons, and that by an ignominious death, sat upon the rock days and nights, and she spread sackcloth upon it, and she slept not by night, and she rested not by day, but drove away the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, and verily she had her reward; their bones were gathered together by the King's command, and they buried them there. She had her meed, I might have mine at last; I could weep and pray, fast by day and watch by night, give up the joys of life, the hopes of youth; cease to banish the remembrance of the past, but in quiet penitence, in humbled contemplation bear it ever in mind, and carry about with me, through a long life perhaps, the dagger in the wound, till at last the day might come when my own heart would absolve me, and Edward Middleton would pity me.
After the service the clergyman announced his intention of administering the holy sacrament on the following Sunday, to all such as should be religiously and devoutly disposed. For the last year I had always listened to this address either with a feeling of dogged indifference, or, if my heart was less hardened than usual, with a pang of shame and grief; but always with a determination to remain banished from the altar, ex-communicated by my own conscience. Now for the first time, I listened with a somewhat different feeling; I longed to kneel there, and as I looked at the clergyman while he preached, and marked his white hair, his venerable countenance, and the benevolence of his manner, a sudden resolution occurred to me; I would open my heart to him; I would tell him all; I would, for once, pour out the secret anguish of my soul to one who neither loved nor hated me; to one who would tell me what my guilt had been,—who would promise me its pardon, and point out the path of duty to my blinded sight. I felt feverishly impatient to accomplish this determination; and when we came out of church, and Mrs. Brandon asked me if I would walk or drive home, I said I would drive, so as to make the walkers set out without me; and then I drew Mrs. Brandon aside, and told her, that as I had heard that the afternoon service was at half-past two o'clock, I should wait for it, and in the mean time walk about the churchyard and the village. She made some objections to my remaining alone, which was inevitable if I stayed, as all the men had walked on, and the women would none of them be inclined to miss their luncheon; but at last yielding to my earnest wish, she said she would herself come to afternoon church, in order to fetch me back.
I saw them all drive off, and the village people slowly leave the churchyard in different directions, and sat myself down on the same tombstone as in the morning to watch for Mr. Leslie. It was some time before he came out of church, and when he did he remained for several minutes in conversation with the clerk at the door of the porch. At last he dismissed him, and walked my way; he seemed doubtful whether he should stop or not, as he passed me, but I got up, and this decided him.
He smiled, and asked me if I had been forgotten and left behind?
"No," I said, "I am only waiting here, as there is hardly time to go to the house and come back before afternoon church; and this is a pleasant place to spend an hour in."
"I am glad you like our old churchyard," said Mr. Leslie; and then he began talking of the views, of the neighbouring scenery, of the ruined palace now transformed into a farm, of all the subjects he thought would interest me, little thinking that at that moment the secret of a life of anguish, the confession of an over-burthened conscience, was trembling on my lips. The more he talked, too (although there was nothing unsuitable to his sacred office in anything he said), the morel felt to lose sight of the priest of God—of the messenger of Heaven, in the amiable, conversible, gentlemanlike man before me; however, when he pulled out his watch, and apologised for leaving me, pleading a promise he had made to visit a sick parishioner, I made a desperate effort, and said: "May I ask you, Mr. Leslie, to allow me a few moments of conversation with you before the hour of afternoon service, if you can spare time?"
He looked surprised, but bowed assent, and said he would return in half an hour. During that half hour I sat with my face buried in my hands, feeling as if able to count every pulsation of my heart. The excitement under which I had acted was past; I trembled at the idea of what my lips were going to utter; I felt as if I had escaped a great danger; I was astonished at myself for ever having formed such a resolution; and when Mr. Leslie stood before me again, and asked me, with a smile, what my business with him was, I could as soon have destroyed myself in his presence, as have pronounced the words of self-accusation, which had appeared to me so natural and so easy when he was in the pulpit and I on my knees in church. But he was there, and he was waiting for my answer, and my cheeks were flushing, and I knew that the next moment I should burst into tears. With a desperate confusion I drew my purse, which contained several sovereigns, from my pocket, and asked him to distribute it among the poor of the village. He seemed puzzled, but thanked me, and said he should be happy to be the dispenser of such a liberal donation: and I darted away from him, unable to bear the shame and the misery I was enduring; for now it seemed to me that I had added hypocrisy to my guilt; that I had hardened my heart against the best impulse I had yet experienced, and that I had deceived the minister of God, whose praises sounded like curses in my ears.
I attended the afternoon service in a more reckless mood than ever; and that day at dinner, and during all the evening, was more feverishly gay, more wildly excited than usual; and Henry Lovell, who seemed struck with the strangeness of my manner, for the first time made love to me without reserve. The language of passion was new to my ears; his words made my heart throb and my cheeks bum; but even while he spoke, and while under the influence of a bewildering excitement, which made me feel, for the time, as if I shared his sentiments, I once thought of the crusader. I saw a pale, calm face, with its well known features, under the warrior's helmet; and I felt that to lie down and die by his side would be happiness compared to such a life as mine.
A few days after this, we were all sitting in the drawing-room at about twelve o'clock; the day was not tempting, and instead of going out, we had settled to work, while Sir Edmund and Henry alternately read out loud to us; but Rosa Moore, when she heard the plan proposed, screwed up her lips into a decided expression of disapprobation, and slipt out of the room with the look of a child who has escaped its lesson. Two hours after she came in again, and sat down quietly in a chair opposite me; she looked red and out of breath, but a look of mischief and amusement was sparkling in her eyes. She listened patiently to the conclusion of the tragedy, which Sir Edmund was reading well, though rather too theatrically for the occasion; and when the different remarks upon it had subsided, she turned to Henry, and with perfect gravity, but a most mischievous look in her eyes, said to him, "Mr. Lovell, I am sorry to have to break it to you, but, upon pain of death, we must marry immediately."
"I never dreamt of such an honour," said Henry, laughing; "but if there is no other alternative, I can resign myself. But who lays down this law?"
"A gentleman who shortened my walk this morning, for I had no intention of coming home before the end of the tragedy."
"Who can you mean?"
"Somebody who must be either your best friend or your worst enemy, by the interest he seems to take in you."
"What do you mean?" said Mrs. Brandon.
"Only that as I was exploring the thicket near East Common, I heard a rustling in the hedge, and suddenly stood face to face with an individual of not very prepossessing appearance."
"What kind of man, my love? you frighten me to death."
"Why he was not like a gentleman, nor yet like a countryman; not like anything good in its way. He opened our interview by laying hold of my arm."
"How dreadful!" "What did he say?" "What did you do?" "How shocking!" "How did you get away?" "I should have died on the spot;" was echoed with different sorts of emphasis round the table.
"Why, I told him I had five shillings and sixpence in my purse, in case it was agreeable to him to take them."
"No, here they are quite safe; he did not want to take my money, but to give me advice, he said," and Rosa burst into one of her merriest peals of laughter.
"What did he say to you exactly? Now pray be serious, Rosa," cried Mrs. Brandon, impatiently.
"This is what he said, 'Hark'ee, my duck, do you marry that 'ere chap, that Mr. Lovell what's a courting you, and the sooner the better, for if you don't it will be the worse for you and for him, and for some one as shall be nameless. It will be the saving of his life, if you mind me my pretty gal.' He added this, as I wrenched my arm away, and was taking to my legs."
"And he let you go?"
"No, he caught hold of me again, and begged for an answer. I am afraid I should have promised to marry Mr. Lovell, or to kill him, or anything else that was expected of me, in order to get away, when another man joined us, and muttered, 'Fool, you are dropping the Brentford ticket at Hammersmith gate.' Upon which my friend screwed up his mouth into a particular shape, gave a kind of whistle, and both darted away among the bushes; and here I am."
I looked round to see how Henry took this account, but he was gone. Mrs. Brandon noticed also his disappearance, and left the room. Mrs. Ernsley, Sir Edmund, and the eldest Miss Farnley drew round Rosa, to hear her recount again her adventure, and the youngest Miss Farnley whispered to me: "Mr. Lovell must be in love with Miss Moore, for I never saw a man more strangely agitated; but it is an odd story; what do you think it can mean?"
"Perhaps it is a hoax," I said; for I had a vague wish that the whole thing might be hushed up. I felt frightened—I thought it evident that Rosa had been taken for me, and I could not help thinking that the two men she had fallen in with, were those I had seen at Salisbury. Henry's agitation and his sudden disappearance confirmed my suspicions, and I felt the more tormented from having no one near me, to whom I could impart them. When we went into the dining-room to luncheon, Mrs. Brandon looked flushed and worried; she told Rosa that Henry had gone towards the East common, to see if the men who had frightened her, and used his name for that purpose, were lurking in that direction; that Mr. Brandon had sent the gamekeeper and some of his men to make inquiries in the neighbourhood about these fellows, and directed that they should be brought up for examination before him as a magistrate, if they could be found. Rosa proposed to me to ride with her and all the men of the party, that afternoon, and scour the park, the neighbouring woods and downs, in search of the men. Curiosity, and an intense desire to ascertain if I was right in my suppositions, made me agree to this plan. We were soon off, and galloping across the park. Rosa was in tearing spirits; she had been somewhat alarmed in the morning, but the idea of a quiproquo, the amusement of a practical riddle, the fun of pursuing her assailant, (whose offence had not been of a nature which would make its results to him so serious as to check any levity on the subject) tickled her fancy exceedingly, and she kept her companions in a continual, roar of laughter. We rode about in different directions for nearly two hours, but, except a few labourers, we met no one. As we were walking our horses through a dell, that divided the upper part of East common from a wood of beautiful oaks, that stretched for miles beyond it, Mr. Manby suddenly exclaimed, "There are two men scrambling over a hedge in the direction of Ash Grove. Now, Miss Moore, for a desperate effort." We all looked in the direction where he pointed with his whip, and all set off at once at full speed. There was a small ditch between the field we were in, and the one we were making for; all the horses took it at a flying leap, except mine, who positively refused to budge. In vain I struck him and urged him on; he began rearing violently, but would neither jump nor walk over it; the groom begged me to get off, while he dragged it across; I did so, and walked on a little to try and find a place where I could step over the ditch myself. I stopped a minute to look at a clump of ash trees, surrounding a little ruined hut, which I thought would make a lovely sketch. At that moment the door of the hut opened; a man came out and looked cautiously about him—It was Henry—two others followed him; the very men I had seen at Salisbury; these last turned into a lane which I knew led into the high-road to Blandford, and were out of sight in a moment. Henry stood still for an instant, and then walked off towards the house. I was not surprised, but my heart sickened within me. I felt a vague pity for Henry, a nervous terror for myself; it never occurred to me to point out the two men, or draw attention to the spot where I had seen them disappear.
In the meantime the groom had brought a plank, by means of which I crossed the ditch; I got on my horse again, and rode slowly on to meet the rest of the party, who were galloping back in great amusement, at having mistaken Mr. Leslie and his clerk, who had been quietly clambering over a stile, on their way to the cottage of a sick old woman, for the dangerous characters they were in search of. We came up with Henry a few yards from the house. He looked ill and tired; Mr. Brandon hallooed to him, to know if he had seen or heard anything of the vagabonds.
"Have you?" was his answer.
"No," cried Mr. Brandon.
"Well then, Miss Moore," (said Henry, with a forced laugh,) "we must e'en wed to-morrow, or remain single at our peril," and he walked off, humming the tune of "Gai, gai, mariez-vous."
The subject of Rosa's adventure was now and then resumed, and became a sort of standing joke against Henry; evidently a disagreeable one to him, though he put a good face on the matter.
One day he asked Rosa, if she had not been laughing at us all, and whether the whole thing was not a practical joke. He took to twitting her about her visions, and proposed to write a ballad on "the two invisible men of Brandon Woods," on which I said, "And I will write a sequel, which shall be called 'The ruined Hut of Ash Grove.'"
Mrs. Ernsley looked at Sir Edmund, as much as to say, "What a silly attempt at repartie;" and said in a hesitating manner, "I do not quite see what would be the point of that."
Henry looked as if the ground had suddenly opened and shut again before his eyes.
Turn to the watery world; but who to thee (A wonder yet unviewed) shall paint the sea! Various and vast, sublime in all its forms, When lulled by zephyrs, or when roused by storms, Its colours changing, when from clouds and sun, Shades after shades, upon the surface run.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain.
Two or three weeks now elapsed, without the occurrence of anything worth relating; but in which I was much struck with two entirely new features in Henry's character, which were gloom and irritability. At times he was still as agreeable as ever, but the least coldness on my part, or the commonest kind of attention paid me by others, seemed to exasperate him beyond any attempt at self-government. He was once on the verge of insulting Sir Edmund Ardern, because I had talked to him for an hour together; and there was nothing touching in the fierce jealousy which he showed on these occasions. When under its influence, he seemed absolutely to hate me, and sometimes he quite frightened me by his violence. However, when that had been the case, he would suddenly recollect himself, and then, by his ardent expressions of passionate affection; by the grief, the misery, he pleaded in justification of his violence; by the words of eloquent appeal, of tender entreaty, which seemed to spring from the very depths of his heart; he moved, he agitated, he persuaded me; and, half in weakness, half in self-deception, partly from the fear of losing the excitement of being adored by one who fascinated my mind, though he did not touch my heart, I tacitly encouraged him in the belief that I returned his affection.
On the 7th of July, after I had been about a month at Brandon, I received a letter from Mrs. Middleton, the purport of which was, that my uncle desired me to return immediately to Elmsley; that she was sorry that he was so positive about it, as she saw by my letters that I was amused there; that she would have been more able to withstand him on the subject, and to obtain for me a prolongation of my visit, had it not been that the very circumstance which had occasioned his decision, was one which, from motives which I could well understand, she could not discuss with him, and in which she could take no part; "and that, my love (she added), is my brother's unexpected visit to Brandon. I have seldom seen your uncle so much irritated as when he heard of his going there; and it was with difficulty that he refrained from writing by return of post to desire you instantly to come home. This would, however, have caused a sort of sensation, which, he felt himself, was undesirable; but now, he will hear of no delay, and my maid will arrive at Brandon the day after you receive this letter, and you will set off with her on the following morning. I think it right to tell you, dearest child, that Mr. Middleton, in speaking to me of Henry the other day, expressed his determination never again to allow him to make up to you, or you to encourage in him the least hope of a marriage, which he is perfectly resolved never to give his consent to. He has desired me to tell you so, and to write to Henry to the same effect. You know (as we have often said to each other,) your uncle dislikes Henry, and that makes him, no doubt, more positive still on the subject than he might otherwise be; but I must admit myself, that my brother having no fortune whatever, and not having ever set about in earnest following up any profession, a marriage with him would be not only undesirable for you, but, in fact, impossible.
"You may be surprised, my own dearest child, at my speaking to you in this way of an affair which, perhaps, you yourself have not taken into consideration. I earnestly wish that Henry may not have made such an impression upon you, as to make this warning necessary; but, after what I saw here—though perhaps too late—and what I have heard goes on at Brandon, I scarcely venture to hope so.
"I will not talk to you, my own Ellen, of the happiness which your return will give me: you are the joy of my life; the star in my dark night; my best beloved, my precious child. If your tears should flow, if your young heart should ache, come to me, dearest, and lay your head on my bosom, and find in my love, which shall know no change, 'a shelter from the storm, a refuge from the tempest.'"
I pressed to my lips Mrs. Middleton's letter, but remained agitated by a number of conflicting feelings. She seemed unhappy, and I could not help thinking, that besides the anxiety she expressed about the state of my feelings, she was also grieved at my uncle's harsh decision against her brother. I was vexed too at being ordered back to Elmsley, I had been spoiled by unlimited indulgence, and unvarying tenderness, and though bitter sorrow had come upon me, and I had gone through severe suffering, it had not come in the form of discipline, or been turned to its salutary use. I dreaded the monotony, the associations of Elmsley, from which I saw, by this letter, that Henry was henceforward to be banished; and, altogether, when I walked into Mrs. Brandon's room, and announced to her my approaching departure, tears of vexation stood in my eyes.
She said a great deal of her own regret, and proposed writing immediately to Mr. Middleton to entreat him to let me stay on longer, and urged me to wait for his answer, but this I could not venture to do. My uncle was a man who seldom gave an order, but when he did, I knew it was not to be trifled with.
I did not state to Mrs. Brandon the real reason of my recall; but she gave me to understand that she knew it, and I did not repulse as much as usual, her implied sympathy.
We went down into the drawing-room together; and when Henry appeared, I watched his countenance to try and gather from it, if he too had received the letter which his sister had been desired to write to him; but he puzzled me completely. He was absent and pre-occupied, but did not seem the least depressed; on the contrary, there was a kind of excitement about him, that gave him the appearance of being in high spirits. When Mrs. Brandon spoke of my summons to Elmsley, and the rest of the company were, in their different ways, making civil speeches to me, he said nothing, but in his turn watched me narrowly.
He did not sit next to me at dinner, which I thought, with a little contrivance, he might have done; nor did he come near me during the first part of the evening, but seemed entirely engrossed by a long eager whispering conversation which he kept up with Mrs. Brandon.
At tea-time, she came up to Lady Wyndham and Mrs. Ernsley, and asked if it would suit them to make a party the next day to the sea-side. There was a beautiful little bay about twenty miles off, which would make an excellent object for an expedition, and which she would like to show me, before I left Dorsetshire. It so happened that I had never in my life seen the sea, except from a distance, and this made the idea of this excursion particularly agreeable to me. Everybody approved of it; for once everybody was like Mrs. Hatton, and liked nothing so much as an expedition, and more especially one to the sea-side, so it was settled that we were to be off at eight the following morning. Except in general conversation, Henry did not speak to me that evening, till, as he was lighting a candle for me, near the refreshment table, he said in a low voice, "Have you ever been so interested in a book that you have been obliged to shut it up, and to pause before you opened it again?"
"No," (I answered,) "I always look at the last page."
"I dare not look at my last page," he said, and his voice trembled. At that moment I thought I liked him.
At six o'clock the next morning, in my dressing-gown and shawl, I was at the window of my bedroom anxiously examining the state of the weather, and trying to stretch my head beyond the comer of the house, in order to find out whether there might not be a very little bit of blue sky visible behind an ominous mass of gray clouds; but either my head would not go far enough, or else there was no blue sky to be seen, and each survey only tending to discourage me more thoroughly, I laid down again, and tried to go to sleep. At seven my maid came in, and informed me that it was a dull morning, but the carriages were to come round all the same, and the ladies were getting up. We met in the breakfast-room, with the weary, cross, sick-looking faces, which early rising, especially on a gloomy day, is apt to produce. In the first carriage went Lady Wyndham, Mrs. Brandon, Mr. Ernsley, and Mr. Moore. In the second, Mrs. Ernsley, the two Miss Farnley's, and Sir Edmund Ardern; Rosa Moore and myself had a pony-chaise to ourselves, and the rest of the men rode. By the time we had reached the gates of the park, the clouds began to break, and to sail across the sky, in white fleecy shapes. Soon the sun himself appeared after a desperate struggle with the clouds that hung about him. Then the birds began to sing in the hedges, and every leaf to glitter in the sunshine, while Rosa, who had been yawning most unmercifully, and, in the intervals, holding her pocket-handkerchief fast upon her mouth to keep the fog out of it, brightened up, and began talking and laughing, as if she had not been forced out of her bed at an unusual hour. We drove through lanes, such lanes as Miss Mitford loves and describes; through villages, each of which might have been her village, in which the cottages had gardens full of cabbages and sun-flowers, and the grass plots had geese and pigs and rosy children; through which little girls were walking to school in their straw bonnets and blue checked aprons, and stopped to stare and to curtsey to the grand people that were driving by; in which boys were swinging on gates, and urchins were dabbling in ponds in company with ducks that seemed hardly more amphibious than themselves, and then we drove by parks and lawns,—parks sloping, wooded, wild; lawns studded with beds of flowers, the red geranium or the glowing carnation, forming rich masses of dazzling brilliancy on the smooth surface of the soft green grass. How beautiful they were on that day, that July day, "the ancestral homes of England," as Mrs. Hemans calls them; streams of sunshine gilding their tall elms, their spreading oaks and stately beeches. How that bright sunshine danced among their leaves, and upon the grass amidst their roots, and how the berries of the mountain ash glowed in its light,—the mountain ash, that child of the north, which with its sturdy shape, its coral fruit, and the gray rock from which it springs, looks almost like a stranger in the midst of the more luxuriant foliage of the south. But scarcely two hours had elapsed, when we turned a comer in the road, and for the first time the sea lay stretched before my eyes. It was rough; the waves were crested with foam; and already I heard them break with that sullen roar, with that voice of the ocean, in which, as in the thunder of Heaven, we instinctively recognise the voice of God. We drove up to the little inn where the horses were to be put up; I could hardly wait for the step of the carriage to be let down, and hastened alone to the beach; the sea was not, as I have seen it since, blue and calm, glittering with a thousand sparks of light; not like some quiet lake which ripples on the shore, and murmurs gently, as it bathes the shining pebbles in its limpid wave; no, it was as I would have chosen to see it for the first time, stormy, wild, restless, colourless from the everlasting fluctuation of colour, brown, purple, white, yellow, green, in turns; billows over billows chased each other to the shore, each wave gathering itself in silence, swelling, heaving, and then bursting with that roar of triumph, with that torrent of foam, that cloud of spray, that mixture of fury and of joy, which nothing in nature, but chafed waters combine.* [* See Coleridge's beautiful lines on the Avalanches.] O God, I have suffered much; terror, remorse, agony, have wrung my heart, have shattered my nerves; I have been guilty; I have been wretched; I dare not thank thee for the tumultuous joys of passion, for the feverish cup of pleasure, hastily snatched, and as suddenly dashed to earth; but I will thank thee, for the swelling of the heart, for the lifting up of the soul, for the tears I have shed, for the ecstacy I have known on the sea-shore, in the forest, on the mountain. The heart knoweth its own bitterness; but there is also a joy with which the stranger intermeddles not.
We wandered for some time on the beach, and then began scrambling among the cliffs, and clambering up to the various rocky points from whence the little bay and its wooded coast were seen to most advantage. In doing so, we gradually separated into different parties, and Mrs. Brandon, Rosa, Henry, and myself, went to explore a small cavern, where there were some curious sands of various colours, which Mr. Brandon had described to us the day before.
Rosa was on her knees upon the ground, collecting specimens of each; I was looking at the sea through a natural window in the rock; when Mrs. Brandon asked her if she had got all she wanted, and begged her, if she had, to walk back with her to the inn, as she wished to order luncheon, and speak to Mr. Brandon about the arrangements for our return.
I was preparing to follow them, when Henry laid his hand on my arm, and said in so serious a voice that it quite startled me, "For my sister's sake, Ellen, stay with me here a few moments; we will walk back by the downs; I have much to say to you, and this is my last opportunity."
I stopped immediately, and leant against the entrance of the cavern.
Henry was as pale as death, his lip was quivering, and his hand shook violently as he took hold of mine.
"Ellen," he said, abruptly, "do you know that I love you, as much as a man can love,—more than words can express? Do you know, do you feel it, Ellen?" And he wrung my hand with nervous violence.
"Has your sister written to you?" I asked, with a trembling voice.
"She has. What will you do?"
"What can I do?"
"Do you care for me?"
"I am sorry to part with you."
As I said these words, I hid my face in my hands, and from nervous agitation, burst into tears.
"Then we shall never part!" he exclaimed. "Then to-morrow, at this hour, you shall be mine—mine for ever, beyond all human power to part us!—mine, to worship, to adore, to live for, to die for! Ellen, do you hear me? Speak to me! Answer me! Shall this be? Shall it be? Why do you look so pale and so cold?"
"You are raving, Henry, you are raving; you frighten me, you hurt me; let me go."
I rushed out of the cavern, and sitting down on a stone by the sea-side, cried bitterly.
When I looked up, Henry was standing before me, waiting for my next words with forced calmness; but as I remained silent, he made a strong effort over himself, and said quietly, "I will explain to you what I mean; lam not going to make love to you now; I have not time to tell you what I feel, and what you know as well as I do; but thus much I must tell you, my sister is right when she says that your uncle will never consent to our marriage: he never will, Ellen; and if we part now, we part for ever; and God only knows the misery which hangs over both our heads if we do."
I raised my head at these words, and looked at him with surprise; he had no right to assume that such a separation would make me miserable; my pride was wounded, and spoke in my eyes: he read their language, and went on:—
"This is no time for girlish resentment; forgive me, Ellen; I make you angry, but when the fate of a whole life, and more than one life, hangs on the decision of an hour, it is no tune for weighing words; and mine must be few. Mrs. Brandon knows that I love you, and how I love you! she thinks too that you love me. She is well acquainted with her brother's inflexible prejudices, with his stubborn character; she received from your dying mother a charge to shield and protect you; should he ever turn against you, and make you unhappy by the sternness of his conscientious but iron nature, she will obey that charge; she will go with you to-morrow to the church at Henley, and stand by us while we—"
"Stop, Henry, stop, I cannot, will not, listen to such words as these. You ask me to marry; to seal my fate, against my uncle's will, without my aunt's consent; you ask me to add another drop of sorrow to the cup already too bitter and too full. That I should do this! Oh, my God, he asks me to do this, and I sit by and listen; Henry, I almost hate you for the thought."
"Can you believe," he rejoined, "that she would not bless you for the act? Can you think that when she hears that the child of her adoption, the child of her love, has saved from anguish, from despair, from guilt, the brother whom she nursed in his cradle, whose mother she was, as she has been yours,—can you think that she will not pronounce a secret but fervent blessing on your head? She obeys her husband's stern commands, Ellen, but her heart aches for us. Oh! for her sake, in the name of your dying mother, whose letter Mrs. Brandon will show you; for my sake, for your own; I implore you not to drive me to despair! for again I repeat it, unutterable misery, which you do not, which you cannot, now understand or foresee, awaits you, if you should revise to yield to my entreaties."
"Henry, you speak a strange language, and I must know the truth. I am tired of doubts; I am tired of fears; I am weary of my life; and I must speak. What unknown misery do you threaten me with? What are your secrets? Ay, I must know them!" And in my turn, I seized his arm, and pushing away the hair from my forehead, I looked him full in the face. "Why am I to avoid the Tracys? Why do vulgar ruffians use your name to terrify me into a marriage with you? Why am I now to be forced into a secret marriage, and at a day's notice? and if your ungovernable passions are not instantly gratified, why are you to plunge into guilt and into despair?"
Frightened at my own violence, I sat down breathless and trembling. He on the contrary had grown calm, and there was almost a sneer on his lips as he answered, "Those vulgar ruffians are relatives of the Tracys, and, for their sakes, I wished to spare them an exposure which would have been of no use to any one. I believe that they meant no more than a foolish practical joke, of which the account was highly coloured by Rosa Moore; but you can easily understand that such people would not be desirable acquaintances to make, and I, therefore, recommended you to keep away from a house where you might meet them. As to the misery that you may bring upon yourself, Ellen, if you return to Elmsley, I may not, perhaps, fully make you feel it; but when I tell you, that your uncle, determined as he is to prevent your marrying me, is as much determined to make you marry Edward Middleton, you may, perhaps, form some idea of it."
"Marry Edward," (I muttered to myself,) and then shuddering at the recollection of the words he was reported to have said—I cried, "No, no; that can never be."
"No, never," said Henry, in a solemn voice. "There is a gulf between you which can never be filled up."
"What, what?" I cried with a sensation of terror.
"Did you not say just now yourself, Ellen, that such a marriage never could be? But you know not what persecution would be employed in order to bring it about. Poor Julia's death was, in a worldly sense, a great advantage to you. It made you at once a rich heiress." (I could not stifle a groan of anguish, but Henry went on as if he had not heard it.) "I happen to know that your uncle has settled the whole of his property upon you in the event of your marrying Edward; but I also know that he will disinherit either of you who should refuse to comply with that condition."
"I never will consent to it. Let him have my uncle's fortune; let me be banished from Elmsley; but nothing shall ever make me agree to what would degrade him and myself."
"Then, Ellen," eagerly exclaimed Henry; "then, Ellen, if such is your resolution, do not hesitate an instant more. Once married to me, you are safe in my arms from dangers which you do not dream of, which I dare not point out to you. Ellen, I tremble for myself and for you if you should refuse me. Together, we may have trials to meet; but parted, they will be fearful. We must meet them together. Our fates are linked in a strange mysterious manner. There is a similarity in our destinies, and if you leave me now—"
He paused, his voice was choked with the violence of his emotion; the reckless, the daring Henry Lovell was weeping like a child. Oh, then again I thought I liked him, for I knelt down by his side, I took his hand in mine, I bathed it with my tears, and I whispered to him that I would promise anything, that I would plight my faith to him, do anything but consent to the secret marriage he proposed.
Again and again, he urged it with increasing vehemence, with ardent supplications. Once he said, "Ellen, you are destroying my happiness and your own; but not ours alone; you know not what you do. The fate of a pure and innocent existence is at this moment in your hands; do not doom it to secret anguish, to hopeless sorrow. Have mercy on yourself, on me, on her!"
In vain I pressed him to explain himself; he only protested, over and over again, with still greater agitation, and even swore that we must be married now or never; that it was useless to speak of the future. He spurned every alternative, and every promise I offered to make; till, at last, indignant and irritated, I exclaimed, as I got up and turned towards the town, "Well, then, let it be so; let us part for ever; everything is at an end between us."
He rushed before me, stopped me, held both my hands in his iron grasp, and with a countenance that one could hardly have recognised as his own, so dreadful was its expression of rage, he said, "No; all is not at an end between us. We do not part for ever. Now, even at this moment, I could bring you on your knees at my feet; I could force you to implore my pity, my forbearance, ill-fated, unhappy girl, whom I love with that fierce love, which idolises one hour and hates the next. No, we do not part for ever; through life I shall be at your side, either to worship and adore you, to be all in all to you, in spite of man and laws, and duties and ties; or else to haunt your path, to spoil your joys, to wring your soul. Ellen, I must be the blessing or the curse of your life. Never shall I be indifferent to you. You have refused, in ignorance, in madness, you have refused to be my wife. You shall be my victim! Either you shall love me as wildly, as passionately as I love you, and weep with tears of blood that you spurned me to-day; or if ever you love another, I will stand between him and you, and with each throb of love for him, there will be in your heart a pang of fear, a shudder of terror, a thought of me. This is our parting—you would have it so—farewell!"
He rushed back to the sea-shore; I walked on, unable to collect my thoughts. When I arrived at the inn, I found everybody at luncheon. There was a great deal of conversation going on, and discussions as to the time and manner of our return; I felt bewildered, and scarcely understood the meaning of what was said.
Mrs. Brandon, in pity for me, I suppose, took Rosa's place in the pony-chaise; she did not say much to me, but had the kindness to allow me to lean back, and cry in quiet. She evidently thought that never had there been a girl so in love, or so broken-hearted before. She was very good-natured, but there was a shade of pique in her manner, which probably arose from my refusal to avail myself of her help for the secret marriage which had been proposed.
We arrived late at Brandon. I was obliged to go to bed with a raging head-ache—found that Mrs. Swift, my aunt's maid, had arrived—took leave of Mrs. Brandon, and of the other women in the house, in my room that night—did not see Henry again—and at seven o'clock the following morning was already at some distance from Brandon, on my way to Elmsley.
"Why did he marry Fulvia and not love her?"
My journey back to Elmsley was everyway a very different one from that which I had made from it a month before. The weather was cold and windy, and the absence of sunshine made every object we passed appear less attractive than the impression which my memory had retained.
Sir Walter Scott remarks, in one of his novels, that good humour gives to a plain face the same charm as sunshine lends to an ugly country. I agreed entirely with him, as I looked first on Salisbury Plain, without one gleam to diversify its gloomy extent, and then on Mrs. Swift's unmeaning face, the stern rigidity of which never relaxed into a smile, and contrasted it with the cheerful light of dear Mrs. Hatton's radiant, though certainly not beautiful features.
I had much to think about, but I found it difficult to define and collect my ideas. Henry and I had parted in anger, and it was almost with a curse on his lips that he had taken leave of me. He, too, knew my secret; he, too, used that knowledge to threaten and terrify me. Had Edward betrayed it to him, since he left England? or was it he who had denounced me to Edward? Alas! it mattered little which it was. I was stunned, I felt as if one by one all those whom I cared for would upbraid and forsake me. A dreadful recollection remained on my mind of something which Henry had said in that last conversation, of Julia's death having been a great worldly advantage to me, and of my uncle having settled his fortune upon me. My blood ran cold at the thought—a marriage with Edward was the condition annexed. The Exile's dream of the home to which he can never return, the Desert Traveller's vision of water which he can never approach, are to them what to me were those words,—a marriage with Edward. Something which in the shadowy dreams of girlhood had hovered in my fancy; something which the terrors and the trials of the last year had crushed and subdued; something which in the feverish excitement of the last months had been dimmed but not destroyed; something which survived hope, and rose again in the silence of the soul when the restless stimulus of outward excitements failed. But it could never be! How could I ever stand in the place of that wretched child whose image would rise between me and the altar if ever I ventured to approach it, as my uncle's heiress, as Edward's bride? His Bride! The very sight of me had rendered Elmsley insupportable to him; the knowledge of my guilt (for guilty I was, though guiltless of the dreadful consequences of my ungovernable impetuosity) had driven him from England. Was he not Julia's cousin? Was not Julia's death the work of my hand? And had not Henry said that her death had been an advantage to me? He had; and then he spoke of bringing me down upon my knees before him to implore his pity; he poisoned his weapon, and then dealt the blow. His pity! Oh, as I thought of that, I longed to see him but for one moment again, if only to tell him that I spurned his pity, despised his forbearance, and that, taught by himself, I had learned one lesson at least, which I should never forget, and that was to be revenged! And in the struggle he had begun. I felt myself the strongest, for I did not love him; in that last scene the truth had been revealed to myself as well as to him. The slight links which bound me to him, had in a moment snapt; but he loved me, with a fierce and selfish love indeed, but still he loved me; and if there is torment in unrequited love; if there is agony in reading the cold language of indifference in the eyes on which you gaze away the happiness of your life, that torment, that agony, should be his. These thoughts were dreadful; I shudder as I write them; but my feelings were excited, and my pride galled nearly to madness. I remember that I clenched with such violence a smelling-bottle, that it broke to pieces in my hand, and the current of my thoughts was suddenly turned to Mrs. Swift's exclamation of "La, Miss! You've broken your bottle, and spilt the Eau de Cologne! What could you have been thinking of?"
What had I been thinking of? Oh that world of thought within us! That turmoil of restless activity which boils beneath the calm surface of our every day's life! We sit and we talk; we walk and we drive; we lie down to sleep, and we rise up again the next day; as if life offered nothing to rouse the inmost passions of the soul; as if hopes tremblingly cherished were not often dashed to the earth; as if fears we scarcely dare to define were not hovering near our hearts, and resolutions were not formed in silence and abandoned in despair; as if the spirit of darkness was not prompting the soul to deeds of evil, and the hand of God was not stretched out between us and the yawning gulf of destruction. And others look on; and, like Mrs. Swift, wonder what we can be thinking of. God help them! or rather may He help us, for we need it most.
At the end of the second day we reached the well-known gates of Elmsley, and in a few moments more I was locked in my aunt's embrace. I wept bitterly as I kissed her, and she seemed to consider my tears as perfectly natural; her whole manner was soothing and sympathising. My uncle received me kindly enough, though rather coldly even for him. I longed to explain to Mrs. Middleton that I did not care for Henry, and that my uncle's decision against him was not the cause of the deep depression which I could neither struggle with nor conceal; but how could I disclaim that cause and allege no other? Also the intimate intercourse which had been formerly habitual between her and myself had been broken up, so that my heart had become as a sealed book to her, and I dared not open it again; its one dark page formed an invincible barrier to that communion of thoughts which had been ours in bygone days.
And so days and weeks went by; I heard nothing of Henry nor of Edward, though both were almost constantly before my mind's eye; in this perpetual wear and tear of feeling my health began to give way, and I grew ever, day paler and thinner.
About three months after my return to Elmsley, I was sitting one afternoon at that library window where I mentioned once before having often watched the sunset with Edward. The autumnal tints were gilding the trees in the park with their glowing hues, and the air had that wintry mildness which is soothing though melancholy. The window was open; and, wrapped up in a thick shawl, I was inhaling the damp moist air, and listening to the rustle of the dried leaves which were being swept from the gravel walk below; the low twitter of some robin-redbreasts was in unison with the scene, and affected me in an Unaccountable manner. My tears fell fast on the book in my hand. This book was the "Christian Year;" that gift of Edward, which I had thrust away in a fit of irritation about a year ago. I had opened it again that morning, and, partly as a kind of expiation, partly with a vague hope of awakening in myself a new tone of feeling—something to put in the place of that incessant review of the past, around which my thoughts were ever revolving,—I forced myself to read a few of the passages marked with a pencil. I had been interrupted while so doing, but had carried away the book with me, and now again applied myself to the same task. I read stanza after stanza which spoke of guilt, of suffering, and of remorse; but I did not close the book in anger as before. It was true that they were carefully chosen, pointedly marked; but what of that? Was I not guilty? Was I not wretched? Did I not deserve worse at his hands? Nay more; had I deserved the forbearance, the mercy, he had shown me? Ought I not to bless him for them? It was such thoughts as these that made my tears flow, but that at the same time soothed the bitterness of my feelings.
I put down my book; and, while gazing on the darkening clumps of trees before me, I watched the approach of the boy who was riding through the avenue to the house, with the letter-bag strapped before him. I heard the step of the servant who was crossing the hall on his way to my uncle's study. In a few moments I heard Mrs. Middleton's voice on the stairs; and, about an hour after that, when it was getting quite dark, and I was leaving the library, I met Mrs. Swift, who told me that my aunt wished to speak to me in her dressing-room.
There is something very apt to make one feel nervous in the fact of being sent for; and if it happens to be immediately after the arrival of the post, all the more so. I walked up-stairs in consequence with a kind of feeling that something had happened or was going to happen; so that when I opened the door, and saw at one glance that my aunt was much agitated and in tears, I felt frightened.
"What has happened?" I exclaimed. "What is it? Who is ill?"
"Nobody—nothing of that kind," she replied, "but it is painful" (she paused, struggled with herself, and went on)—"it is painful, and you must prepare yourself, my dear child, to hear something that will shock and grieve you. Henry" (she looked into my face with intense anxiety)—"Henry has made us all very unhappy, but you, my child, you" (she seized both my hands and put them upon her eyes, as if to give herself courage to speak) "it will make you miserable. What shall I say to you, my own love? He is utterly unworthy of you; he has forgotten you, Ellen—given up all thoughts of you; he is—"
"Is he going to be married?" I eagerly exclaimed, "speak, dearest aunt, speak—is it so?"
"He is married" (she replied in a tone of deep dejection), "disgracefully married!"
She looked up in my face, and seemed quite bewildered at the expression of my countenance. I was expecting her next words with breathless anxiety, and could only repeat, "To whom, to whom?"
"You could not have imagined it," she answered—"you could not have believed it possible; he has married that girl whom you saw at Bridman—Alice Tracy."
Married to Alice Tracy! Was it possible? What a crowd of conjectures, recollections, suppositions, and fears, rushed upon me at that moment!
"What does he say about it? What does he write? When did it happen? May I see his letter?" were the questions which I addressed with breathless rapidity to Mrs. Middleton, who seemed entirely taken aback by the manner in which I received this startling intelligence.
"Here is a strange letter," she said, "from Henry himself; another from my father, who, as you may imagine, is indignant; and one from Mrs. Tracy, which is at once impertinent and hypocritical. I hardly know whether I am acting rightly in showing you Henry's. It is so extraordinary; but you must explain to me several things which I have never hitherto questioned you about; and, perhaps together, we may find out the secret of this wretched marriage. I have not ventured to show this strange letter to your uncle; he thinks that it is only from my father that I have heard of Henry's marriage; and I am afraid I am doing wrong in letting you see it; but I am so bewildered—"
I interrupted her by drawing the letters almost forcibly out of her hand. She suffered me to do so, and watched me while I read them. I was conscious of this at first; but the interest was so absorbing, that I soon forgot her presence, and everything, but the letters themselves. I read Henry's first: it was as follows:—
"My dear Sister,
"You have known me long enough not to be surprised at any extravagance that I may be guilty of. You know also that I am somewhat of a fatalist, and that I maintain that our destiny in life is marked out for us in a manner which we can neither withstand nor counteract. I have just done what is commonly called a foolish thing—very likely it is foolish; all I can say is, that I could not help doing it. It is done, and therefore the fewer remonstrances or lamentations that are made on the subject the better. I am married. Last Thursday I married, at—Church, Mrs. Tracy's grand-daughter. Her name is Alice; she is very pretty, and has been well brought up. She has five thousand pounds of her own, left her by an uncle, who died some time ago. I have, as you know, about as much. My father, of course, refuses to see her; and, I conclude, Mr. Middleton will do the same. Do you remember, Mary, the time when, sitting at my bedside, you would kiss my forehead, and tell me how you would love my wife? We used to talk of her, and describe her. She was to be tall; her eyes were to be dark, and their long fringing lashes were to sweep her cheek; her throat was to be white and graceful as a swan's; genius was to give light to her eyes, and eloquence to her words; and you, sister, you, on my marriage-day, were to have placed the blossoms of orange flower in the dark hair of my bride. You remember it, don't you? Well, my bride is fair, very fair; but not like the bride we had imagined—or rather that we had foreseen; for, sister, we have seen her, have we not—walking in beauty by our sides? Have we not gazed upon her till we have fancied her a thing too bright, too lovely, for the earth she treads upon? My bride was not kissed by you; she stood by my side, and you were not there to say, 'God bless her!' She put her cold hand into mine, and looked steadily into my face; there was no colour in her cheek; no emotion in her voice. It was all as calm as the life that lies before me. Mary, you had better write and wish me joy; and tell Ellen to wish me joy too; but do not show my letter to your husband; it is not calm enough for his inspection.
"Yours, dear Mary, ever yours,
There was something inexpressibly painful to me in the tone of this letter; it seemed the sequel of one part of my last conversation with Henry; a pure and innocent existence, he had said, must be sacrificed, and doomed to hopeless disappointment, if I persisted in my refusal. I had persisted, and Alice was sacrificed, though to what I knew not; but to some mysterious necessity—to some secret obligation. A loveless marriage—a lonely passage through life—and God only knew what secret trials—what withering of the heart—what solitude of the soul—what measure of that hope deferred, which makes the heart sick—of that craving void which nothing fills, were to be hers, who had grown up and blossomed like the rose in the wilderness, and who had been, like her own poor flower, too rudely transplanted, doomed perhaps like it, to wither and to die. It was strange, that, never having seen Alice but once, I should have felt such a deep and complete conviction of her goodness and purity, of the angelic nature of the spirit which was shrouded in that fair form, that as the idea of guilt in her intercourse with Henry, so now, that of worldliness, of ambition, or of indelicacy, in having made this secret marriage, never presented itself to my mind. Perhaps it might yet turn out well; he might grow to love and to prize her, and she would stand between him and me like an angel of peace. He could not but admire the faultless beauty of her face; the poetical nature of her mind; the calm simplicity of her character. I said this to myself; but while I said it, my heart whispered a denial. I knew Henry too well. I had seen too clearly what he admired in me—what subdued him in some measure to my influence, even in his fiercest moments of irritation. It was the very points in my mind and character which were most different from hers. The very defects in myself, that made me look upon her, as a lost and ruined sinner might gaze on a picture of the blessed Virgin, these very defects were what riveted and enthralled him. His last words rang in my ears as I looked on his blotted and hasty signature, and my heart sunk within me as I felt "that all was not over between us."
The next letter I read was from Mr. Lovell; it was thus worded:—
"My dear Mary,
"Your affection for your brother has always been so great, that I dread the effect which my present communication will have upon you. It will take you by surprise, as it has done me. That Henry should give us subjects of regret and annoyance would be no strange occurrence; but that he (the goodness of whose understanding, at least, has never been called in question)—that he should have acted in so deplorably foolish a manner, is more than one would be prepared for; the natural refinement of his character alone might have preserved him from a connection which is really disgraceful. It is better to tell you the fact at once, for you certainly could never have imagined or foreseen such an event. Your brother, without having made the slightest communication to me, or to any one else, as far as I can find out, married, last Thursday, at Bromley Church, the grand-daughter of the woman who was your nurse, and afterwards his. He looks wretchedly ill and unhappy, and gives no explanation of his conduct, further than by repeating, that as he was certain that I would not give my consent to his marriage (and he is right there), he thought it best to put the matter at once beyond discussion. In some ways, bad as it is, it might have been worse. I find that the girl is only seventeen—very handsome—has been well brought up for a person in her rank of life, and has a fortune of 5000 l. I have refused to see her, as I am determined to mark my indignation to Henry in the strongest manner; and I never, under any circumstances, will consent to see her relations, who have behaved, in my opinion, as ill as possible in hurrying on this marriage.
"Some time hence, it may be advisable to notice his wife; and, for his sake, to try as much as possible to withdraw her from the society and the influence of her relations; but this will be a subject for after-consideration.
"And now, my dear Mary, God bless you. I feel for you, as I know you will for me, in this unpleasant affair. I hope your beautiful Ellen will not take to heart this abominable marriage. Mr. Middleton was perfectly right in preventing her from throwing herself away on that worthless brother of yours; but I wish with all my heart they had eloped together.
"Your affectionate Father,
Mrs. Tracy's letter was as follows:—
"The announcement of Mr. Lovell's marriage with my grand-daughter, Alice, will probably have surprised you disagreeably. As he has, I find, written by this day's post to communicate it to you, I take the liberty of addressing to you a few lines on the subject. I grieve that myself or any one belonging to me should be the means of causing you grief or annoyance. But, Madam, remember who it was that said, 'Judge not, and you shall not be judged; condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.' Obey that injunction now, and visit not the sins of others on an angel of goodness and purity,—the dust of whose feet, some whom you cherish in your bosom are not worthy to wipe off. I love you, Mrs. Middleton, and would not willingly give you pain; but do not try me too severely by ill-usage of that child, whom my dying son bequeathed to me, and who is now your brother's wife. As God will judge one day betwixt you and me, be kind to her; her presence and her prayers may sanctify your home, and bring down a blessing on your head. If you are tempted to say in your heart, 'Why did this angel of goodness and purity consent to a secret marriage?—why did this saint, whose prayers are to bring down a blessing on our home, enter our family without our sanction?'—if you are tempted to say this, Mrs. Middleton—yet say it not. Alice has lived alone with her flowers, and with her Bible. She has never opened a novel; she has never conversed with any one but me, and with him who is now her husband, and that but little. She knows nothing of the world and its customs. She was asked as Rebecca was asked—'Wilt thou go with this man?' and she said 'I will go.' I told her it was her duty to marry Mr. Lovell, and she married him; and if you should say, Mrs. Middleton, that it was not her duty to marry him, and that I deceived her as well as you,—again I say, 'Judge not, condemn not;' and thus you may escape a fearful judgment—an awful condemnation."
"Is not that letter the very height of cant and impertinence?" said my aunt, as I laid it down on the table.
"It is a strange letter," I answered; "but what she says of Alice I am certain must be true. It tallies exactly with the impression she made upon me, and with what I should have supposed her part to have been in the whole affair."
"But how can her grandmother justify her own conduct to herself, if it is so?"
"God only knows," I answered; "but if you love me, my dearest aunt,—if you wish me to be happy,—if my supplications have any weight with you..."
"If they have, Ellen?"
"No, no!" I exclaimed,—"not if—I will not say if they have, for I know they have. I know you love me, and I know that you will do all you can to make Henry happy with Alice. I shall not have a moment's peace if they are not happy."
"Angel!" said my aunt, as she pressed her lips to my cheek. I drew back with a thrill of horror.
"Never call me an angel,—never say that again: I cannot bear it. I am not disclaiming,—I am not humble,—I am only cowardly. I cannot explain to you everything; indeed, I hardly know if I understand myself, or Henry, or anything; but thus much I do know, that if Alice Tracy has gained his regard—wildly as he talks in that strange letter—if she has a hold on his affections, I shall bless her every day of my life,—she will have saved me from inexpressible misery. Oh, my dearest dear aunt,—write to Henry, write to Alice to-day,—immediately: do not wait for my uncle's permission—write at once."
I seized on the inkstand, and putting paper and pen before her, I stood by in anxious expectation. She sighed heavily, and then said to me:—
"Ellen, will you never again speak openly to me? If you did not care about Henry, what has made you so wretched lately? Why are your spirits broken?—why is your cheek pale and your step heavy? You deceive yourself, my child; you love Henry, and it is only excitement that at this moment gives you false strength."
"Whether I ever have loved Henry," I replied, "is a mystery to myself. I think not;—indeed I believe I can truly say that I never loved him; though at one moment I fancied that I did; and if, yesterday, you had come to me and told me that my uncle had consented to my marrying him,—nay, that he wished me to do so;—had you yourself asked me to marry your brother, I should have refused—yesterday, to-day, always."
"Then you have quarrelled with him," quickly rejoined Mrs. Middleton; "and this marriage of his is the result of wounded feeling,—perhaps of a misunderstanding between you. Poor Henry!"
There was a little irritation in my aunt's manner of saying these last words; and I was on the point of telling her what Henry had proposed and urged upon me in our last interview, and of thus justifying myself from any imputation of having behaved ill to him; but I instantly felt that this would be unfair and ungenerous, especially at this moment. Besides, was I not in his power, and could I venture to accuse him who held in his hands the secret of my fate? So again I shut up my heart, and closed my lips to her who loved me with a love which would have made the discovery of that fatal secret almost amount to a death-blow.
She seemed now to understand better my anxiety for the happiness of her brother and of his young wife. She seemed to think that I was conscious of having, in some manner or other, behaved ill to Henry, and driven him to this marriage, and that I was anxious to make all the amends in my power. But when she had drawn the paper before her, and was beginning to write, she put down her pen, and exclaimed: "But if he does not love her, what induced him to choose her? To make us all wretched!—to inflict upon himself such a connection! I cannot understand it!"
Again and again she cross-questioned me about Alice, about that one memorable visit of mine to Bridman Manor, about Henry's manner to her, and hers to him. I answered in the way best calculated to remove her prejudices, to allay her anxieties, to encourage her hopes of eventual happiness for Henry. My angry feelings with regard to him had for the time quite subsided; I pitied him from the bottom of my heart, and remembered what he had said of a similarity in our destinies. It seemed to me, that he too was bound by some stern necessity, by some secret influence, to work mischief to himself and to others; and it was with intense eagerness that after Mrs. Middleton had written a kind and soothing letter to him (in which she expressed the hope that when in London, where we were going in three months' time, she should see Alice, whom she was prepared to receive and to love as a sister) I scaled it, and gave it to the servant who was just setting off for the post town. She wrote a few lines also to Mrs. Tracy, in which she expressed, in severe terms, her sense of the impropriety, if not of the guilt of her conduct with respect to her own grandchild, as well as with regard to a family, whose indignation she could not but feel that she had justly incurred. Her letter to her father she did not communicate to me. Mr. Middleton took little notice of the whole affair. One day that his wife was beginning to discuss the subject before him, he said, "My dear Mary, there are persons and things about which the less is said the better, and your brother and his marriage are of that number." Another time, when she remarked to him that I was looking much better, he observed, "I am glad that she has come to her senses." Now and then there came letters from Henry to Mrs. Middleton, but she never showed them to me. When I made any inquiries about them, she told me such facts as that he had taken a small house in—street; that he had been with his father once or twice, but that he still refused to see Alice. When I asked if Henry seemed happy, or at least contented, she answered that it had always been difficult to make out his state of mind from what he wrote, and now more so than ever; and then she would abruptly change the subject. My intense curiosity, my still more intense anxiety to hear about them, seemed to give her the idea, that, though my pride had been wounded, I still cared for him. Indeed so much of my future peace of mind turned upon the direction which his feelings would take, that my manner was probably well calculated to give this impression. In despair of overcoming it, unable to speak out, too proud to repeat what I saw she did not believe, I shut myself up in that resolute silence, in that systematic reserve, which had now become habitual to me; but I looked forward to our journey to London with nervous anxiety, and saw the time for its approach with a mixture of hope and fear.
"Dans le sein du bonheur que son ame desire, Pres d'an amant qu'elle aime et qui brule a ses pieds, Ses yeux remplis d'amour, de larmes sont noyes." ................................. "Vous me desesperez; Vous m'etes cher sans doute, et ma tendresse extreme Est le comble des maux pour ce coeur qui vous aime." "O ciel! expliquez-vous, quoi toujours me troubler, Se peut-il?" "Dieu puissant, que ne puis-je parler?"
About three weeks before the 1st of March, which was the day fixed upon for our removal to town, I had been taking a long ride, and came home at about four o'clock. My habit was wet and heavy, and I walked with difficulty across the hall, up-stairs, and along the passage which led to my room. As I was passing before the door of what was called the south bed-room, my eyes suddenly fell on two trunks covered with mud, and on the brass plates of which was stamped the name of "Edward Middleton, Esq." At the same moment the door opened, and he stood before me. I felt myself turning as white as a sheet, and was obliged to lean against the wall to prevent myself from falling. He seized my hand, and said, with apparent cordiality, "How are you, Ellen?"
I do not know what I said to him; there was a mist before my eyes, a murmur in my ears, and a feeling about my heart that I was strangely happy, though dreadfully frightened. Soon I was alone in my room, with my feet on the fender, and my eyes fixed on the burning embers, and repeating to myself over and over again, "How are you, Ellen?" and then I remembered that he knew all, that he had seen all, that he had left Elmsley because he could not bear to stay, knowing all he did, and I trembled; and hiding my face in my hands, I cried as if my heart would break. Then a new thought came to me, and brought an extraordinary peace with it. I would tell him everything, and he should decide what I ought to do; his decision should be law to me; I would submit to it humbly, and obediently, although it might be that I was never to see again any of those whom I loved, and spend my future life in loneliness and penance.
The dressing-bell rang; my maid came in with a muslin gown on her arm, and some camellias in her hand, and there was again a flutter at my heart, as if dressing and going down-stairs and dining, had been as different things yesterday from what they were to-day, as the tamest prose is from the most exciting poetry.
When I opened the door of the library, Edward was sitting with his back towards me, talking eagerly to Mr. Middleton; as I approached them I heard him say, "If I could only be convinced of it, nothing on earth would make me so happy."
As my uncle turned his head, he did so too, and coloured when he saw me. I sat down on the sofa by the chimney; and every corner of that old library seemed to me in some way different from usual. I did not wish Edward to speak to me; on the contrary, it was enough to feel that he was there; that at any moment, by looking up, I could meet his eyes, and to know instinctively when his were fixed on mine. When I fancied myself in love with Henry Lovell, it was chiefly while he was talking to me, in the height of discussion, in the excitement of conversation. When I had not seen him for some hours, I was impatient to see him, and speak to him again, in order to prove to myself that I liked him; but with Edward it was not so. Alas! would it not have been for me the most dreadful misfortune to have loved him? Was not there, as Henry had said, a gulf between us, which could never be filled up? Would he not have shrunk from my love as from a poisonous thing, and have recoiled from the touch of my hand as from a serpent's sting?
Tears gathered in my eyes at this thought; I felt them tremble on my eye-lashes, and brushed them hastily aside as I walked into the dining-room with my uncle. Edward talked of his travels, of various persons whom he had made acquaintance with, in France and in Italy, of English politics, and the approaching session. There was nothing in his conversation peculiarly adapted to my taste; and yet I listened to each word that fell from his lips with an interest which my own feelings stimulated to the highest pitch.
In the evening he asked me to sing to him, and as he leant his head on his hand, and sat in silence by my side, listening to song after song which he had known and liked in former days, I felt my heart grow fuller, till at last my voice failed, and in its place a choking sob rose in my throat. He raised his head abruptly, and looked at me sternly. "It is only that I am a little nervous," I said; "I have taken a long ride, and being tired—"
"Oh, pray make no explanations," he replied; "excuses are perfectly unnecessary;" and he suddenly left the pianoforte.
He spoke to me no more that evening; but the next day he treated me again as he had done at first, and even seemed in some ways more satisfied with me than he had ever been before.
I have never yet described Edward, and I do not think I could describe him. He was always unlike anybody else, and yet it would have been difficult to point out any peculiarity in him. It was not only truth, it was reality, that marked his character. He never was, never could be, anything but himself; and, like all perfectly true characters, could not even understand those that were not so, and judged them too severely, or too leniently, from the impossibility of putting himself in their place. His manner was always calm; even emotion in him never partook of the semblance of agitation. Where others were angry, he was stern; a few simple words from him always carried with them a strength of condemnation, which crushed under its weight any attempt to resist it. From a child I had been afraid of Edward, and he had never perfectly understood my character; now that I had so much reason to fear him, in some ways I felt more at my ease with him, because as I had ceased to express all my feelings, and pour forth my thoughts before him, I dreaded less the severity of his judgment.
During the next two or three weeks that he was at Elmsley, I felt in his presence as a criminal before his judge; his sternness was justice, his kindness was mercy; and, in the softened tones of his voice, and in the tenderness of his eyes, I only read the tacit grant of a pardon, which mine mutely implored. This gave to my whole manner, to my disposition I might almost say, for the time, a humility, a submission, which were in no wise affected, but which did not naturally belong to my character. Edward's was despotic, as well as uncompromising; perfectly conscientious himself, strict in the discharge of every duty, he exacted from others what he performed himself. He allowed of no excuses, of no subterfuges, and ranked the weakness that shrinks from suffering in the accomplishment of what is right, in the same line as that which yields to the allurements of pleasure, or the temptations of guilt. In many respects he resembled my uncle, but still the difference between them was perceptibly great. Edward's feelings were stronger; it was impossible to observe the depths of thought manifested in his eyes, and in his pale, high forehead; to hear the sound of his voice, when he addressed those he loved; to see the colour rise slowly in his check, as he spoke of some act of virtue, of heroism, or of self-conquest, without the conviction that powers of heart and mind, not an atom of which were frittered away in vain words and empty fancies, were at work within him.
Once he spoke to me of Henry's marriage, and told me he had seen him in London. They had met accidentally in the street; and he had offered to go and call on his wife; but Henry had made some excuse or other, and the visit had not taken place. He did not add one word regarding Henry's conduct, or what view he had taken of it himself, but looked earnestly into my face, as if he expected me to speak first on the subject; but seeing I was silent, at last he said, "Ellen, was this marriage a disappointment to you?"
"It was a relief to me."
"Because I had deceived Henry, and almost deceived myself into the belief that I liked him; and his marriage proved to me bow much I had been mistaken."
Edward took my hand and kissed it; I drew it away with great emotion, and exclaimed, "Good God, don't you know what you are doing?"
He did not say another word, and left me abruptly.
For two days afterwards, he spoke to me but little; and when he did so, his manner was cold.
One day that we were taking a walk together in the park, after one or two insignificant observations had passed between us, Edward asked me if I had ever received the book which lie had left for me the year before. As usual, I had it in my pocket; I took it out, and gave it to him, without making any other answer. He opened it and turned the pages over as we walked along.
"Now is the time come," I said to myself; "now!" and the blood forsook my heart, and my legs seemed to fail under me.
In a moment of morbid irritation, I had written on the blank page of the book, the words which had remained coupled in my mind with this gift of Edward's: "Beware; I know your secret!" and now they were before his eyes; and now he was reading them; and now the explanation was at hand; and all that I had suffered before was as nothing, compared to what I had wilfully brought on myself.
He turned to me, and said with a smile, "What do those mysterious words mean?"
I felt as if I was dreaming, but as if in my dream a mountain had been removed from my breast. I laughed hysterically, and said they meant nothing. That was the first time I lied to Edward.
He said that I must have read the book attentively, for he saw that it was marked in different places; he had never marked a book in his life; it was a thing that never occurred to him to do; and then he gave it back to me; and it felt to me as if the air had grown lighter, and the sky bluer, and as if my feet sprang as by magic from the ground they trod on.
When, that evening, I was with Edward again, I looked up into his face, and talked to him as I had not talked to him for nearly two years; I laughed gaily, as in days of old; I saw with exultation that he laughed too, and that he asked Mrs. Middleton to play at chess with my uncle, instead of him, and that he did not leave my side till the last moment that I remained in the drawing-room; and I was foolishly, wickedly happy, till I went up to my room, and laid my head on my pillow; then came, in all its bitterness, the remembrance, that, although he might not know my secret, another did; that if, indeed, he loved me, as I now thought he did (for I remembered that letter to Henry, which I had so long misunderstood, and now recognised its true meaning),—if indeed he loved me, I must, I ought, to tell him the truth; and then he would despise me, he would hate me, not only for the deed itself, but for my long silence,—for my cowardly concealment. No; I had suffered too dreadfully during those minutes when I had felt myself on the brink of unavoidable confession;—that happen what might, I would not, I could not, disclose to him the truth. But should I, then, marry him? Should I inherit my uncle's fortune? Should I become one day the mistress of Elmsley; and, from the midst of all that this world can give of joy, look, as Belshazzar looked on the hand-writing on the wall, on the torrent where my own hand had hurled Mrs. Middleton's child, Edward's cousin; and one day, perhaps, be denounced, betrayed, exposed, by Henry Lovell, whose words began that night to be realised:—"With every throb of love for another, there will be in your heart a pang of fear, a shudder of terror, a thought of me!"
Hour after hour I tossed about my bed, unable to close my eyes in sleep; at times, in spite of everything, feeling wildly happy; at others, forming the most solemn resolutions, that neither the weakness of my own heart, or the persecutions of others, should induce me to think even of marrying Edward, and yet unable to conceal from myself, that the next time I saw him, the next time my eyes met his, they would betray to him all that long-subdued and unconfessed love which had now grown into a passion astonishing to myself, and ruled my undisciplined mind beyond all power of restraint and control.
In the morning I fell into a short and uneasy slumber, in which, twenty times over, I was confessing my history to Edward, or standing by him at the altar, or else being dragged from his side by Henry, or by my uncle. The visions of sleep, and the thoughts of the night, were strangely mixed up in my mind when I woke: tired and jaded with all I had gone through, I went down-stairs on the morning of the 28th of February, which was the eve of the day of our departure for London.
In the breakfast-room, I found Edward, who asked me with some surprise, how I came to be so late, and if I did not mean to go to church?
"To-day, why to church to-day?" I inquired.
"It is Ash Wednesday," he replied, "the most solemn fast-day in the year."
"Oh, in that case, I will go at once, and do without breakfast; no great self-denial, for I am not in the least hungry." I put on my bonnet and shawl, and we set off on foot together, "Mr. and Mrs. Middleton having previously gone on in the carriage. I was very feverish, and from want of sleep and absence of food together, I felt in an unnaturally excited state. Whenever Edward spoke to me, I gave a start, and when I spoke myself, it was with a sort of nervous irritation, which I could not command; at last he seemed displeased, and when he stood still, to give me his hand, in crossing the stile, at the entrance of the churchyard, I saw in his face that stern expression which I had begun to know and to dread. We went into church; the service was already begun; it is, as it should be on such a day, a solemn and an awful service. The Epistle for the day, that mournful and merciful appeal to the conscience, the Penitential Psalms, which seem to embody the very cry of a bruised and overwhelmed heart, everything struck the same chord, spoke the same language; to my excited imagination, every word that was uttered seemed as if it was addressed to me alone, of all that assembled congregation. Every moment my head was getting more confused, and my soul grew faint within me. And then, when I was not in the least expecting it, (for I had never before paid any attention to the service for Ash Wednesday,) all at once there rose a voice which said, in what sounded to my overwrought nerves, an unnaturally loud tone:
"Brethren, in the Primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the Day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend."
I believe that at that moment I fell on my knees, but nothing remains very distinctly in my recollection, except that soon the solemn curse of God was pronounced on unrepenting sinners, and as each awful denunciation was slowly uttered, there rose from the aisles, from the galleries, from each nook and each comer of the house of prayer, the loud cry of self-condemning acknowledgment.
Again, again, and again it sounded, and died away. Once more it rose and fell; and then the voice from the pulpit proclaimed, "Cursed is he that smiteth his neighbour secretly;" and that time I did not hear the voice of the multitude respond. I heard a low deep amen uttered at my side; and that amen was to me as a sentence of eternal condemnation. I fainted, and when I recovered my senses, I was in the vestry with my aunt, and the doctor of the village. Soon I was able to walk to the carriage, and to drive home with Mrs. Middleton.
When I saw Edward again, his manner was gentle and affectionate; and I was myself so wearied with emotion, so exhausted with hopes and fears, that I had grown calm from mere fatigue. I was more determined than ever not to marry Edward, and this resolution gave me a kind of melancholy tranquillity, which allowed me to speak to him with more self-possession than before. I had also a vague idea that, by making this one great sacrifice, I should entitle myself to seek the consolations of religion, after which my soul yearned, especially since the terror which that day's service had struck into my heart; but still I shrunk from the one act which would have given me real peace; as I put into words the account I could give of Julia's death; I fancied I saw before me Edward's countenance, stern in condemnation; or over-coming with difficulty its expression of horror and dismay; or, worse still, incredulous, perhaps, and unable to believe that where there was not crime, there could have been such concealment; as I pictured to myself all this, and foresaw the nameless sufferings of such an hour, the cry of my soul still was, "Never, never, will I marry him! but never, also, will I own to him the secret which would make him turn from me with disgust and horror."
We were to set out for London at an early hour the next morning, and before we parted for the night, Edward followed me to the music-room, where I was putting by some books to take with us for the journey.
He stood by me in silence for some time, and then said, "Ellen, it is better, before we part, even for a short time, to understand each other. I have long been attached to you. I gave you up and went abroad, when I thought you were in love with Henry. I tried in vain to forget you. Now, Ellen, is there hope for me? Will you be to me, what you alone can be—the blessing that I would prize beyond all earthly blessings—will you be my wife?"
I looked at him; he was pale, and his eyes were full of tears. As mine were raised to his, I knew, I felt that they spoke such unutterable, such passionate love, that when, with a voice hardly articulate, I said in the slow accents of despair, "No, I cannot be your wife;" it seemed to me that he must have read into my heart.
He took my hand, and only said in a low voice, "Why?"
"Because," I exclaimed, with a burst of tears, "because I am utterly unworthy of you."
He let go my hand, and seemed to be struggling with himself: at last he said, "Ellen, if you mean that you feel now that you cared more for Henry Lovell than at one time you fancied, if there is still some affection for him in your heart, it is no doubt a painful trial for me to hear it; but if you tell me so frankly, and at once, I shall not cease to respect you, nor to love you." (His voice trembled as he said these last words.) "I shall leave you for a time; you must soon, you will soon, conquer these feelings; and then—perhaps—only tell me the truth, Ellen—the only thing that could destroy my love would be, if you ever had, if you ever could, deceive me."
"You cannot love me; it is vain to talk of love to me!" I exclaimed, "I have told you so; I cannot be your wife; why do you ask me anything else? Leave me! for God's sake leave me! I am miserable enough as it is."
"Ellen! Ellen! with such feelings as these, how could you speak to me of Henry and of his marriage as you did?"
"Henry! I am not thinking of Henry; I am not talking of Henry; I do not care for him; I do not love him, I never did: I should not be so wretched, perhaps, if I had."
Edward remained silent for a moment, and then said, with a deep sigh—
"Would to God, Ellen, that there was truth in you! It is equally difficult to believe and to disbelieve you."
"Think not of me; leave me, Edward, leave me. I have told you the truth. I do not care for Henry; I solemnly protest to you that I do not; but I cannot be your wife—that is the truth, too."
"Then why these tears?" said Edward, sternly. "Why all this acting? Why cannot you tell me calmly, and at once, that you care not for me, instead of deluding me into the belief that you do, at the very moment when you refuse me."
Suffocated with grief, I hid my face in my hands while he spoke; and said to myself, "Acting he calls it! Oh, God! he calls me an actress! He says there is no truth in me! How then would he listen to my tale of guilt and of sorrow? How then could he read truth in my broken accents? How could he discern the workings of a proud and wounded spirit?"
I raised my head slowly—Edward was gone; I rushed to the door to call him back, but was met by the servant, who was come to answer the drawing-room bell. My uncle and aunt came into the room at the same time, and I retired to mine, to pass another night betwixt hours of waking misery, and moments of broken and feverish sleep.
At six o'clock in the morning I was woke out of one of these last, by the sound of carriage-wheels. Jumping out of bed, I went to the window, and unclosing the shutter, I saw Edward's carriage rolling away along the avenue, and ours being packed in the court below. I felt glad that we were going too; glad that we were going to London; glad that there was something to think of—to talk of—to do. Glad! what a misuse of words. God knows, there was no gladness in my heart that morning, but it was something to be able to forget myself occasionally in the bustle and excitement around me. Mr. and Mrs. Middleton were not aware that anything had passed between Edward and myself. They mentioned him several times in the course of the day, and spoke of seeing him in London in three weeks' time.
At seven that evening we arrived in London, where I had not been for several years before; its immensity, the perpetual noise of carriages, the heaviness of the atmosphere, made me feel in another state of existence, and when giddy with the rapid motion of the carriage, flushed by the sudden transition from the cold night air to the vicinity of a blazing coal fire, I sat down to dinner in the small front dining-room of a house in Brook-street. It was only the uneasiness which I felt at the idea that any moment might bring Henry Lovell into my presence, that made me aware that nothing in myself or in my fate was changed. Really very much fatigued, I begged to go to bed, immediately after dinner, and, for many hours, slept heavily, in oblivion of all I had suffered, and all I feared.
"Some kinds of baseness Are nobly undergone, and most poor matters Point to rich ends."
The next morning, after breakfast, I asked Mrs. Middleton what were her plans for the day. She told me she had got a note from Henry after I had gone to bed the evening before, to ask her when and where she wished to see him; that she had sent him word to come to her before two o'clock, but that she thought I had better not be present at their first interview. I instantly proposed to her to go to Alice as soon as I could be sure that Henry had left his house, and prepare her for the visit which I knew my aunt intended to make to her in the afternoon, or else to bring her back with me to Brookstreet. I felt I had better meet Henry again in her presence than alone. Mrs. Middleton agreed to all this; and I went to my room to wait there for his arrival, which was to be the signal for my departure. In about an hour's time I heard a knock at the house-door, and having ascertained that Henry was with his sister, I got into the carriage, and drove off to—Street.
I remember that accidentally I had in my hands a card of address which my maid had just given me for some shop in Regent-street, with a long list, in small print, at its back, of the various articles to be procured there, and that I read it over and over again, with that nervous attention which we give to anything that will fix our eyes, and the mechanical part of our thoughts, when we are in a state of restless impatience. The carriage stopped at No. 3, in—Street, and I told the servant to inquire if Mrs. Lovell was at home. The door was opened by a man who had been Henry's servant since he went first to Oxford, and who, on seeing me, came up to the carriage, and told me that Mrs. Lovell was in the square; but that if I would walk in, and wait a few minutes, he would go and tell her that I was come.