With fervently murmured blessings, my aunt dismissed me; and I went to prepare for a ride with Edward. Before I set out, I wrote a note to Alice, in which I announced to her my approaching marriage; and, by Mrs. Middleton's desire, begged that she and Henry would come to us in the evening.
During our ride Edward was very silent; and when he spoke it was to find some trifling fault with my way of sitting on my horse, and holding my bridle. My heart was still thrilling with emotions awakened by my conversation with my aunt; her expressions of enthusiastic tenderness were still sounding in my ears, and the words of reproof, however slight, which fell from Edward's lips, contrasted with them, grated on my feelings, and irritated my susceptibility. Unlike as they were in many respects, there was one resemblance between Mrs. Middleton and Henry Lovell, which never failed to strike me. Without affectation or exaggeration, by the peculiar qualities of their minds, by the union of a powerful understanding with a lively imagination, joined to a kind of spontaneous eloquence, and a ready command of language, they made every subject which they handled more or less picturesque and exciting. I remembered at that moment that Henry had once said to me, that his sister had done me harm; and I almost trembled as I asked myself, if I should not painfully miss (in spite of my devoted attachment to Edward) that ready sympathy which I had been so long used to, which it was in my nature to require, and not in his to yield.
We were just then passing through some fields near Fulham, and came to a deep ditch with a fence beyond it. Edward crossed it; but strictly charged me not to attempt to follow him, while he examined the next field, and found out another exit; but piqued at his previous observations on my horsemanship, I pushed Selim on, and with a flying leap arrived on the other side. Edward joined me; and when I looked at him triumphantly, he was quite pale.
We rode on without speaking for a few minutes; and when to break this silence, I said to him, "I hope you admire my courage?" he answered drily, "I dislike unnecessary emotions, as much as you appear to delight in them."
After a pause, he added, "Such an instance of disobedience in a wife would be inexcusable; and though submission may be only a duty after marriage, I own I think it a charm before."
I held out my hand to Edward, with an imploring countenance. He took it; and kissing it tenderly, said with a smile, "I am like the mothers, Ellen, who scold their children when they have been frightened about them; but still remember, my love, that I would rather see you afraid of displeasing me, than displaying a courage which never captivated me in a woman. It is a dangerous way of working upon my feelings; and would, I assure you, never answer."
As I had not heard from Alice before dinner, I concluded they would come in the evening; and even while Edward was speaking to me of some arrangements connected with our future plans, I could not keep out of my thoughts a variety of conjectures as to the tone and manner which Henry would adopt in this new state of things. My eyes were fixed on a plan for altering the house at Hillscombe, when a knock at the house-door turned my hands cold and my cheeks hot, and a moment afterwards Alice and Henry walked into the room. She came quietly up to me, kissed me, and said in an earnest tone, "I am so glad you are happy." I held out my hand to Henry, cold and trembling as it was. He carried it hastily to his lips, which felt dry and burning, and said in a rapid indistinct manner, so that no ears but mine should catch the sense of his words, "I wish you joy, and never to feel what I do now." He then went up to Edward, and shaking hands with him in the most cordial manner, he warmly congratulated him, and then presented him to Alice.
Turning to my uncle, he said, "I have just heard a piece of news at the club, which will take you by surprise. Mr.—, your county member, is dead."
"Good Heavens! you don't say so?" exclaimed my uncle; "I saw him yesterday in St. James's-street. Are you quite certain of it?"
"Perfectly certain; and if Edward intends to canvass the county, he had better start directly."
"Edward, you must stand," cried my uncle, with all the eagerness of a politician. "You have long wished to get into parliament, and this is a glorious opportunity."
"Not the time I would have chosen," said Edward, with a smile and a look at me.
"Nonsense," cried Henry, with the most apparently unaffected gaiety. "It is the best of times. You will be eloquent on the hustings, in order that Ellen may read your speeches in the newspaper. You must be so broken in to making love, that it will come quite naturally to you to do so to every voter's wife or daughter. With what wonderful effect you will expatiate on the patriotism which tears you away from your affianced bride, to undertake the arduous duties of a champion of the popular cause, or an inveterate enemy of the new Poor Law. But, really, there is no time to lose, my dear fellow; the enemy will take the field to-morrow; and if you do not get the start—."
I impatiently got up, and, standing behind my uncle's chair, I fixed my eyes on Henry, with an expression of stern and indignant inquiry. His eyes met mine for a moment, and the colour rose in his cheek; but he persisted, with unabated eagerness, in urging Edward and my uncle not to lose the opportunity of securing to the former a seat in parliament; to the latter a permanent influence in the county; and to the government an additional vote.
Edward turned to me, and asked me half seriously, and half in joke, for my opinion on the subject. Before I could answer, my uncle said, "I entreat you, Ellen, not to interfere, by any childish nonsense, with what is really important to Edward and to me. For some years past, I have had such a scheme in view, and if we do not carry it into execution now, it may escape us altogether."
I had, in fact, no objection to offer, and, indeed, felt none, except that Henry had suggested it, and seemed anxious to bring it about; therefore, when Edward, more seriously than the first time, asked for my opinion, I made an effort, and constrained myself to say, that he could not do better.
"You must start for Elmsley to-morrow, and take up your quarters there," said my uncle. "I do not feel a doubt of your success, but there must be no remissness on our parts to secure it."
At that moment the servant came up to Mr. Middleton, and told him, that Mr.—, and Sir—, were in the carriage at the door, and wished to speak to him upon business. One was a cabinet minister, and die other one of the most influential land-owners in our part of the country.
"They are come about this very affair," said my uncle, "and just at the right moment; show them into my room down-stairs. Just give orders, Edward, that Lawson may be sent for; he is personally acquainted with every voter on your estates, as well as on mine, and had better go with you to Elmsley to-morrow; and then be so kind as to join us in the library."
Edward went up to Henry, and said something to him in a low voice, on which Henry followed him out of the room; and Mrs. Middleton, Alice, and I, were left alone together. I had leisure then to look at Alice, and to observe that her situation had become very evident, and that her face, though as beautiful as ever, was paler and thinner than usual. Mrs. Middleton remarked it too; and Alice told her that she expected to be confined in four or five months. The quiet tone of voice, and the gentle smile with which this was said, seemed in strange contrast with the stormy scene in which that fact had been disclosed to Henry.
Mrs. Middleton seemed delighted at finding that this was the case; and asked her several questions, and gave much advice about her health. I fixed my eyes upon them both, and a train of thought was started in my mind, which engrossed me completely, while they went on conversing in a low tone. There we were, sitting quietly together, with smiles on our lips, and the whole appearance of peace, harmony, and comfort, around us. If any one could have looked upon us, themselves unseen, could they ever have imagined on what frail foundation that peace and that comfort rested?
Alice's little hand (which she had just held out to me, as I seated myself at the back of the sofa where she was placed) was looked in mine; Mrs. Middleton, who had shaken off the depression which had weighed upon her in the morning, now talked gaily of my marriage, and the occupations it imposed upon her—of her approaching expedition, and the delight with which she should again return to us in the spring.
If, like the angel who conducted Parnell's Hermit, some heavenly guide had pointed out to an invisible witness of this quiet scene of domestic happiness, the secrets that were buried under its smooth surface, what a start of horror would he not have given, how would he not have shuddered if that angel had said, "Look upon those three women! See that fair young creature, in whose pure eyes there is a depth of holy thought and tranquil peace, such as this world can never give or take away; and it is well for her that it should be so; for, beautiful as she is, and priceless as are the treasures of her heart and mind, she has been delivered over to one who counts these treasures as dross, and whose perverted taste sees more of beauty in the turbid stream than in the pure lake,—in the flashing eye and stormy brow, than in the calm gaze of purity and love. She stands alone in the strength of her faith, in the might of her innocence; but even now a new link has wound itself round her heart; and though her step be firm, and her soul be strong, they must wax firmer and stronger still, for the sake of the child whom she bears in her womb. Now she is chained down to earth; now she can no longer say with St. Paul, 'To die is gain.' Now she can no longer pass through the world as if she belonged not to it. She must cling to him whose name she bears; she must follow his steps; she must watch his eyes;
'She most pour her hearths rich treasures forth, Although unrepaid for their priceless worth;'
for he is the father of her child; and what God has thus joined together, nothing in Heaven or on earth can put asunder. But who stands between her and her husband? Whose eyes draw away the glances that should be fixed on hers? Whose ears hear and tolerate the words of love which should be hers alone? Do you see the girl that holds her hand, and leans on the back of the couch where she sits? One hair of her unworthy head is more dear to that infatuated man, than all the matchless beauty, the sacred purity, the unstained affection of his young wife. Look at that other woman, whose eyes are fixed with such tender and ardent affection on the same girl, whose childhood she has blessed, whose youth she has watched over, and on whose head she has heaped blessings without end; in whose existence she has centred all the happiness of her own. That girl, with that very hand which has been so often and so fondly kissed by a childless mother; that girl (cursed be her anger, for it was fierce, and her wrath, for it was cruel!) hurled to a watery grave the only child of that devoted friend, of that more than mother; and there she sits by the side of her whom she has made childless; and she holds the hand of the wife whose husband adores her, and whose love she dares not check; there she sits, as if a mine was not ready to spring under their feet; and even now a smile is on her face, for some gay remark has been addressed to her, and, like the Indian at the stake, she must die before she writhes, and must look upon the deeds she has done, and the pangs she endures, as if her nerves were of iron, and her heart of stone."
A servant came up-stairs to tell Alice that her husband was waiting for her in the carriage, and a moment after she was gone Edward announced to us that everything was settled about his standing for the county, and that he should start at six o'clock the next morning for Elmsley. "Lovell will go with me," he added; "he has not been well lately, and thinks the change of air will do him good." And turning to Mrs. Middleton, he continued, "Henry promises to help me in canvassing, and as neither you nor Ellen can be with me, his eloquence will be invaluable. You do not think Mrs. Lovell will be annoyed at his going?"
"Not at all," answered Mrs. Middleton; "and we will ask her to come and stay with us here during your and Henry's absence. How long will it be do you suppose?"
"Not more than three or four days, I should imagine; and now I must consult you upon a plan which my uncle and myself have formed, but for which we require your sanction, and Ellen's consent. The election will take place in about a fortnight, exactly the time we had fixed upon for our marriage; Lawson has just told us that the settlements could without much difficulty be got ready by this day week; and if we were married on that day, we could go and spend a week at Hillscombe, and then join you at Elmsley, where my uncle is quite determined to go for the election."
My aunt was preparing to make some objections to this plan, when Mr. Middleton came into the room, and by assuming that it was thus settled, and declaring that any further discussion of it was unnecessary, put a stop to the conversation. Edward took me into the next room, and asked me if I had any objection to the arrangement. As I saw by his face that he would be exceedingly annoyed if I did object, I expressed my perfect readiness to agree to it. He seemed altogether so much pleased and excited, that my self-tormenting disposition immediately suggested to me, that politics interested him more than anything else, and that no one day since our engagement had he appeared so satisfied and so cheerful. I was also foolish enough to be annoyed at his seeming so thoroughly reconciled to Henry; I felt a kind of vague irritation at Henry's accompanying him on this journey, and the more his spirits rose, the more mine fell. As I did not seem to take much interest in his electioneering concerns he dropped the subject, and began to talk of Alice, whose beauty and manners he warmly praised. "You do not think that Henry appreciates her, do you?"
"Who can tell," I exclaimed, "when a woman is appreciated? Once secure in the affection he has inspired, a man's lore often waxes wondrous cool." As I said this I had what the French call "des larmes dans la voix."
Edward fixed his eyes on the ground and knit his brows, but after a moment looked up into my face and said, "How well Lovell knows you!"
I coloured, and asked him what he meant.
"I heard him say one day that it was difficult to tell if you felt what you acted, or acted what you felt."
This severe sarcasm cut me to the heart, and to have Henry quoted against me by Edward, was more than I could bear. Pride and anger struggled for a moment with grief in my breast, but were soon conquered by it. I must have looked intensely unhappy, for Edward took my hand in his, and drawing me kindly to him, said, "My dearest love, I did not mean to vex you."
"If you had you would have succeeded," I answered with bitterness. "No, Edward," I continued, passionately; "from you I can bear everything. Reprove me as often and as severely as you please; treat me harshly when I deserve it; I shall never be weary of your reproof, nor complain of your severity; but that you should allow Henry to influence you against me—that you should quote his sarcasms and call them truth, even when their object is to make you doubt the reality of my feelings, the sincerity of my affection—"
Edward got up, and walked up and down the room; his countenance was more disturbed than it had yet been at any time since our engagement. At last he stopped before me, and after looking at me in silence for a few minutes, he said, "You are a spoilt child, my Ellen, in the fullest sense of the word. Your life has been too happy"—(Good God! was that the conclusion he had come to?)—"you have known nothing of the real trials of life, or you would not take pleasure in creating them for yourself. Believe me, Ellen, do not plant unnecessary thorns in a path where they will spring up but too naturally. What is there wanting to your happiness now? Is not our mutual love as strong as ever? Is not my whole soul devoted to you? In a few days you will be my wife, and when I promise to love and cherish you until death shall part us, it will be no empty vow that will pass my lips, but a solemn pledge which my whole life shall redeem. But do not expect from me the language of romance, the cant of sentiment; I look upon you as the dearest and most precious treasure that was ever consigned to a man's keeping, but not as an idol before which I must bow. I must strengthen you with my strength, rather than yield to your weakness; in my very harshness, Ellen, there is a tenderness which you may trust in, for though it may sometimes wound, it will never fail you."
Penitent and subdued I listened in silence to Edward's words. Earnestly and humbly I pressed his hand to my heart, and when we parted that night I felt that though I feared him more, I loved him also with a more solemn tenderness and a deeper reverence than ever.
"'T is done **** the fatal vow Has passed my lips! Methought in those sad moments, The tombs around, the saints, the darkened altar And all the trembling shrines with horror shook."
TANCRED AND SIGISMUNDA.
The following morning, when Henry came to breakfast with Edward previous to their departure, Mrs. Middleton had a long conversation with him. She proposed to him that Alice should come and stay with us during his absence. He gladly accepted this offer, and wrote a line to his wife recommending her to do so in a way that left her no option.
Edward had left me in a state of mind which made Alice's society very acceptable to me; my spirits were subdued, and Henry's absence removed the restless irritation which I usually felt in his presence. My time was taken up in a great measure by the number of little occupations which my approaching marriage occasioned. Presents came pouring in daily from relations and friends; I had also to answer letters of congratulation, and all the business of that great change in one's existence was in the full tide of activity.
The second morning after Edward's departure, I asked Alice to go with me to a shop in St. James's-street, where I wanted to buy a present for Mrs. Hatton. We set out together, but as the day was fine and not too hot for walking, we resolved to go first into Hyde Park. The dusty burnt-up grass was still pleasanter to tread upon than the broad flag-stones; and there was a breeze that felt pure and refreshing to lungs that had been obliged for so long to inhale the foggy atmosphere of London. Alice was talking more eagerly than usual; and when she mentioned Henry, there was an expression in her lovely face which I had never seen in it before. As we were speaking of the probable day of Edward's return, she drew from her pocket the note which Henry had written to her that morning, and holding it out to me she said, "You see he talks of coming back on Friday." The note was a kind one, and by the way in which she read it over, as I gave it back to her, and then folded it carefully and replaced it in her bosom, I could see the pleasure it had given her. As we entered the Green Park, I saw a man who seemed to me to be watching us. There was something in his figure and in the way in which his head was set on his shoulders, which seemed not new to me; but I did not look back long enough to ascertain this, and only walked faster from the suspicion that we were followed. On turning out of the gate of the park into Piccadilly I gave another glance, and saw the man in question standing by the side of the basin with his eyes fixed on the water. As we went on towards St. James's-street, I saw him once again, walking in a parallel line with us on the other side of the street. After awhile he disappeared, and I concluded that the whole thing was accidental. We entered the jeweller's shop and were busily engaged in examining several brooches, among which I was to choose one for my present, when on turning to show one which took my fancy to Alice, whose back was to the door, I saw against one of the panes of the shop-window the face of the man who had followed us, and whom I now recognised as that cousin of Alice's whom I had seen at Salisbury and once again at Brandon; but who Henry had given me to understand had left England for America some months before. I gave an involuntary start and turned my head away, for there was something very dark and unpleasant in this man's countenance. Alice perceived nothing, gave me her advice about the brooch, and when I had taken and paid for it we prepared to go. I gave a hurried glance towards the window; the man was gone, and I breathed more freely. We walked out of the shop, and I debated with myself whether there could be any harm in questioning Alice about this person, and in telling her that he had been dodging us in this strange manner. While I was hesitating about it we had arrived at the turning into Berkeley-street. Suddenly Alice drew her arm out of mine and turned abruptly round. She gazed intently for a moment down Piccadilly, and then turning to me she said, "I thought I had seen my cousin, Robert Harding. It was foolish of me to imagine it," she added, smiling, "for he is at New York. What strange fancies one has sometimes!"
"Who is Robert Harding? Your cousin, did you say?"
"Yes; the son of James Harding, my uncle."
"What sort of man is he?"
"I know him very little. I have scarcely spoken to him since we have been both grown up; but he was very fond of me when I was a little girl, and I have always felt a kindness for him."
"Were you brought up together?"
"Oh, no; when I was about eight years old the scarlet fever was in our house, and I was sent to my uncle's for two or three weeks. Robert was then twelve years old; he was called a very naughty boy, and nobody liked him or said a kind word to him. The first day I came there he asked me to play with him, and I was going to say yes, when my aunt called out, 'Don't play with him, Alice,—don't speak to him; he is in disgrace, and nobody must talk to him.' He scowled dreadfully and walked out of the room. In the evening I was dressing my doll in a room up-stairs, where I was to sleep with Anne Harding, when I heard somebody sobbing in the next room. I went on tip-toe to the door and opened it gently. I saw Robert sitting on a bed and crying bitterly. Anne had told me he never cried, not even when his father beat him; but he was crying now, and I stood looking at him till I began to cry too. At last he got up, and climbing on the bed, he pulled off his handkerchief and tied it to the post. I did not know what he was doing, but he looked so odd and so red in the face, that I felt frightened, and called out 'Robert.'
"He turned round and said, 'What are you doing there? Go away, you must not see what I am about to do.'
"'It must be something very wrong then,' I said, 'and I hope you won't do it.'
"'Why not?' he muttered. 'What's it to you? I'm going to hang myself; but you must not tell, for they'd come and cut me down and punish me very much.'
"'Perhaps they would,' I said; 'but not so much as God will punish you if you do such a wicked thing.'
"'It isn't wicked,' he answered. 'Nobody loves me or cares about me. They won't let you play with me, and, perhaps, when I've hanged myself, they'll be sorry for it.'
"'But I'm sorry for you now,' I cried; 'and though I must not play with you while you are naughty, I will play with you and love you very much if you are good.'
"'Are you sure you will.'
"'Quite sure, Robert.'
"'Well, if you do I don't much care who doesn't. But mind if you don't love me I'll hang myself.'
"'But I will, indeed,' I said; and all the time I staid at my uncle's, Robert was very good, and we played every day together. After I went home again I did not see him very often. When he came to us he always brought me some little present of his own making; and he had a great turn for cutting things in wood with his knife. About three years ago he made my grandmother angry, I don't know how, but she would not let him come and see us any more."
"And he is now in America?" [I] asked.
"Yes," replied Alice. "My grandmother told me he was gone to New York a few days before I was married. I should have liked to have said good-bye to him. How like that man in Piccadilly was to him!"
We reached home just as Alice said this; and I felt glad that I had not told her that the man she had seen must have been the same who had dodged us, and that it could have been no other than this Robert Harding, whose countenance had remained indelibly impressed on my mind; but I resolved at the first opportunity to tell Henry of this circumstance, for I felt afraid of this man, and anxious to know whether his return to England was a secret to the rest of his family as well as to Alice.
When the post came in the next morning, we received letters from Elmsley. Edward's to me was kind and affectionate, but short and hurried. He had written a long one to my uncle, full of all the details connected with his canvass, which promised to be very successful. One phrase in this letter particularly attracted my attention:—"Henry's exertions in my behalf, and anxiety for my success, are beyond what I could have expected even in the early days of our friendship. He is most amiable and agreeable; and when I compare his destiny to mine (much as it may have been his own imprudence that ruined his prospects), I feel that there is generosity in the warm attachment which he shows me. We shall be in town on Saturday, and I hope and trust that nothing will prevent our marriage taking place on Monday, as we must be here again at the beginning of the ensuing week; and one week, at least, I must have for Ellen and for Hillscombe, before I plunge again into all the business and excitement of the election."
Henry's letter to his sister was as follows:—
[I have never known or understood how Mrs. Middleton came to give me this letter to read. She handed it to me with several others, which had reference to my marriage; and I imagine that it must have slipped among the rest unawares to her. I returned the whole packet to her without making any observation upon it, and she made none either.]
"My dear Mary,
"Can you understand me when I say that I retain a livelier sense of the loveliness of those scenes which are connected in my mind with acute sorrow (provided they be beautiful in themselves), than of those where I have only known happiness? Or does this seem to you nonsense? There is a spot in the world where I once stood for a quarter of an hour alone, suffering so intensely, that even now, when I think of it, I wonder how, at the end of that time, I could meet the eyes of others as I did, and show no outward signs of the anguish I was enduring. Well, Mary, strange as it may seem to you, there is not another spot in the world, the natural beauties of which are so indelibly stamped on my recollection, or which seem to have so entered into my soul. I never feel so much the unalterable beauty and perfect harmony of the material world as when the moral world within me is shaken to pieces and leaves me not even a reed to lean upon. It is the same with music. Once, when a fearful struggle was going on within me, and (no matter whether right or wrong) I thought myself very near death, an organ in the street played a Scotch air which I had heard a thousand times before; but then, for the first time, I understood it. Each note had a meaning, each modulation had a sense, which has never been lost to me since. Suffering and emotion are necessary (I believe it firmly) to expand our faculties in every line, and, with our powers of comprehension, increase our powers of admiration. I shall never feel the real beauty of military music, or the full sense of the muffled roll of the drum, till it leads me to battle, or marshals me to execution. Is it the same with my affections? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not in my nature passionately to love where I have never suffered. Perhaps if it had been my fate, after having from the days of childhood formed to myself an ideal image of what my soul could worship; after having met with the realisation of that dream of my fancy—a realisation as much more beautiful, as much more enchanting as life is superior in its most perfect form to the highest stretch of genius in the painter; if it had been my fate, after having watched, and followed, and loved, and doated on this woman during a year, which seemed to me but as an hour, so great was the love I bore her; had it been my fate to possess her, to call her mine, perhaps I should only have been, after a while, very fond of her, as men are of their wives—very glad to find her at home, after a day spent in the House of Commons, at one time of the year, or in shooting, at another. She might only have been one object to me among many others. It might have been so, though it is difficult to believe it; but we must believe what we see, nor dare to assert that the idol enshrined in our heart in hope, in fear, and in suffering, would have maintained its sway in the dull atmosphere of secure possession.
"We arrived at Elmsley on a lovely evening, and not a room in the house, not a spot in the grounds did I leave unvisited. While Edward and Lawson were engaged on the county registers and reports, as if their whole souls were bound up in them, I stood on the verandah, and looked on each well-known object in that lovely view till the whole was wrapt in darkness. That gradual obscuring of each spot which, when I first stood there, was glowing in the light of the evening sun, reminded me of my last conversation with you, when, in answer to the confession you extorted from me, you took up a book from your table and pointed to these lines, which I only read once, but have remembered ever since:—
'Nay, rather steel thy melting heart To act the martyr's sternest part; To watch, with firm unshrinking eye, Thy darling visions as they die; Till all bright hopes and hues of day Have faded into twilight gray.'—Christian Year.
"But enough of all this. Our canvass has been eminently successful; Edward has exerted himself amazingly. On the nomination-day he really spoke admirably. It is impossible not to be struck with his strong sense, his uncompromising rectitude and steady moral decision of character. He is so animated, too, by all these subjects; quite enthusiastic, in his way, about the interests of the people, and the new field of exertion which his present prospects open to him. It is plain that he has a genius more fitted for active than for contemplative life,—and so much the better for him; for a man, this is the happiest of dispositions: and he will be happy; for there is nothing in his character incompatible with quiet enjoyment; no violent passions and feelings; no morbid sensibility; with him all is sober, practical, and rational.
"Good-bye, my dear Mary. I am happy to think that Alice is with you. Remember what you promised me; watch over her as you would over a flower which a breath might, sully or a breeze destroy. Thank God, you and I are no longer strangers to each other's thoughts and hearts.
"Your ever affectionate brother,
Could Mrs. Middleton have intended me to see this letter? Had she, perhaps, promised Henry to show it me? No, this was entirely, utterly impossible. It must have been a mistake; and I would not inform her of it, lest it should agitate and distress her. Henry had evidently imparted to her the secret of his unconquerable attachment to me. Was this wise in his own interest? Did it correspond with his usual caution, and, above all, with his recent behaviour? It seemed to me strange; but Mrs. Middleton was easily worked upon: she did not know Henry as I knew him; she thought him like herself; and because their minds were in unison, she fancied their hearts were alike. His power was so great over those who loved him, when he chose to exert it, that it seemed to me, now, as if he had taken up a new position, and, through his wife and his sister, meant to rivet the chain which bound us together. Never did two people know each other as well as Henry and myself. I always read his motives through the veil which he flung over them, and which, perhaps, concealed them sometimes from himself. He was a practical artist; his own life was the canvass on which he worked; and that was the reason why, with a selfish heart and an unprincipled mind, he possessed all the graces of emotion, all the charms of feeling. This letter (clever and well aimed as it was—for it touched upon the very wound which had been rankling in my heart during the last few days) failed in its object, if, indeed, he had hoped that it would meet my eyes; for, as I read his account of Edward—as I felt the pain it was meant to inflict—as I acquiesced in the truth of some of his remarks, and indignantly repelled others, the cry of my heart, as I threw it from me, was in these words: "Rather be his slave than your idol."
On the following Saturday they both returned to London, and when I found myself again with Edward, I forgot everything in the joy of the moment. But when I was told that the day of our marriage was positively fixed for the following Monday, it seemed to me as if it was the first time that I had really believed it would take place, as if I had never considered before all that that step involved. For the first time I thought of what it would be to one in my peculiar situation, not only to love as I had long done, but to be bound by irrevocable ties to one who, ignorant of all the circumstances of my miserable fate, would wonder over each inequality of spirits I betrayed, condemn every tear I shed, read every letter I received, and, at the slightest appearance of equivocation or deceit, would banish me from his heart, and overwhelm me with his just anger. But it was too late, I said to myself—too late to retract, too late to think. I mentally closed my eyes, and passed through the next twenty-four hours like some one walking in his sleep.
On the next day (Sunday) I saw Henry for one moment as we were walking out of church. I told him, in a low voice, of Robert Harding's appearance in the parks on the last Wednesday, and of his following us through the streets.
"You saw him," he exclaimed. "Then it was not Alice's fancy?"
"No, no—I could swear to him. He had followed us, and stood at the shop-window long before Alice observed him."
Henry looked extremely discomposed, and muttered something to himself; then turning to me, he said—
"That fellow has been desperately in love with Alice for years—since she was quite a child. Her grandmother turned him out of the house on that account three years ago. Just before our marriage took place, he made some outrageous scenes; I threatened to give him into custody, and warned Mrs. Tracy that I should do so. Two or three days after, she told me he had sailed for America, and from that day to this I had heard nothing more about him; but I must find out if she knows of his return. Perhaps she employs him as a spy. I shall let you know what I hear."
After a pause, I said, with a great effort—
"You must not write to me on any account; remember that, Henry. Edward will read all my letters; he is already in the habit of doing so."
"It was exceedingly foolish of you not to object to it. Pray, how am I to communicate with you if anything should occur to make it desirable? Is your maid to be trusted?"
I coloured with anger and with shame, and gave Henry a look of indignant reproach.
"I really beg your pardon if this offends you; but it is not for my own sake that I ask the question. You yourself employed a third person when you required my assistance."
"I was not married then, Henry; and deceit, contemptible as it always is, was not as guilty as it will henceforward be. For God's sake, spare me the shame of a secret correspondence. You need not be afraid of my being too happy, or of my forgetting that you hold my fate in your hands."
"Do not impute to me as a crime, Ellen, that, unfortunately, your safety depends on my conduct. I have exercised the greatest control over myself lately, and I had hoped that you would have done justice to my motives."
As he said this we had reached the door of our house, and anxious not to part with him in anger, I whispered to him, as we shook hands—
"I do you justice, Henry. Forgive, and spare me!"
He wrung my hand and walked away, without waiting for his wife, who had gone into the house with Mrs. Middleton.
Mr. Lovell, who was at that moment calling on my uncle, took her home in his carriage. When I heard my aunt arrange with them at what hour they were to be at church the next day, and ask them to come home to luncheon afterwards, I stood by in a sort of stupified bewilderment. I then went into the back drawing-room, and wrote a note to Mrs. Hatton, to ask her to be present at my marriage the next day. As I was finishing it my aunt came in, and tried on the wreath of orange flowers, and the veil which she had chosen for me.
I walked up and down the room—I stood at the window—I wished that Edward would come; I was getting frightened at my own nervousness. I went to the pianoforte, and sang Mrs. Hemans's "Two Voices," that cry of alternate mournful depression, and highly-wrought enthusiasm, in which the words and the music seem to be but the expression of one thought. My voice was unnaturally loud and thrilling; there was a sound in it which I could not bear. A moment afterwards I was desired to go to my uncle in the library; Edward was with him, and Lawson, the man of business. I was directed to sign some papers. I did so, and Lawson left the room. My uncle then said to me—
"On you, Ellen, and on Edward, I have settled all my property. Since the day that I lost my only child this has been my fixed purpose. I was anxious to live long enough to see it accomplished, and I am thankful that wish has been granted. I have one request to make to you both. Call your eldest girl Julia—make her wear this chain—it was round my child's neck when she died—and if I live, let me see her often. Now go, and God bless you both!"
I don't know what I said or did; these words fell like burning lead on my soul, and I almost sank on the ground. Edward took me out of the room; and the only hour of relief which that day afforded was when, with his arm around me, and my head on his shoulder, he suffered me to weep in silence.
...Then he raised my head gently but forcibly; then, with his sweet smile, and his low deep voice, he whispered to me that his happiness was unutterable—his love boundless—his soul mine for ever. His words—words of passion from him whom I worshipped—at whose side I felt myself unworthy to live—at whose feet I would have been content to die;—those words, those looks, those tones, thrilled through my whole frame, and wrought on my brain, turning remorse for the past, and fear for the future, into a delirious dream of joy, even as laudanum can change pain itself into ecstacy.
I dreamed that night that I was in church, and that everything was prepared for my marriage. We stood before the altar, and the priest opened the book for the marriage service; but as he began, it was the burial service that he read. They stopped him, and he turned the pages; but ever as he began again to read, the same words came to his lips, and the book in his hands grew larger and larger, and the words, "For the Burial of the Dead," stood out in bloody letters, and seemed to rise from the page. I looked up into the priest's face, and that was changing too. I had seen those features before; but I knew them not till the thin lips moved, and said—"Julia's murderer—Julia's murderer!" And then the book and the altar were gone, and a coffin stood in its place; and the same voice said, "Open it!"—and the lid rose, and there was a corpse in its shroud. It lifted itself up slowly, and I could not see the face; but I cried out in terror "Who is it?" and the grave-clothes fell—it was Alice! I closed my eyes and shrieked; and the same voice said, "Look again—look again!" I looked, and it was Edward. Over and over again, during that night, I awoke in speechless terror; and when I went to sleep again, the same dream, with slight variations, haunted me anew.
The last time I woke, Mrs. Middleton was standing by my bed-side; and as she pressed me to her heart, I clung to her convulsively, and repeated wildly, "Save me—save me!"
"From what, my child?" she whispered—"from what? Speak to me, Ellen. One word only; and at whatever cost it may be, it shall be done. Is it possible you do not love Edward?"
"O, too much! only too much!" I exclaimed, and burst into an agony of tears. Mrs. Middleton seemed relieved—assured me I was only very nervous—gave me something to drink, which calmed me—and stayed with me while I dressed.
We sat down to breakfast, and Edward soon arrived; he remarked my paleness, and spoke to me with a tenderness which brought again into my eyes the tears which I had resolutely repressed during the last hour. The time drew near, and I was taken to my room to put on my wedding-gown. By the time I was dressed, and the whole of the family were gathered together to look at me, and blessings were pronounced, and good wishes were uttered, and kisses were given, I had become quite calm again.
I had gone through so much that the power of emotion seemed almost worn out, and I felt as if I had grown callous and cold. We drove to church, and I looked quietly out of window while my hand was locked in Mrs. Middleton's. I saw two or three acquaintances as we drove along, and read the names on the shops that we passed, with that kind of mechanical attention which fixes our eyes without occupying our thoughts.
When we came into the vestry of—church, there were a number of people in it,—all my relations, and some friends. My eyes sought out Henry; he was speaking to Mrs. Brandon; and, except that he was much flushed, there was nothing unusual in his appearance. Alice was standing by him. Mr. Middleton came for me, and the door of the vestry was opened. We walked up to the altar. The clergyman was already there, with the open book before him. I felt as if I was dreaming again. I trembled violently, and my teeth struck against each other. My aunt, Alice, and Henry, took their places on one side of the altar, and the rest of the people sat down in the surrounding pews. The clergyman bent forward and beckoned to my uncle, who went up to speak to him. At that moment I heard a step behind us, and somebody passed on Edward's side. I looked up, and saw a tall woman in deep mourning, and with a veil over her face, take her place in a pew which was nearly opposite to me. A vague terror seized me, and I could not take my eyes off this person. When everybody rose at the beginning of the opening exhortation, she remained sitting, till, when the priest said these words—
"Therefore, if any man can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak or else hereafter for ever hold his peace."
She slowly rose, drew back her veil, and fixed her eyes upon me; her thin lips moved as I had seen them move in my dream, and she seemed about to speak. I gave a hurried glance of despair at Henry; our eyes met, and then mine were rivetted to the ground, and my limbs and my heart seemed turned to stone. I felt that woman's gaze upon me. I knew that at the close of the exhortation she sat down, and that she rose again when the clergyman said—
"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" When Mr. Middleton took my hand and placed it in Edward's, the sound of a groan reached my ears; and when I raised my eyes, and, for the second time, fixed them by a kind of fascination on those malignant features and glassy eyes, they glared upon me with an expression which I cannot describe, and hardly dare to recall. The service went on, and when we knelt down to pray, while my face was buried in my hands, I heard the sound of receding footsteps; I looked up; she was gone, but I felt that she had cursed me as she went.
The ceremony was concluded. I was Edward's wife. I rose from my knees and looked about me. Henry was gone. Alice was pale, and her eyes were full of tears; she, too, was like what I had seen in my dream. We went into the vestry and signed some papers. As I was stepping into Edward's chariot to drive home again, a paper was thrust into my hand; I took it mechanically, and held it unconsciously in my clenched hand. I smiled when Edward spoke tome, and looked at him with inexpressible affection when he drew me to him, and called me his wife—his own beloved wife!
We arrived in Brook-street, and I went to dress for the journey. They brought me some biscuits and wine and water. I drank some hastily, but could not eat. Mrs. Middleton gave me her last kiss, and my uncle took me down to the carriage. I stepped into it, and Edward after me. The door was closed. I opened mechanically the paper in my hand; it contained these words—"Your sin shall find you out." I crumpled it again, and flung it out of window. I talked fast and eagerly to Edward. After an hour or two I fell into a heavy sleep. When we reached Dashminster, I awoke in a burning fever. Edward carried me upstairs, and laid me on a bed. I grew delirious, and raved all night. They bled me, I believe, and in two days I was better, and able to proceed to Hillscombe.
"We take fair days in winter for the spring."
YOUNG'S NIGHT THOUGHTS.
"O how this spring of love resembleth The uncertain glory of an April day, Which now shows all the beauty of the scene, And by and by a cloud takes all away."
Edward, I kneel to you in spirit while I write this record of our married life. By all the trembling hope I feel that a day may come, not of mercy, but of justice—a day when, though you will not forgive me, yet you will believe in me—when, though you will not open your arms to me, yet you will say, "She was false, but not false to me." By this hope I gather strength to write. But as I pace up and down my narrow room, or lay my head on the marble slab, the only cold place it can find, dare I think of what has been, of what is not? Shall I not go mad, and in my madness shall I not accuse you, Edward? Shall I not tell God and man, that you have shut your heart against me, and broken mine? And on the day of judgment, will not God ask you what you have done with her, who, however guilty, was guiltless to you? Oh, deeply loved and deeply mourned, ever absent from my sight, ever present to my thoughts! lord of my bosom's love, object of its idolatry, I do not accuse you. If a fallen spirit banished from Heaven ever mourned over his fall, without a murmur for the past or a hope for the future, his feelings are like mine, when in my solitude I think that once you loved me and called me yours.
Can it be that such things are and pass away, and leave no traces behind them, save broken hearts and mental agonies? Does Nature, while it rejoices with those who rejoice, never weep with those who weep? Does the sun shine as brightly on the forest glades of Hillscombe as when I wandered through them with Edward? Does the stream dash through them with the same reckless joy as when he helped me over its mossy stones? Is the thyme as sweet, is the heather as purple, as when by his side I scrambled over its wild moors? And thyself, Edward, thyself—art thou as strong, as beautiful, as stern as ever? Hast thou driven me from thy side, and when the first anguish of that hour was gone by, hast thou said, "The bitterness of death is past," and raised again thy stately head in its beauty and its pride?
Is joy more sacred than grief, or is it so strange to the human heart that, when present, we dare not scan its fleeting form, nor recall its image when it is past. One short dream of bliss was mine; it stands alone in a life, which, though not long in years, has been long in sorrow. Once the cup has been raised to my lips; one draught I took of that for which my soul longs with a burning and quenchless thirst. Happiness! yes, happiness; one hour of which reveals to us what an eternity of bliss can be; for time and space, beginning and end, are as though they were not, in that intense life of the soul.
For seven days the sun rose in cloudless majesty; for seven days he sunk to rest "in one unclouded blaze of living light." Sunshine streamed on the grassy hills; it gilded the fields of ripening corn; it pierced into the depths of the forest; it bathed the world in light, and gladdened the heart of man. And I too, for a while, was glad; in the fierce fever which for some hours had robbed me of my senses, the anguish of my soul seemed to have passed away. Nothing was changed in my fate, but I felt weak, and there is something in weakness which resembles peace; and in the love which we give to man, when it is entire and undivided, there is a power which is strong for good or for evil, as the hand of the master wields it.
We were alone; no familiar faces—no accustomed objects reminded me of myself—of that self which had so straggled, so sinned, and so suffered. I gazed on the beautiful works of God; I raised my eyes from the green sward on which we trod, to the soft blue sky, and my soul was melted within me. I listened to Edward's words, and in that blessed solitude nothing disturbed the silent echo which his voice of music left upon my ear. As I closed my eyes in sleep, I blessed him; as I opened them again I beheld him; and when he knelt in prayer, I knelt too, and said, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"
"Ellen, my love, shall you be ready to set off at nine to-morrow? We must be at Elmsley by six.—In tears, Ellen? What is the matter, my love? Now, really, this is childish."
"I cannot bear to go—I cannot bear to leave this place. I shall never return to it if I leave it now. In the murmur of the river—in the songs of the birds, in the rustling of the leaves, there has been all day a voice of lamentation which has haunted me; something mournful which has sounded to me like an eternal adieu. I have tried to exclude these thoughts, but they return in spite of me; and when you spoke of going, your words—"
"My dearest Ellen, I really cannot listen to such absurd nonsense. You know how much I admire your love of the beauties of nature—how much I appreciate your eloquence in describing them; but when all this degenerates into sentimentality, I own I cannot stand it."
"Dearest Edward, for you everything in nature wears a smile, and I thank God that it is so. You have never had cause to shrink from what is pure and bright and beautiful, with an aching heart and a self-accusing spirit."
As I raised my eyes to Edward's face, I was startled at its expression. There was a sternness in it which made me tremble.
"Ellen," he said, "listen to me, and mark my words. Either a morbid sensibility, which I despise, or a mawkish affectation, which I detest, injures the tone of your mind, and the truth of your character. Never let me hear again of wounded spirits, and self-reproaches, and poetic sufferings. When you were a girl you almost frightened away my love for you by these mysterious exclamations, and I hate the very sound of them. Do not let me hear that my wife cannot look upon the face of nature with a calm and hopeful eye, or on her past life with a self-approving conscience. I know there is no reality in such language, God knows, I should not speak so calmly if I could suppose there was; but as you value my love, or dread my anger, never use expressions again which in your mouth are senseless."
"You are severe," I said, with an attempt at a smile, which made my mouth quiver; "your wife should indeed be perfect, for it is evident that her faults would meet with no mercy from you."
"You think me harsh, Ellen? Perhaps I am. But look here; there are four lines in this book (and he took up a volume of Metastasio's plays which was lying on the table), which makeup, in my opinion, for all the sentimental non-sense it contains." He pointed to these lines:
"La gloria nostra E geloso cristallo, e debil canna Ogni aura ch'inchina, ogni respiro ch'appanna."
"My feelings are, perhaps, exaggerated, but I own it fairly to you. I can conceive that, as a woman's reputation might suffer from trifles light as air, so a man's love might vanish from what would appear but a slight cause for such an effect. You were about to speak, Ellen, and you have checked the words that were rising to your lips, but I read them in your eyes, and I will answer them. It is not because my love is weak, that a fault in you would seem to me as a crime in another. It is because, to discover that you were not pure and good and true, beyond any other woman in the world, would be so dreadful to me, that I doubt if in that overthrow of all my pride and my happiness, my love could survive. My pride, I say, as well as my happiness, for I am proud of you, my beloved wife, when I look at your dark eyes—at your clear brow—at your curling lip, and feel that no word has ever passed those lips which an angel might not have uttered, nor any eye has ever been raised to yours but with respect and affection. They are glorious gifts, Ellen, precious treasures which you possess—an innocent mind and a spotless reputation. Beware how you accustom yourself to talk, for effect, of remorse and self-reproach. They are too dark and too bitter things to be trifled with."
"True," I answered, "they are too dark and too bitter subjects for us to discuss. You are right. Forgive me my folly. I shall not fall again into the same error."
And back into the deepest recesses of a swelling heart were thrust regrets, fears, hopes, which were thus commanded never again to trouble the smooth surface of married life. Henceforward I was ordered to stand like a painted sepulchre, in all the outward form and show of virtue, nor ever dare to utter in Edward's hearing that life was not always fair, its memories sweet, and its prospects bright. The dream was over, and its danger too, for in its happiness my soul had grown weak; it had pouted forth its love, and in the rushing tide of feeling the secret of its misery was escaping it. Now the barrier was raised again—now the mental separation was begun; for as we drove out of sight of Hillscombe on the following day, with that self-command which, while the heart is aching, teaches the tongue to utter some common-place remark in an indifferent voice and careless manner, I turned to Edward and asked him some trifling question, while at that very moment burning tears stood in my eyes, and a passionate farewell was uttered in my soul.
One of the strangest feelings in life, is that of gliding into a new state of things with a kind of matter-of-course facility which we do not beforehand imagine to be possible. This struck me much, when, on the day of our arrival at Elmsley, I found myself once more seated at dinner in that well-known dining-room, in which every bit of furniture, from the picture of a certain Admiral Middleton, which stood over the chimney-piece with a heap of blue cannon-balls by his side, to the heavy, sweeping, red curtains in which I had often hid myself in a game of hide-and-seek, was as familiar to me as the face of a friend. Here, in the house where in despair I had once refused Edward, I was sitting as his bride, and bowing in return for the healths which were drunk in honour of my marriage; and Henry—Henry, who had so often threatened, upbraided, once almost cursed me—greeted me now with a smile, and the bridal nosegay of white camellias and jessamine which I held in my hand was gathered and given by him. Alice, also, the child of Bridman cottage, the tradesman's daughter, was sitting by Mr. Middleton in all the quiet dignity of her natural manner. For the first time she was dressed in an evening gown of white muslin, and a wreath of shining holly was in her hair. Mr. Middleton seemed particularly happy; he had obtained the great object of all his wishes; he had married me to Edward. Edward's return for the county was next to certain; and such was the softening influence of this state of things that he asked Henry to drink wine with him, and nodded to him good-humouredly as he did so. Mrs. Middleton, on the contrary, looked anxious and careworn, and once or twice I saw her eyes filled with tears, as she turned them alternately upon Alice and me.
In the evening Henry spoke to me but little, and nothing could be more amiable and gentle than his manner. He carefully avoided every subject that could have been painful to me, and whatever he said was soothing. He was out of spirits, but there was no bitterness in his depression. In trifles which will not bear recital, by some scarcely perceptible change of tone, by an answer given in the right place, by a look of assent when no word was uttered, he gave what at that moment I wanted—sympathy, and that silent, constant, unobtrusive sympathy, fell like oil on troubled waters.
"Does she like Elmsley?" I asked, as Alice sat opposite to us, earnestly reading a book which she had just taken out of the bookcase.
"I hardly know. The kind of life she leads here, quiet as it seems to us, is so new to her that I fancy it almost oppresses her. She has not been quite like herself since she came here. I cannot call it a cloud, but a shade has sometimes passed over her face whose expression formerly never used to vary. Do you remember the first day you ever saw her?"
"Don't I—the old fountain and the blooming children: what a picture that was! But look at her now; is she not like what our fancy, aided by the loveliest conceptions of genius, presents to our thoughts, when we think of her whom all generations call blessed?"
I murmured in a low tone, more to myself than to him, the beautiful appellations of the blessed Virgin—"Lily of Eden—mystic rose—star of the morning!"
Henry added, in as low a voice, and without looking at me, "Notre Dame de bon secours."
I understood him, and acknowledged to myself the truth of his prediction, that there was one share in my soul which nothing could ever rob him of, and that was that undefinable communion of thought and feeling, which an extraordinary fatality of circumstances, and a natural congeniality of mind, had created between us.
The next day there was nothing but bustle and excitement in the house, and in the neighbourhood. The polling was to begin at twelve o'clock that morning; and, at an early hour, we all drove to the town of—, to take up our quarters for the day in the drawing-room of the inn which belonged to my uncle, and the landlord of which was one of Edward's staunch supporters.
The loud cries of "Middleton for ever!" the enthusiastic cheering as we drove along; the occasional groans and hisses, which were too feeble to depress our spirits; the flags; the music; the bustle; Edward's heightened colour and animated countenance; the interest felt and expressed by all those about us; the eagerness of contest; the anxiety for success; the anticipated triumph over the enemy—all this together worked me up into such a state of excitement, that I could hardly sit still in the carriage, or at the window, or forbear to shout with the shouting mob.
Henry seemed as much interested as any of us; he was continually going backwards and forwards from the poll to the inn: he won even my uncle's heart, by the look of dismay with which he brought, at one moment, the news that our antagonists were unexpectedly getting ahead of us, and the burst of joy with which, towards one o'clock on the second day, he dashed into the room with the account of Edward's triumphant return by a considerable majority. His face had worn a look of zealous anxiety during the hours when the result had been doubtful; and, not my uncle, in all the gratification of party spirit, and of successful influence; nor myself, when I saw Edward chaired and cheered, and extolled to the skies; were more intensely pleased, or more wildly gay, than Henry.
I was bent upon hearing Edward speak in the Town-hall, and insisted upon going there with Henry and Alice. Mr. Middleton made some objections to this, but I overruled them all; and soon I found myself in a kind of gallery, which had been hastily adorned with flags and ribbons of our political and family colours.
As I bowed, in return to the bursts of cheering which greeted me, at once as a bride, and as the wife of the successful candidate; as I looked upon that dense mass of human beings, who were all vociferating the name I loved, and calling for long life to him whom I adored,—never before having witnessed a scene of popular excitement, I felt carried out of myself by the tumultuous agitation of that moment. I felt that the eyes of the multitude were upon me; and, for the first time in my life, I felt certain and glad that I was handsome.
There ran a murmur of applause through the crowd; the air was rent by cries of "Long live Middleton's bride! Long live the bride of Elmsley!" and, as Edward walked into the hall, and looked up at the gallery where I was, the smile that lighted up his features, and the earnest gaze which he fixed upon me for an instant before he began to speak, conveyed to me more than any words could have done, that the beauty which had excited the enthusiasm of the mob reigned over his heart, and captivated his proud spirit.
He began to speak: I mechanically seized Henry's hand, while I listened with breathless attention. His first words were uttered slowly; but they were well chosen, and well applied. Gradually he warmed with his subject; and, in the summary which he gave of his political opinions, there were that good sense and power of expression, which indicate a high order of eloquence—above all, there was in his countenance, and in his words, that consciousness of unsullied worth and integrity, the moral effects of which no flights of genius and no zeal of party can supply. When he spoke of responsibility and its duties, it was responsibility to God as well as to man: when he spoke of the welfare of the people and of the country, there was not a human being, private friend or political opponent, (enemies he had none,) who could not have borne witness, that each day of his life was spent in unwearied efforts for the good of others; and, therefore, he had a right to speak of God, for he served Him; of His church, for he honoured it; of his country, for he loved it; of virtue, for he practised it; of character, for his was unblemished; of honour, for his was unstained; and among all that assembled multitude, there was not one whose hand could point to a word or deed of his, that had not made his light to shine before men, and glorified his Father in Heaven, or whose voice could have named his name as connected with aught of shame or dishonour.
"Speak on, Edward, speak on, and let all who hear you and see you to-day, feel for an instant what I spend my life in feeling, that if many have done virtuously, you excel them all."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Ay, that's fine speaking for the husband of she as killed the child, and got the property!"
Was that a voice from the lowest depths of hell? Had I heard those words—and did I not fall down upon my face, and call to the mountains to fall on me, and to the hills to cover me? No; I sat on and grasped Henry's hand, and saw his deadly pale face turned to the gallery over our heads; and I heard a scuffle above, and a row beginning, and a sound of voices like the hoarse murmur of the sea when the waves are rising; then Edward's voice ceased, and loud deafening cheers rang through the building; and Henry dragged me through the crowd; and among that world of faces, and in that rushing noise, and in that hurrying to and fro, I felt as if I must eternally wander, and hear again and again those words which had curdled my blood, and sickened my heart.
"Oh, no!" I cried, as Henry carried me to the carriage, and placed me by Alice's side, "Oh, no!" I cried, regardless of her presence, and almost wild with despair, "now, my punishment is greater than I can bear. I must leave him,—I must fly,—I must hide myself for ever... I am mad. Don't you see I am mad, Henry? Don't try to stop me. She must know it—he must know it—all the world must know it now. Let me go, let me go!"
I sunk back into the carriage; and the last thing I heard, before I fainted, was Henry saying to his wife, "The excitement has been too much for her. I fear the brain fever will return."
"For now I stand as one upon a rock, Environed with a wilderness of sea, Who marks the waxing tide grow wave by wave, Expecting ever, when some curious surge Will, in his brinish bowels, swallow him."
When I opened my eyes again, my head was leaning on Alice's shoulder, and Henry was springling water on my face. We were just arriving at the inn; and, half supported, half carried by Henry and Mr. Middleton, who met us at the door, I reached my own room.
At first I had no distinct recollection of what had occurred, but gradually the whole of it came back to my mind. Dreadful is that return of memory, after nature has for a while suspended the consciousness of pain. I turned with a feeling that was almost like aversion from my aunt and from Alice, who were bathing my head and hands with eau de Cologne, and offering me sal volatile and water to drink. There seemed a want of sympathy in their very kindness. I almost felt to dislike them for their ignorance of what I was enduring, and for talking of past fatigue and present rest, while I was suffering so acutely.
"I should like to be alone, and to try and sleep."
"Should you, my love? Then we will go, and leave your maid in the next room, in case you should want anything."
For a few minutes I lay in silence, feeling cold and wretched, the throbbing in my head and the ticking of the clock in the passage seeming to keep time. The faint echo of some distant cries reached my ears, and I could distinguish the words of "Middleton for ever!" I trembled and hid my face in my pillow. What would they cry out next? They shouted louder still; and my maid came in on tiptoe, and when I turned round and looked at her, she said, "I thought they would have woke you, Ma'am. They are hallooing so, because Mr. Middleton is coming home; and they are cheering him all the way."
Coming home! He, Edward! To me! The husband of her who... Oh, had he heard those words? had he noticed them? Would he repeat them? and as he did, would a sudden light flash on his brain, and the whole truth burst upon him at once? There had been a scuffle in that gallery. What was it? I must know; I must hear; I must speak to Henry.
"More shouting! more hallooing!"
"Mr. Middleton is coming in, Ma'am."
"Lock the door, and say I am asleep."
"What were you pleased to say, Ma'am?"
"Nothing, nothing. Do I look very ill?"
"Not very ill, Ma'am."
Edward came, and in a kind manner said, "My own love, I am so vexed to hear that you have been poorly. You ought not to have come. How are you now?"
"Your aunt says you are not to talk; so now be quite still, and try to go to sleep. I am going to dinner, where I shall have to speak again. Did you like my speech this morning?"
I seized his hand, kissed it over and over again, and then pressed it upon my eyes, as I answered; "Perfect,—perfect as yourself."
He drew me fondly to him; and I whispered in his ear, "Come to Elmsley now. Do not leave me; I am weak; I am ill. Give up this dinner; I shall be miserable if you go to it. Take me back to Elmsley now, immediately."
"My dear love, what are you talking about? You know the thing is impossible. You can go when you like with your aunt; I shall come in the evening."
"That will not do, Edward. I entreat, I implore you not to leave me. Have I no influence with you? Have those detestable politics already so engrossed you, that my wishes, my entreaties, are vain?"
"For Heaven's sake, Ellen, do not be so foolish! Again in tears! Again a scene! This is really past endurance."
He walked up and down the room, while I stood by the chimney, and with clasped hands and streaming eyes repeated, "Scold me; reproach me; but do not leave me! Do, do, I implore you, come with me at once to Elmsley."
At this moment my maid came in, and put a letter into Edward's hands. The direction was exactly in the same round, peculiar characters, in which the threatening words that had been twice addressed to me were written. I felt myself turning as pale as death, and then the blood rushed to my head with violence. I darted upon the letter, and in a second I had snatched it out of Edward's hand and thrown it into the fire. He looked at me for an instant in silent astonishment; and, partly to implore forgiveness, partly because I trembled so that I could not stand, I fell on my knees, and hid my face in my hands.
"What is the meaning of this, Ellen? Explain yourself immediately. Speak if you do not wish me to leave you in anger," he added, with his hand on the handle of the door.
"Oh, for God's sake, for mercy's sake, do not go now! do not leave me in this way!"
"Then speak!" he rejoined almost fiercely; "give some explanation of an act which I cannot understand or forgive."
"I thought—I fancied—that that letter came from some woman;—a woman who has watched you, followed you. Forgive me, Edward; I was jealous—I was mad! Oh, have pity upon me and do not drive me quite mad!"
As I said these words, I held my hand to my head, and staggered towards the bed. Edward lifted me up, placed me upon it, and kissing my forehead, said, "God help you, poor child!"
I threw my arms round his neck, and clung to him.
When he disengaged himself, and left me, I felt as if it might be for the last time; other voices, other letters might reach him; and then all my previous conduct would rise up in judgment against me. What he might once have thrown aside as the scrawl of a madman, would now appear to him in the form of an explanation. I rang the bell with violence; and when my maid came, I desired her to find Henry and send him to me immediately.
"Shall I go and tell him in the drawing-room, Ma'am?"
"No; I will go there myself."
I put on my bonnet and shawl, and answered all inquiries by assurances that I was well again, and ready to drive back to Elmsley. The carriages were ordered; and calling Henry to the window, I asked him in a low voice if he had anything to tell me; if he knew anything more. He put his finger on his lip and turned away. An instant afterwards he asked me aloud if I would give up my place in the close carriage to Alice, who had a slight cold, and go with him in his. I nodded assent; and when my uncle said, as I thought sternly, "This is a very foolish plan, Ellen; you had better come with us;" I cried out that the air would do me good; and, springing in by Henry's side, drove off to Elmsley.
"What have you heard? What have you found out?"
"In the first place, tell me, have you had a scene with Edward since you came home? Has he questioned you about anything?"
"How do you mean? About what?"
"Perhaps he will take no notice; but you must be prepared with an answer if he should; and we had better talk it over together. It makes me miserable to give you pain; but you must not be taken by surprise: a letter has been sent to him, and is in his hands now, whether he has read it or not as yet."
"Who sent it? Who spoke in the gallery?"
"I believe it was Robert Harding; but I cannot be sure of it. The moment after we brought you home, I tried to find out. All I could gather was that one of the servants struck the speaker, whoever he was; that he returned the blow, and that a scuffle ensued; the police interfered, and the man slipped away. I returned to the inn; and as I was standing by the window half an hour afterwards, I saw Harding walking down the street; I went down-stairs and asked your servant at the door if he knew that man, or had ever seen him before. He told me that he had just given him a letter for Edward, which he had requested should be delivered to him immediately. It must have been Harding who spoke in the gallery, and whom I saw in the street. Mrs. Tracy denied the other day all knowledge of his being in England; but I can swear to him. I asked your servant for the letter, which he must have thought strange enough, and I do not know what I could have done had he produced it; but as it was, he had given it an instant before to your maid to take up-stairs, and I have been in cruel anxiety ever since."
"That letter is destroyed."
"How? What do you mean?"
"I snatched it out of Edward's hand and burnt it. It is almost a relief to find from what this has saved me, for it was at a dreadful cost, as Edward was fearfully incensed. But, for Heaven's sake, Henry, tell me what are we to do now? Harding will write again; there is no security, no hope. This cannot last."
"Something must certainly be done, and I must find out this Harding. I am enraged with old Tracy, for having betrayed it all to him; but money, perhaps... Have you much at your disposal, Ellen?"
"Some, not a great deal; but I can get more, perhaps. Oh, Heavens! is it come to this: must I buy the silence of a set of wretches, as if I had indeed been a vile criminal? And what have I done after all? Good God! what have I done? Nothing that I might not proclaim to the world, with regret and sorrow indeed, but without shame or remorse."
"You should in that case have proclaimed it sooner. It is too late now."
"So you say, and so you have made me act. If it had not been for you, if I had never known you, if you had never crossed my path, I should not be the miserable creature I am now. But I am driven to extremities; sorrow and shame compass me about on every side. I can never look Edward, you, or the world in the face again, till you release me from the fatal oath which you extorted from me in an hour of weakness and of despair."
"It is from your own weakness, from your rash and foolish despair, that in spite of yourself I will guard you."
"Oh, Heaven, deliver me from such guardianship as yours! God save me from your counsels, and rescue me from your power!"
"Go, then, go, and tell your husband that you killed your cousin by mistake. Tell him that you were on the point of marrying me by mistake; that you married him by mistake; and have deceived him and me, and every one you have had to do with, all by mistake. Go and break the most solemn engagement, which you called upon God to witness; heap fresh guilt and fresh remorse on your head; but, if Edward should not give credit to your story, and should hint at separation, remember that there is a man in the world who loves you in spite of all your scorn and your violence, and who would kneel at your feet if the rest of the world contemned and deserted you."
"Another word of this kind, Henry, and I never speak to you again."
"You forget yourself, Ellen. Poor weak woman, what could you do without me? Look at this letter, which in your difficulties you once wrote to me, when you dared not marry Edward without my consent. It never leaves me; there, in my bosom, I keep it as a charm to recall softer thoughts and better feelings when an evil spirit takes possession of me, and urges me to drive you to desperation. Have mercy on yourself, and on me, Ellen. Your present position is far more awful than it then was; but if you will be patient and trust in me, all may yet be well. I will find this Harding out, and take some means to stop his mouth. Think of all you would forego, if in one rash moment I suffered you to disclose the truth to Edward. I solemnly swear to you, that I speak the truth, when I assert that from what I know of him and of his character, and something of his past history too, I am certain that he would part from you if these circumstances were to come to his knowledge. And do you know, Ellen, what I save you from? No, you do not know what it is to part. You do not know what it is to give up love, and hope, and joy; never to see the face which to see is in itself happiness; not to hear the voice which to hear is to be blest; and to feel that there is life before us, life to be gone through, and no light to gild it, no music in our souls, no hopes nor even fears; and oh, how wretched is that state where even fear would seem a blessing! No, no, do not part from him you love; never feel what I have felt; but feel for me sometimes: and when you wake to-morrow, and remember that but for me your eyes would not be gladdened by the sight of your husband, treasure up that thought against the next time that harsh words and cutting reproaches are rising to your lips against one who seeks to save you from the anguish he himself endures."
I returned the pressure of Henry's hand, and we drove on in silence for some time. He had as usual subdued and reconciled me to a return to the ordinary state of things between us. He went on to advise me strongly, and apparently with great good sense, not to oppose a speedy return to London, and to promote, instead of discouraging, the interest which Edward took in politics. "Your spirits are naturally unequal," he said; "and you have often causes for worry and anxiety. It is easy enough to command one's self for an hour or two in the course of the day; and the very joy which you will feel in Edward's society during those intervals which he will devote to you, will enable you to keep from him those alternations which must affect him in a disagreeable manner. It is impossible to say what stories this Harding may have spread in the neighbourhood, and till they have died away you will feel much more comfortable in London, where Edward will have constant occupation, and you yourself resources of all sorts for interest and amusement. A quiet life may be a good thing for those who have no cares or troubles; but when, to use a common expression, one has anything on one's mind, it is the worst possible plan of existence: it is equally difficult to shake it off one's self, or to conceal it from others, without the aid of external excitements."
In this manner Henry talked on till we reached Elmsley.
Late that evening Edward returned. He had made another excellent speech; and in order to prevent any allusion to my conduct in the morning, I questioned him about politics, and listened with apparent interest to explanations about divers party questions, and details relative to the measures expected during the next session.
During a pause, however, he said to me in a low voice, "I have made inquiries about the letter which you destroyed in so rash a manner this morning. Your groundless jealousy entirely misled you. It was left for me by a man whom nobody knew, and must have been some petition I suppose. I ought not to have forgiven you so easily, for it was unjustifiable to destroy a letter in that way from some absurd suspicion; but you owned your folly so frankly that it disarmed me."
I sighed deeply, but made no answer.
The next morning, at breakfast, Edward asked Henry if he knew how the row had begun, which took place in the gallery during the conclusion of his speech.
"Some one called you names, I believe," Henry carelessly answered; "and one of our people resented it. That was all."
"Do you know who it was that took up my cause in that way?" said Edward.
"Old James, the coachman, I believe," answered Henry.
Old James had known me from a baby—had taught me to ride; he had always been much attached to me, and I could easily understand his anger at the horrible imputation cast upon me; but I trembled from head to foot at the idea that in his very indignation he would spread the report, and, above all, that if Edward spoke to him he would repeat it. I did not feel courage to speak to him myself on the subject, and, therefore, as usual, I turned to Henry for assistance. I whispered to him a few words, and he immediately left the room.
"What have you sent Henry about?" my uncle asked.
The question was a simple one, but at the moment I could not find an answer to it; and as Alice fixed her large calm eyes upon me, I coloured and stammered out something unintelligible about ordering the horses. She looked at me steadily for an instant, and then taking up her knitting she worked on in silence. I was copying out some music, and for a quarter of an hour there was no other sound in the room but the scratching of my pen and the rustling of Mr. Middleton's and Edward's newspapers. When Henry returned I felt to colour again, and breathed more freely when he took up a third newspaper and sat down by the fire. After a few minutes were elapsed I went to the pianoforte and began playing. Henry got up and joined me.
"All is right," he said, "about James, but the sooner you leave this place the better. There are all sorts of stories about. They will soon die a natural death; but your absence would be very desirable."
"Heaven knows I do not wish to stay here. But how can I make Edward and my uncle go?"
"I will try to persuade my sister, what is, in fact, true, that, if they are going abroad for this winter, they ought to be setting out now. You will naturally accompany them to London; indeed, you can make a point of it with Edward; and then, once in London, you can easily contrive to stay there. As Parliament meets at the beginning of November, your coming back here would probably be out of the question."
"Edward will wish to shoot next month."
"Then go to Hillscombe;—anywhere but here."
"Have you seen that man?"
"Not yet; I shall ride to Bridman this afternoon and find him out."
"What is he doing there?"
"I don't know; but James tells me he has been staying at the inn there for the last three weeks."
"Oh, that I were gone from hence! That I had the wings of a dove to flee away and be at rest! Henry, shall I ever know again what it is to be at rest?"
"Rest would not do for you. You have too keen a spirit, too strong a will, and too much genius to know what rest is. A good thing in its way I grant; but neither for you nor me was it ever decreed. We can be intensely happy, we can be intensely miserable. We tremble in the midst of joy, for we feel that it is too exquisite to last. In anguish we hope on, for we cannot conceive life without something to brighten its dull course; and we would rather die than live without a fear, a hope, an emotion of any sort."
As he said these words he fixed his eyes on his wife, who was still apparently absorbed in her work at some distance from us.
She got up at this moment and came towards us. She had a letter in her hand, which she held out to Henry, and at the same time she said distinctly and slowly, "This letter was found at the bottom of our carriage. It was brought to me, and I return it to you."
The delicate colour of her cheek was slightly heightened, but her voice was perfectly calm, and she walked slowly out of the room. It was my letter to Henry, the only one I had ever written to him. He had shown it to me the day before, and now she had seen it, at least, she must have recognised the handwriting. Henry bit his lip, tore up the paper into fragments, and threw them into the fire.
He returned to me, and said in a low voice, "Would that my love, my guilty love for you, could die away like those fragments in the flame. But, Ellen, it is too late; we have sown the whirlwind, and we must reap the storm."
When I came down to luncheon, I hardly dared to look towards Alice. Never had I feared anything so much as to meet those calm and gentle eyes. She came up to me as we were leaving the dining-room, and with her sweet voice asked me if I would drive with her. I gave a hasty assent, although I dreaded beyond expression to find myself alone with her, and I was much relieved when my uncle volunteered to accompany us.
It was a fine October afternoon, and as we were driving out of the gates of the park, Mr. Middleton turned to Alice and asked her if she knew the drive by Shirley Common, and back by the Woods of Bridman.
"No," she said; "I have often walked through Bridman Woods; but I do not know the drive you mention."
"Then we will take it to-day. Drive to Shirley Common, stop when you come to Euston Gate, and come back through Bridman Woods and home by the village."
There seemed in truth to be some fatality pursuing me. I could not take a common drive without some fresh cause for anxiety; and as we proceeded in the appointed direction, I thought of the day when I had so much annoyed Henry by persisting in visiting Bridman Cottage. As we drove along the terrace where I had seen Alice for the first time, I saw her eyes fixed on the broken fountain, and her lips moved as if she was repeating something to herself. She suddenly turned to my uncle, and asked him if he would put her down at the corner of the terrace and wait for her a few minutes, while she went to look at the house where she had once lived.
"I want to see Bridman Cottage myself," answered my uncle. "I have had the offer of a tenant, and shall be glad to go over it."
He desired the coachman to drive there. As we passed the inn, I saw Henry's horse standing in the yard. I instantly turned Mr. Middleton's attention to an old oak on the other side of the road, and this circumstance escaped unobserved. When we reached the cottage, the door was opened by an old woman who had had the care of it since Mrs. Tracy had given it up. She threw open the shutters, and the slanting rays of the evening sun shone, through the casement on the dusty brick floor. When we followed her into the back parlour, she opened the door into the little garden, the neat and gay appearance of which contrasted with the dirty and forlorn aspect of the cottage. A spade and a rake were lying on the grass-plot in front of it. Mr. Middleton inquired of the old woman how she managed to keep the garden in so good a state, and who she got to work in it.
"Why, Sir, if you had come some four weeks ago, you would have hardly said the same, for it's nothing as I can do myself; and my son as comes home from a Saturday to a Monday, it's not much that he can do either; but last month a man from London, what lives at the Crown, he came here and asked me to show him the house, and when he see'd the garden and the condition it was in, he asked me to let him set to work in it and put it to rights; and a deal he has done in it to be sure for the time. He got Madge, the washerwoman, to come over one day and tell him how it all was when them people as lived in it last were here. And a power of work he did to put up that arbour there, as she told him it was afore the neighbour's boys had got in and pulled it to pieces."
"But what is that man doing here? What is he?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Sir; he does jobs for the carpenter sometimes, and turns a penny may be that way."
"You should not let people into the house whom you know nothing about."
"Lord, Sir! what harm can he do? There's nothing to take in the place, and sure he has made the garden look gay to what it did."
Mr. Middleton went to look at the cow-shed; and the old woman, turning to Alice and myself, continued, "Madge says as how he has written a name with them flowers out in that corner; but I can't say I reads it myself—it's a queer sort of print enough."
We both moved in that direction, and saw at the same time, under the wall, traced in the delicate lilac flowers of the Virginian Stock, the name of Alice. She looked steadily on the spot for a few seconds, and then turning to the woman, asked her the name of the man whom she had spoken of.
"Robert Harding, Ma'am."
Alice only said, "Poor fellow! I understand it all."
She turned away and walked into the house. I leant against the wall, and remained buried in thought till my uncle returned. He was in a hurry to go, and desired me to look for Alice. Not finding her in the rooms below, I went up the narrow staircase, opened the door of what had once been her bed-room, and looked into the closet within. There was the view of the church, such as she had once shown it me from that window: she was on her knees, and her head was resting on her hands; the sound of a deep sigh caught my ear. I looked at her kneeling in that bare and empty room where I had seen her once before with her books and her flowers, her sweet and pleasant thoughts, her bright and quiet smiles. I looked on this picture and on that, and something whispered to my soul, "Who has done this?" and conscience answered, "Thou, even thou." I heard my uncle's impatient step below, and I said, "Alice, will you come?" She rose from her knees, and there was in her face that peace which passeth all understanding. She looked into mine and, doubtless, saw in it the storms which swept over my soul, for her meek eyes looked kindly upon me. She drew from her bosom a small wooden cross, which hung by a black ribbon round her neck; she held it to her lips and then to mine, and said, "Borne for us, and by us."
Dinner was half over that day before Henry came in; his face was flushed, and his brow clouded. He answered roughly and abruptly his sister's questions as to the cause of his lateness; drank a great deal of wine, and maintained a gloomy and sullen silence. Partly from a kind of utter discouragement, partly from the fear of giving pain to Alice, instead of eagerly watching for an opportunity of speaking to him after dinner, and learning the result of his interview with Harding, I avoided Henry, and even left the drawing-room; and going up to my own turret sitting-room, I raked up the embers of the fire, and sat before it in gloomy contemplation. At the end of about half an hour, Henry burst into the room, and, as I looked at him in astonishment, he exclaimed bitterly, "Pray be so good as to dispense with forms for once, and receive me graciously if you can, for my patience is exhausted, and I would recommend you not to trifle with me. Do you imagine," he continued, with increasing violence, "that I am to submit to the most painful and humiliating interviews, and at my return to be treated as a footman whom you have sent on an errand? If you hate me, conceal it at least. Act the hypocrite once more, and to good purpose, for I am weary of the part you play, and make me play."
"Leave me, leave me this moment; and O that I might never set eyes on you again."
"So you said once before; and did I not tell you then, that all was not over between us? Are you not bound to me by a tie so powerful that nothing can sever it? Has not your heart softened to me in spite of all I have ever done or said to make you hate me? And is it not because you know, you feel, that, whatever I may do and say in ungovernable anger, I love you ardently, passionately, unspeakably—"
"For God's sake, for mercy's sake, go! that is Edward's voice in the hall—he is coming."
Henry rushed to the door and locked it; at the same moment the handle was seized and turned outside. I grew very pale, but sprang forward to open it; before I had reached it, Henry had seized my hands, and in a whisper he said, "As you value your future peace, do not open it."
"I would die at his feet rather than not let him in."
I disengaged myself from Henry's grasp, and flung open the door; but whoever had been there was gone, and I heard the one that led into the hall slammed with violence. I returned into the room burning with shame and indignation; and throwing myself down on the chair before the fire, I hid my face in my hands and refused to listen to Henry.
"Calm yourself, I entreat you," said Henry; "after this it will not do to appear again with red and swollen eyes. Besides, I must speak to you—I must tell you about Harding."
I got up with the courage of despair, and the recklessness of a nature that was growing hardened, and listened in silence to his recital of the scene he had had with that wild man, who seemed careless of all ties and considerations, save the one feeling which overruled all others in his strange nature—his unconquerable and hopeless attachment to Alice.
"I have borne much for your sake, to-day, Ellen; it is well for us both that I have more self-command than you have. That coarse and vulgar lout knows my secrets as well as yours; he almost threw into my face the money I offered him. He almost called me a villain, and I was forced to bear with it all, and even to let him depart with nothing but a silent curse, when he said 'Make Alice happy, and I will hold my tongue, and only thank God that though I'm a blackguard, I'm no thief; and though I've knocked down many a man, I've never killed a child; but if you bring tears into her eyes, and break her heart, my name is not Robert Harding, or there are no clubs or knives in the world, if I do not give you a taste of mine.' Now you know why I came home with the spirit of a demon and the temper of a fiend, and vented upon you the tortures I had been enduring. Oh, Ellen, we cannot bear this life much longer; if you could but—"
"Ellen! Ellen! where are you? The Brandons are arrived, and have been asking for you over and over again. Mr. Middleton and Edward wish you to come down directly."
I rushed down the steps of the turret stairs, at the bottom of which my aunt was standing, and went with her into the library, and had to talk and to smile, and to be told that I looked a little pale and tired, and to be asked by Edward if I knew where Henry was, and to deny all knowledge of it, and to feel as if myself and all about me were acting a heartless play, with fevered cheeks and breaking hearts.
"There was a laughing devil in his sneer, That raised emotions both of rage and fear; And where his frown of hatred darkly fell, Hope withering fled, and Mercy sighed farewell."
From this day forward Henry's manner and conduct lost that degree of gentleness and consideration which had marked it since the moment that I had thrown myself on his mercy at the time of my hasty engagement to Edward. Whenever I was alone with him, he spoke of his attachment as of a matter of course; and with alternate bursts of anger and of tenderness, met every attempt I made to check or resent this: sometimes with bitter scorn he hinted that I had lost all right to do so, and asked, with a sneer, if I supposed that he was to be treated like any presumptuous admirer who happened to make love to me. In a hundred trifles he contrived to make me feel his power. He engaged me in a course of petty deceits and contrivances; he humbled me in my own eyes, and practically pointed out to me the degradation of my position, and the deterioration of my character. He held me now, indeed, completely in his power; for if I made the slightest attempt to struggle against his tyranny, he threatened to abandon Alice, and to seek in absence and change of scene, relief to the sufferings which his hopeless passion caused him. He knew well that such a project must drive me to despair, on her account as well as my own; and one evening (about a fortnight after the conversation I last recorded), when I had turned abruptly from him, and refused to accede to his usual threatening offers of reconciliation after a very violent scene, he wrote to me to announce his determination of carrying this resolution into effect. His letter was as follows:—
"Do not upbraid me—upbraid yourself for the step to which you drive me. You must foresee what it is, and you probably rejoice at the prospect which it holds out to you of escape from an attachment which, though it has often stood between you and danger and disgrace, you treat with contempt when not forced to have recourse to it. My self-control is at an end—my powers of endurance are exhausted—I can struggle no longer—and if I leave my wife at a moment when she should most require the support of my presence, and such comfort as it would afford her, it is because the discovery of all which I have hitherto laboured to conceal, would be a more severe blow to her than my absence will prove. I shall endeavour to give as plausible an appearance as I can to the step which I am about to take. It is madness to hazard it; but you drive me mad. I cannot trust myself to take leave of you; by the time you awake to-morrow, I shall have left Elmsley, unless I receive from you some token of regard, some expression of regret, some promise, that for the future you will have patience with me. Is it much to ask that my love should be endured? Would not others in my place exact more? My fate, yours, and Alice's, are for a second time in your hands. I am still near you—near her; she is sleeping quietly, unconscious that the fate of my life and of hers is at this moment deciding. Write to me one word of kindness, and I am still ready to conquer my stormy feelings—to subdue my selfish impulses—to be to her a kind and constant protector—and to you, a friend. I shall wait here, and count the minutes till your answer reaches me, and each will seem to me a century; but do not imagine that I write this only to frighten you into a reconciliation. I solemnly swear, that, if you do not bid me stay, and bind yourself to a patient, constant, and generous indulgence to feelings, which, if concealed from others, must be appreciated and respected by you; if you do not send me such an answer, I swear that I have seen you and Alice for the last time; and that the misery which may in consequence befall her and you, my sister, and Edward himself, is your doing, and not mine. Ellen, decide!"