Part 10 out of 10
my first on that detested mortal who had torn her from my heart,
and doomed her, I was certain, to a life of misery and hollow, vain
repining - for what happiness could she enjoy with him? I did not
wish to shock her with my presence now, but I had not power to move
away. Forth came the bride and bridegroom. Him I saw not; I had
eyes for none but her. A long veil shrouded half her graceful
form, but did not hide it; I could see that while she carried her
head erect, her eyes were bent upon the ground, and her face and
neck were suffused with a crimson blush; but every feature was
radiant with smiles, and gleaming through the misty whiteness of
her veil were clusters of golden ringlets! Oh, heavens! it was not
my Helen! The first glimpse made me start - but my eyes were
darkened with exhaustion and despair. Dare I trust them? 'Yes -
it is not she! It was a younger, slighter, rosier beauty - lovely
indeed, but with far less dignity and depth of soul - without that
indefinable grace, that keenly spiritual yet gentle charm, that
ineffable power to attract and subjugate the heart - my heart at
least. I looked at the bridegroom - it was Frederick Lawrence! I
wiped away the cold drops that were trickling down my forehead, and
stepped back as he approached; but, his eyes fell upon me, and he
knew me, altered as my appearance must have been.
'Is that you, Markham?' said he, startled and confounded at the
apparition - perhaps, too, at the wildness of my looks.
'Yes, Lawrence; is that you?' I mustered the presence of mind to
He smiled and coloured, as if half-proud and half-ashamed of his
identity; and if he had reason to be proud of the sweet lady on his
arm, he had no less cause to be ashamed of having concealed his
good fortune so long.
'Allow me to introduce you to my bride,' said he, endeavouring to
hide his embarrassment by an assumption of careless gaiety.
'Esther, this is Mr. Markham; my friend Markham, Mrs. Lawrence,
late Miss Hargrave.'
I bowed to the bride, and vehemently wrung the bridegroom's hand.
'Why did you not tell me of this?' I said, reproachfully,
pretending a resentment I did not feel (for in truth I was almost
wild with joy to find myself so happily mistaken, and overflowing
with affection to him for this and for the base injustice I felt
that I had done him in my mind - he might have wronged me, but not
to that extent; and as I had hated him like a demon for the last
forty hours, the reaction from such a feeling was so great that I
could pardon all offences for the moment - and love him in spite of
'I did tell you,' said he, with an air of guilty confusion; 'you
received my letter?'
'The one announcing my intended marriage.'
'I never received the most distant hint of such an intention.'
'It must have crossed you on your way then - it should have reached
you yesterday morning - it was rather late, I acknowledge. But
what brought you here, then, if you received no information?'
It was now my turn to be confounded; but the young lady, who had
been busily patting the snow with her foot during our short sotto-
voce colloquy, very opportunely came to my assistance by pinching
her companion's arm and whispering a suggestion that his friend
should be invited to step into the carriage and go with them; it
being scarcely agreeable to stand there among so many gazers, and
keeping their friends waiting into the bargain.
'And so cold as it is too!' said he, glancing with dismay at her
slight drapery, and immediately handing her into the carriage.
'Markham, will you come? We are going to Paris, but we can drop
you anywhere between this and Dover.'
'No, thank you. Good-by - I needn't wish you a pleasant journey;
but I shall expect a very handsome apology, some time, mind, and
scores of letters, before we meet again.'
He shook my hand, and hastened to take his place beside his lady.
This was no time or place for explanation or discourse: we had
already stood long enough to excite the wonder of the village
sight-seers, and perhaps the wrath of the attendant bridal party;
though, of course, all this passed in a much shorter time than I
have taken to relate, or even than you will take to read it. I
stood beside the carriage, and, the window being down, I saw my
happy friend fondly encircle his companion's waist with his arm,
while she rested her glowing cheek on his shoulder, looking the
very impersonation of loving, trusting bliss. In the interval
between the footman's closing the door and taking his place behind
she raised her smiling brown eyes to his face, observing,
playfully, - 'I fear you must think me very insensible, Frederick:
I know it is the custom for ladies to cry on these occasions, but I
couldn't squeeze a tear for my life.'
He only answered with a kiss, and pressed her still closer to his
'But what is this?' he murmured. 'Why, Esther, you're crying now!'
'Oh, it's nothing - it's only too much happiness - and the wish,'
sobbed she, 'that our dear Helen were as happy as ourselves.'
'Bless you for that wish!' I inwardly responded, as the carriage
rolled away - 'and heaven grant it be not wholly vain!'
I thought a cloud had suddenly darkened her husband's face as she
spoke. What did he think? Could he grudge such happiness to his
dear sister and his friend as he now felt himself? At such a
moment it was impossible. The contrast between her fate and his
must darken his bliss for a time. Perhaps, too, he thought of me:
perhaps he regretted the part he had had in preventing our union,
by omitting to help us, if not by actually plotting against us. I
exonerated him from that charge now, and deeply lamented my former
ungenerous suspicions; but he had wronged us, still - I hoped, I
trusted that he had. He had not attempted to cheek the course of
our love by actually damming up the streams in their passage, but
he had passively watched the two currents wandering through life's
arid wilderness, declining to clear away the obstructions that
divided them, and secretly hoping that both would lose themselves
in the sand before they could be joined in one. And meantime he
had been quietly proceeding with his own affairs; perhaps, his
heart and head had been so full of his fair lady that he had had
but little thought to spare for others. Doubtless he had made his
first acquaintance with her - his first intimate acquaintance at
least - during his three months' sojourn at F-, for I now
recollected that he had once casually let fall an intimation that
his aunt and sister had a young friend staying with them at the
time, and this accounted for at least one-half his silence about
all transactions there. Now, too, I saw a reason for many little
things that had slightly puzzled me before; among the rest, for
sundry departures from Woodford, and absences more or less
prolonged, for which he never satisfactorily accounted, and
concerning which he hated to be questioned on his return. Well
might the servant say his master was 'very close.' But why this
strange reserve to me? Partly, from that remarkable idiosyncrasy
to which I have before alluded; partly, perhaps, from tenderness to
my feelings, or fear to disturb my philosophy by touching upon the
infectious theme of love.
The tardy gig had overtaken me at last. I entered it, and bade the
man who brought it drive to Grassdale Manor - I was too busy with
my own thoughts to care to drive it myself. I would see Mrs.
Huntingdon - there could be no impropriety in that now that her
husband had been dead above a year - and by her indifference or her
joy at my unexpected arrival I could soon tell whether her heart
was truly mine. But my companion, a loquacious, forward fellow,
was not disposed to leave me to the indulgence of my private
'There they go!' said he, as the carriages filed away before us.
'There'll be brave doings on yonder to-day, as what come to-morra.
- Know anything of that family, sir? or you're a stranger in these
'I know them by report.'
'Humph! There's the best of 'em gone, anyhow. And I suppose the
old missis is agoing to leave after this stir's gotten overed, and
take herself off, somewhere, to live on her bit of a jointure; and
the young 'un - at least the new 'un (she's none so very young) -
is coming down to live at the Grove.'
'Is Mr. Hargrave married, then?'
'Ay, sir, a few months since. He should a been wed afore, to a
widow lady, but they couldn't agree over the money: she'd a rare
long purse, and Mr. Hargrave wanted it all to hisself; but she
wouldn't let it go, and so then they fell out. This one isn't
quite as rich, nor as handsome either, but she hasn't been married
before. She's very plain, they say, and getting on to forty or
past, and so, you know, if she didn't jump at this hopportunity,
she thought she'd never get a better. I guess she thought such a
handsome young husband was worth all 'at ever she had, and he might
take it and welcome, but I lay she'll rue her bargain afore long.
They say she begins already to see 'at he isn't not altogether that
nice, generous, perlite, delightful gentleman 'at she thought him
afore marriage - he begins a being careless and masterful already.
Ay, and she'll find him harder and carelesser nor she thinks on.'
'You seem to be well acquainted with him,' I observed.
'I am, sir; I've known him since he was quite a young gentleman;
and a proud 'un he was, and a wilful. I was servant yonder for
several years; but I couldn't stand their niggardly ways - she got
ever longer and worse, did missis, with her nipping and screwing,
and watching and grudging; so I thought I'd find another place.'
'Are we not near the house?' said I, interrupting him.
'Yes, sir; yond's the park.'
My heart sank within me to behold that stately mansion in the midst
of its expansive grounds. The park as beautiful now, in its wintry
garb, as it could be in its summer glory: the majestic sweep, the
undulating swell and fall, displayed to full advantage in that robe
of dazzling purity, stainless and printless - save one long,
winding track left by the trooping deer - the stately timber-trees
with their heavy-laden branches gleaming white against the dull,
grey sky; the deep, encircling woods; the broad expanse of water
sleeping in frozen quiet; and the weeping ash and willow drooping
their snow-clad boughs above it - all presented a picture, striking
indeed, and pleasing to an unencumbered mind, but by no means
encouraging to me. There was one comfort, however, - all this was
entailed upon little Arthur, and could not under any circumstances,
strictly speaking, be his mother's. But how was she situated?
Overcoming with a sudden effort my repugnance to mention her name
to my garrulous companion, I asked him if he knew whether her late
husband had left a will, and how the property had been disposed of.
Oh, yes, he knew all about it; and I was quickly informed that to
her had been left the full control and management of the estate
during her son's minority, besides the absolute, unconditional
possession of her own fortune (but I knew that her father had not
given her much), and the small additional sum that had been settled
upon her before marriage.
Before the close of the explanation we drew up at the park-gates.
Now for the trial. If I should find her within - but alas! she
might be still at Staningley: her brother had given me no
intimation to the contrary. I inquired at the porter's lodge if
Mrs. Huntingdon were at home. No, she was with her aunt in -shire,
but was expected to return before Christmas. She usually spent
most of her time at Staningley, only coming to Grassdale
occasionally, when the management of affairs, or the interest of
her tenants and dependents, required her presence.
'Near what town is Staningley situated?' I asked. The requisite
information was soon obtained. 'Now then, my man, give me the
reins, and we'll return to M-. I must have some breakfast at the
"Rose and Crown," and then away to Staningley by the first coach
At M- I had time before the coach started to replenish my forces
with a hearty breakfast, and to obtain the refreshment of my usual
morning's ablutions, and the amelioration of some slight change in
my toilet, and also to despatch a short note to my mother
(excellent son that I was), to assure her that I was still in
existence, and to excuse my non-appearance at the expected time.
It was a long journey to Staningley for those slow-travelling days,
but I did not deny myself needful refreshment on the road, nor even
a night's rest at a wayside inn, choosing rather to brook a little
delay than to present myself worn, wild, and weather-beaten before
my mistress and her aunt, who would be astonished enough to see me
without that. Next morning, therefore, I not only fortified myself
with as substantial a breakfast as my excited feelings would allow
me to swallow, but I bestowed a little more than usual time and
care upon my toilet; and, furnished with a change of linen from my
small carpet-bag, well-brushed clothes, well-polished boots, and
neat new gloves, I mounted 'The Lightning,' and resumed my journey.
I had nearly two stages yet before me, but the coach, I was
informed, passed through the neighbourhood of Staningley, and
having desired to be set down as near the Hall as possible, I had
nothing to do but to sit with folded arms and speculate upon the
It was a clear, frosty morning. The very fact of sitting exalted
aloft, surveying the snowy landscape and sweet sunny sky, inhaling
the pure, bracing air, and crunching away over the crisp frozen
snow, was exhilarating enough in itself; but add to this the idea
of to what goal I was hastening, and whom I expected to meet, and
you may have some faint conception of my frame of mind at the time
- only a faint one, though: for my heart swelled with unspeakable
delight, and my spirits rose almost to madness, in spite of my
prudent endeavours to bind them down to a reasonable platitude by
thinking of the undeniable difference between Helen's rank and
mine; of all that she had passed through since our parting; of her
long, unbroken silence; and, above all, of her cool, cautious aunt,
whose counsels she would doubtless be careful not to slight again.
These considerations made my heart flutter with anxiety, and my
chest heave with impatience to get the crisis over; but they could
not dim her image in my mind, or mar the vivid recollection of what
had been said and felt between us, or destroy the keen anticipation
of what was to be: in fact, I could not realise their terrors now.
Towards the close of the journey, however, a couple of my fellow-
passengers kindly came to my assistance, and brought me low enough.
'Fine land this,' said one of them, pointing with his umbrella to
the wide fields on the right, conspicuous for their compact
hedgerows, deep, well-cut ditches, and fine timber-trees, growing
sometimes on the borders, sometimes in the midst of the enclosure:
'very fine land, if you saw it in the summer or spring.'
'Ay,' responded the other, a gruff elderly man, with a drab
greatcoat buttoned up to the chin, and a cotton umbrella between
his knees. 'It's old Maxwell's, I suppose.'
'It was his, sir; but he's dead now, you're aware, and has left it
all to his niece.'
'Every rood of it, and the mansion-house and all! every hatom of
his worldly goods, except just a trifle, by way of remembrance, to
his nephew down in -shire, and an annuity to his wife.'
'It's strange, sir!'
'It is, sir; and she wasn't his own niece neither. But he had no
near relations of his own - none but a nephew he'd quarrelled with;
and he always had a partiality for this one. And then his wife
advised him to it, they say: she'd brought most of the property,
and it was her wish that this lady should have it.'
'Humph! She'll be a fine catch for somebody.'
'She will so. She's a widow, but quite young yet, and uncommon
handsome: a fortune of her own, besides, and only one child, and
she's nursing a fine estate for him in -. There'll be lots to
speak for her! 'fraid there's no chance for uz' - (facetiously
jogging me with his elbow, as well as his companion) - 'ha, ha, ha!
No offence, sir, I hope?' - (to me). 'Ahem! I should think she'll
marry none but a nobleman myself. Look ye, sir,' resumed he,
turning to his other neighbour, and pointing past me with his
umbrella, 'that's the Hall: grand park, you see, and all them
woods - plenty of timber there, and lots of game. Hallo! what
This exclamation was occasioned by the sudden stoppage of the coach
at the park-gates.
'Gen'leman for Staningley Hall?' cried the coachman and I rose and
threw my carpet-bag on to the ground, preparatory to dropping
myself down after it.
'Sickly, sir?' asked my talkative neighbour, staring me in the
face. I daresay it was white enough.
'No. Here, coachman!'
'Thank'ee, sir. - All right!'
The coachman pocketed his fee and drove away, leaving me, not
walking up the park, but pacing to and fro before its gates, with
folded arms, and eyes fixed upon the ground, an overwhelming force
of images, thoughts, impressions crowding on my mind, and nothing
tangibly distinct but this: My love had been cherished in vain -
my hope was gone for ever; I must tear myself away at once, and
banish or suppress all thoughts of her, like the remembrance of a
wild, mad dream. Gladly would I have lingered round the place for
hours, in the hope of catching at least one distant glimpse of her
before I went, but it must not be - I must not suffer her to see
me; for what could have brought me hither but the hope of reviving
her attachment, with a view hereafter to obtain her hand? And
could I bear that she should think me capable of such a thing? - of
presuming upon the acquaintance - the love, if you will -
accidentally contracted, or rather forced upon her against her
will, when she was an unknown fugitive, toiling for her own
support, apparently without fortune, family, or connections; to
come upon her now, when she was reinstated in her proper sphere,
and claim a share in her prosperity, which, had it never failed
her, would most certainly have kept her unknown to me for ever?
And this, too, when we had parted sixteen months ago, and she had
expressly forbidden me to hope for a re-union in this world, and
never sent me a line or a message from that day to this. No! The
very idea was intolerable.
And even if she should have a lingering affection for me still,
ought I to disturb her peace by awakening those feelings? to
subject her to the struggles of conflicting duty and inclination -
to whichsoever side the latter might allure, or the former
imperatively call her - whether she should deem it her duty to risk
the slights and censures of the world, the sorrow and displeasure
of those she loved, for a romantic idea of truth and constancy to
me, or to sacrifice her individual wishes to the feelings of her
friends and her own sense of prudence and the fitness of things?
No - and I would not! I would go at once, and she should never
know that I had approached the place of her abode: for though I
might disclaim all idea of ever aspiring to her hand, or even of
soliciting a place in her friendly regard, her peace should not be
broken by my presence, nor her heart afflicted by the sight of my
'Adieu then, dear Helen, forever! Forever adieu!'
So said I - and yet I could not tear myself away. I moved a few
paces, and then looked back, for one last view of her stately home,
that I might have its outward form, at least, impressed upon my
mind as indelibly as her own image, which, alas! I must not see
again - then walked a few steps further; and then, lost in
melancholy musings, paused again and leant my back against a rough
old tree that grew beside the road.
While standing thus, absorbed in my gloomy reverie, a gentleman's
carriage came round the corner of the road. I did not look at it;
and had it rolled quietly by me, I should not have remembered the
fact of its appearance at all; but a tiny voice from within it
roused me by exclaiming, 'Mamma, mamma, here's Mr. Markham!'
I did not hear the reply, but presently the same voice answered,
'It is indeed, mamma - look for yourself.'
I did not raise my eyes, but I suppose mamma looked, for a clear
melodious voice, whose tones thrilled through my nerves, exclaimed,
'Oh, aunt! here's Mr. Markham, Arthur's friend! Stop, Richard!'
There was such evidence of joyous though suppressed excitement in
the utterance of those few words - especially that tremulous, 'Oh,
aunt' - that it threw me almost off my guard. The carriage stopped
immediately, and I looked up and met the eye of a pale, grave,
elderly lady surveying me from the open window. She bowed, and so
did I, and then she withdrew her head, while Arthur screamed to the
footman to let him out; but before that functionary could descend
from his box a hand was silently put forth from the carriage
window. I knew that hand, though a black glove concealed its
delicate whiteness and half its fair proportions, and quickly
seizing it, I pressed it in my own - ardently for a moment, but
instantly recollecting myself, I dropped it, and it was immediately
'Were you coming to see us, or only passing by?' asked the low
voice of its owner, who, I felt, was attentively surveying my
countenance from behind the thick black veil which, with the
shadowing panels, entirely concealed her own from me.
'I - I came to see the place,' faltered I.
'The place,' repeated she, in a tone which betokened more
displeasure or disappointment than surprise.
'Will you not enter it, then?'
'If you wish it.'
'Can you doubt?'
'Yes, yes! he must enter,' cried Arthur, running round from the
other door; and seizing my hand in both his, he shook it heartily.
'Do you remember me, sir?' said he.
'Yes, full well, my little man, altered though you are,' replied I,
surveying the comparatively tall, slim young gentleman, with his
mother's image visibly stamped upon his fair, intelligent features,
in spite of the blue eyes beaming with gladness, and the bright
locks clustering beneath his cap.
'Am I not grown?' said he, stretching himself up to his full
'Grown! three inches, upon my word!'
'I was seven last birthday,' was the proud rejoinder. 'In seven
years more I shall be as tall as you nearly.'
'Arthur,' said his mother, 'tell him to come in. Go on, Richard.'
There was a touch of sadness as well as coldness in her voice, but
I knew not to what to ascribe it. The carriage drove on and
entered the gates before us. My little companion led me up the
park, discoursing merrily all the way. Arrived at the hall-door, I
paused on the steps and looked round me, waiting to recover my
composure, if possible - or, at any rate, to remember my new-formed
resolutions and the principles on which they were founded; and it
was not till Arthur had been for some time gently pulling my coat,
and repeating his invitations to enter, that I at length consented
to accompany him into the apartment where the ladies awaited us.
Helen eyed me as I entered with a kind of gentle, serious scrutiny,
and politely asked after Mrs. Markham and Rose. I respectfully
answered her inquiries. Mrs. Maxwell begged me to be seated,
observing it was rather cold, but she supposed I had not travelled
far that morning.
'Not quite twenty miles,' I answered.
'Not on foot!'
'No, Madam, by coach.'
'Here's Rachel, sir,' said Arthur, the only truly happy one amongst
us, directing my attention to that worthy individual, who had just
entered to take her mistress's things. She vouchsafed me an almost
friendly smile of recognition - a favour that demanded, at least, a
civil salutation on my part, which was accordingly given and
respectfully returned - she had seen the error of her former
estimation of my character.
When Helen was divested of her lugubrious bonnet and veil, her
heavy winter cloak, &c., she looked so like herself that I knew not
how to bear it. I was particularly glad to see her beautiful black
hair, unstinted still, and unconcealed in its glossy luxuriance.
'Mamma has left off her widow's cap in honour of uncle's marriage,'
observed Arthur, reading my looks with a child's mingled simplicity
and quickness of observation. Mamma looked grave and Mrs. Maxwell
shook her head. 'And aunt Maxwell is never going to leave off
hers,' persisted the naughty boy; but when he saw that his pertness
was seriously displeasing and painful to his aunt, he went and
silently put his arm round her neck, kissed her cheek, and withdrew
to the recess of one of the great bay-windows, where he quietly
amused himself with his dog, while Mrs. Maxwell gravely discussed
with me the interesting topics of the weather, the season, and the
roads. I considered her presence very useful as a check upon my
natural impulses - an antidote to those emotions of tumultuous
excitement which would otherwise have carried me away against my
reason and my will; but just then I felt the restraint almost
intolerable, and I had the greatest difficulty in forcing myself to
attend to her remarks and answer them with ordinary politeness; for
I was sensible that Helen was standing within a few feet of me
beside the fire. I dared not look at her, but I felt her eye was
upon me, and from one hasty, furtive glance, I thought her cheek
was slightly flushed, and that her fingers, as she played with her
watch-chain, were agitated with that restless, trembling motion
which betokens high excitement.
'Tell me,' said she, availing herself of the first pause in the
attempted conversation between her aunt and me, and speaking fast
and low, with her eyes bent on the gold chain - for I now ventured
another glance - 'Tell me how you all are at Linden-hope - has
nothing happened since I left you?'
'I believe not.'
'Nobody dead? nobody married?'
'Or - or expecting to marry? - No old ties dissolved or new ones
formed? no old friends forgotten or supplanted?'
She dropped her voice so low in the last sentence that no one could
have caught the concluding words but myself, and at the same time
turned her eyes upon me with a dawning smile, most sweetly
melancholy, and a look of timid though keen inquiry that made my
cheeks tingle with inexpressible emotions.
'I believe not,' I answered. 'Certainly not, if others are as
little changed as I.' Her face glowed in sympathy with mine.
'And you really did not mean to call?' she exclaimed.
'I feared to intrude.'
'To intrude!' cried she, with an impatient gesture. 'What - ' but
as if suddenly recollecting her aunt's presence, she checked
herself, and, turning to that lady, continued - 'Why, aunt, this
man is my brother's close friend, and was my own intimate
acquaintance (for a few short months at least), and professed a
great attachment to my boy - and when he passes the house, so many
scores of miles from his home, he declines to look in for fear of
'Mr. Markham is over-modest,' observed Mrs. Maxwell.
'Over-ceremonious rather,' said her niece - 'over - well, it's no
matter.' And turning from me, she seated herself in a chair beside
the table, and pulling a book to her by the cover, began to turn
over the leaves in an energetic kind of abstraction.
'If I had known,' said I, 'that you would have honoured me by
remembering me as an intimate acquaintance, I most likely should
not have denied myself the pleasure of calling upon you, but I
thought you had forgotten me long ago.'
'You judged of others by yourself,' muttered she without raising
her eyes from the book, but reddening as she spoke, and hastily
turning over a dozen leaves at once.
There was a pause, of which Arthur thought he might venture to
avail himself to introduce his handsome young setter, and show me
how wonderfully it was grown and improved, and to ask after the
welfare of its father Sancho. Mrs. Maxwell then withdrew to take
off her things. Helen immediately pushed the book from her, and
after silently surveying her son, his friend, and his dog for a few
moments, she dismissed the former from the room under pretence of
wishing him to fetch his last new book to show me. The child
obeyed with alacrity; but I continued caressing the dog. The
silence might have lasted till its master's return, had it depended
on me to break it; but, in half a minute or less, my hostess
impatiently rose, and, taking her former station on the rug between
me and the chimney corner, earnestly exclaimed -
'Gilbert, what is the matter with you? - why are you so changed?
It is a very indiscreet question, I know,' she hastened to add:
'perhaps a very rude one - don't answer it if you think so - but I
hate mysteries and concealments.'
'I am not changed, Helen - unfortunately I am as keen and
passionate as ever - it is not I, it is circumstances that are
'What circumstances? Do tell me!' Her cheek was blanched with the
very anguish of anxiety - could it be with the fear that I had
rashly pledged my faith to another?
'I'll tell you at once,' said I. 'I will confess that I came here
for the purpose of seeing you (not without some monitory misgivings
at my own presumption, and fears that I should be as little welcome
as expected when I came), but I did not know that this estate was
yours until enlightened on the subject of your inheritance by the
conversation of two fellow-passengers in the last stage of my
journey; and then I saw at once the folly of the hopes I had
cherished, and the madness of retaining them a moment longer; and
though I alighted at your gates, I determined not to enter within
them; I lingered a few minutes to see the place, but was fully
resolved to return to M- without seeing its mistress.'
'And if my aunt and I had not been just returning from our morning
drive, I should have seen and heard no more of you?'
'I thought it would be better for both that we should not meet,'
replied I, as calmly as I could, but not daring to speak above my
breath, from conscious inability to steady my voice, and not daring
to look in her face lest my firmness should forsake me altogether.
'I thought an interview would only disturb your peace and madden
me. But I am glad, now, of this opportunity of seeing you once
more and knowing that you have not forgotten me, and of assuring
you that I shall never cease to remember you.'
There was a moment's pause. Mrs. Huntingdon moved away, and stood
in the recess of the window. Did she regard this as an intimation
that modesty alone prevented me from asking her hand? and was she
considering how to repulse me with the smallest injury to my
feelings? Before I could speak to relieve her from such a
perplexity, she broke the silence herself by suddenly turning
towards me and observing -
'You might have had such an opportunity before - as far, I mean, as
regards assuring me of your kindly recollections, and yourself of
mine, if you had written to me.'
'I would have done so, but I did not know your address, and did not
like to ask your brother, because I thought he would object to my
writing; but this would not have deterred me for a moment, if I
could have ventured to believe that you expected to hear from me,
or even wasted a thought upon your unhappy friend; but your silence
naturally led me to conclude myself forgotten.'
'Did you expect me to write to you, then?'
'No, Helen - Mrs. Huntingdon,' said I, blushing at the implied
imputation, 'certainly not; but if you had sent me a message
through your brother, or even asked him about me now and then - '
'I did ask about you frequently. I was not going to do more,'
continued she, smiling, 'so long as you continued to restrict
yourself to a few polite inquiries about my health.'
'Your brother never told me that you had mentioned my name.'
'Did you ever ask him?'
'No; for I saw he did not wish to be questioned about you, or to
afford the slightest encouragement or assistance to my too
obstinate attachment.' Helen did not reply. 'And he was perfectly
right,' added I. But she remained in silence, looking out upon the
snowy lawn. 'Oh, I will relieve her of my presence,' thought I;
and immediately I rose and advanced to take leave, with a most
heroic resolution - but pride was at the bottom of it, or it could
not have carried me through.
'Are you going already?' said she, taking the hand I offered, and
not immediately letting it go.
'Why should I stay any longer?'
'Wait till Arthur comes, at least.'
Only too glad to obey, I stood and leant against the opposite side
of the window.
'You told me you were not changed,' said my companion: 'you are -
very much so.'
'No, Mrs. Huntingdon, I only ought to be.'
'Do you mean to maintain that you have the same regard for me that
you had when last we met?'
'I have; but it would be wrong to talk of it now.'
'It was wrong to talk of it then, Gilbert; it would not now -
unless to do so would be to violate the truth.'
I was too much agitated to speak; but, without waiting for an
answer, she turned away her glistening eye and crimson cheek, and
threw up the window and looked out, whether to calm her own,
excited feelings, or to relieve her embarrassment, or only to pluck
that beautiful half-blown Christmas-rose that grew upon the little
shrub without, just peeping from the snow that had hitherto, no
doubt, defended it from the frost, and was now melting away in the
sun. Pluck it, however, she did, and having gently dashed the
glittering powder from its leaves, approached it to her lips and
'This rose is not so fragrant as a summer flower, but it has stood
through hardships none of them could bear: the cold rain of winter
has sufficed to nourish it, and its faint sun to warm it; the bleak
winds have not blanched it, or broken its stem, and the keen frost
has not blighted it. Look, Gilbert, it is still fresh and blooming
as a flower can be, with the cold snow even now on its petals. -
Will you have it?'
I held out my hand: I dared not speak lest my emotion should
overmaster me. She laid the rose across my palm, but I scarcely
closed my fingers upon it, so deeply was I absorbed in thinking
what might be the meaning of her words, and what I ought to do or
say upon the occasion; whether to give way to my feelings or
restrain them still. Misconstruing this hesitation into
indifference - or reluctance even - to accept her gift, Helen
suddenly snatched it from my hand, threw it out on to the snow,
shut down the window with an emphasis, and withdrew to the fire.
'Helen, what means this?' I cried, electrified at this startling
change in her demeanour.
'You did not understand my gift,' said she - 'or, what is worse,
you despised it. I'm sorry I gave it you; but since I did make
such a mistake, the only remedy I could think of was to take it
'You misunderstood me cruelly,' I replied, and in a minute I had
opened the window again, leaped out, picked up the flower, brought
it in, and presented it to her, imploring her to give it me again,
and I would keep it for ever for her sake, and prize it more highly
than anything in the world I possessed.
'And will this content you?' said she, as she took it in her hand.
'It shall,' I answered.
'There, then; take it.'
I pressed it earnestly to my lips, and put it in my bosom, Mrs.
Huntingdon looking on with a half-sarcastic smile.
'Now, are you going?' said she.
'I will if - if I must.'
'You are changed,' persisted she - 'you are grown either very proud
or very indifferent.'
'I am neither, Helen - Mrs. Huntingdon. If you could see my heart
'You must be one, - if not both. And why Mrs. Huntingdon? - why
not Helen, as before?'
'Helen, then - dear Helen!' I murmured. I was in an agony of
mingled love, hope, delight, uncertainty, and suspense.
'The rose I gave you was an emblem of my heart,' said she; 'would
you take it away and leave me here alone?'
'Would you give me your hand too, if I asked it?'
'Have I not said enough?' she answered, with a most enchanting
smile. I snatched her hand, and would have fervently kissed it,
but suddenly checked myself, and said, -
'But have you considered the consequences?'
'Hardly, I think, or I should not have offered myself to one too
proud to take me, or too indifferent to make his affection outweigh
my worldly goods.'
Stupid blockhead that I was! - I trembled to clasp her in my arms,
but dared not believe in so much joy, and yet restrained myself to
'But if you should repent!'
'It would be your fault,' she replied: 'I never shall, unless you
bitterly disappoint me. If you have not sufficient confidence in
my affection to believe this, let me alone.'
'My darling angel - my own Helen,' cried I, now passionately
kissing the hand I still retained, and throwing my left arm around
her, 'you never shall repent, if it depend on me alone. But have
you thought of your aunt?' I trembled for the answer, and clasped
her closer to my heart in the instinctive dread of losing my new-
'My aunt must not know of it yet,' said she. 'She would think it a
rash, wild step, because she could not imagine how well I know you;
but she must know you herself, and learn to like you. You must
leave us now, after lunch, and come again in spring, and make a
longer stay, and cultivate her acquaintance, and I know you will
like each other.'
'And then you will be mine,' said I, printing a kiss upon her lips,
and another, and another; for I was as daring and impetuous now as
I had been backward and constrained before.
'No - in another year,' replied she, gently disengaging herself
from my embrace, but still fondly clasping my hand.
'Another year! Oh, Helen, I could not wait so long!'
'Where is your fidelity?'
'I mean I could not endure the misery of so long a separation.'
'It would not be a separation: we will write every day: my spirit
shall be always with you, and sometimes you shall see me with your
bodily eye. I will not be such a hypocrite as to pretend that I
desire to wait so long myself, but as my marriage is to please
myself, alone, I ought to consult my friends about the time of it.'
'Your friends will disapprove.'
'They will not greatly disapprove, dear Gilbert,' said she,
earnestly kissing my hand; 'they cannot, when they know you, or, if
they could, they would not be true friends - I should not care for
their estrangement. Now are you satisfied?' She looked up in my
face with a smile of ineffable tenderness.
'Can I be otherwise, with your love? And you do love me, Helen?'
said I, not doubting the fact, but wishing to hear it confirmed by
her own acknowledgment.
'If you loved as I do,' she earnestly replied, 'you would not have
so nearly lost me - these scruples of false delicacy and pride
would never thus have troubled you - you would have seen that the
greatest worldly distinctions and discrepancies of rank, birth, and
fortune are as dust in the balance compared with the unity of
accordant thoughts and feelings, and truly loving, sympathising
hearts and souls.'
'But this is too much happiness,' said I, embracing her again; 'I
have not deserved it, Helen - I dare not believe in such felicity:
and the longer I have to wait, the greater will be my dread that
something will intervene to snatch you from me - and think, a
thousand things may happen in a year! - I shall be in one long
fever of restless terror and impatience all the time. And besides,
winter is such a dreary season.'
'I thought so too,' replied she gravely: 'I would not be married
in winter - in December, at least,' she added, with a shudder - for
in that month had occurred both the ill-starred marriage that had
bound her to her former husband, and the terrible death that
released her - 'and therefore I said another year, in spring.'
'No, no - next autumn, perhaps.'
'Well, the close of summer. There now! be satisfied.'
While she was speaking Arthur re-entered the room - good boy for
keeping out so long.
'Mamma, I couldn't find the book in either of the places you told
me to look for it' (there was a conscious something in mamma's
smile that seemed to say, 'No, dear, I knew you could not'), 'but
Rachel got it for me at last. Look, Mr. Markham, a natural
history, with all kinds of birds and beasts in it, and the reading
as nice as the pictures!'
In great good humour I sat down to examine the book, and drew the
little fellow between my knees. Had he come a minute before I
should have received him less graciously, but now I affectionately
stroked his curling looks, and even kissed his ivory forehead: he
was my own Helen's son, and therefore mine; and as such I have ever
since regarded him. That pretty child is now a fine young man: he
has realised his mother's brightest expectations, and is at present
residing in Grassdale Manor with his young wife - the merry little
Helen Hattersley of yore.
I had not looked through half the book before Mrs. Maxwell appeared
to invite me into the other room to lunch. That lady's cool,
distant manners rather chilled me at first; but I did my best to
propitiate her, and not entirely without success, I think, even in
that first short visit; for when I talked cheerfully to her, she
gradually became more kind and cordial, and when I departed she
bade me a gracious adieu, hoping ere long to have the pleasure of
seeing me again.
'But you must not go till you have seen the conservatory, my aunt's
winter garden,' said Helen, as I advanced to take leave of her,
with as much philosophy and self-command as I could summon to my
I gladly availed myself of such a respite, and followed her into a
large and beautiful conservatory, plentifully furnished with
flowers, considering the season - but, of course, I had little
attention to spare for them. It was not, however, for any tender
colloquy that my companion had brought me there:-
'My aunt is particularly fond of flowers,' she observed, 'and she
is fond of Staningley too: I brought you here to offer a petition
in her behalf, that this may be her home as long as she lives, and
- if it be not our home likewise - that I may often see her and be
with her; for I fear she will be sorry to lose me; and though she
leads a retired and contemplative life, she is apt to get low-
spirited if left too much alone.'
'By all means, dearest Helen! - do what you will with your own. I
should not dream of wishing your aunt to leave the place under any
circumstances; and we will live either here or elsewhere as you and
she may determine, and you shall see her as often as you like. I
know she must be pained to part with you, and I am willing to make
any reparation in my power. I love her for your sake, and her
happiness shall be as dear to me as that of my own mother.'
'Thank you, darling! you shall have a kiss for that. Good-by.
There now - there, Gilbert - let me go - here's Arthur; don't
astonish his infantile brain with your madness.'
* * * * *
But it is time to bring my narrative to a close. Any one but you
would say I had made it too long already. But for your
satisfaction I will add a few words more; because I know you will
have a fellow-feeling for the old lady, and will wish to know the
last of her history. I did come again in spring, and, agreeably to
Helen's injunctions, did my best to cultivate her acquaintance.
She received me very kindly, having been, doubtless, already
prepared to think highly of my character by her niece's too
favourable report. I turned my best side out, of course, and we
got along marvellously well together. When my ambitious intentions
were made known to her, she took it more sensibly than I had
ventured to hope. Her only remark on the subject, in my hearing,
'And so, Mr. Markham, you are going to rob me of my niece, I
understand. Well! I hope God will prosper your union, and make my
dear girl happy at last. Could she have been contented to remain
single, I own I should have been better satisfied; but if she must
marry again, I know of no one, now living and of a suitable age, to
whom I would more willingly resign her than yourself, or who would
be more likely to appreciate her worth and make, her truly happy,
as far as I can tell.'
Of course I was delighted with the compliment, and hoped to show
her that she was not mistaken in her favourable judgment.
'I have, however, one request to offer,' continued she. 'It seems
I am still to look on Staningley as my home: I wish you to make it
yours likewise, for Helen is attached to the place and to me - as I
am to her. There are painful associations connected with
Grassdale, which she cannot easily overcome; and I shall not molest
you with my company or interference here: I am a very quiet
person, and shall keep my own apartments, and attend to my own
concerns, and only see you now and then.'
Of course I most readily consented to this; and we lived in the
greatest harmony with our dear aunt until the day of her death,
which melancholy event took place a few years after - melancholy,
not to herself (for it came quietly upon her, and she was glad to
reach her journey's end), but only to the few loving friends and
grateful dependents she left behind.
To return, however, to my own affairs: I was married in summer, on
a glorious August morning. It took the whole eight months, and all
Helen's kindness and goodness to boot, to overcome my mother's
prejudices against my bride-elect, and to reconcile her to the idea
of my leaving Linden Grange and living so far away. Yet she was
gratified at her son's good fortune after all, and proudly
attributed it all to his own superior merits and endowments. I
bequeathed the farm to Fergus, with better hopes of its prosperity
than I should have had a year ago under similar circumstances; for
he had lately fallen in love with the Vicar of L-'s eldest daughter
- a lady whose superiority had roused his latent virtues, and
stimulated him to the most surprising exertions, not only to gain
her affection and esteem, and to obtain a fortune sufficient to
aspire to her hand, but to render himself worthy of her, in his own
eyes, as well as in those of her parents; and in the end he was
successful, as you already know. As for myself, I need not tell
you how happily my Helen and I have lived together, and how blessed
we still are in each other's society, and in the promising young
scions that are growing up about us. We are just now looking
forward to the advent of you and Rose, for the time of your annual
visit draws nigh, when you must leave your dusty, smoky, noisy,
toiling, striving city for a season of invigorating relaxation and
social retirement with us.
Till then, farewell,
STANINGLEY: June 10TH, 1847.