Part 9 out of 10
imagination, that they had not disturbed him long; and I believe
the only effectual causes of the vacillating indecision that had
preserved him hitherto from making an actual declaration of love,
was the consideration of her connections, and especially of her
mother, whom he could not abide. Had they lived at a distance, he
might have surmounted the objection, but within two or three miles
of Woodford it was really no light matter.
'You've been to call on the Wilsons, Lawrence,' said I, as I walked
beside his pony.
'Yes,' replied he, slightly averting his face: 'I thought it but
civil to take the first opportunity of returning their kind
attentions, since they have been so very particular and constant in
their inquiries throughout the whole course of my illness.'
'It's all Miss Wilson's doing.'
'And if it is,' returned he, with a very perceptible blush, 'is
that any reason why I should not make a suitable acknowledgment?'
'It is a reason why you should not make the acknowledgment she
'Let us drop that subject if you please,' said he, in evident
'No, Lawrence, with your leave we'll continue it a while longer;
and I'll tell you something, now we're about it, which you may
believe or not as you choose - only please to remember that it is
not my custom to speak falsely, and that in this case I can have no
motive for misrepresenting the truth - '
'Well, Markham, what now?'
'Miss Wilson hates your sister. It may be natural enough that, in
her ignorance of the relationship, she should feel some degree of
enmity against her, but no good or amiable woman would be capable
of evincing that bitter, cold-blooded, designing malice towards a
fancied rival that I have observed in her.'
'Yes - and it is my belief that Eliza Millward and she, if not the
very originators of the slanderous reports that have been
propagated, were designedly the encouragers and chief disseminators
of them. She was not desirous to mix up your name in the matter,
of course, but her delight was, and still is, to blacken your
sister's character to the utmost of her power, without risking too
greatly the exposure of her own malevolence!'
'I cannot believe it,' interrupted my companion, his face burning
'Well, as I cannot prove it, I must content myself with asserting
that it is so to the best of my belief; but as you would not
willingly marry Miss Wilson if it were so, you will do well to be
cautious, till you have proved it to be otherwise.'
'I never told you, Markham, that I intended to marry Miss Wilson,'
said he, proudly.
'No, but whether you do or not, she intends to marry you.'
'Did she tell you so?'
'No, but - '
'Then you have no right to make such an assertion respecting her.'
He slightly quickened his pony's pace, but I laid my hand on its
mane, determined he should not leave me yet.
'Wait a moment, Lawrence, and let me explain myself; and don't be
so very - I don't know what to call it - inaccessible as you are. -
I know what you think of Jane Wilson; and I believe I know how far
you are mistaken in your opinion: you think she is singularly
charming, elegant, sensible, and refined: you are not aware that
she is selfish, cold-hearted, ambitious, artful, shallow-minded - '
'Enough, Markham - enough!'
'No; let me finish:- you don't know that, if you married her, your
home would be rayless and comfortless; and it would break your
heart at last to find yourself united to one so wholly incapable of
sharing your tastes, feelings, and ideas - so utterly destitute of
sensibility, good feeling, and true nobility of soul.'
'Have you done?' asked my companion quietly.
'Yes; - I know you hate me for my impertinence, but I don't care if
it only conduces to preserve you from that fatal mistake.'
'Well!' returned he, with a rather wintry smile - 'I'm glad you
have overcome or forgotten your own afflictions so far as to be
able to study so deeply the affairs of others, and trouble your
head so unnecessarily about the fancied or possible calamities of
their future life.'
We parted - somewhat coldly again: but still we did not cease to
be friends; and my well-meant warning, though it might have been
more judiciously delivered, as well as more thankfully received,
was not wholly unproductive of the desired effect: his visit to
the Wilsons was not repeated, and though, in our subsequent
interviews, he never mentioned her name to me, nor I to him, - I
have reason to believe he pondered my words in his mind, eagerly
though covertly sought information respecting the fair lady from
other quarters, secretly compared my character of her with what he
had himself observed and what he heard from others, and finally
came to the conclusion that, all things considered, she had much
better remain Miss Wilson of Ryecote Farm than be transmuted into
Mrs. Lawrence of Woodford Hall. I believe, too, that he soon
learned to contemplate with secret amazement his former
predilection, and to congratulate himself on the lucky escape he
had made; but he never confessed it to me, or hinted one word of
acknowledgment for the part I had had in his deliverance, but this
was not surprising to any one that knew him as I did.
As for Jane Wilson, she, of course, was disappointed and embittered
by the sudden cold neglect and ultimate desertion of her former
admirer. Had I done wrong to blight her cherished hopes? I think
not; and certainly my conscience has never accused me, from that
day to this, of any evil design in the matter.
One morning, about the beginning of November, while I was inditing
some business letters, shortly after breakfast, Eliza Millward came
to call upon my sister. Rose had neither the discrimination nor
the virulence to regard the little demon as I did, and they still
preserved their former intimacy. At the moment of her arrival,
however, there was no one in the room but Fergus and myself, my
mother and sister being both of them absent, 'on household cares
intent'; but I was not going to lay myself out for her amusement,
whoever else might so incline: I merely honoured her with a
careless salutation and a few words of course, and then went on
with my writing, leaving my brother to be more polite if he chose.
But she wanted to tease me.
'What a pleasure it is to find you at home, Mr. Markham!' said she,
with a disingenuously malicious smile. 'I so seldom see you now,
for you never come to the vicarage. Papa, is quite offended, I can
tell you,' she added playfully, looking into my face with an
impertinent laugh, as she seated herself, half beside and half
before my desk, off the corner of the table.
'I have had a good deal to do of late,' said I, without looking up
from my letter.
'Have you, indeed! Somebody said you had been strangely neglecting
your business these last few months.'
'Somebody said wrong, for, these last two months especially, I have
been particularly plodding and diligent.'
'Ah! well, there's nothing like active employment, I suppose, to
console the afflicted; - and, excuse me, Mr. Markham, but you look
so very far from well, and have been, by all accounts, so moody and
thoughtful of late, - I could almost think you have some secret
care preying on your spirits. Formerly,' said she timidly, 'I
could have ventured to ask you what it was, and what I could do to
comfort you: I dare not do it now.'
'You're very kind, Miss Eliza. When I think you can do anything to
comfort me, I'll make bold to tell you.'
'Pray do! - I suppose I mayn't guess what it is that troubles you?'
'There's no necessity, for I'll tell you plainly. The thing that
troubles me the most at present is a young lady sitting at my
elbow, and preventing me from finishing my letter, and, thereafter,
repairing to my daily business.'
Before she could reply to this ungallant speech, Rose entered the
room; and Miss Eliza rising to greet her, they both seated
themselves near the fire, where that idle lad Fergus was standing,
leaning his shoulder against the corner of the chimney-piece, with
his legs crossed and his hands in his breeches-pockets.
'Now, Rose, I'll tell you a piece of news - I hope you have not
heard it before: for good, bad, or indifferent, one always likes
to be the first to tell. It's about that sad Mrs. Graham - '
'Hush-sh-sh!' whispered Fergus, in a tone of solemn import. '"We
never mention her; her name is never heard."' And glancing up, I
caught him with his eye askance on me, and his finger pointed to
his forehead; then, winking at the young lady with a doleful shake
of the head, be whispered - 'A monomania - but don't mention it -
all right but that.'
'I should be sorry to injure any one's feelings,' returned she,
speaking below her breath. 'Another time, perhaps.'
'Speak out, Miss Eliza!' said I, not deigning to notice the other's
buffooneries: 'you needn't fear to say anything in my presence.'
'Well,' answered she, 'perhaps you know already that Mrs. Graham's
husband is not really dead, and that she had run away from him?' I
started, and felt my face glow; but I bent it over my letter, and
went on folding it up as she proceeded. 'But perhaps you did not
know that she is now gone back to him again, and that a perfect
reconciliation has taken place between them? Only think,' she
continued, turning to the confounded Rose, 'what a fool the man
'And who gave you this piece of intelligence, Miss Eliza?' said I,
interrupting my sister's exclamations.
'I had it from a very authentic source.'
'From whom, may I ask?'
'From one of the servants at Woodford.'
'Oh! I was not aware that you were on such intimate terms with Mr.
'It was not from the man himself that I heard it, but he told it in
confidence to our maid Sarah, and Sarah told it to me.'
'In confidence, I suppose? And you tell it in confidence to us?
But I can tell you that it is but a lame story after all, and
scarcely one-half of it true.'
While I spoke I completed the sealing and direction of my letters,
with a somewhat unsteady hand, in spite of all my efforts to retain
composure, and in spite of my firm conviction that the story was a
lame one - that the supposed Mrs. Graham, most certainly, had not
voluntarily gone back to her husband, or dreamt of a
reconciliation. Most likely she was gone away, and the tale-
bearing servant, not knowing what was become of her, had
conjectured that such was the case, and our fair visitor had
detailed it as a certainty, delighted with such an opportunity of
tormenting me. But it was possible - barely possible - that some
one might have betrayed her, and she had been taken away by force.
Determined to know the worst, I hastily pocketed my two letters,
and muttered something about being too late for the post, left the
room, rushed into the yard, and vociferously called for my horse.
No one being there, I dragged him out of the stable myself,
strapped the saddle on to his back and the bridle on to his head,
mounted, and speedily galloped away to Woodford. I found its owner
pensively strolling in the grounds.
'Is your sister gone?' were my first words as I grasped his hand,
instead of the usual inquiry after his health.
'Yes, she's gone,' was his answer, so calmly spoken that my terror
was at once removed.
'I suppose I mayn't know where she is?' said I, as I dismounted,
and relinquished my horse to the gardener, who, being the only
servant within call, had been summoned by his master, from his
employment of raking up the dead leaves on the lawn, to take him to
My companion gravely took my arm, and leading me away to the
garden, thus answered my question, - 'She is at Grassdale Manor, in
'Where?' cried I, with a convulsive start.
'At Grassdale Manor.'
'How was it?' I gasped. 'Who betrayed her?'
'She went of her own accord.'
'Impossible, Lawrence! She could not be so frantic!' exclaimed I,
vehemently grasping his arm, as if to force him to unsay those
'She did,' persisted he in the same grave, collected manner as
before; 'and not without reason,' he continued, gently disengaging
himself from my grasp. 'Mr. Huntingdon is ill.'
'And so she went to nurse him?'
'Fool!' I could not help exclaiming, and Lawrence looked up with a
rather reproachful glance. 'Is he dying, then?'
'I think not, Markham.'
'And how many more nurses has he? How many ladies are there
besides to take care of him?'
'None; he was alone, or she would not have gone.'
'Oh, confound it! This is intolerable!'
'What is? That he should be alone?'
I attempted no reply, for I was not sure that this circumstance did
not partly conduce to my distraction. I therefore continued to
pace the walk in silent anguish, with my hand pressed to my
forehead; then suddenly pausing and turning to my companion, I
impatiently exclaimed, 'Why did she take this infatuated step?
What fiend persuaded her to it?'
'Nothing persuaded her but her own sense of duty.'
'I was half inclined to say so myself, Markham, at first. I assure
you it was not by my advice that she went, for I detest that man as
fervently as you can do, - except, indeed, that his reformation
would give me much greater pleasure than his death; but all I did
was to inform her of the circumstance of his illness (the
consequence of a fall from his horse in hunting), and to tell her
that that unhappy person, Miss Myers, had left him some time ago.'
'It was ill done! Now, when he finds the convenience of her
presence, he will make all manner of lying speeches and false, fair
promises for the future, and she will believe him, and then her
condition will be ten times worse and ten times more irremediable
'There does not appear to be much ground for such apprehensions at
present,' said he, producing a letter from his pocket. 'From the
account I received this morning, I should say - '
It was her writing! By an irresistible impulse I held out my hand,
and the words, 'Let me see it,' involuntarily passed my lips. He
was evidently reluctant to grant the request, but while he
hesitated I snatched it from his hand. Recollecting myself,
however, the minute after, I offered to restore it.
'Here, take it,' said I, 'if you don't want me to read it.'
'No,' replied he, 'you may read it if you like.'
I read it, and so may you.
Grassdale, Nov. 4th.
Dear Frederick, - I know you will be anxious to hear from me, and I
will tell you all I can. Mr. Huntingdon is very ill, but not
dying, or in any immediate danger; and he is rather better at
present than he was when I came. I found the house in sad
confusion: Mrs. Greaves, Benson, every decent servant had left,
and those that were come to supply their places were a negligent,
disorderly set, to say no worse - I must change them again, if I
stay. A professional nurse, a grim, hard old woman, had been hired
to attend the wretched invalid. He suffers much, and has no
fortitude to bear him through. The immediate injuries he sustained
from the accident, however, were not very severe, and would, as the
doctor says, have been but trifling to a man of temperate habits,
but with him it is very different. On the night of my arrival,
when I first entered his room, he was lying in a kind of half
delirium. He did not notice me till I spoke, and then he mistook
me for another.
'Is it you, Alice, come again?' he murmured. 'What did you leave
'It is I, Arthur - it is Helen, your wife,' I replied.
'My wife!' said he, with a start. 'For heaven's sake, don't
mention her - I have none. Devil take her,' he cried, a moment
after, 'and you, too! What did you do it for?'
I said no more; but observing that he kept gazing towards the foot
of the bed, I went and sat there, placing the light so as to shine
full upon me, for I thought he might be dying, and I wanted him to
know me. For a long time he lay silently looking upon me, first
with a vacant stare, then with a fixed gaze of strange growing
intensity. At last he startled me by suddenly raising himself on
his elbow and demanding in a horrified whisper, with his eyes still
fixed upon me, 'Who is it?'
'It is Helen Huntingdon,' said I, quietly rising at the same time,
and removing to a less conspicuous position.
'I must be going mad,' cried he, 'or something - delirious,
perhaps; but leave me, whoever you are. I can't bear that white
face, and those eyes. For God's sake go, and send me somebody else
that doesn't look like that!'
I went at once, and sent the hired nurse; but next morning I
ventured to enter his chamber again, and, taking the nurse's place
by his bedside, I watched him and waited on him for several hours,
showing myself as little as possible, and only speaking when
necessary, and then not above my breath. At first he addressed me
as the nurse, but, on my crossing the room to draw up the window-
blinds, in obedience to his directions, he said, 'No, it isn't
nurse; it's Alice. Stay with me, do! That old hag will be the
death of me.'
'I mean to stay with you,' said I. And after that he would call me
Alice, or some other name almost equally repugnant to my feelings.
I forced myself to endure it for a while, fearing a contradiction
might disturb him too much; but when, having asked for a glass of
water, while I held it to his lips, he murmured, 'Thanks, dearest!'
I could not help distinctly observing, 'You would not say so if you
knew me,' intending to follow that up with another declaration of
my identity; but he merely muttered an incoherent reply, so I
dropped it again, till some time after, when, as I was bathing his
forehead and temples with vinegar and water to relieve the heat and
pain in his head, he observed, after looking earnestly upon me for
some minutes, 'I have such strange fancies - I can't get rid of
them, and they won't let me rest; and the most singular and
pertinacious of them all is your face and voice - they seem just
like hers. I could swear at this moment that she was by my side.'
'She is,' said I.
'That seems comfortable,' continued he, without noticing my words;
'and while you do it, the other fancies fade away - but this only
strengthens. - Go on - go on, till it vanishes, too. I can't stand
such a mania as this; it would kill me!'
'It never will vanish,' said I, distinctly, 'for it is the truth!'
'The truth!' he cried, starting, as if an asp had stung him. 'You
don't mean to say that you are really she?'
'I do; but you needn't shrink away from me, as if I were your
greatest enemy: I am come to take care of you, and do what none of
them would do.'
'For God's sake, don't torment me now!' cried he in pitiable
agitation; and then he began to mutter bitter curses against me, or
the evil fortune that had brought me there; while I put down the
sponge and basin, and resumed my seat at the bed-side.
'Where are they?' said he: 'have they all left me - servants and
'There are servants within call if you want them; but you had
better lie down now and be quiet: none of them could or would
attend you as carefully as I shall do.'
'I can't understand it at all,' said he, in bewildered perplexity.
'Was it a dream that - ' and he covered his eyes with his hands, as
if trying to unravel the mystery.
'No, Arthur, it was not a dream, that your conduct was such as to
oblige me to leave you; but I heard that you were ill and alone,
and I am come back to nurse you. You need not fear to trust me
tell me all your wants, and I will try to satisfy them. There is
no one else to care for you; and I shall not upbraid you now.'
'Oh! I see,' said he, with a bitter smile; 'it's an act of
Christian charity, whereby you hope to gain a higher seat in heaven
for yourself, and scoop a deeper pit in hell for me.'
'No; I came to offer you that comfort and assistance your situation
required; and if I could benefit your soul as well as your body,
and awaken some sense of contrition and - '
'Oh, yes; if you could overwhelm me with remorse and confusion of
face, now's the time. What have you done with my son?'
'He is well, and you may see him some time, if you will compose
yourself, but not now.'
'Where is he?'
'He is safe.'
'Is he here?'
'Wherever he is, you will not see him till you have promised to
leave him entirely under my care and protection, and to let me take
him away whenever and wherever I please, if I should hereafter
judge it necessary to remove him again. But we will talk of that
to-morrow: you must be quiet now.'
'No, let me see him now, I promise, if it must be so.'
'No - '
'I swear it, as God is in heaven! Now, then, let me see him.'
'But I cannot trust your oaths and promises: I must have a written
agreement, and you must sign it in presence of a witness: but not
to-day - to-morrow.'
'No, to-day; now,' persisted he: and he was in such a state of
feverish excitement, and so bent upon the immediate gratification
of his wish, that I thought it better to grant it at once, as I saw
he would not rest till I did. But I was determined my son's
interest should not be forgotten; and having clearly written out
the promise I wished Mr. Huntingdon to give upon a slip of paper, I
deliberately read it over to him, and made him sign it in the
presence of Rachel. He begged I would not insist upon this: it
was a useless exposure of my want of faith in his word to the
servant. I told him I was sorry, but since he had forfeited my
confidence, he must take the consequence. He next pleaded
inability to hold the pen. 'Then we must wait until you can hold
it,' said I. Upon which he said he would try; but then he could
not see to write. I placed my finger where the signature was to
be, and told him he might write his name in the dark, if he only
knew where to put it. But he had not power to form the letters.
'In that case, you must be too ill to see the child,' said I; and
finding me inexorable, he at length managed to ratify the
agreement; and I bade Rachel send the boy.
All this may strike you as harsh, but I felt I must not lose my
present advantage, and my son's future welfare should not be
sacrificed to any mistaken tenderness for this man's feelings.
Little Arthur had not forgotten his father, but thirteen months of
absence, during which he had seldom been permitted to hear a word
about him, or hardly to whisper his name, had rendered him somewhat
shy; and when he was ushered into the darkened room where the sick
man lay, so altered from his former self, with fiercely flushed
face and wildly-gleaming eyes - he instinctively clung to me, and
stood looking on his father with a countenance expressive of far
more awe than pleasure.
'Come here, Arthur,' said the latter, extending his hand towards
him. The child went, and timidly touched that burning hand, but
almost started in alarm, when his father suddenly clutched his arm
and drew him nearer to his side.
'Do you know me?' asked Mr. Huntingdon, intently perusing his
'Who am I?'
'Are you glad to see me?'
'You're not!' replied the disappointed parent, relaxing his hold,
and darting a vindictive glance at me.
Arthur, thus released, crept back to me and put his hand in mine.
His father swore I had made the child hate him, and abused and
cursed me bitterly. The instant he began I sent our son out of the
room; and when he paused to breathe, I calmly assured him that he
was entirely mistaken; I had never once attempted to prejudice his
child against him.
'I did indeed desire him to forget you,' I said, 'and especially to
forget the lessons you taught him; and for that cause, and to
lessen the danger of discovery, I own I have generally discouraged
his inclination to talk about you; but no one can blame me for
that, I think.'
The invalid only replied by groaning aloud, and rolling his head on
a pillow in a paroxysm of impatience.
'I am in hell, already!' cried he. 'This cursed thirst is burning
my heart to ashes! Will nobody -?'
Before he could finish the sentence I had poured out a glass of
some acidulated, cooling drink that was on the table, and brought
it to him. He drank it greedily, but muttered, as I took away the
glass, - 'I suppose you're heaping coals of fire on my head, you
Not noticing this speech, I asked if there was anything else I
could do for him.
'Yes; I'll give you another opportunity of showing your Christian
magnanimity,' sneered he: 'set my pillow straight, and these
confounded bed-clothes.' I did so. 'There: now get me another
glass of that slop.' I complied. 'This is delightful, isn't it?'
said he with a malicious grin, as I held it to his lips; 'you never
hoped for such a glorious opportunity?'
'Now, shall I stay with you?' said I, as I replaced the glass on
the table: 'or will you be more quiet if I go and send the nurse?'
'Oh, yes, you're wondrous gentle and obliging! But you've driven
me mad with it all!' responded he, with an impatient toss.
'I'll leave you, then,' said I; and I withdrew, and did not trouble
him with my presence again that day, except for a minute or two at
a time, just to see how he was and what he wanted.
Next morning the doctor ordered him to be bled; and after that he
was more subdued and tranquil. I passed half the day in his room
at different intervals. My presence did not appear to agitate or
irritate him as before, and he accepted my services quietly,
without any bitter remarks: indeed, he scarcely spoke at all,
except to make known his wants, and hardly then. But on the
morrow, that is to say, in proportion as he recovered from the
state of exhaustion and stupefaction, his ill-nature appeared to
'Oh, this sweet revenge!' cried he, when I had been doing all I
could to make him comfortable and to remedy the carelessness of his
nurse. 'And you can enjoy it with such a quiet conscience too,
because it's all in the way of duty.'
'It is well for me that I am doing my duty,' said I, with a
bitterness I could not repress, 'for it is the only comfort I have;
and the satisfaction of my own conscience, it seems, is the only
reward I need look for!'
He looked rather surprised at the earnestness of my manner.
'What reward did you look for?' he asked.
'You will think me a liar if I tell you; but I did hope to benefit
you: as well to better your mind as to alleviate your present
sufferings; but it appears I am to do neither; your own bad spirit
will not let me. As far as you are concerned, I have sacrificed my
own feelings, and all the little earthly comfort that was left me,
to no purpose; and every little thing I do for you is ascribed to
self-righteous malice and refined revenge!'
'It's all very fine, I daresay,' said he, eyeing me with stupid
amazement; 'and of course I ought to be melted to tears of
penitence and admiration at the sight of so much generosity and
superhuman goodness; but you see I can't manage it. However, pray
do me all the good you can, if you do really find any pleasure in
it; for you perceive I am almost as miserable just now as you need
wish to see me. Since you came, I confess, I have had better
attendance than before, for these wretches neglected me shamefully,
and all my old friends seem to have fairly forsaken me. I've had a
dreadful time of it, I assure you: I sometimes thought I should
have died: do you think there's any chance?'
'There's always a chance of death; and it is always well to live
with such a chance in view.'
'Yes, yes! but do you think there's any likelihood that this
illness will have a fatal termination?'
'I cannot tell; but, supposing it should, how are you prepared to
meet the event?'
'Why, the doctor told me I wasn't to think about it, for I was sure
to get better if I stuck to his regimen and prescriptions.'
'I hope you may, Arthur; but neither the doctor nor I can speak
with certainty in such a case; there is internal injury, and it is
difficult to know to what extent.'
'There now! you want to scare me to death.'
'No; but I don't want to lull you to false security. If a
consciousness of the uncertainty of life can dispose you to serious
and useful thoughts, I would not deprive you of the benefit of such
reflections, whether you do eventually recover or not. Does the
idea of death appal you very much?'
'It's just the only thing I can't bear to think of; so if you've
any - '
'But it must come some time,' interrupted I, 'and if it be years
hence, it will as certainly overtake you as if it came to-day, -
and no doubt be as unwelcome then as now, unless you - '
'Oh, hang it! don't torment me with your preachments now, unless
you want to kill me outright. I can't stand it, I tell you. I've
sufferings enough without that. If you think there's danger, save
me from it; and then, in gratitude, I'll hear whatever you like to
I accordingly dropped the unwelcome topic. And now, Frederick, I
think I may bring my letter to a close. From these details you may
form your own judgment of the state of my patient, and of my own
position and future prospects. Let me hear from you soon, and I
will write again to tell you how we get on; but now that my
presence is tolerated, and even required, in the sick-room, I shall
have but little time to spare between my husband and my son, - for
I must not entirely neglect the latter: it would not do to keep
him always with Rachel, and I dare not leave him for a moment with
any of the other servants, or suffer him to be alone, lest he
should meet them. If his father get worse, I shall ask Esther
Hargrave to take charge of him for a time, till I have reorganised
the household at least; but I greatly prefer keeping him under my
I find myself in rather a singular position: I am exerting my
utmost endeavours to promote the recovery and reformation of my
husband, and if I succeed, what shall I do? My duty, of course, -
but how? No matter; I can perform the task that is before me now,
and God will give me strength to do whatever He requires hereafter.
Good-by, dear Frederick.
'What do you think of it?' said Lawrence, as I silently refolded
'It seems to me,' returned I, 'that she is casting her pearls
before swine. May they be satisfied with trampling them under
their feet, and not turn again and rend her! But I shall say no
more against her: I see that she was actuated by the best and
noblest motives in what she has done; and if the act is not a wise
one, may heaven protect her from its consequences! May I keep this
letter, Lawrence? - you see she has never once mentioned me
throughout - or made the most distant allusion to me; therefore,
there can be no impropriety or harm in it.'
'And, therefore, why should you wish to keep it?'
'Were not these characters written by her hand? and were not these
words conceived in her mind, and many of them spoken by her lips?'
'Well,' said he. And so I kept it; otherwise, Halford, you could
never have become so thoroughly acquainted with its contents.
'And when you write,' said I, 'will you have the goodness to ask
her if I may be permitted to enlighten my mother and sister on her
real history and circumstance, just so far as is necessary to make
the neighbourhood sensible of the shameful injustice they have done
her? I want no tender messages, but just ask her that, and tell
her it is the greatest favour she could do me; and tell her - no,
nothing more. You see I know the address, and I might write to her
myself, but I am so virtuous as to refrain.'
'Well, I'll do this for you, Markham.'
'And as soon as you receive an answer, you'll let me know?'
'If all be well, I'll come myself and tell you immediately.'
Five or six days after this Mr. Lawrence paid us the honour of a
call; and when he and I were alone together - which I contrived as
soon as possible by bringing him out to look at my cornstacks - he
showed me another letter from his sister. This one he was quite
willing to submit to my longing gaze; he thought, I suppose, it
would do me good. The only answer it gave to my message was this:-
'Mr. Markham is at liberty to make such revelations concerning me
as he judges necessary. He will know that I should wish but little
to be said on the subject. I hope he is well; but tell him he must
not think of me.'
I can give you a few extracts from the rest of the letter, for I
was permitted to keep this also - perhaps, as an antidote to all
pernicious hopes and fancies.
* * * * *
He is decidedly better, but very low from the depressing effects of
his severe illness and the strict regimen he is obliged to observe
- so opposite to all his previous habits. It is deplorable to see
how completely his past life has degenerated his once noble
constitution, and vitiated the whole system of his organization.
But the doctor says he may now be considered out of danger, if he
will only continue to observe the necessary restrictions. Some
stimulating cordials he must have, but they should be judiciously
diluted and sparingly used; and I find it very difficult to keep
him to this. At first, his extreme dread of death rendered the
task an easy one; but in proportion as he feels his acute suffering
abating, and sees the danger receding, the more intractable he
becomes. Now, also, his appetite for food is beginning to return;
and here, too, his long habits of self-indulgence are greatly
against him. I watch and restrain him as well as I can, and often
get bitterly abused for my rigid severity; and sometimes he
contrives to elude my vigilance, and sometimes acts in opposition
to my will. But he is now so completely reconciled to my
attendance in general that he is never satisfied when I am not by
his side. I am obliged to be a little stiff with him sometimes, or
he would make a complete slave of me; and I know it would be
unpardonable weakness to give up all other interests for him. I
have the servants to overlook, and my little Arthur to attend to, -
and my own health too, all of which would be entirely neglected
were I to satisfy his exorbitant demands. I do not generally sit
up at night, for I think the nurse who has made it her business is
better qualified for such undertakings than I am; - but still, an
unbroken night's rest is what I but seldom enjoy, and never can
venture to reckon upon; for my patient makes no scruple of calling
me up at an hour when his wants or his fancies require my presence.
But he is manifestly afraid of my displeasure; and if at one time
he tries my patience by his unreasonable exactions, and fretful
complaints and reproaches, at another he depresses me by his abject
submission and deprecatory self-abasement when he fears he has gone
too far. But all this I can readily pardon; I know it is chiefly
the result of his enfeebled frame and disordered nerves. What
annoys me the most, is his occasional attempts at affectionate
fondness that I can neither credit nor return; not that I hate him:
his sufferings and my own laborious care have given him some claim
to my regard - to my affection even, if he would only be quiet and
sincere, and content to let things remain as they are; but the more
he tries to conciliate me, the more I shrink from him and from the
'Helen, what do you mean to do when I get well?' he asked this
morning. 'Will you run away again?'
'It entirely depends upon your own conduct.'
'Oh, I'll be very good.'
'But if I find it necessary to leave you, Arthur, I shall not "run
away": you know I have your own promise that I may go whenever I
please, and take my son with me.'
'Oh, but you shall have no cause.' And then followed a variety of
professions, which I rather coldly checked.
'Will you not forgive me, then?' said he.
'Yes, - I have forgiven you: but I know you cannot love me as you
once did - and I should be very sorry if you were to, for I could
not pretend to return it: so let us drop the subject, and never
recur to it again. By what I have done for you, you may judge of
what I will do - if it be not incompatible with the higher duty I
owe to my son (higher, because he never forfeited his claims, and
because I hope to do more good to him than I can ever do to you);
and if you wish me to feel kindly towards you, it is deeds not
words which must purchase my affection and esteem.'
His sole reply to this was a slight grimace, and a scarcely
perceptible shrug. Alas, unhappy man! words, with him, are so much
cheaper than deeds; it was as if I had said, 'Pounds, not pence,
must buy the article you want.' And then he sighed a querulous,
self-commiserating sigh, as if in pure regret that he, the loved
and courted of so many worshippers, should be now abandoned to the
mercy of a harsh, exacting, cold-hearted woman like that, and even
glad of what kindness she chose to bestow.
'It's a pity, isn't it?' said I; and whether I rightly divined his
musings or not, the observation chimed in with his thoughts, for he
answered - 'It can't be helped,' with a rueful smile at my
* * * * *
I have I seen Esther Hargrave twice. She is a charming creature,
but her blithe spirit is almost broken, and her sweet temper almost
spoiled, by the still unremitting persecutions of her mother in
behalf of her rejected suitor - not violent, but wearisome and
unremitting like a continual dropping. The unnatural parent seems
determined to make her daughter's life a burden, if she will not
yield to her desires.
'Mamma does all she can,' said she, 'to make me feel myself a
burden and incumbrance to the family, and the most ungrateful,
selfish, and undutiful daughter that ever was born; and Walter,
too, is as stern and cold and haughty as if he hated me outright.
I believe I should have yielded at once if I had known, from the
beginning, how much resistance would have cost me; but now, for
very obstinacy's sake, I will stand out!'
'A bad motive for a good resolve,' I answered. 'But, however, I
know you have better motives, really, for your perseverance: and I
counsel you to keep them still in view.'
'Trust me I will. I threaten mamma sometimes that I'll run away,
and disgrace the family by earning my own livelihood, if she
torments me any more; and then that frightens her a little. But I
will do it, in good earnest, if they don't mind.'
'Be quiet and patient a while,' said I, 'and better times will
Poor girl! I wish somebody that was worthy to possess her would
come and take her away - don't you, Frederick?
* * * * *
If the perusal of this letter filled me with dismay for Helen's
future life and mine, there was one great source of consolation:
it was now in my power to clear her name from every foul aspersion.
The Millwards and the Wilsons should see with their own eyes the
bright sun bursting from the cloud - and they should be scorched
and dazzled by its beams; - and my own friends too should see it -
they whose suspicions had been such gall and wormwood to my soul.
To effect this I had only to drop the seed into the ground, and it
would soon become a stately, branching herb: a few words to my
mother and sister, I knew, would suffice to spread the news
throughout the whole neighbourhood, without any further exertion on
Rose was delighted; and as soon as I had told her all I thought
proper - which was all I affected to know - she flew with alacrity
to put on her bonnet and shawl, and hasten to carry the glad
tidings to the Millwards and Wilsons - glad tidings, I suspect, to
none but herself and Mary Millward - that steady, sensible girl,
whose sterling worth had been so quickly perceived and duly valued
by the supposed Mrs. Graham, in spite of her plain outside; and
who, on her part, had been better able to see and appreciate that
lady's true character and qualities than the brightest genius among
As I may never have occasion to mention her again, I may as well
tell you here that she was at this time privately engaged to
Richard Wilson - a secret, I believe, to every one but themselves.
That worthy student was now at Cambridge, where his most exemplary
conduct and his diligent perseverance in the pursuit of learning
carried him safely through, and eventually brought him with hard-
earned honours, and an untarnished reputation, to the close of his
collegiate career. In due time he became Mr. Millward's first and
only curate - for that gentleman's declining years forced him at
last to acknowledge that the duties of his extensive parish were a
little too much for those vaunted energies which he was wont to
boast over his younger and less active brethren of the cloth. This
was what the patient, faithful lovers had privately planned and
quietly waited for years ago; and in due time they were united, to
the astonishment of the little world they lived in, that had long
since declared them both born to single blessedness; affirming it
impossible that the pale, retiring bookworm should ever summon
courage to seek a wife, or be able to obtain one if he did, and
equally impossible that the plain-looking, plain-dealing,
unattractive, unconciliating Miss Millward should ever find a
They still continued to live at the vicarage, the lady dividing her
time between her father, her husband, and their poor parishioners,
- and subsequently her rising family; and now that the Reverend
Michael Millward has been gathered to his fathers, full of years
and honours, the Reverend Richard Wilson has succeeded him to the
vicarage of Linden-hope, greatly to the satisfaction of its
inhabitants, who had so long tried and fully proved his merits, and
those of his excellent and well-loved partner.
If you are interested in the after fate of that lady's sister, I
can only tell you - what perhaps you have heard from another
quarter - that some twelve or thirteen years ago she relieved the
happy couple of her presence by marrying a wealthy tradesman of L-;
and I don't envy him his bargain. I fear she leads him a rather
uncomfortable life, though, happily, he is too dull to perceive the
extent of his misfortune. I have little enough to do with her
myself: we have not met for many years; but, I am well assured,
she has not yet forgotten or forgiven either her former lover, or
the lady whose superior qualities first opened his eyes to the
folly of his boyish attachment.
As for Richard Wilson's sister, she, having been wholly unable to
recapture Mr. Lawrence, or obtain any partner rich and elegant
enough to suit her ideas of what the husband of Jane Wilson ought
to be, is yet in single blessedness. Shortly after the death of
her mother she withdrew the light of her presence from Ryecote
Farm, finding it impossible any longer to endure the rough manners
and unsophisticated habits of her honest brother Robert and his
worthy wife, or the idea of being identified with such vulgar
people in the eyes of the world, and took lodgings in - the county
town, where she lived, and still lives, I suppose, in a kind of
close-fisted, cold, uncomfortable gentility, doing no good to
others, and but little to herself; spending her days in fancy-work
and scandal; referring frequently to her 'brother the vicar,' and
her 'sister, the vicar's lady,' but never to her brother the farmer
and her sister the farmer's wife; seeing as much company as she can
without too much expense, but loving no one and beloved by none -
a cold-hearted, supercilious, keenly, insidiously censorious old
Though Mr. Lawrence's health was now quite re-established, my
visits to Woodford were as unremitting as ever; though often less
protracted than before. We seldom talked about Mrs. Huntingdon;
but yet we never met without mentioning her, for I never sought his
company but with the hope of hearing something about her, and he
never sought mine at all, because he saw me often enough without.
But I always began to talk of other things, and waited first to see
if he would introduce the subject. If he did not, I would casually
ask, 'Have you heard from your sister lately?' If he said 'No,'
the matter was dropped: if he said 'Yes,' I would venture to
inquire, 'How is she?' but never 'How is her husband?' though I
might be burning to know; because I had not the hypocrisy to
profess any anxiety for his recovery, and I had not the face to
express any desire for a contrary result. Had I any such desire? -
I fear I must plead guilty; but since you have heard my confession,
you must hear my justification as well - a few of the excuses, at
least, wherewith I sought to pacify my own accusing conscience.
In the first place, you see, his life did harm to others, and
evidently no good to himself; and though I wished it to terminate,
I would not have hastened its close if, by the lifting of a finger,
I could have done so, or if a spirit had whispered in my ear that a
single effort of the will would be enough, - unless, indeed, I had
the power to exchange him for some other victim of the grave, whose
life might be of service to his race, and whose death would be
lamented by his friends. But was there any harm in wishing that,
among the many thousands whose souls would certainly be required of
them before the year was over, this wretched mortal might be one?
I thought not; and therefore I wished with all my heart that it
might please heaven to remove him to a better world, or if that
might not be, still to take him out of this; for if he were unfit
to answer the summons now, after a warning sickness, and with such
an angel by his side, it seemed but too certain that he never would
be - that, on the contrary, returning health would bring returning
lust and villainy, and as he grew more certain of recovery, more
accustomed to her generous goodness, his feelings would become more
callous, his heart more flinty and impervious to her persuasive
arguments - but God knew best. Meantime, however, I could not but
be anxious for the result of His decrees; knowing, as I did, that
(leaving myself entirely out of the question), however Helen might
feel interested in her husband's welfare, however she might deplore
his fate, still while he lived she must be miserable.
A fortnight passed away, and my inquiries were always answered in
the negative. At length a welcome 'yes' drew from me the second
question. Lawrence divined my anxious thoughts, and appreciated my
reserve. I feared, at first, he was going to torture me by
unsatisfactory replies, and either leave me quite in the dark
concerning what I wanted to know, or force me to drag the
information out of him, morsel by morsel, by direct inquiries.
'And serve you right,' you will say; but he was more merciful; and
in a little while he put his sister's letter into my hand. I
silently read it, and restored it to him without comment or remark.
This mode of procedure suited him so well, that thereafter he
always pursued the plan of showing me her letters at once, when
'inquired' after her, if there were any to show - it was so much
less trouble than to tell me their contents; and I received such
confidences so quietly and discreetly that he was never induced to
But I devoured those precious letters with my eyes, and never let
them go till their contents were stamped upon my mind; and when I
got home, the most important passages were entered in my diary
among the remarkable events of the day.
The first of these communications brought intelligence of a serious
relapse in Mr. Huntingdon's illness, entirely the result of his own
infatuation in persisting in the indulgence of his appetite for
stimulating drink. In vain had she remonstrated, in vain she had
mingled his wine with water: her arguments and entreaties were a
nuisance, her interference was an insult so intolerable that, at
length, on finding she had covertly diluted the pale port that was
brought him, he threw the bottle out of window, swearing he would
not be cheated like a baby, ordered the butler, on pain of instant
dismissal, to bring a bottle of the strongest wine in the cellar,
and affirming that he should have been well long ago if he had been
let to have his own way, but she wanted to keep him weak in order
that she might have him under her thumb - but, by the Lord Harry,
he would have no more humbug - seized a glass in one hand and the
bottle in the other, and never rested till he had drunk it dry.
Alarming symptoms were the immediate result of this 'imprudence,'
as she mildly termed it - symptoms which had rather increased than
diminished since; and this was the cause of her delay in writing to
her brother. Every former feature of his malady had returned with
augmented virulence: the slight external wound, half healed, had
broken out afresh; internal inflammation had taken place, which
might terminate fatally if not soon removed. Of course, the
wretched sufferer's temper was not improved by this calamity - in
fact, I suspect it was well nigh insupportable, though his kind
nurse did not complain; but she said she had been obliged at last
to give her son in charge to Esther Hargrave, as her presence was
so constantly required in the sick-room that she could not possibly
attend to him herself; and though the child had begged to be
allowed to continue with her there, and to help her to nurse his
papa, and though she had no doubt he would have been very good and
quiet, she could not think of subjecting his young and tender
feelings to the sight of so much suffering, or of allowing him to
witness his father's impatience, or hear the dreadful language he
was wont to use in his paroxysms of pain or irritation.
The latter (continued she) most deeply regrets the step that has
occasioned his relapse; but, as usual, he throws the blame upon me.
If I had reasoned with him like a rational creature, he says, it
never would have happened; but to be treated like a baby or a fool
was enough to put any man past his patience, and drive him to
assert his independence even at the sacrifice of his own interest.
He forgets how often I had reasoned him 'past his patience' before.
He appears to be sensible of his danger; but nothing can induce him
to behold it in the proper light. The other night, while I was
waiting on him, and just as I had brought him a draught to assuage
his burning thirst, he observed, with a return of his former
sarcastic bitterness, 'Yes, you're mighty attentive now! I suppose
there's nothing you wouldn't do for me now?'
'You know,' said I, a little surprised at his manner, 'that I am
willing to do anything I can to relieve you.'
'Yes, now, my immaculate angel; but when once you have secured your
reward, and find yourself safe in heaven, and me howling in hell-
fire, catch you lifting a finger to serve me then! No, you'll look
complacently on, and not so much as dip the tip of your finger in
water to cool my tongue!'
'If so, it will be because of the great gulf over which I cannot
pass; and if I could look complacently on in such a case, it would
be only from the assurance that you were being purified from your
sins, and fitted to enjoy the happiness I felt. - But are you
determined, Arthur, that I shall not meet you in heaven?'
'Humph! What should I do there, I should like to know?'
'Indeed, I cannot tell; and I fear it is too certain that your
tastes and feelings must be widely altered before you can have any
enjoyment there. But do you prefer sinking, without an effort,
into the state of torment you picture to yourself?'
'Oh, it's all a fable,' said he, contemptuously.
'Are you sure, Arthur? are you quite sure? Because, if there is
any doubt, and if you should find yourself mistaken after all, when
it is too late to turn - '
'It would be rather awkward, to be sure,' said he; 'but don't
bother me now - I'm not going to die yet. I can't and won't,' he
added vehemently, as if suddenly struck with the appalling aspect
of that terrible event. 'Helen, you must save me!' And he
earnestly seized my hand, and looked into my face with such
imploring eagerness that my heart bled for him, and I could not
speak for tears.
* * * * *
The next letter brought intelligence that the malady was fast
increasing; and the poor sufferer's horror of death was still more
distressing than his impatience of bodily pain. All his friends
had not forsaken him; for Mr. Hattersley, hearing of his danger,
had come to see him from his distant home in the north. His wife
had accompanied him, as much for the pleasure of seeing her dear
friend, from whom she had been parted so long, as to visit her
mother and sister.
Mrs. Huntingdon expressed herself glad to see Milicent once more,
and pleased to behold her so happy and well. She is now at the
Grove, continued the letter, but she often calls to see me. Mr.
Hattersley spends much of his time at Arthur's bed-side. With more
good feeling than I gave him credit for, he evinces considerable
sympathy for his unhappy friend, and is far more willing than able
to comfort him. Sometimes he tries to joke and laugh with him, but
that will not do; sometimes he endeavours to cheer him with talk
about old times, and this at one time may serve to divert the
sufferer from his own sad thoughts; at another, it will only plunge
him into deeper melancholy than before; and then Hattersley is
confounded, and knows not what to say, unless it be a timid
suggestion that the clergyman might be sent for. But Arthur will
never consent to that: he knows he has rejected the clergyman's
well-meant admonitions with scoffing levity at other times, and
cannot dream of turning to him for consolation now.
Mr. Hattersley sometimes offers his services instead of mine, but
Arthur will not let me go: that strange whim still increases, as
his strength declines - the fancy to have me always by his side. I
hardly ever leave him, except to go into the next room, where I
sometimes snatch an hour or so of sleep when he is quiet; but even
then the door is left ajar, that he may know me to be within call.
I am with him now, while I write, and I fear my occupation annoys
him; though I frequently break off to attend to him, and though Mr.
Hattersley is also by his side. That gentleman came, as he said,
to beg a holiday for me, that I might have a run in the park, this
fine frosty morning, with Milicent and Esther and little Arthur,
whom he had driven over to see me. Our poor invalid evidently felt
it a heartless proposition, and would have felt it still more
heartless in me to accede to it. I therefore said I would only go
and speak to them a minute, and then come back. I did but exchange
a few words with them, just outside the portico, inhaling the
fresh, bracing air as I stood, and then, resisting the earnest and
eloquent entreaties of all three to stay a little longer, and join
them in a walk round the garden, I tore myself away and returned to
my patient. I had not been absent five minutes, but he reproached
me bitterly for my levity and neglect. His friend espoused my
'Nay, nay, Huntingdon,' said he, 'you're too hard upon her; she
must have food and sleep, and a mouthful of fresh air now and then,
or she can't stand it, I tell you. Look at her, man! she's worn to
a shadow already.'
'What are her sufferings to mine?' said the poor invalid. 'You
don't grudge me these attentions, do you, Helen?'
'No, Arthur, if I could really serve you by them. I would give my
life to save you, if I might.'
'Would you, indeed? No!'
'Most willingly I would.'
'Ah! that's because you think yourself more fit to die!'
There was a painful pause. He was evidently plunged in gloomy
reflections; but while I pondered for something to say that might
benefit without alarming him, Hattersley, whose mind had been
pursuing almost the same course, broke silence with, 'I say,
Huntingdon, I would send for a parson of some sort: if you didn't
like the vicar, you know, you could have his curate, or somebody
'No; none of them can benefit me if she can't,' was the answer.
And the tears gushed from his eyes as he earnestly exclaimed, 'Oh,
Helen, if I had listened to you, it never would have come to this!
and if I had heard you long ago - oh, God! how different it would
'Hear me now, then, Arthur,' said I, gently pressing his hand.
'It's too late now,' said he despondingly. And after that another
paroxysm of pain came on; and then his mind began to wander, and we
feared his death was approaching: but an opiate was administered:
his sufferings began to abate, he gradually became more composed,
and at length sank into a kind of slumber. He has been quieter
since; and now Hattersley has left him, expressing a hope that he
shall find him better when he calls to-morrow.
'Perhaps I may recover,' he replied; 'who knows? This may have
been the crisis. What do you think, Helen?' Unwilling to depress
him, I gave the most cheering answer I could, but still recommended
him to prepare for the possibility of what I inly feared was but
too certain. But he was determined to hope. Shortly after he
relapsed into a kind of doze, but now he groans again.
There is a change. Suddenly he called me to his side, with such a
strange, excited manner, that I feared he was delirious, but he was
not. 'That was the crisis, Helen!' said he, delightedly. 'I had
an infernal pain here - it is quite gone now. I never was so easy
since the fall - quite gone, by heaven!' and he clasped and kissed
my hand in the very fulness of his heart; but finding I did not
participate his joy, he quickly flung it from him, and bitterly
cursed my coldness and insensibility. How could I reply? Kneeling
beside him, I took his hand and fondly pressed it to my lips - for
the first time since our separation - and told him, as well as
tears would let me speak, that it was not that that kept me silent:
it was the fear that this sudden cessation of pain was not so
favourable a symptom as he supposed. I immediately sent for the
doctor: we are now anxiously awaiting him. I will tell you what
he says. There is still the same freedom from pain, the same
deadness to all sensation where the suffering was most acute.
My worst fears are realised: mortification has commenced. The
doctor has told him there is no hope. No words can describe his
anguish. I can write no more.
* * * * *
The next was still more distressing in the tenor of its contents.
The sufferer was fast approaching dissolution - dragged almost to
the verge of that awful chasm he trembled to contemplate, from
which no agony of prayers or tears could save him. Nothing could
comfort him now; Hattersley's rough attempts at consolation were
utterly in vain. The world was nothing to him: life and all its
interests, its petty cares and transient pleasures, were a cruel
mockery. To talk of the past was to torture him with vain remorse;
to refer to the future was to increase his anguish; and yet to be
silent was to leave him a prey to his own regrets and
apprehensions. Often he dwelt with shuddering minuteness on the
fate of his perishing clay - the slow, piecemeal dissolution
already invading his frame: the shroud, the coffin, the dark,
lonely grave, and all the horrors of corruption.
'If I try,' said his afflicted wife, 'to divert him from these
things - to raise his thoughts to higher themes, it is no better:-
"Worse and worse!" he groans. "If there be really life beyond the
tomb, and judgment after death, how can I face it?" - I cannot do
him any good; he will neither be enlightened, nor roused, nor
comforted by anything I say; and yet he clings to me with
unrelenting pertinacity - with a kind of childish desperation, as
if I could save him from the fate he dreads. He keeps me night and
day beside him. He is holding my left hand now, while I write; he
has held it thus for hours: sometimes quietly, with his pale face
upturned to mine: sometimes clutching my arm with violence - the
big drops starting from his forehead at the thoughts of what he
sees, or thinks he sees, before him. If I withdraw my hand for a
moment it distresses him.
'"Stay with me, Helen," he says; "let me hold you so: it seems as
if harm could not reach me while you are here. But death will come
- it is coming now - fast, fast! - and - oh, if I could believe
there was nothing after!"
'"Don't try to believe it, Arthur; there is joy and glory after, if
you will but try to reach it!"
'"What, for me?" he said, with something like a laugh. "Are we not
to be judged according to the deeds done in the body? Where's the
use of a probationary existence, if a man may spend it as he
pleases, just contrary to God's decrees, and then go to heaven with
the best - if the vilest sinner may win the reward of the holiest
saint, by merely saying, "I repent!"'
'"But if you sincerely repent - "
'"I can't repent; I only fear."
'"You only regret the past for its consequences to yourself?"
'"Just so - except that I'm sorry to have wronged you, Nell,
because you're so good to me."
'"Think of the goodness of God, and you cannot but be grieved to
have offended Him."
'"What is God? - I cannot see Him or hear Him. - God is only an
'"God is Infinite Wisdom, and Power, and Goodness - and LOVE; but
if this idea is too vast for your human faculties - if your mind
loses itself in its overwhelming infinitude, fix it on Him who
condescended to take our nature upon Him, who was raised to heaven
even in His glorified human body, in whom the fulness of the
'But he only shook his head and sighed. Then, in another paroxysm
of shuddering horror, he tightened his grasp on my hand and arm,
and, groaning and lamenting, still clung to me with that wild,
desperate earnestness so harrowing to my soul, because I know I
cannot help him. I did my best to soothe and comfort him.
'"Death is so terrible," he cried, "I cannot bear it! You don't
know, Helen - you can't imagine what it is, because you haven't it
before you! and when I'm buried, you'll return to your old ways and
be as happy as ever, and all the world will go on just as busy and
merry as if I had never been; while I - " He burst into tears.
'"You needn't let that distress you," I said; "we shall all follow
you soon enough."
'"I wish to God I could take you with me now!" he exclaimed: "you
should plead for me."
'"No man can deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for
him," I replied: "it cost more to redeem their souls - it cost the
blood of an incarnate God, perfect and sinless in Himself, to
redeem us from the bondage of the evil one:- let Him plead for
'But I seem to speak in vain. He does not now, as formerly, laugh
these blessed truths to scorn: but still he cannot trust, or will
not comprehend them. He cannot linger long. He suffers
dreadfully, and so do those that wait upon him. But I will not
harass you with further details: I have said enough, I think, to
convince you that I did well to go to him.'
* * * * *
Poor, poor Helen! dreadful indeed her trials must have been! And I
could do nothing to lessen them - nay, it almost seemed as if I had
brought them upon her myself by my own secret desires; and whether
I looked at her husband's sufferings or her own, it seemed almost
like a judgment upon myself for having cherished such a wish.
The next day but one there came another letter. That too was put
into my hands without a remark, and these are its contents:-
He is gone at last. I sat beside him all night, with my hand fast
looked in his, watching the changes of his features and listening
to his failing breath. He had been silent a long time, and I
thought he would never speak again, when he murmured, faintly but
distinctly, - 'Pray for me, Helen!'
'I do pray for you, every hour and every minute, Arthur; but you
must pray for yourself.'
His lips moved, but emitted no sound; - then his looks became
unsettled; and, from the incoherent, half-uttered words that
escaped him from time to time, supposing him to be now unconscious,
I gently disengaged my hand from his, intending to steal away for a
breath of air, for I was almost ready to faint; but a convulsive
movement of the fingers, and a faintly whispered 'Don't leave me!'
immediately recalled me: I took his hand again, and held it till
he was no more - and then I fainted. It was not grief; it was
exhaustion, that, till then, I had been enabled successfully to
combat. Oh, Frederick! none can imagine the miseries, bodily and
mental, of that death-bed! How could I endure to think that that
poor trembling soul was hurried away to everlasting torment? it
would drive me mad. But, thank God, I have hope - not only from a
vague dependence on the possibility that penitence and pardon might
have reached him at the last, but from the blessed confidence that,
through whatever purging fires the erring spirit may be doomed to
pass - whatever fate awaits it - still it is not lost, and God, who
hateth nothing that He hath made, will bless it in the end!
His body will be consigned on Thursday to that dark grave he so
much dreaded; but the coffin must be closed as soon as possible.
If you will attend the funeral, come quickly, for I need help.
On reading this I had no reason to disguise my joy and hope from
Frederick Lawrence, for I had none to be ashamed of. I felt no joy
but that his sister was at length released from her afflictive,
overwhelming toil - no hope but that she would in time recover from
the effects of it, and be suffered to rest in peace and quietness,
at least, for the remainder of her life. I experienced a painful
commiseration for her unhappy husband (though fully aware that he
had brought every particle of his sufferings upon himself, and but
too well deserved them all), and a profound sympathy for her own
afflictions, and deep anxiety for the consequences of those
harassing cares, those dreadful vigils, that incessant and
deleterious confinement beside a living corpse - for I was
persuaded she had not hinted half the sufferings she had had to
'You will go to her, Lawrence?' said I, as I put the letter into
'That's right! I'll leave you, then, to prepare for your
'I've done that already, while you were reading the letter, and
before you came; and the carriage is now coming round to the door.'
Inly approving his promptitude, I bade him good-morning, and
withdrew. He gave me a searching glance as we pressed each other's
hands at parting; but whatever he sought in my countenance, he saw
there nothing but the most becoming gravity - it might be mingled
with a little sternness in momentary resentment at what I suspected
to be passing in his mind.
Had I forgotten my own prospects, my ardent love, my pertinacious
hopes? It seemed like sacrilege to revert to them now, but I had
not forgotten them. It was, however, with a gloomy sense of the
darkness of those prospects, the fallacy of those hopes, and the
vanity of that affection, that I reflected on those things as I
remounted my horse and slowly journeyed homewards. Mrs. Huntingdon
was free now; it was no longer a crime to think of her - but did
she ever think of me? Not now - of course it was not to be
expected - but would she when this shock was over? In all the
course of her correspondence with her brother (our mutual friend,
as she herself had called him) she had never mentioned me but once
- and that was from necessity. This alone afforded strong
presumption that I was already forgotten; yet this was not the
worst: it might have been her sense of duty that had kept her
silent: she might be only trying to forget; but in addition to
this, I had a gloomy conviction that the awful realities she had
seen and felt, her reconciliation with the man she had once loved,
his dreadful sufferings and death, must eventually efface from her
mind all traces of her passing love for me. She might recover from
these horrors so far as to be restored to her former health, her
tranquillity, her cheerfulness even - but never to those feelings
which would appear to her, henceforth, as a fleeting fancy, a vain,
illusive dream; especially as there was no one to remind her of my
existence - no means of assuring her of my fervent constancy, now
that we were so far apart, and delicacy forbade me to see her or to
write to her, for months to come at least. And how could I engage
her brother in my behalf? how could I break that icy crust of shy
reserve? Perhaps he would disapprove of my attachment now as
highly as before; perhaps he would think me too poor - too lowly
born, to match with his sister. Yes, there was another barrier:
doubtless there was a wide distinction between the rank and
circumstances of Mrs. Huntingdon, the lady of Grassdale Manor, and
those of Mrs. Graham, the artist, the tenant of Wildfell Hall. And
it might be deemed presumption in me to offer my hand to the
former, by the world, by her friends, if not by herself; a penalty
I might brave, if I were certain she loved me; but otherwise, how
could I? And, finally, her deceased husband, with his usual
selfishness, might have so constructed his will as to place
restrictions upon her marrying again. So that you see I had
reasons enough for despair if I chose to indulge it.
Nevertheless, it was with no small degree of impatience that I
looked forward to Mr. Lawrence's return from Grassdale: impatience
that increased in proportion as his absence was prolonged. He
stayed away some ten or twelve days. All very right that he should
remain to comfort and help his sister, but he might have written to
tell me how she was, or at least to tell me when to expect his
return; for he might have known I was suffering tortures of anxiety
for her, and uncertainty for my own future prospects. And when he
did return, all he told me about her was, that she had been greatly
exhausted and worn by her unremitting exertions in behalf of that
man who had been the scourge of her life, and had dragged her with
him nearly to the portals of the grave, and was still much shaken
and depressed by his melancholy end and the circumstances attendant
upon it; but no word in reference to me; no intimation that my name
had ever passed her lips, or even been spoken in her presence. To
be sure, I asked no questions on the subject; I could not bring my
mind to do so, believing, as I did, that Lawrence was indeed averse
to the idea of my union with his sister.
I saw that he expected to be further questioned concerning his
visit, and I saw too, with the keen perception of awakened
jealousy, or alarmed self-esteem, or by whatever name I ought to
call it, that he rather shrank from that impending scrutiny, and
was no less pleased than surprised to find it did not come. Of
course, I was burning with anger, but pride obliged me to suppress
my feelings, and preserve a smooth face, or at least a stoic
calmness, throughout the interview. It was well it did, for,
reviewing the matter in my sober judgment, I must say it would have
been highly absurd and improper to have quarrelled with him on such
an occasion. I must confess, too, that I wronged him in my heart:
the truth was, he liked me very well, but he was fully aware that a
union between Mrs. Huntingdon and me would be what the world calls
a mesalliance; and it was not in his nature to set the world at
defiance; especially in such a case as this, for its dread laugh,
or ill opinion, would be far more terrible to him directed against
his sister than himself. Had he believed that a union was
necessary to the happiness of both, or of either, or had he known
how fervently I loved her, he would have acted differently; but
seeing me so calm and cool, he would not for the world disturb my
philosophy; and though refraining entirely from any active
opposition to the match, he would yet do nothing to bring it about,
and would much rather take the part of prudence, in aiding us to
overcome our mutual predilections, than that of feeling, to
encourage them. 'And he was in the right of it,' you will say.
Perhaps he was; at any rate, I had no business to feel so bitterly
against him as I did; but I could not then regard the matter in
such a moderate light; and, after a brief conversation upon
indifferent topics, I went away, suffering all the pangs of wounded
pride and injured friendship, in addition to those resulting from
the fear that I was indeed forgotten, and the knowledge that she I
loved was alone and afflicted, suffering from injured health and
dejected spirits, and I was forbidden to console or assist her:
forbidden even to assure her of my sympathy, for the transmission
of any such message through Mr. Lawrence was now completely out of
But what should I do? I would wait, and see if she would notice
me, which of course she would not, unless by some kind message
intrusted to her brother, that, in all probability, he would not
deliver, and then, dreadful thought! she would think me cooled and
changed for not returning it, or, perhaps, he had already given her
to understand that I had ceased to think of her. I would wait,
however, till the six months after our parting were fairly passed
(which would be about the close of February), and then I would send
her a letter, modestly reminding her of her former permission to
write to her at the close of that period, and hoping I might avail
myself of it - at least to express my heartfelt sorrow for her late
afflictions, my just appreciation of her generous conduct, and my
hope that her health was now completely re-established, and that
she would, some time, be permitted to enjoy those blessings of a
peaceful, happy life, which had been denied her so long, but which
none could more truly be said to merit than herself - adding a few
words of kind remembrance to my little friend Arthur, with a hope
that he had not forgotten me, and perhaps a few more in reference
to bygone times, to the delightful hours I had passed in her
society, and my unfading recollection of them, which was the salt
and solace of my life, and a hope that her recent troubles had not
entirely banished me from her mind. If she did not answer this, of
course I should write no more: if she did (as surely she would, in
some fashion), my future proceedings should be regulated by her
Ten weeks was long to wait in such a miserable state of
uncertainty; but courage! it must be endured! and meantime I would
continue to see Lawrence now and then, though not so often as
before, and I would still pursue my habitual inquiries after his
sister, if he had lately heard from her, and how she was, but
I did so, and the answers I received were always provokingly
limited to the letter of the inquiry: she was much as usual: she
made no complaints, but the tone of her last letter evinced great
depression of mind: she said she was better: and, finally, she
said she was well, and very busy with her son's education, and with
the management of her late husband's property, and the regulation
of his affairs. The rascal had never told me how that property was
disposed, or whether Mr. Huntingdon had died intestate or not; and
I would sooner die than ask him, lest he should misconstrue into
covetousness my desire to know. He never offered to show me his
sister's letters now, and I never hinted a wish to see them.
February, however, was approaching; December was past; January, at
length, was almost over - a few more weeks, and then, certain
despair or renewal of hope would put an end to this long agony of
But alas! it was just about that time she was called to sustain
another blow in the death of her uncle - a worthless old fellow
enough in himself, I daresay, but he had always shown more kindness
and affection to her than to any other creature, and she had always
been accustomed to regard him as a parent. She was with him when
he died, and had assisted her aunt to nurse him during the last
stage of his illness. Her brother went to Staningley to attend the
funeral, and told me, upon his return, that she was still there,
endeavouring to cheer her aunt with her presence, and likely to
remain some time. This was bad news for me, for while she
continued there I could not write to her, as I did not know the
address, and would not ask it of him. But week followed week, and
every time I inquired about her she was still at Staningley.
'Where is Staningley?' I asked at last.
'In -shire,' was the brief reply; and there was something so cold
and dry in the manner of it, that I was effectually deterred from
requesting a more definite account.
'When will she return to Grassdale?' was my next question.
'I don't know.'
'Confound it!' I muttered.
'Why, Markham?' asked my companion, with an air of innocent
surprise. But I did not deign to answer him, save by a look of
silent, sullen contempt, at which he turned away, and contemplated
the carpet with a slight smile, half pensive, half amused; but
quickly looking up, he began to talk of other subjects, trying to
draw me into a cheerful and friendly conversation, but I was too
much irritated to discourse with him, and soon took leave.
You see Lawrence and I somehow could not manage to get on very well
together. The fact is, I believe, we were both of us a little too
touchy. It is a troublesome thing, Halford, this susceptibility to
affronts where none are intended. I am no martyr to it now, as you
can bear me witness: I have learned to be merry and wise, to be
more easy with myself and more indulgent to my neighbours, and I
can afford to laugh at both Lawrence and you.
Partly from accident, partly from wilful negligence on my part (for
I was really beginning to dislike him), several weeks elapsed
before I saw my friend again. When we did meet, it was he that
sought me out. One bright morning, early in June, he came into the
field, where I was just commencing my hay harvest.
'It is long since I saw you, Markham,' said he, after the first few
words had passed between us. 'Do you never mean to come to
'I called once, and you were out.'
'I was sorry, but that was long since; I hoped you would call
again, and now I have called, and you were out, which you generally
are, or I would do myself the pleasure of calling more frequently;
but being determined to see you this time, I have left my pony in
the lane, and come over hedge and ditch to join you; for I am about
to leave Woodford for a while, and may not have the pleasure of
seeing you again for a month or two.'
'Where are you going?'
'To Grassdale first,' said he, with a half-smile he would willingly
have suppressed if he could.
'To Grassdale! Is she there, then?'
'Yes, but in a day or two she will leave it to accompany Mrs.
Maxwell to F- for the benefit of the sea air, and I shall go with
them.' (F- was at that time a quiet but respectable watering-
place: it is considerably more frequented now.)
Lawrence seemed to expect me to take advantage of this circumstance
to entrust him with some sort of a message to his sister; and I
believe he would have undertaken to deliver it without any material
objections, if I had had the sense to ask him, though of course he
would not offer to do so, if I was content to let it alone. But I
could not bring myself to make the request, and it was not till
after he was gone, that I saw how fair an opportunity I had lost;
and then, indeed, I deeply regretted my stupidity and my foolish
pride, but it was now too late to remedy the evil.
He did not return till towards the latter end of August. He wrote
to me twice or thrice from F-, but his letters were most
provokingly unsatisfactory, dealing in generalities or in trifles
that I cared nothing about, or replete with fancies and reflections
equally unwelcome to me at the time, saying next to nothing about
his sister, and little more about himself. I would wait, however,
till he came back; perhaps I could get something more out of him
then. At all events, I would not write to her now, while she was
with him and her aunt, who doubtless would be still more hostile to
my presumptuous aspirations than himself. When she was returned to
the silence and solitude of her own home, it would be my fittest
When Lawrence came, however, he was as reserved as ever on the
subject of my keen anxiety. He told me that his sister had derived
considerable benefit from her stay at F- that her son was quite
well, and - alas! that both of them were gone, with Mrs. Maxwell,
back to Staningley, and there they stayed at least three months.
But instead of boring you with my chagrin, my expectations and
disappointments, my fluctuations of dull despondency and flickering
hope, my varying resolutions, now to drop it, and now to persevere
- now to make a bold push, and now to let things pass and patiently
abide my time, - I will employ myself in settling the business of
one or two of the characters introduced in the course of this
narrative, whom I may not have occasion to mention again.
Some time before Mr. Huntingdon's death Lady Lowborough eloped with
another gallant to the Continent, where, having lived a while in
reckless gaiety and dissipation, they quarrelled and parted. She
went dashing on for a season, but years came and money went: she
sunk, at length, in difficulty and debt, disgrace and misery; and
died at last, as I have heard, in penury, neglect, and utter
wretchedness. But this might be only a report: she may be living
yet for anything I or any of her relatives or former acquaintances
can tell; for they have all lost sight of her long years ago, and
would as thoroughly forget her if they could. Her husband,
however, upon this second misdemeanour, immediately sought and
obtained a divorce, and, not long after, married again. It was
well he did, for Lord Lowborough, morose and moody as he seemed,
was not the man for a bachelor's life. No public interests, no
ambitious projects, or active pursuits, - or ties of friendship
even (if he had had any friends), could compensate to him for the
absence of domestic comforts and endearments. He had a son and a
nominal daughter, it is true, but they too painfully reminded him
of their mother, and the unfortunate little Annabella was a source
of perpetual bitterness to his soul. He had obliged himself to
treat her with paternal kindness: he had forced himself not to
hate her, and even, perhaps, to feel some degree of kindly regard
for her, at last, in return for her artless and unsuspecting
attachment to himself; but the bitterness of his self-condemnation
for his inward feelings towards that innocent being, his constant
struggles to subdue the evil promptings of his nature (for it was
not a generous one), though partly guessed at by those who knew
him, could be known to God and his own heart alone; - so also was
the hardness of his conflicts with the temptation to return to the
vice of his youth, and seek oblivion for past calamities, and
deadness to the present misery of a blighted heart a joyless,
friendless life, and a morbidly disconsolate mind, by yielding
again to that insidious foe to health, and sense, and virtue, which
had so deplorably enslaved and degraded him before.
The second object of his choice was widely different from the
first. Some wondered at his taste; some even ridiculed it - but in
this their folly was more apparent than his. The lady was about
his own age - i.e., between thirty and forty - remarkable neither
for beauty, nor wealth, nor brilliant accomplishments; nor any
other thing that I ever heard of, except genuine good sense,
unswerving integrity, active piety, warm-hearted benevolence, and a
fund of cheerful spirits. These qualities, however, as you way
readily imagine, combined to render her an excellent mother to the
children, and an invaluable wife to his lordship. He, with his
usual self-depreciation, thought her a world too good for him, and
while he wondered at the kindness of Providence in conferring such
a gift upon him, and even at her taste in preferring him to other
men, he did his best to reciprocate the good she did him, and so
far succeeded that she was, and I believe still is, one of the
happiest and fondest wives in England; and all who question the
good taste of either partner may be thankful if their respective
selections afford them half the genuine satisfaction in the end, or
repay their preference with affection half as lasting and sincere.
If you are at all interested in the fate of that low scoundrel,
Grimsby, I can only tell you that he went from bad to worse,
sinking from bathos to bathos of vice and villainy, consorting only
with the worst members of his club and the lowest dregs of society
- happily for the rest of the world - and at last met his end in a
drunken brawl, from the hands, it is said, of some brother
scoundrel he had cheated at play.
As for Mr. Hattersley, he had never wholly forgotten his resolution
to 'come out from among them,' and behave like a man and a
Christian, and the last illness and death of his once jolly friend
Huntingdon so deeply and seriously impressed him with the evil of
their former practices, that he never needed another lesson of the
kind. Avoiding the temptations of the town, he continued to pass
his life in the country, immersed in the usual pursuits of a
hearty, active, country gentleman; his occupations being those of
farming, and breeding horses and cattle, diversified with a little
hunting and shooting, and enlivened by the occasional companionship
of his friends (better friends than those of his youth), and the
society of his happy little wife (now cheerful and confiding as
heart could wish), and his fine family of stalwart sons and
blooming daughters. His father, the banker, having died some years
ago and left him all his riches, he has now full scope for the
exercise of his prevailing tastes, and I need not tell you that
Ralph Hattersley, Esq., is celebrated throughout the country for
his noble breed of horses.
We will now turn to a certain still, cold, cloudy afternoon about
the commencement of December, when the first fall of snow lay
thinly scattered over the blighted fields and frozen roads, or
stored more thickly in the hollows of the deep cart-ruts and
footsteps of men and horses impressed in the now petrified mire of
last month's drenching rains. I remember it well, for I was
walking home from the vicarage with no less remarkable a personage
than Miss Eliza Millward by my side. I had been to call upon her
father, - a sacrifice to civility undertaken entirely to please my
mother, not myself, for I hated to go near the house; not merely on
account of my antipathy to the once so bewitching Eliza, but
because I had not half forgiven the old gentleman himself for his
ill opinion of Mrs. Huntingdon; for though now constrained to
acknowledge himself mistaken in his former judgment, he still
maintained that she had done wrong to leave her husband; it was a
violation of her sacred duties as a wife, and a tempting of
Providence by laying herself open to temptation; and nothing short
of bodily ill-usage (and that of no trifling nature) could excuse
such a step - nor even that, for in such a case she ought to appeal
to the laws for protection. But it was not of him I intended to
speak; it was of his daughter Eliza. Just as I was taking leave of
the vicar, she entered the room, ready equipped for a walk.
'I was just coming to see, your sister, Mr. Markham,' said she;
'and so, if you have no objection, I'll accompany you home. I like
company when I'm walking out - don't you?'
'Yes, when it's agreeable.'
'That of course,' rejoined the young lady, smiling archly.
So we proceeded together.
'Shall I find Rose at home, do you think?' said she, as we closed
the garden gate, and set our faces towards Linden-Car.
'I believe so.'
'I trust I shall, for I've a little bit of news for her - if you
haven't forestalled me.'
'Yes: do you know what Mr. Lawrence is gone for?' She looked up
anxiously for my reply.
'Is he gone?' said I; and her face brightened.
'Ah! then he hasn't told you about his sister?'
'What of her?' I demanded in terror, lest some evil should have
'Oh, Mr. Markham, how you blush!' cried she, with a tormenting
laugh. 'Ha, ha, you have not forgotten her yet. But you had
better be quick about it, I can tell you, for - alas, alas! - she's
going to be married next Thursday!'
'No, Miss Eliza, that's false.'
'Do you charge me with a falsehood, sir?'
'You are misinformed.'
'Am I? Do you know better, then?'
'I think I do.'
'What makes you look so pale then?' said she, smiling with delight
at my emotion. 'Is it anger at poor me for telling such a fib?
Well, I only "tell the tale as 'twas told to me:" I don't vouch for
the truth of it; but at the same time, I don't see what reason
Sarah should have for deceiving me, or her informant for deceiving
her; and that was what she told me the footman told her:- that Mrs.
Huntingdon was going to be married on Thursday, and Mr. Lawrence
was gone to the wedding. She did tell me the name of the
gentleman, but I've forgotten that. Perhaps you can assist me to
remember it. Is there not some one that lives near - or frequently
visits the neighbourhood, that has long been attached to her? - a
Mr. - oh, dear! Mr. - '
'Hargrave?' suggested I, with a bitter smile.
'You're right,' cried she; 'that was the very name.'
'Impossible, Miss Eliza!' I exclaimed, in a tone that made her
'Well, you know, that's what they told me,' said she, composedly
staring me in the face. And then she broke out into a long shrill
laugh that put me to my wit's end with fury.
'Really you must excuse me,' cried she. 'I know it's very rude,
but ha, ha, ha! - did you think to marry her yourself? Dear, dear,
what a pity! - ha, ha, ha! Gracious, Mr. Markham, are you going to
faint? Oh, mercy! shall I call this man? Here, Jacob - ' But
checking the word on her lips, I seized her arm and gave it, I
think, a pretty severe squeeze, for she shrank into herself with a
faint cry of pain or terror; but the spirit within her was not
subdued: instantly rallying, she continued, with well-feigned
concern, 'What can I do for you? Will you have some water - some
brandy? I daresay they have some in the public-house down there,
if you'll let me run.'
'Have done with this nonsense!' cried I, sternly. She looked
confounded - almost frightened again, for a moment. 'You know I
hate such jests,' I continued.
'Jests indeed! I wasn't jesting!'
'You were laughing, at all events; and I don't like to be laughed
at,' returned I, making violent efforts to speak with proper
dignity and composure, and to say nothing but what was coherent and
sensible. 'And since you are in such a merry mood, Miss Eliza, you
must be good enough company for yourself; and therefore I shall
leave you to finish your walk alone - for, now I think of it, I
have business elsewhere; so good-evening.'
With that I left her (smothering her malicious laughter) and turned
aside into the fields, springing up the bank, and pushing through
the nearest gap in the hedge. Determined at once to prove the
truth - or rather the falsehood - of her story, I hastened to
Woodford as fast as my legs could carry me; first veering round by
a circuitous course, but the moment I was out of sight of my fair
tormentor cutting away across the country, just as a bird might
fly, over pasture-land, and fallow, and stubble, and lane, clearing
hedges and ditches and hurdles, till I came to the young squire's
gates. Never till now had I known the full fervour of my love -
the full strength of my hopes, not wholly crushed even in my hours
of deepest despondency, always tenaciously clinging to the thought
that one day she might be mine, or, if not that, at least that
something of my memory, some slight remembrance of our friendship
and our love, would be for ever cherished in her heart. I marched
up to the door, determined, if I saw the master, to question him
boldly concerning his sister, to wait and hesitate no longer, but
cast false delicacy and stupid pride behind my back, and know my
fate at once.
'Is Mr. Lawrence at home?' I eagerly asked of the servant that
opened the door.
'No, sir, master went yesterday,' replied he, looking very alert.
'To Grassdale, sir - wasn't you aware, sir? He's very close, is
master,' said the fellow, with a foolish, simpering grin. 'I
suppose, sir - '
But I turned and left him, without waiting to hear what he
supposed. I was not going to stand there to expose my tortured
feelings to the insolent laughter and impertinent curiosity of a
fellow like that.
But what was to be done now? Could it be possible that she had
left me for that man? I could not believe it. Me she might
forsake, but not to give herself to him! Well, I would know the
truth; to no concerns of daily life could I attend while this
tempest of doubt and dread, of jealousy and rage, distracted me. I
would take the morning coach from L- (the evening one would be
already gone), and fly to Grassdale - I must be there before the
marriage. And why? Because a thought struck me that perhaps I
might prevent it - that if I did not, she and I might both lament
it to the latest moment of our lives. It struck me that someone
might have belied me to her: perhaps her brother; yes, no doubt
her brother had persuaded her that I was false and faithless, and
taking advantage of her natural indignation, and perhaps her
desponding carelessness about her future life, had urged her,
artfully, cruelly, on to this other marriage, in order to secure
her from me. If this was the case, and if she should only discover
her mistake when too late to repair it - to what a life of misery
and vain regret might she be doomed as well as me; and what remorse
for me to think my foolish scruples had induced it all! Oh, I must
see her - she must know my truth even if I told it at the church
door! I might pass for a madman or an impertinent fool - even she
might be offended at such an interruption, or at least might tell
me it was now too late. But if I could save her, if she might be
mine! - it was too rapturous a thought!
Winged by this hope, and goaded by these fears, I hurried homewards
to prepare for my departure on the morrow. I told my mother that
urgent business which admitted no delay, but which I could not then
explain, called me away.
My deep anxiety and serious preoccupation could not be concealed
from her maternal eyes; and I had much ado to calm her
apprehensions of some disastrous mystery.
That night there came a heavy fall of snow, which so retarded the
progress of the coaches on the following day that I was almost
driven to distraction. I travelled all night, of course, for this
was Wednesday: to-morrow morning, doubtless, the marriage would
take place. But the night was long and dark: the snow heavily
clogged the wheels and balled the horses' feet; the animals were
consumedly lazy; the coachman most execrably cautious; the
passengers confoundedly apathetic in their supine indifference to
the rate of our progression. Instead of assisting me to bully the
several coachmen and urge them forward, they merely stared and
grinned at my impatience: one fellow even ventured to rally me
upon it - but I silenced him with a look that quelled him for the
rest of the journey; and when, at the last stage, I would have
taken the reins into my own hand, they all with one accord opposed
It was broad daylight when we entered M- and drew up at the 'Rose
and Crown.' I alighted and called aloud for a post-chaise to
Grassdale. There was none to be had: the only one in the town was
under repair. 'A gig, then - a fly - car - anything - only be
quick!' There was a gig, but not a horse to spare. I sent into
the town to seek one: but they were such an intolerable time about
it that I could wait no longer - I thought my own feet could carry
me sooner; and bidding them send the conveyance after me, if it
were ready within an hour, I set off as fast as I could walk. The
distance was little more than six miles, but the road was strange,
and I had to keep stopping to inquire my way; hallooing to carters
and clodhoppers, and frequently invading the cottages, for there
were few abroad that winter's morning; sometimes knocking up the
lazy people from their beds, for where so little work was to be
done, perhaps so little food and fire to be had, they cared not to
curtail their slumbers. I had no time to think of them, however;
aching with weariness and desperation, I hurried on. The gig did
not overtake me: and it was well I had not waited for it;
vexatious rather, that I had been fool enough to wait so long.
At length, however, I entered the neighbourhood of Grassdale. I
approached the little rural church - but lo! there stood a train of
carriages before it; it needed not the white favours bedecking the
servants and horses, nor the merry voices of the village idlers
assembled to witness the show, to apprise me that there was a
wedding within. I ran in among them, demanding, with breathless
eagerness, had the ceremony long commenced? They only gaped and
stared. In my desperation, I pushed past them, and was about to
enter the churchyard gate, when a group of ragged urchins, that had
been hanging like bees to the window, suddenly dropped off and made
a rush for the porch, vociferating in the uncouth dialect of their
country something which signified, 'It's over - they're coming
If Eliza Millward had seen me then she might indeed have been
delighted. I grasped the gate-post for support, and stood intently
gazing towards the door to take my last look on my soul's delight,