When I came down to the drawing-room, dressed for the ball, Mrs. Middleton exclaimed, "You look unlike yourself to-night, Ellen I Have you done your hair differently from usual? No" (she continued, as she passed her hand gently over my forehead)—"no, it is not that; I can't make it out: that darling face of yours changes often enough from sunshine to clouds, and from clouds to sunshine; but I never saw it look just like to-night."
I kissed her fondly, but said with some impatience, "Let us go—we are very late."
We went accordingly, and my uncle with us. When we entered the room, it was crowded to suffocation, and we made our way with difficulty to some seats, near which Mrs. Miltown and Mrs. Brandon were. Henry was talking to the latter when we came up to them; he gave me his chair, and ensconced himself in a corner behind us. I felt that Mr. Middleton's eye was upon me, and I entered into conversation in the most eager manner with Mrs. Brandon, in order to avoid speaking to him. He bore it for a little while; but soon touching my arm gently, he said in a low voice, "Come and dance; I want to speak to you."
I answered in the same tone, "No, I can't—don't ask me."
"Very well; you will explain this to me later," he rejoined, in a manner in which my penetration or my fancy detected something dictatorial, which annoyed and provoked me. Wherever I stood, whenever I danced, to whoever I talked during the next two hours, I felt conscious that his piercing eyes were fixed upon me with a scrutinizing expression which I could hardly bear. Added to this, I saw that Mr. Middleton, who knew nobody, and spoke to nobody, was concentrating all his powers of observation upon us both, and was watching him as pertinaciously as he watched me. At last, unable to endure this any longer, and grievously disappointed that Edward had not appeared, I asked Mrs. Middleton to go. She consented to do so, and we walked together into the tea-room on our way out. Henry followed us, and while his sister was speaking to some one else, he whispered to me in the bitterest tone imaginable, "Pray is this dead cut the result of our yesterday's conversation?"
"How is Alice to-night?" I asked with a trembling voice; for Mr. Middleton at that moment had joined us again and was standing by my side.
"Much better, thank you, and very anxious to see you to-morrow morning," he said in a pointed manner.
"That will be impossible," observed Mr. Middleton, coldly; "for we have promised to go to-morrow to Mrs. Moore's, at Hampstead, and we shall remain there two or three days."
A sudden cloud passed over Henry's countenance; but he said, in a manner which was meant to be careless, "I wish you joy, Ellen, of leaving London in this hot weather. The country will be delightful. I suppose it was at your desire that this arrangement was made?"
"No," I answered; "it was an agreeable surprise to me. I was not aware till to-day that my uncle knew Mrs. Moore so well, nor that she had a villa at Hampstead, nor that I was likely to see Rosa again so soon; and delighted I shall be to see her again."
"Oh, she is charming," answered Henry, in the same indifferent manner; "I always told you so. I wonder if you will have anything of a party. You will meet Edward there, I suppose; I saw him for a moment this morning, and he said he was going to the play with the Moores to-night."
He turned away, and whispered something to Mrs. Middleton which made her smile and answer, "It would do very well."
If there is in the varied range of human feelings one of pain, which in its mere sensation resembles joy, it is that of pouncing, if one may say so, on something tangible when the mind has been racked by a vague jealousy. It is like the relief which we feel when, after anger and indignation have been for some time smouldering in our breasts, at length they burst all barriers and find vent in words. At once I remembered that Rosa was, as Henry had said, charming—that she had a good fortune—that she was the most likely person in the world for Edward to admire, and for my uncle to approve of; and that very evening he was with her, with them all; he had preferred their society to ours; it was sure—it was hopeless—it was too late. Too late! that cry of bitter regret, or of agonized despair, whether it comes from the lips of those who lose all that makes to them life worth having, or from those from whose trembling grasp that same mysterious thing called life is escaping. It was too late to struggle—too soon to submit. Oh, that I had run all hazards—accepted all chances—braved all dangers but the one of losing him! If I had ever told him of my love—if I had revealed to him the depths of passionate affection which those only feel who love in spite of all that should make them tremble and despair! If I had done this but once, he might have forsaken me, scorned me, abandoned me, but he never would have forgotten me. Other eyes would have seemed to him without light—other smiles without brightness; in their tame affection, in their common-place regard, he would have missed what my proud heart and my eager spirit yielded him; all its prostrate enthusiasm—its impassioned humility—its boundless devotion; abject as a slave's, exalted as a guardian angel's.
"How do you do, dearest Ellen? how glad I am to see you again! Will you let me introduce mama to you?"
The violent start that I gave as Rosa stood before me and addressed me in this manner, made her laugh, and the silvery tone of that little gay laugh grated upon my ear.
"Why, I have frightened you as much as the invisible men of Brandon frightened me!" she exclaimed. "What fun that was, Ellen! I am afraid we shall have no adventures at Hampstead, but I'm so glad you are coming there to-morrow."
As Henry approached us she turned to him.
"How are you, Mr. Lovell? It is ages since we have seen you."
"You come so late," said Henry; "was the play so charming that you could not tear yourself away?"
"Oh, we should have been here long ago if your friend Mr. Middleton had allowed it; but when papa and mama, with their undramatic, unexcitable spirits, were preparing to go, he interfered so successfully that we carried our point, heard the very last words, saw the curtain drop—"
"And enjoyed it all very much?"
"Oh thoroughly—entirely! We cried at the tragedy and laughed at the farce, till I have no strength left for the dull bit of real life that's going on in the next room."
"Come, Ellen, the carriage stops the way," cried Mr. Middleton; and in a moment we were down the stairs and in the carriage. My aunt's first words as we drove home were, "How uncommonly pretty Rosa Moore is! There is something very attractive about her."
"Very," I answered; and there was something in the manner in which I pronounced this single word that made her try to get a glimpse of my face as we went by the next lamp-post. I threw my head back impatiently into the corner, and exclaimed, "Really, one does get tired to death with this going out night after night."
"Then I suppose you like the idea of our visit to Hampstead?"
"Oh, particularly! Who shall we meet, do you think?"
"Nobody but Edward, and one or two other men, Mrs. Moore told me to-night."
The carriage stopped and I went to bed, but not to sleep; not at least till I had tossed about for some hours, with a feverish pulse and a perturbed spirit.
The next morning ushered in one of those broiling days which destroy all one's energies, and take away all wish for motion and exertion. The shutters of the drawing-room were partly closed to exclude the rays of the sun; the smell of the flowers in the jardiniere was almost oppressive, and the very cries in the street seemed uttered languidly, and without their usual shrill spirit. After breakfast I sat down at my drawing-table, and tried to finish a sketch of the inside of Westminster Abbey, which I had begun the day before. As I was preparing my colours and arranging my brushes, the door opened and Henry walked in. "Your sister is in her room," I immediately said; "I will tell her that you are here;" and I got up for the purpose.
"Really, Ellen," he said, "I suppose you are not going to behave to me now as you did last night. I protest to you that I cannot and will not bear it. I am come for the express purpose of seeking an explanation."
"Then go to Mr. Middleton, and ask him to give it you. After undergoing all that I suffered yesterday at your house; after leaving it with a throbbing head and an aching heart, I had to go through a scene with my uncle, in which my feelings were wounded to the quick and my pride cruelly humbled. What is all this to lead to, Henry? What do you expect? What do you require? I am accused of thoughts, of designs, of conduct, which are as foreign to my mind as they are abhorrent to my feelings; but if this is nothing to you—if you care neither for what I may suffer, or for what others may think of me, let me tell you that if at this moment Mr. Middleton knew that you were here—if last night he had seen me speak to you, or dance with you as usual, an order would be given at the door never to let you in again."
"He would not dare to insult me in such a manner," exclaimed Henry with violence; "my sister would never endure it."
"He would do it," I repeated earnestly; "he is stern and uncompromising to a degree which, till latterly, I did not know myself; and if now—"
"He has hated and persecuted me from a boy; he is the original cause of all I suffer; he will drive me to some desperate act of guilt or folly before he has done; but, by God, if I am not revenged—"
"Hush, hush; you don't know what you are saying or doing," I cried, as he walked about the room in the most vehement agitation. "Be calm, I implore you. We are going out of town now for a few days; soon after that, we return to Elmsley. We shall be separated for a long while, Henry. Why will you not strive to conquer this unhappy, this fatal fancy? That I should be forced to speak of it—to acknowledge its existence—is dreadful enough; but do give me hopes, dear Henry, that you will try to overcome it; that you will endeavour to make Alice happy, and to find happiness yourself in your home, that when we all meet again, we may be happy together, and the miseries and agitations of this last terrible year may seem to us as a dream."
He did not answer, but I fancied he was touched by this appeal, and I went on: "I owe you much gratitude; I feel it, I acknowledge it. Perhaps I was hard and ungracious yesterday, when I ought to have been softened by your kindness; but how can I feel towards you what I wish to feel, while you speak and act in a way which you know you would despise me yourself if I did not resent?"
He interrupted me by abruptly inquiring if we were indeed going to Elmsley soon.
"Almost immediately, my uncle said this morning."
"For how long?"
"An indefinite time."
He knit his brows, and said, after a pause,—
"There is truth in what you said just now. We ought all to live happily together, and I have not taken the right means of promoting that end. I have been foolish, mad; I now see the consequences of it all. Ellen, speak to me often as you did just now; it soothes, it calms me. I see things in a different way from what I did a moment ago. O, dearest, best beloved! say to me sometimes, dear Henry, as you said it just now, and I will try to be to you, and for you, all that you can wish and desire. Open your heart to me without reserve, Ellen; if new difficulties present themselves to you, perhaps I may be able to serve you in cases where it might seem hopeless to apply to me—where you might suspect me of not even wishing to be of use to you. I cannot explain myself now, for you had better go and call my sister. After what you said had passed between you and Mr. Middleton yesterday, I feel that we must not remain here alone together. You see," he said, with a melancholy smile, "how reasonable I am grown. Go, dearest Ellen, but remember what I have said to you. For your sake I would make sacrifices, even," he added, in a low and tremulous voice—"even if your happiness required it, the greatest of all. Good-bye, dearest Ellen—God bless you!"
I left the room; and, was it strange that after this conversation, I left town for Hampstead, carrying away with me a better opinion of Henry than I had ever had before? Was it strange, too, that a vague hope arose in my heart, from the few words he had said, that my fate, with regard to Edward; might not be hopelessly sealed, if at least the hateful vision of his dawning attachment to Rosa Moore did not realise itself? Whether it was strange or not, the fact was so; and, in such a state of mind, at about four o'clock, I drove out of London, and in a short time arrived at the gates of Mrs. Moore's villa.
Mark where she smiles with amiable cheer, And tell me, whereto can ye liken it? When on each eyelid sweetly do appear An hundred graces as in shade to sit, Liketh, it seemeth in my simple wit, Unto the first sunshine in summer's day, That when a dreadful storm away is flit, Through the broad world doth spread his goodly ray.
I do not know a pleasanter sensation than that of driving into the grounds of a country house or a villa, after a prolonged stay in London. The change is so sudden from oppressive heat, bad smells, and ceaseless noise, to bright sunshine, (for even the sun seems to be contaminated by all it shines upon in a large town,) pure air, delicious perfume, and the voices of the birds, who, I maintain, never sing so sweetly and so unceasingly, as within a few miles of London. The change is so great, that we feel more strongly than ever the value of that we have been voluntarily foregoing, at that time of the year.
Those days when summer supersedes the spring. And smiling June's expanding roses fling Their perfumed odours o'er the passing breeze, That sweeps enamoured o'er the fairy trees; When melody pervades the cloudless sky, When streams of light intoxicate the eye, And every waving branch, and leafy bower, Bursts into song, or blossoms into flower.
As we got out of the carriage, and walked on to the lawn to meet Mrs. Moore, my eyes fell on a group, which not all the soothing effect of the change I have just described could enable me to look upon without disturbance.
On a swing, fastened by ropes to two horse-chesnut trees, stood Rosa, with a bright colour in her cheeks, a large straw hat loosely tied with blue ribbons, and her hair falling on her shoulders in rich curls, which the wind blew about in every direction. Three men were standing near her; two of whom (and Edward was one of them) were gently moving the ropes backwards and forwards, while she shouted out in that silvery voice, which, however loud, was always sweet, "Higher, higher still!"
When she caught sight of us, she sprang hastily down from her elevated position, and rushing to me across the grass, seized both my hands, and exclaimed in the eager tone of a child who offers his favourite toy to a new comer, "Should you like to swing?" I smiled, and shook my head; on which she drew me to a bench, and sitting down herself on the grass before me, began rattling away in her usual manner, at the same time making garlands of all the daisies within her reach.
As Edward and the two other men approached us, I recognised in one of them Mr. Manby; the other was unknown to me, but Rosa said carelessly, without looking up from her wreath, "Mr. Escourt,—Miss Middleton."
It immediately struck me, that this must be the very person who had played so conspicuous a part in Henry's unfortunate history; and my bow of acknowledgment was stiff and ungracious. That portion of Henry's narrative had made a deep impression upon me. The form of wickedness which I have always held in the greatest abhorrence, is a deliberate attempt to lead others into vice; and the efforts which this man had made to complete Henry's ruin, after having so largely contributed to bring it about, and the hypocrisy with which he had sought to conceal his malice, appeared to me instances of those crimes, which are not the less revolting because they do not render the perpetrator of them amenable to the laws. It was not in my nature to weigh with accuracy the correctness of such impressions, or to make allowances for the probable exaggeration of Henry's statement; but, if I had doubted before, one glance at Mr. Escourt's countenance would have been enough to dispel that doubt. I took a sudden and violent aversion to him. His was one of those calm faces that concealed the lurking devil of his malignity; there was a repulsive gentleness in his voice, and a detestable sweetness in his manner, which made me thoroughly comprehend the feelings Henry described himself to have experienced during the interview that had proved so fatal to him.
Edward's manner to me was more friendly perhaps than usual; it seemed in the same spirit as his last words in the breakfast-room in Brook-street. Little did he know all that had passed through my mind, and worked upon my feelings, since that time. I was almost angry with him for speaking to me so kindly and gaily; I fancied that it was since his new attachment, that he had ceased to look upon me with severity; that he had become indulgent, because he had grown indifferent; and the pain which this supposition gave me, involuntarily, though not unconsciously, influenced my manner to him; and I answered with irritation some trifling question which he addressed to me. As usual, when this was the case, he suddenly broke off the conversation; but, this time, instead of walking away, sat down on the other side of Rosa; and while Mr. Manby was plying me with the heaviest kind of small-talk, I heard her telling Edward one piece of nonsense after another, which made him laugh in a short, sudden, joyous manner, which had the effect of making me snub Mr. Manby, in a way which even his pertinacity was not proof against. He turned to Mr. Escourt, who was standing near him, and whose very disagreeable eyes had been fixed upon me for the last few minutes, and proposed to him a game at billiards. They walked away; and Rosa, turning suddenly round, and observing probably that I looked vexed and discomposed, asked me if I should like to see my room. I jumped up, and followed her to the house; she led the way up-stairs, and established me in a charming room; where, as soon as the door was closed upon her, I threw myself down on the couch, with a feeling of utter wretchedness and discouragement, differing from anything I had yet experienced.
The window was open; there were green trees close to it, the waving of whose branches I could see from where I was. Large nosegays of flowers were placed upon the table, and now and then the air from the garden dispensed the delicious perfume which it had stolen from a bed of mignonette. There was also that drowsy hum of insects, the very song of summer, which we love, not for its beauty (though there is beauty in its sleepy busy monotony), but for all it recalls; for all the associations it brings to our minds. I was very tired; and I remained some time on the sofa in a state of abstraction bordering on sleep. I was roused from it in about half-an-hour by some snatches of an old song, which sounded almost like the chirpings of a bird, so sweet, and wild, and unconnected was their melody. I jumped up from the couch, and went to the window; it looked on a small garden, closed in by a slight green railing. It was one mass of flowers, perfectly dazzling in their profusion, variety, and beauty. In the centre was a large cage made of trellis-work, within which creepers grew, and marble vases filled with fresh water stood. Dozens of birds,
"Whose starry wings Bore the rich hues of all glorious things,"
were flying about it in giddy enjoyment. The love birds sitting quietly and lovingly together on a corner of the same perch, the weavers with their endless tails, the miniature dove, the cordon bleu, with his turquoise breast, and the little cardinal, with his self-sufficient pomp, were all there, and seemed to bathe and to fly, to eat and to drink, to love and to quarrel, as freely as if they still ranged through the boundless depths of their native woods.
And near them stood the singer of that wild melody, which had woke me from my short sleep. There she was like a little queen in the midst of her own fairy kingdom. She was dressed in a silk gown, whose train swept over the gravel walks as she moved slowly along. A berthe of the richest Guipure old lace was clasped on her breast by one single pearl pin; some sprigs of the deep red salvia were fastened in her hair. She held a large pair of garden scissors in her hand; and, as she walked along, she cut the dead flowers from the bushes, as she passed, and flung them aside; every now and then a fresh burst of song springing from lips which seemed only made to smile. She came nearer to the house; and, while cutting off a drooping moss-rose from its stem, she stood where the slanting rays of the evening sun threw a rich glow over her auburn hair and her blooming cheek.
I could hear now the words of her song, and recognised those lines of Montrose, the Hero and the Bard:
"My dear and only love, I pray, That little world of thee, Be governed by no other sway But purest monarchy."
The dead rose, the song, those images of beauty and of joy, the connection of ideas which they suggested, were all too much for me. I turned back into the room, and, as I did so, I caught sight of myself in the standing looking-glass opposite. My pale face, my heavy dark eyes, my black uncurled hair, were before me; they seemed to tell my life's history; all, all its sad secrets were there; its love, its hate, its pride; its remorse, its anguish, and its despair.
I remarked that day at dinner that Mr. Escourt seemed particularly anxious to ingratiate himself with me, perhaps because I had seemed reluctant to allow him to do so, which with some men is apt to make them strain every nerve to succeed; but, as I decidedly repulsed all his attempts to make himself agreeable, he devoted his attentions to Mrs. Middleton, who seemed amused and interested by his conversation; and I was obliged to admit that he was clever, in spite of my antipathy to him.
It is unpleasant to meet in society a man, who we have secret reasons to know would be shunned by all those who value truth and honour, if certain facts were revealed, and the veil drawn aside which hides from the world his real character and conduct. And when those we love and respect speak of their regard for such a person, and call him their friend, it is difficult to repress the accusing words which tremble on our lips. Such thoughts passed through my mind as I sat at dinner that day watching Mr. Escourt, while he poured into Mrs. Middleton's ear his amusing anecdotes, and saw her look of interest as she listened to him. I felt it yet more when, after dinner, I heard my uncle invite him in the most cordial manner to Elmsley; and above all, when Edward addressed him as "My dear fellow," I gave a start of impatience which must have seemed unaccountable to Edward, who looked at me with unaffected surprise.
After dinner we all sat on the stone terrace before the house; and while I strove in vain to shake off the gloom which gathered over my spirits more darkly every hour, I could not disguise from myself that Rosa had never looked more lovely—had never appeared to greater advantage. Whether with perfect gravity and a genuine brogue she related, at Edward's request, the wonderful history of Daniel O'Rourke, who held on to the moon by its horns; or whether, on some remark of Mr. Escourt's on the subject to which all her feelings were alive, in a few words of rapid and fervent eloquence, she spoke of the sufferings and the wrongs of Ireland, of its injured honour, its misrepresented creed: whether with the joyousness of a child she showed off the tricks of her little dog by the side of the garden lake, or, stepping into the boat which was made expressly for her use, she seized her oars and rowed us across like the Lady of Loch Katrine: in each movement there was grace; in each mischievous glance there was playfulness; in each word there was animation; and Edward laughed gaily, or listened with interest, while even Mr. Middleton seemed excited and amused.
When we returned into the house, Mr. Manby asked Rosa to sing; and as we all pressed her to do so, she sat down at the pianoforte, and sang in succession English ballads, Irish melodies, and Jacobite songs, which last she seemed to take particular pleasure in. During a pause, Mr. Escourt said,
"Pray, Miss Moore, what was it you were singing to-day before dinner, in your own garden? Something very wild and pretty."
"Did you detect me making a noise?" she asked with a smile; "a shocking noise, my little brother calls it. He did not wish to find fault with me himself the other day, so he whispered to me while he was playing with some wooden animals, 'Rosa, these deer say to me that you make a shocking noise.' But this is what you mean, I suppose," and she began Montrose's love-song.
"This may be all very well," exclaimed Mr. Escourt, when she had sung it, "for a man who fights and writes verses; who carries, as he says, a sword and a pen, as should his mistress discard him, he would no doubt console himself with that same sword and pen: but I should think, with nine women out of ten, a dismissal would be the result of so very dictatorial a declaration. With, only listen to him:" and he repeated the following lines:—
"Like Alexander I would reign, And I would reign alone; My soul did evermore disdain A rival in my throne, He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, Who dares not put it to the touch To win or lose it all.
Would you stand this, Miss Moore?"
"Why," she said, as her fingers ran carelessly over the keys, "I should not feel much inclined to let Alexander reign at all; but I should not quarrel with him for choosing to reign alone. Would you, Ellen?"
"No," I answered, "only for believing it possible that he did not reign alone."
I involuntarily turned my eyes towards Edward's as I said this. They met his, and their expression was so earnest and affectionate that a thrill of pleasure ran through me.
Mr. Escourt laughed and said,
"Why, you would have your hero still more convicted than he is. To my mind,
'I'll never love thee more,'
is, under any circumstances, the most impertinent speech a lover can make, and one which no woman ought to forgive."
"Oh, indeed" exclaimed Mr. Manby, "I am quite like Montrose, I would never care for a woman who did not love me above all things."
"Nor make her famous by your pen, nor glorious by your sword?" murmured Rosa, as she bent over the music-books.
Edward smiled; but this time it was my eyes he sought; and by my side he sat down, when we left the pianoforte and went into the next room.
I will not minutely record the details of our proceedings, or of the various alternations of hopes and fears which agitated me during the next few days. Sometimes when Edward spoke to me, his voice had a tone, his eyes an expression, which made me forget for an instant everything but what I heard in that tone and read in those eyes; and the ecstacy of such moments made the contrast darker and bitterer each time, when, under the influence of my secret misgivings, or of my jealous pangs, that flash of transient joy gave way before the gloom which suddenly succeeded it. Mrs. Middleton had taught me to tear away the veil from my own thoughts and feelings—to be true to myself, and merciless to my own illusions; and therefore, though I could sometimes read love in Edward's eyes,—though I could see, that when an expression of strong feeling escaped me, it awoke emotion in his soul, and struck a chord which vibrated to the touch; I could also see the struggle which he made to master and repress these feelings. I saw well his deep appreciation of the pure and unsullied truth of Rosa's character. When her eyes were fixed upon him with the bold simplicity and innocent daring of one
"Who feared no danger, for she knew no sin,"
I have seen him turn to me with an earnest gaze of thoughtful inquiry, which I dared not meet but by a mute appeal for mercy. I had heard him murmur in a low voice one evening, in which storms of jealous anger and gloomy abstraction had swept over my soul and clouded my brow, I heard him murmur, as Rosa's joyous laugh reached our ears,
"O, blest with temper, whose unclouded ray Can make to-morrow cheerful as to-day!"
I had heard this, and yet I did not hate her. No, God be praised, and I bless him for it! not all my sufferings, not all my faults, not even the tortures of jealousy itself, have robbed me of that one pure emotion, that one spontaneous impulse—instinctive homage to what is pure, admiration of what is good. But how I envied her the privilege of truth! how bitterly I contrasted her fate with mine! when, one day, I saw her snatch up her little sister to her knees, while Mr. Escourt was asserting that there was no one who would willingly consent to lay open their thoughts to another, and devouring her with kisses, exclaim, "Now, Minny, you know I should not mind if you could read every one of my thoughts."
At the outset of this history of myself, and of my sufferings, I had to gather strength for the task: one fatal day stood out in dreadful prominence; and to describe it was to live over again its agonising hours. Again I feel the same kind of emotion; again I must pause; for I am arrived at that moment which dragged me down a step lower into the abyss which I had seen from afar off, and from which I had vainly struggled to recede. For days, for weeks, I have shut up this book, and put it aside as an enemy whose sight I feared; but, like the rattlesnake, this very fear fascinates and subdues me; and as the stern spells of memory cannot be conjured away, they must be braved and conquered.
"'La douleur a trahi les secrets de son ame, Et ne nous permet plus de douter de sa flamme."
"Cet Hymen m'est fatal, je crains et le souhaite, Je n'ose en esperer qu'une Joie imparfaite. .................. Que je meurs s'il s'acheve ou ne s'acheve pas."
One morning, after we had been a few days at Hampstead, I felt the greatest wish to slip quietly out of the house and stroll about alone for an hour or two. I had been in the habit of doing so at Elmsley, and I found nothing so effectual as this in subduing agitation, and recalling my mind to a state of composure. After making the tour of the grounds, walking round the lake, and dawdling some time in the shrubberies, I opened a small gate into a lane which led towards the common. This lane was scarcely wider than a path, and was only divided from the grounds of the villa by a ditch and a slight railing. I was intently occupied in examining an ant's nest, and the various evolutions performed by its black citizens on the sudden fall of a snail among them, which had dropt off a branch of dog-roses while I was gathering it, when all at once a sound as of many people running, joined to loud cries and vociferations, caught my ear. There was something ominous in the noise, and my heart beat quick as I looked with a mixture of fear and curiosity towards the end of the lane which opened on the heath. The noise increased; and suddenly round the corner and into the lane dashed a dog, followed by several men armed with pitchforks, and shouting. The appalling cry of "A mad dog! a mad dog!" struck distinctly upon my ears, and brought a deadly faintness over my limbs, and a cold sweat on my forehead. I tried to run, and my strength utterly failed me. I tried to scream and could not. The animal was coming nearer and nearer. I clung to the railing; the shouts grew louder: "Get out of the way!—a mad dog!—get out of the way!" Two more seconds, and the beast would have been upon me, with swollen tongue, glaring eye, and foaming mouth, when, quick as lightning, across the ditch, and over the railing, sprang Edward, with a face as pale as a sheet, and almost convulsed with terror. The dog was close to me; he seized it, flung it across the hedge into a pond on the other side, and dragged me to the grounds, and up to a bank, on which he placed me. For a moment I closed my eyes, overpowered by the terror I had felt, and the sense of escape from it; but I heard Edward murmur, in a tone of anguish, "Good God, what shall I do?" I opened my eyes and looked up into his face; it was so dreadfully pale that I exclaimed, "You are ill, very ill; for God's sake sit down."
"No," he answered, "no; now that you are better, it is all right; I will go home and send somebody to you."
"I can go now," I said; "I can walk." But what was it I saw at that moment on the ground before me? There were spots of blood on the gravel! There was blood on Edward's sleeve! Sudden as the flash that rends the skies, as the bolt that blasts the oak, the truth burst upon me! I neither shrieked nor swooned; the very excess of anguish made me calm. On Edward's hand was the fatal scar. I seized his arm, and so quickly and suddenly, that he neither foresaw nor could prevent the act. I pressed my lips to it, and sucked the poisoned blood from the wound. When he tried to draw his hand from my grasp, I clung to it and retained it with the strength which nothing but love and terror can give.
When, at last, by a violent effort he disengaged it, I fell on my knees before him, and clinging to his feet, in words which I cannot write, with passion which no words can describe, I implored him by that love which had been the torture and the joy of my life, its bane and its glory, to yield again his hand to me that I might save his life as he had saved mine. As he still refused, still struggled to get away, I seized on the blood-stained handkerchief with which I wiped my mouth, and eagerly clasping it to my bosom I exclaimed, "This, if you leave me, shall make me run the same risks as yourself. If there is poison in this blood it shall mingle with mine."
An expression of intense emotion passed over Edward's face in a moment, and his resolution suddenly changed. He sat down on the bench and held out his hand to me. "Do what you will," he said. "Nothing but death shall part us now."
There was such thrilling tenderness, such intense feeling in these few words, such belief in me, that, as I sank on my knees by his side, and pressed my lips again on that hand, now passive in my grasp, while with the other he supported me as I knelt; as he fixed his eyes in silent but ardent affection on mine, there was such a suspension in my soul of everything but deep, boundless, inexpressible love, which thrilled through every nerve, and absorbed every faculty, that I could have wished to die in that state of blissful abstraction...
The blood had ceased to flow; the task of love was over, and still I knelt by Edward's side; still his arm supported my head; still he murmured words of tenderness in my ear—when we were roused by the sudden approach of Mr. Middleton, who, having heard of the pursuit, and of the death of a mad dog in the immediate vicinity of the grounds, had been anxiously looking out for me. I started hastily from my kneeling position, but Edward still kept his arm round me; and turning to my uncle he gave him, in a few words, an account of what had occurred, of my danger, of his agony, when, from the fishing-house, he saw the imminence of that danger, of my escape through his means, of the bite which he had received as he seized on the dog, and of the manner in which I had drawn the poison from the wound. "She has done by me," he said with a voice which trembled with emotion; "she has done by me what Queen Eleanor did by her husband; but when I suffered her to do so, she had confessed what makes me happier, on this day of terror and anxiety, than I have ever been on any other day of my life. Wish me joy, Mr. Middleton, of the dearest, of the tenderest, of the most courageous, as well as of the loveliest bride that ever man was blest with."
As Edward finished these words, his arms drew me closer to him, and he kissed my cheek, which had grown, during the last few seconds, as pale as it had been crimson a moment before; and it was not love that now blanched my cheek, and made me tremble in a way which made the support of Edward's arm a matter of necessity. It was not the emotion of happiness that kept me as silent as the grave, when Mr. Middleton fondly kissed me, and blessed me for what I had done, and for what I had acknowledged. My uneasiness grew so evident that both my uncle and Edward were suddenly struck with the same fear. It occurred to them both, at the same time, that I was ill from the terror I had undergone, and the exertion I had made; both led me towards the house with anxious solicitude, and with the tenderest care. A change had come over Edward's manner; he too looked dreadfully ill, and the nervous tension of his usually calm features was painful to see. They carried me up to my room, and when I was laid on the bed, Mrs. Middleton's dear voice and tender kisses occasioned me a burst of crying, which relieved the intolerable oppression under which I was labouring. My uncle took Edward almost by force out of the room, and Mrs. Middleton followed them, after placing my maid by my bed-side. She returned in a few moments, and by the direction of the doctor, who had been sent for, she gave me a nervous draught, and kept me as quiet as possible. I grew calmer, but my tears continued to flow in silence. I did not see my way before me; it seemed to me that suddenly, involuntarily, almost unconsciously, I had become pledged to Edward, that our engagement might at any moment be proclaimed to the world, and the dreadful results which I knew would follow, stared me in the face; and yet how to retract—what to say—what to do, was a difficulty which I saw no means of surmounting, and every kind of congratulatory whisper of Mrs. Middleton, which was meant to soothe and gratify me, threw me into inexpressible agitation, as it showed me that Edward, my uncle, and herself, considered me as much pledged to him, and our marriage as much the natural result of the acknowledgment, which in that hour of anguish and of terror had escaped from me, as if the settlements had been signed and the wedding-day named.
Towards evening I fancied that I saw on Mrs. Middleton's countenance an expression of uneasiness, as she came into my room; and, with trembling anxiety, I asked her how Edward was.
"He is not well; but nothing to make us uneasy," she added, as she observed the look of terror in my face. "What you so courageously did, dear child, and the subsequent searing of the scar, which, as a measure of further precaution, was done, have entirely secured him from any danger of that dreadful kind; but the exertion, the agitation, and the operation itself, which was very painful, have brought on some fever, which it will require care and prudence to subdue."
This new anxiety diverted my thoughts, for the time, from the difficulties of my own position, and I roused and exerted myself in order to be allowed to leave my room, the solitude of which I dreaded in my present state of restless excitement; but society seemed to me still more trying when I had to encounter it. I could hardly bear to hear the occurrences of the day discussed. Everybody was informed of what I had done; and the praises which were bestowed on my courage and presence of mind, were uttered with smiles and tones which proved to me, that if they were not aware of all the circumstances of the case, it was at least sufficiently evident that the feelings which had prompted me at the moment had been attributed to their true cause. Rosa, especially, tormented me by allusions and playful attacks, which I could hardly bear with patience; and at last I showed my annoyance in so marked a manner, that she abstained from any farther reference to the subject.
Later in the evening, when the doctor came again, he found Edward's fever much increased; and when this intelligence was brought to the drawing-room, Rosa showed true and warm sympathy in the anxiety which I could no longer conceal.
A few minutes afterwards, Mrs. Middleton beckoned me out of the room, and told me that Edward was in a state of intense nervous irritation, which was the more extraordinary, from its contrast with his usual calm and quiet disposition. "He is quite unlike himself," she continued, "and can hardly be persuaded to submit to the necessary restraint which the doctor prescribes. He says he must see you, and speak to you, this evening; and insisted on getting up and coming to the drawing-room. At last, I persuaded him to lie down again on his couch, by promising that you should come to him. After what passed between you this morning, there can be no objection to it. Only, remember, dear child, that everything you say to him must be calculated to soothe and calm him, for Dr. Nevis says that he could not answer for the consequences of any agitation or sudden emotion at this moment. This it was that determined me to come and fetch you, when I saw him so feverishly anxious to see you; especially, as now, I am sure, that you can have nothing to say to him that will not have a tranquillising effect on his nerves, and help to give him a good night's rest, which is the greatest possible object in his present state."
As my aunt talked on in this manner, while she led the way to Edward's room, I could not summon courage to object to this visit, till when we got near to the door, I drew back and whispered to her, "Indeed I had better not go in; after what occurred this morning, considering all things, it may agitate him to see me. Indeed, indeed, it will be better not." Mrs. Middleton looked at me with surprise, "Have I not told you, Ellen, that he has been working himself into a fever, from his anxiety to speak, to you? The only chance of calming him is by yielding to this wish, and I assure you," she continued in an earnest manner, "it may be more important than you seem to think, to accomplish this. The consequences may be very serious, if this fever and nervous agitation should increase."
As she said these words, without any further discussion she opened the door, and I found myself in another moment seated by Edward's side, his burning hand in mine, and his eyes fixed upon me with that intense and overstrained expression which fever gives.
"Dearest Ellen," he exclaimed, as Mrs. Middleton left the room, "I am unreasonable, and ashamed of myself, but I could not rest, or have a moment's peace, before I had again heard from your lips the blessed assurance, that all that made me so happy this morning, in spite of our fears and anxieties, was not a dream. Say it was not, dearest."
"It was no dream," I answered, in a low voice, "but we must not speak of such dream-like things to-night. When you are well—"
"I am well now," he interrupted, "if you relieve my mind from a vague fear that has haunted me ever since. Ellen, there is no obstacle to our marriage, is there? You will be my wife? You do not answer; you do not speak?"
His hand, which held mine, trembled, and he grew paler still than when I had entered the room. Terrified at his agitation, I lost the last opportunity of retracting, and murmured, "Yes, yes, dearest Edward, I will be your wife.—May God in Heaven bless you, and forgive me!" internally added; "and now that I have set your mind at rest," I said with a forced smile, "I will leave you."
"Leave me!" he rejoined, "now that you have made me happier than words can express! No; don't leave me now, my Ellen, my darling Ellen; whom I have loved since the days of childhood; whom I have watched with an earnest anxiety, that has made me, I will own it now," (he kissed my hand tenderly as he said this,) "often unreasonable—often unjust."
"No, no!" I exclaimed, "that you have never been."
"Yes I have, Ellen," he continued, with earnestness; "though I saw much in your voice, in your countenance, and in your manner, that made me feel I was not indifferent to you; still I was tormented with doubts and with jealousies, which were unworthy of you and of myself. What I now see was only pity and kindness for others, I construed into causes for suspicion: what I now feel was forbearance and delicacy of feeling on your part, I called deceit. I thought you deceitful; I called you deceitful: yet my own heart contradicted me, Ellen: for it would never have loved you, clung to you, as it has done, had you not been true, truer in your changeable moods and unguarded impulses, 'than those that have more cunning to be strange.' No, my dearest, my precious love! if falsehood or deceit had ever stained those dear lips of yours, if they had ever sullied the purity of your spotless nature, my love would have vanished, and my heart hardened against you. The very strength of my own affection pleaded for you, when appearances, or my own jealous feelings, accused you. Will you forgive me, dearest?"
"Forgive you!" I exclaimed, while a choking sob rose in my throat, "God knows—"
"I do not doubt you," he eagerly cried; "I do not ask you to explain or to reassure me. Have I not already acquitted you, and accused myself? I should be a wretch, my Ellen, if, after having received from you the greatest proof of lore which a woman could give, the shadow of a doubt could remain on my mind, of the purity and of the strength of your affection. Do you think, my own love, that I should have suffered you to give me that proof of unexampled devotion, had I not believed and felt that you were then suffering the agony of apprehension, which I had suffered a moment before? that your love was great as mine, and that is saying everything; for I feel now, Ellen, that to lose you would kill me."
I laid my head on his shoulder, and murmured a few words of tenderness in his ear. My heart was swelling, and my head was dizzy. Three times, while he had spoken, I had been on the point of breaking out into vehement denials, and passionate self-accusations; and each time the doctor's warning, confirmed by Edward's tremulous voice and eager hurried manner, so different from his usual composure, checked the words on my lips, and thrust back into my bosom the remorse and shame which overwhelmed me. Yet, in the midst of all this suffering and this shame, there was a joy which, like a meteor in a stormy sky, illuminated at moments the darkness with which it struggled; and, to drown the voice of conscience, I repeated to myself, that in spite of the deceit I had practised under the influence of what I deemed an irresistible fatality, there was truth, there was reality, in the ardent affection which I bore to him whose hand I held, and against whose breast my burning forehead was laid, as if I sought there a refuge from the world, from myself, and from my own upbraiding memory.
After a pause, but in a voice of perfect confidence and tenderness, Edward said to me, "Why would you not marry me three months ago, dearest? Did you think that my love was not great enough, or was yours not yet—?"
"Oh, no," I interrupted; "such love as mine is not the growth of a few days; but ask me not to explain the waywardness, the strange inconsistency of a character, which you, wise and good as you are, can never perfectly understand."
There passed a slight cloud over Edward's countenance at that moment, but it was only for an instant; and in the gentlest manner he said, "Perhaps I may never quite understand you, Ellen, but I can always trust you. You have always been unlike everybody else, particularly unlike me, with my matter-of-fact stubbornness, and that is probably why you bewitched me against my will; and in spite of all my resolutions," (he added, with a smile,) "I suppose I never have quite understood you; but to admire blindly and ardently what we least understand, is one of the peculiarities of human nature; so you must e'en admit this excuse."
Again he kissed my hand with the fondest affection; and then at my earnest request he suffered me to leave him. Before I went, I told him that while we were staying at the Moores' I was anxious that our engagement should not be openly acknowledged, as in so small a party, and with people whom I knew so little intimately, it was pleasanter to me not to have to talk over the subject. He submitted to my wish, and I left him to go to my own room, and devise there some means of escaping from the difficulties in which I had entangled myself more fatally than ever.
It was not till in the silence of the night I sat alone and undisturbed, that I realised to myself the occurrences of the day, or saw in its full force the importance of what I had done. There I sat, Edward's affianced wife; and any moment after this fact was made public, my persecutor might seek him or Mr. Middleton, and tell them that but for me, Julia would be still alive; and when summoned to deny the foul charge, and confound the vile calumniator, should I say, "Yes, I struck the helpless child in my anger, but I meant not to kill her; I have buried the secret in my heart; day by day I have received her father's blessings, and her mother's kisses, in hypocritical silence. I have listened, Edward, to your words of love; I have promised to be your wife, with a lie in my mouth and deceit in my heart; but now I am found out, and I implore mercy at your hands; and that you will believe me when I say, that I did not mean to kill my cousin;" and may be, (I exclaimed, interrupting myself with a burst of anguish,) may be, he would not believe me! There is no medium in Edward's judgment when truth is concerned; implicit confidence on the one hand, unmitigated condemnation on the other. Oh! how dreadful it would be to meet his eyes, from which love would have vanished, and to feel that no protestations, no appeals, could reach his heart; hardened, as it would be in that hour, against the miserable deceiver who had usurped its tenderness and betrayed its trust.
After an hour of harassing indecision I determined to consult Henry, and sitting down at a table near the open window, I wrote to him the following letter:—
"The last time I saw you, my dear Henry, you gave me reason to hope that I might in future consider you as a friend. You bade me open my heart to you, and seek your aid when new difficulties should beset my path. The moment is come when I must do so, and if you will not, if you cannot, save me, nothing can. I once told you, that I never intended to marry Edward; and, believe me (you know I have ever spoken the truth to you, Henry, even at the risk of rousing your utmost anger); believe me, when I say that then, and even as late as twelve hours ago, such a resolution was the steady purpose of my soul. An involuntary, spontaneous acknowledgment of affection, which escaped me in a moment of imminent peril to him, incurred in rescuing me from a similar peril, was followed by an assumption on his part, that our marriage was to be the natural result of such a confession. My uncle considered it in the same light; and I found myself involved in an engagement, which, in cool blood, I could never have contracted. An attack of illness, resulting from the events of the morning, has since kept Edward in a state which would have made any extraordinary emotion dangerous in the extreme. Against my will, and at the same time, impressing this warning upon me, my aunt took me to him, and in terror for his health, with outward calmness, and inward shame and misgivings, I gave the promise, which must lead to my ruin, unless you can save me. I do not ask your aid, Henry, as a girl who wishes to marry her lover, and frets at the obstacles in her way. No; if at this moment I could cancel the events of this day, and place myself again in the position in which I stood yesterday, I would do so; but, as it is, on cither side, I see nothing now but disgrace and misery; and from these I implore you to rescue me. I do not know how far you have the power to do so. I cannot help thinking that your influence with that terrible woman must be great; hitherto I have doubted your willingness to exert it in my behalf; but, in the circumstances in which I now stand, I feel a strong confidence, that what you can do for me, you will do. I have obtained from Edward, that our engagement shall be kept a secret for a few days, which will give you time to act in my behalf, and to communicate with me on the subject. Obliged to conceal the torturing anxiety of my soul from those about me, miserable in the midst of what ought to be my happiness, I feel some comfort in speaking openly to you, and in looking to you for aid, for consolation, and for sympathy. You know my sufferings; you know my guilt and my innocence, my life's deceit, and my soul's truth. You will pity me; you will help me; and, in this hope, I make my appeal to you.
I debated some time with myself, as to the means of sending this letter unobserved and undetected. After a few minutes of anxious consideration, I recollected that Mrs. Hatton (the companion of my journey to Dorsetshire the year before) was staying with her sister, the wife of a surgeon, in London; and it occurred to me, that, by inclosing it to her, and requesting her to put it herself into Henry's hands, I should attain my object, and expose myself to no risk of discovery, as I could rely upon her discretion, and was certain that she would put only the most benevolent construction on my strange request. I accordingly wrote to her these few lines:—
"My dear Mrs. Hatton,
"As you are the kindest person in the world, I am sure you will not be angry with me for giving you a little trouble. Do me the kindness to take this letter yourself to Henry Lovell, and give it into his own hands; and do not mention to any one that I have entrusted you with this commission, as it would defeat my purpose if it was known that I had written to him, or heard from him, in reply. He will probably entrust you with his answer; and I cannot say how much obliged to you I shall be for undertaking this little commission.
"Yours, dear Mrs. Hatton, very truly,
As I sealed these two letters and directed the cover to Mrs. Hatton, I felt that for the first time I was stooping to positive artifice, and that, too, at the very moment when Edward's words were still ringing in my ears. Disgusted with myself, I threw down my pen; and, turning my flushed cheeks and aching head to the window, I tried to catch the night breeze, which was gently rustling among the leaves of the catalpas. When I went to sleep that night, it was to dream over and over again that I was reading Henry's answer to my letter; sometimes it was such as to drive me to despair; sometimes it exceeded my most sanguine hopes; each time that I awoke I glanced at the table on which mine was lying to convince myself that nothing real had hitherto justified these alternations of fear and hope—that made me feel in the morning as if I had gone through a life of agitation, instead of a few hours of restless sleep.
When my maid came in to call me I told her to put my letter into the post-bag, and sent her to inquire how Edward had passed the night. The answer which she brought me was, that the fever still continued strong, but that Mr. Middleton seemed calmer and more composed than the day before; "more comfortable like," was her expression.
I dressed myself hastily, and finding that my aunt was not yet awake, I went down into the garden, and walked to the spot where my fate had been sealed, for good or for evil I know not yet. As I looked upon the bank where Edward had placed me out of reach of so appalling a danger—as I stood again on that spot where I had seen his blood on the ground—as I knelt against the bench where we had sat together, and hastily murmured over the form of prayer, which I was accustomed to utter more as a sort of charm than as a direct address to God—I felt then that to part with him would be, after all, the worst misfortune that could befall me, and a kind of fierce resolution came over me to struggle to the last—to marry him in spite of all dangers; and even the devil whispered to me at that moment that if denounced and accused I might still deny the charge; accuse my accuser in her turn; charge her with having invented a calumnious lie, and with Henry's aid (which one look, one kind word, from me could command) ride off triumphantly, and defy them all. But as the thought passed through my mind, I shuddered at the rapid strides I was making in falsehood, and felt a horror of myself which I can hardly describe. There was I, kneeling in mock homage before God (that God who had saved both Edward and myself from a fate worse than death), while bad passions were raging in my soul, and thoughts of evil working in my mind.
The posture of prayer, the words which I had mechanically uttered, brought on one of those sudden and unaccountable revulsions of feeling which sometimes succeed the fiercest assaults of the tempter, as if our guardian angel had wrestled with the spirit of evil, and driven him away for the time. I remembered her to whom much was forgiven because she had loved much; and as I thought of that Saviour—that man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, at whose feet she knelt—ay, even while seven foul fiends were struggling in her heart, I longed to kneel before Him too in deep prostration of spirit, and lay all my sorrows, all my sins, all my difficulties, at His sacred feet, bathing them as she did with tears, and wiping them with the hairs of her head. Oh! if in that moment of emotion, in that hour of penitence, I could have gone to one of those, who, ministering at God's altar, and endowed with His commission, have authority from Him to pronounce words of pardon in His name; if the fatal barrier which habit and prejudice so often raise between the priest of God and the erring and overburthened souls committed to his charge, had not in my case existed; if from his lips I could have heard the injunction to forsake all and follow Jesus, and he had added, "Do this and be forgiven," it might have changed my fate. But, as it was, my penitence spent itself in unavailing tears, and my yearnings towards a better course ended in the same bewildering and oft-repeated question, which I could not, dared not, answer to myself, or for myself: "Where lies the path of duty through the intricate maze in which guilt, misfortune, and weakness have so hopelessly entangled me?" Once more I rose from my knees, without any fixed purpose, without any steady resolution; the creature of circumstance, and the sport of events.
As I was walking back to the house, I met Mr. Escourt, who joined me, much to my annoyance. After a trifling remark or two, he, apparently as if by accident, mentioned Henry Lovell; I answered coldly, but was conscious that I coloured; more, however, from the recollection of the part which he himself had acted towards him than from any other reason. He fixed his scrutinising eyes upon me, and evidently remarked that something had moved me.
"He is married, is not he, and to a very beautiful woman?"
"Yes, Mrs. Lovell is very pretty."
"I had heard of his marriage," he continued, "but had doubted the truth of the report, from seeing him so constantly about in the world unaccompanied by a wife."
He looked at me inquiringly; but as I said nothing in answer, he went on:—
"I met them walking one day; and by Jove, if he is of a jealous turn of mind, he does well to shut her up. A more beautiful creature I never set eyes upon. Is she clever?"
This was one of those trifling questions which it is particularly disagreeable to answer, especially when put by a person with whom one wishes to converse as little as possible. Alice was not clever according to the common acceptation of the word; and to explain to a hardened man of the world in what consisted the superiority of her understanding, seemed to me like throwing pearls before swine; but in this I was mistaken; for when I answered, "I cannot exactly say whether she is or not," he immediately replied,
"I think I can guess at your meaning. She has no doubt a mind as fair as her face, but none of the tinsel which we so often take for gold. Is it not so?"
I nodded assent and he continued—
"Is she a saint, that she thus forswears the pomps and vanities of this world?"
"She is, no doubt," I replied, "one of those to whom the world is in the habit of giving the appellation of saints, whatever sense impiety on the one hand, or cant on the other, may attach to that designation."
"In that case," returned Mr. Escourt, "I will e'en take her for my patron saint; hang up her picture in my room, if I can get it; and say, like Romeo, I'll turn, fair saint, idolater to thee!"
As he said these words, I gave this hateful man a look of mingled scorn and disgust. He returned it with a steady gaze of insulting pertinacity, and said—
"Kill me not with a look, fair lady; for though lovely is the light of a dark eye in woman, it is also wondrous strong, and can deal wounds which time may not heal."
"It speaks," I replied, "what time cannot change, nor flattery avert." "Indeed," he rejoined, "are its decrees so unchangeable?"
After a pause he continued—
"Mr. Lovell is an excellent husband, is not he? and amiable in all the relations of life? He is your uncle by marriage, I believe? It is touching to see his devotion to you in that character."
The calm insolence with which this was said stung me to the quick, and I answered with vehemence—
"He is at least neither a liar nor a hypocrite; and it would have been well for him had he never fallen in with either."
Not a muscle of Mr. Escourt's face moved; and, with a bland smile, he said—
"Your remark is just, fair depositary of your adopted uncle's secrets. Your descriptions of character are admirable, refined in their conception, and bold in their execution—very bold indeed. This last specimen shall remain engraved in my memory. It fully deserves it."
We had now reached the house; and I entered it with the consciousness, that, in addition to my other difficulties and dangers, I had made myself that morning a deadly enemy.
"Do you not fear, I will stand between you and danger."
The tedious hours of the two next days dragged on their weary length through the ordinary course of meals, walks, idle occupation, and unprofitable talk. Everything jarred upon my nerves and irritated my temper during this trying time of suspense. Edward's fever still continued, and though there was nothing positively alarming in it, yet it kept us in a state of anxiety. He was not allowed to get up, and I did not see him; but almost all my time was spent in watching for Mrs. Middleton, who was indefatigable in her attention to him, and who, from hour to hour, brought me messages from him, and accounts of the various fluctuations in his state. When I went into the drawing-room, Rosa's liveliness, Mr. Escourt's mute attitude of defiance, Mr. Manby's tediousness, and Mr. and Mrs. Moore's over-solicitude about everything, in turns worried and bored me.
At the end of the second day, as the time drew near when I might expect to receive Henry's answer, this feverish impatience increased to such a degree that I could hardly bear to be spoken to, or noticed in any way. Each time the house-bell rang I gave a start and a rapid glance towards the door; and each time a servant came in, my heart beat with intense excitement, which each time subsided into that moody heaviness which disappointment brings on. On the third evening since the one I had spent with Edward, I was allowed to go to him for a few minutes; he was much better, but forbidden to exert himself. I found him pale but very calm; he seemed touched with the alternation in my countenance, and implored me not to worry myself, assuring me that he now felt almost quite well, and the day after to-morrow he hoped we should all return to London, announce our marriage, and begin all the preparations for its celebration. This assurance drove me almost frantic, for if, during the next twenty-four hours, I did not hear from Henry, such a proceeding was like plunging blindfold down a precipice. The only resource I could think of was to persuade Mr. Middleton to go to London ourselves on the next day, and as it would be natural that after this week's absence I should visit Alice, thus to contrive to speak to Henry. When I went back into the drawing-room I was assailed by pressing entreaties to sing; and Mr. Middleton's "Come, Ellen, nonsense!" rendered all excuses or refusals on my part quite unavailing. I went to the pianoforte, envying the woman who said to the King of Prussia, when he had put her in prison for breach of engagement, "You can make me cry, but you can't make me sing;" for I was assuredly made to sing, while my heart was quivering with anxiety, and my mind haunted with fears, which would have made solitude and tears bliss in comparison to what I had to go through. I had just begun, at Rosa's request, a French romance, in fourteen stanzas, when the door opened and a servant walked in with a letter in his hand, which he put down on a little table where I had laid my work. To this letter my eyes and all my thoughts were directed; but the excess of impatience made me afraid of interrupting myself and asking for it. I sang on, and each time that I attempted to skip a verse and arrive at the conclusion, Mr. Manby, civilly and assiduously, reminded me of the omission. At last I arrived at the fourteenth stanza, and then positively refusing to sing any more, I gave up my place to Rosa. At that moment Mr. Middleton, who was walking up and down the room, went up to the table where my letter was laid, took it up, looked at the seal, then at the handwriting; after turning it on all sides for a minute or two, while I stood by straining every nerve to appear indifferent, he held it out to me and said, "Who on earth can this be from, Ellen?"
I took it and glanced at the direction—"From Mrs. Hatton," I said; and slipping it carelessly into the inside of my gown, I sat on and worked in silence, listening to the singing till I could find an opportunity of leaving the room unobserved. I flew rather than walked to mine, locked the door, and tearing open the letter read the enclosure it contained with that breathless eagerness which makes us feel as if our eyes were too slow in conveying the sense to our minds.
"I will not attempt to describe to you the state of mind into which your letter threw me. It was no doubt carefully worded, and I give you credit for the pains which you evidently took not to wound my feelings. You have at last learnt to know the nature you have to deal with, and you have not, perhaps, bought that knowledge too dearly, by all you have suffered at my hands. Your power over me is a strange one: when I submit to it, I despise myself; when I resist it, I hate myself. I can never now be happy by you, or without you; and in the wreck of all that once was happiness, I cling to some unsubstantial shadows, which, when I grasp them, only mock my utter desolation. Such are those held out by the last lines of your letter. You never wrote truer or more artful words; true as the arrow which strikes to the heart—artful as the skill of the archer who aims it. You are right—I alone know you; I alone can read every turn of your countenance, every emotion of your soul. I know 'your eye's quick flash through its troubled shroud.' I see the dark shade that passes over your spirit, the clouds which sweep over your soul, rising in anger, and melting into tenderness. I alone know the secret of your wild beauty, of your fierce humility, of your transient joys, and of your lasting sorrows. This knowledge, this power is mine, Ellen, and shall be mine to the last day of our lives; and as long as your eyes shall meet mine, as long as your hand shall press mine, in the spirit which dictated those lines of your letter, I shall not be utterly miserable, or altogether without consolation. I shall have one share in your soul which not even Edward can rob me of. And now what shall I say? You foresee it, do you not? Your cheek is flushed with joy, and your breast heaves with triumph. Go, then, and proclaim your marriage. Marry Edward; and when the priest says at the altar, 'Who gives this woman to be married to this man?' think of him who, 'loving you not wisely, but too well,' at the price of his own jealous tortures, of his pride, and of his conscience, opened the way before you. At the price of my conscience I have done this; and now listen to me, Ellen,—I will tell you how. After I had received your letter, and reflected on its contents, till anxiety for you and for your happiness superseded every selfish thought which passion and jealousy awoke, I went to Bromley, where Mrs. Tracy took up her abode again a few months ago. I had hardly had any communication with her since my marriage; and our meeting, as you may well imagine, was anything but cordial. When I opened to her the subject of my visit, she gave way to a burst of anger, in which she vented the long-compressed violence, jealousy, and hatred of her soul. I shudder when I think how often you have been on the brink of what we most have dreaded; twice she had written to Mr. Middleton, and only kept back her letters at the very moment of putting them into the post. She has kept up, by means of her relations, and of her relations' friends, a constant system of espionnage upon me, and had been worked up into a state of violent irritation, by exaggerated reports of my neglect of Alice, and of my devotion to you. Far from listening to me, or giving me the least hope that she would yield to my entreaties, she pronounced the most vehement denunciations against you, and vowed that nothing now should prevent her from exposing you—the murderer of Julia, the hateful rival of Alice. Forgive me, dearest Ellen, that my hand can write such horrible words; but it is necessary that you should know what that terrible woman, as you rightly call her, is capable of saying and of doing, and also to account for the line of conduct which I took in consequence. I suddenly changed my tone, and said to her in the coldest and most determined manner, 'Very well; I leave you to write your letter—to ruin the whole existence of a person who I declare to you is as innocent as yourself of the crime which you impute to her,—to throw into agitation and despair my sister, whom you profess to love,—and to break your promise to me in the most shameful manner. But mark me! while you do this, I go home also, to break a promise not more sacred than yours,—to reveal to Alice, from beginning to end, the whole history of our engagement, and of our marriage; to tell her that you have unjustly accused Ellen Middleton of murder, and irretrievably ruined and destroyed her happiness; to tell her that I once loved Ellen Middleton, that I love her still, and that if such is to be her fate, mine shall be to leave England to-morrow, alone, and for ever.'
"It was frightful to see the look of rage that convulsed the features of that intractable woman as I pronounced these words. She absolutely writhed with anger, and it was deadly anger, for her cheek was pale and her lips white. She gasped for breath, and then murmured: 'Villain! she is with child.'
"God forgive me, I was indeed a villain! For, although not even to save you would I have endangered Alice's safety, yet my first thought was of the new power which this circumstance gave me over her fierce grandmother; and, without giving a sign of emotion, I begged to know her final decision.
"Then began a fearful contest between us; one of those struggles on which more than life is staked. I conquered at last, and that indomitable will was forced to bend before mine. You are safe, as long as Alice remains in ignorance of the dark parts of our histories; as long as I live with her, and by kindness and respect ensure her comfort and peace of mind, so long will her grandmother adhere to the promise, which she has renewed on these conditions. But you must help me to fulfil them, Ellen. You must not leave me to myself, for then my strength would fail me. It must be under your eyes, and in constant association with you, that I must learn to treat Alice as I now feel myself bound to treat her. One of the principal complaints which her, grandmother made, was of the seclusion in which she lived; and on this point I must give way, though, as I once said to you, I tremble for the consequences; but you must be near us—with us. Though scarcely older than her, you know where the dangers of the world lie, and you will watch over one who, in her childish ignorance, stands like a guardian angel between you and your persecutor. There is something sacred in the feelings with which we must both regard and cherish her. Hook at her now with emotion, as the mother of my child. I bless her in my heart for having saved you from misery and exposure. If you will allow no common prejudices, no vulgar scruples to stand in the way of the good you may effect, then, Ellen, there may be better days in store for us all.
"Remember to announce your marriage in form to us, as soon as it is declared; and remember also, that I will be guarded, prudent, and considerate, as long as you show me unlimited confidence. I cannot answer for my self if caprice, or unjust apprehensions, should estrange you from me.
"Once more, farewell,
"And God bless you!
This letter dropt from my hands as I read the last words, and a tumultuous rush of feelings made my heart throb with indefinable emotion. In my most sanguine moments I had not perhaps anticipated so favourable an answer, nor hoped that Henry would have exerted himself so earnestly in my behalf; and yet I felt more afraid of him and of his power than ever, as I saw his determination in some manner or other to link his fate with mine, and to make his conduct to me to depend upon mine. There was something fearful in the conditions in the frail tenure under which alone I was to escape the threatened vengeance of Mrs. Tracy. There was something horribly humiliating in the terms (however veiled in plausible language) which Henry was evidently prescribing to me as the price of his protection. I was never a self-deceiver, and I saw clearly through the shallow pretence of better hopes for the future—of kindness to Alice—of help to pursue the better course—his unswerving determination never to give up those habits of intimacy, which would give full scope for the exercise of his secret power. I did not charge him with hypocrisy, nor with malice; no, he was only selfish, selfish to the very heart's core. I read his letter again, and when he bade me think of him, even at the altar, even when pledging my faith to Edward, I murmured to myself, "Ever between him and me, in thought if not in deed; ever with thy smooth tongue, thy determination strong as iron, and thy character pliant as steel; ever claiming thy share in my heart, and thy place in my thoughts; ever toiling for thine own ends, and hinting at revenge, even while boasting of thy love, and of the sacrifices it makes."
As this mental accusation passed through my mind, I felt its harshness, its ingratitude, and as usual, having begun by condemning him, I ended by hating myself. I could not but acknowledge that all he said of Alice was touching and true, and I religiously resolved to undertake the part he pointed out to me in the spirit of expiation, and while in one sense I gave her my weak and unworthy support, on the other to cling to her, as to my refuge and my shield, from a love and from a hatred which made me equally tremble. The self-reproach which had immediately followed my harsh condemnation of Henry, at the very moment when he had made a great sacrifice in my behalf, however incomplete its generosity might have been, brought on as usual a reaction, and something of tenderness stole into my heart at the thought of so deep, so unconquerable an attachment as his. In Henry there always seemed to me to be two different natures, one harsh, selfish, sneering and heartless, the other tender almost as a woman's is tender, and gentle even to a fault. Notwithstanding all that I so often suffered from the first, I could not help being at times strangely subdued and touched by the last. His letter, too, like himself, appeared to have a two-fold character, and as I considered it under each in turn, my heart was alternately softened and hardened towards the writer.
Soon I experienced one of those changes of mood, one of those abrupt transitions of feeling, which seem to transform us for the time into a different sort of being from that with which we are usually conscious of identity. A kind of feverish determination to be happy took possession of me, a careless disregard of the future, a sort of impassioned levity, of reckless childishness. I walked up and down my room with restless excitement; I longed now to return to London, to have my marriage declared, to be congratulated, to be talked to, to enter on a new state of things, and efface as much as possible, from my life and from my mind, the traces of the past.
When the next morning I got up and dressed, threw open my window, looked upon the bright summer sky, and saw Edward standing on the gravel walk before the house, my heart beat with that hurried pulse of joy, that tumult of emotion which drowns all thought and all care, as a whirlpool sucks in the straws that float near it.
Edward beckoned to me to join him; he received me with a smile of tenderness, and, pushing back the curls from my face, whispered, "My dark-eyed Ellen!" His words of love sunk into my heart, like the rain of Heaven on the scorched and burning sands of the desert, as I gave utterance to the long-subdued and deeply-tried passion of my soul, prostrate in spirit before him, living in the light of his eyes, and almost longing to die in his presence, and by his hand, ere aught in earth, or in Heaven, should divide us. The wilful, terrified abstraction, that made me repulse every thought connected with the future, and cling with frantic intensity to my happiness while it lasted, gave it a character difficult to describe; and Edward, in the very height of his love, and while carried out of himself by its resistless influence, would sometimes ask me, why there was no peace in my happiness, no repose in my love;—why, when his hand held mine, and my head was resting on his shoulder, I sometimes murmured in a tone of thrilling and passionate emotion, "Let me die here."
"Ask not," I would then reply. "Ask not why some flowers shut their leaves beneath the full blaze of the sun. Ask not why the walls of the Abbey Church tremble, as the full peal of the organ vibrates through the aisles. Ask not why the majesty of a starry night makes me weep, or why the intensity of bliss makes me shudder."
"But I love you, my Ellen," Edward would answer; "I, too, love you with all the powers of my soul. My happiness is intense as yours; and yet, in the very excess of both, there is trust and peace."
"Because," I replied, "because no two characters were ever more dissimilar than ours. A calm and mighty river is not more unlike the torrent which swells with the rain, and ebbs the next day, than your nature is to mine. Do not try to understand me, Edward: I say it in the deepest humility, you cannot fathom the folly and the weakness of my soul; but thus much you may believe, that as the mountain stream, chafe and foam as it may, has but one object and one end, so, the varied impulses and the restless fluctuations of my uneasy spirit tend but to one result—its unlimited love, its boundless devotion, to you."
Edward always seemed touched by the expression of my ardent affection, and responded to it in the tenderest and kindest manner; but it did not always efface from his countenance something of perplexity and regret, which the inequality of my spirits, and of my temper, raised in his mind.
Before we left Hampstead, Mrs. Middleton told the Moores of my engagement; and Rosa, who had for some days past guessed at the state of things, wished me joy, with the greatest warmth and animation; but she unconsciously threw a bitter ingredient into her congratulations, by adding to them with a smile, "It is strange how disobedient you have ventured to be to the invisible men of Brandon. I hope you do not reckon on being punished, as well as threatened, by proxy?"
"Too high, too grave, too largo, too deep, Her love could neither laugh nor sleep, And thus it tired him: his desire Was for a less consuming fire. He wished that she should love him well. Not wildly; wished her passion's spell To charm her heart, but leave her fancy free; To quicken converse, not to quell. He granted her to sigh, for so could he; But when she wept, why should it be? 'T was irksome, for it stole away The joy of his love holiday."
PHILIP VAN ARTEVELDE.
During our drive to London, Edward asked Mr. Middleton how long he intended to remain in town, and where he meant our marriage to take place.
"Why that must depend on you both," said my uncle. "What do you say to being married at Elmsley?"
The proposal struck me so painfully, that I looked at Edward with the anxious wish that he might make some objection to it, though I could scarcely hope so. As I feared, he only turned to me, and asked what my wishes were; before I could answer, however, Mrs. Middleton said, that considering all that was to be done about getting my trousseau, and making various preparations for the wedding, she thought it would be better to remain in London. Edward then added that it would be his interest to keep us there, as the settlements would often require his presence in town, but that we might go to Elmsley to be married, if my uncle wished it. To my inexpressible relief, Mrs. Middleton again objected; and urged, that as my uncle and herself would go abroad soon after my marriage, it was useless to add a journey to Elmsley, and back again, to the one they would subsequently undertake. I looked at my aunt with surprise, but she made me a sign not to pursue the subject any further for the present. I gladly acquiesced; but the idea of this journey abroad weighed on my spirits, and made me silent during the rest of our drive.
As we came into London, and arrived in Brook-street, it seemed to me that months instead of days had elapsed since I had left it; and when I entered the drawing-room, I sat down on a chair near the window, and leaning my head on my hand, I tried to realise to myself all that had occurred during the last eventful week. The busy tide of life was at its height in the streets, the noise was stunning, and the air close and disagreeable, after what we had been used to at Hampstead. Nobody had followed me into the drawing-room, and I sat there for an hour or two absorbed in thought, and reviewing in my mind the principal events of my past life. One by one they passed before me; my aunt's first arrival at Elmsley, the day of Julia's birth, when I was called from my drawing-lesson to come and kiss my little cousin in her cradle; the happy time of childhood and of early youth; my hours of study with Mrs. Middleton; my walks and rides through the beautiful scenery that surrounds Elmsley, sometimes with Edward and with Henry, or only with old James behind me; my favourite chesnut wood, where I used to throw the bridle over Selim's neck, and leave him to follow his own fancy, unguided and unchecked, through the winding paths and bushy dells; the sound of his hoofs on the crushed leaves, and the murmur of the little waterfall, were in my ears, as when I took Edward there on my fourteenth birth-day, and as we were coming home, after much hesitation, and with a beating heart, asked him if I might take care of his Newfoundland dog, Hector, when he went back to town; and I did not remember the events of the last week more distinctly than I did his nod of acquiescence, and the gush of delight with which I received that permission.
Then came in succession the recollections of Julia's illness—of her recovery—of her death; of the acute and then protracted anguish that followed it; of the delirious agony that seized me on the day of her funeral. I lived over again the time of Edward's departure, the feverish dream of excitement which followed it; I visited again in fancy the cottage at Bridman, and the cavern at the sea-side in Dorsetshire. I thought of the day of Edward's return to Elmsley, and of the Ash-Wednesday service in the village church—that same church where Julia was buried, and where Edward's lips had said Amen! to the curse which had seemed to light on my guilty and shrinking head; and there they had proposed that I should be married to him I—there, in sight of the vault where she lay! within the walls which had rung with that curse!
"O, no—no," I exclaimed; "not at Elmsley—not at Elmsley!"
A hand was gently laid on my shoulder, and Edward said—
"Why not at Elmsley?"
As I turned suddenly towards him, and then away from him, to hide the tears which were streaming down my cheeks, he said, coldly—
"Are you weeping now over the excess of your happiness?"
I did not answer immediately, for in truth I could not; and, taking a book, Edward walked away, and sat down by the chimney. Other people came in—I had to dress for dinner, and it was not till late in the evening that, by alluding artfully, though not altogether untruly, to the pain with which I had heard of my aunt's probable departure from England (for it had, indeed, been the original cause of my deep depression), I succeeded in removing the tacit displeasure which had obscured Edward's countenance.
I had rather expected that Henry would call in Brook-street that evening, but he did not.
The next day, while I was dressing, Mrs. Hatton asked to see me. I was anxious to know what construction she had put on the commission I had entrusted to her; and I hardly knew how to treat it myself, for if I allowed her to suppose that there was nothing but a trifle in question, she might, at some future time, allude to it without any scruple.
After she had sat down for a few minutes, and answered my inquiries about her numerous nephews and nieces, to whom she was the most beloved, the most tyrannised over, and the happiest of aunts, she said with a smile, "I hope you got the letter in time, dear Miss Middleton?"
"Quite in time," I answered, colouring in spite of myself.
"I thought you would," she rejoined, "for I had calculated that Tuesday being the 5th of July, there would be plenty of time to write again and get an answer before the 9th, in case the patterns did not suit you. I remember so well, in old times, we used always to have little contrivances about Mrs. Middleton's birth-day."
This was exactly what I had feared. Henry had made up some story connected with his sister's birth-day, to account for our secret correspondence; or else he had taken up this idea from her own suppositions; and now there was no reason why she should not, when the day was past, inquire after the result of what had been settled between us before any one who might happen to be present. I therefore resolved to tell her as much of the truth as I could venture to do; and, taking her hand in mine, I said, "My dear Mrs. Hatton, either Henry, with very good intentions, has deceived you on the subject, or your own suppositions have misled you. The letter which I wrote to him, and the answer which he sent me, related to something of the greatest importance, in which the welfare and the happiness of more than one person are closely involved: both would be endangered if the most absolute secrecy was not observed by you as well as by us, as to this correspondence between Henry and myself. If I felt justified in doing so, I would explain to you—"
"Don't, my dear, don't; I had rather not have it explained; I had rather not hear a secret," cried Mrs. Hatton. "I never liked them; it is much pleasanter not to know things which concern other people; but you may be sure I shall never breathe a syllable to any one about the letters. I only hope, my darling Miss Ellen, that you will always be as happy as you ought to be, so good as you are, and always trying to do good to people, and to be of use. God bless your Sweet face!"
My heart smote me at the praises of this excellent woman; and I answered with a deep sigh, "My fate is a far happier one than I deserve, or ever can deserve, dear Mrs. Hatton; for I am engaged to Edward Middleton, and am to be married to him in a fortnight."
"Well, my dear Miss Ellen, I do wish you joy, with all my heart!" (and what a heart it was; there are not many such.) "How happy you will all be! Of all the husbands you could have had, I would have chosen Mr. Edward Middleton for you—so handsome—so good—so clever as he is! I remember one day, that poor little Julia was still alive, I said to Mrs. Middleton, 'Now, what a nice thing it would be if your little girl was to marry her cousin some day, and those two fine fortunes were to make but one.' 'No, no,' she cried, 'he admires Ellen too much to wait for Julia;' and then she added—'Mrs. Hatton, I am afraid that I love Ellen more than Julia; is it not dreadful?' 'And if you do,' I answered, 'what does it signify? Julia will never be the worse for it; there is enough tenderness in your heart for both of them.' But I am grieving you, dear Miss Ellen, by talking of that poor dear little cousin of yours; but you know, dear, everything is for the best, and the dear child might have lived to be wretched, poor thing! Well, well, I will say nothing more about it; but only that it is very pretty of you, my darling, to have kept all your love and your sorrow for Julia so fresh in your heart, in the midst of your own happiness. No doubt, she is a blessed little angel now; and, perhaps, she can see into your thoughts, and is blessing you even now, for remembering her so kindly, and loving her still so much."
Alarmed at the excess of my emotion, which I could no longer command, Mrs. Hatton's distress was so great, that she almost groaned at finding that, instead of soothing me, every word that she uttered increased my agitation. At last, recovering myself, I abruptly changed the subject, and a few minutes after she took her leave.
Later that day I had a long conversation with my aunt; she explained to me, that the doctors had assured her, that it was of the greatest importance that my uncle should spend the following winter in a southern climate; that he was himself extremely opposed to this plan, chiefly on account of his inveterate dislike to leaving Elmsley for such a length of time; and that, she was afraid that if he returned there at all that year, she should never be able to persuade him to leave it again. She seemed very much out of spirits; and she, who seldom gave way to her feelings, although their secret workings were evident enough to me, who knew every turn of her countenance, at this moment seemed unable to struggle with her deep depression.
After a few efforts to overcome it, she threw her arms round me, and hid her face on my neck.
"Dearest child," she said, "never let me suffer through you; anything else I can bear. I see things through a dark mist to-day, and there is a gloom about me which I cannot shake off. I do not often talk to you of myself, Ellen, at least not lately—not since the days when we lived but for each other, and I would not do so now, if an irresistible impulse did not urge me to it. In a few days you will be married, and then will come a separation, which I shall bear with courage; but which will require courage, my Ellen, for I have loved you too much as an idol, too much as a treasure, which nothing could rob me of, and to which I have clung with all the tenacity of a crushed but ardent spirit. All my life I have had to meet indifference, and to struggle with disappointment in various forms. Self-devotion was the dream of my youth; I conceived no other happiness, and wished to live for no other purpose. My father was one of those men who can so little understand this sort of feeling in others, that, with perfect kindness and perfect candour, I am sure he would have said, if his daughter had done for him what the Russian girl, Elizabeth, did for her father, 'I suppose she was tired of Siberia, and liked the journey.' When I married, I found in your uncle a character exactly opposed to my father's, but not perhaps more suited to mine. The invincible reserve, the minute despotism, or rather absolutism, of his nature, raised between us the same barrier, which worldliness of mind and absence of warm feelings had caused to exist between my father and myself. You have seen and observed this drawback to our happiness, Ellen, or I should not have pointed out to you this single imperfection in as amiable and excellent a character as ever existed. Your uncle's favourite maxim is, 'Deeds, not words;' and well has he acted up to it himself; but his mistake is, in not perceiving that there are characters in which, without words, there can scarcely be deeds; for which sympathy and encouragement are as necessary as air is to life, or sunshine to vegetation. For some time after I was married, I struggled to supply the want of responsiveness in his nature, by the expansive enthusiasm of mine; but, worn out at last, by the fruitless and fatiguing exertion of heart and mind, which this kind of continual drawing upon one's own feelings entails, bruised and jarred by the unflinching positiveness which met them at every turn, I gave up the attempt in despair. I did my duty; I performed the deeds required of me; but the words, the unsubstantial, but not unreal, part of our daily lives, of our busy minds,—which must assert itself in some shape or other,—which must find vent in some form, or recoil upon ourselves in moral or physical suffering,—that half of my being remained closed to him, whom I loved and respected, but between whose mind and my own the point of contact was wanting. Of Henry, for many reasons, I had rather not talk to you. You know that I have never hesitated to tell myself the truth, or to destroy an illusion, which in the secrecy of my heart I have felt to be such; but it requires a courage and a strength which, to-day especially, I do not find in myself, to trace the progress of estrangement in an affection once as intense as a mother's; and which still asserts its own existence by the sufferings it inflicts. Do not look inquiringly at me, Ellen; I have nothing to tell, nothing to explain, nothing to complain of; I only know that there was a time when my whole soul was wrapped up in Henry, as it has since been in you;—a time when his eyes would seek mine in the hour of joy or of sorrow,—a time when his thoughts were mine, and mine were his;—till something, I know not what,—a mysterious influence, a nameless cloud, passed between him and me, and threw a cold shade over the spirit of our affection; each succeeding year has widened the chasm, has seared the wound, without healing it, and loosened without breaking the links which bound us together. Hush, dear Ellen I do not attempt to speak to me on the subject; there has been a secret sympathy between us lately, which has supplied the place of those unreserved communications, which once were our habit and our joy. Where we have not spoken, we have felt together; and, without the utterance of a word, we have shared each other's sorrows, and each other's fears. And now, child of my heart, be happy if you can. Let nothing of gloom, of suffering, or of bitterness, be connected with my thoughts of you; let no cloud ever obscure your spotless character; let your name never be pronounced but with blessings; your presence never be hailed but with joy. Then, when in absence, I call to mind your loved features, your proud smile, and the light of your dark eyes, I shall need no other vision for my waking hours, no other dream for my nights."