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the stile, and traversed the path with his usual firm, elastic tread, leaving me to ponder his words as I continued my course alone. I had heard before that he had lost his mother not many months before he came. She then was the last and dearest of his early friends; and he had NO HOME. I pitied him from my heart: I almost wept for sympathy. And this, I thought, accounted for the shade of premature thoughtfulness that so frequently clouded his brow, and obtained for him the reputation of a morose and sullen disposition with the charitable Miss Murray and all her kin. ‘But,’ thought I, ‘he is not so miserable as I should be under such a deprivation: he leads an active life; and a wide field for useful exertion lies before him. He can MAKE friends; and he can make a home too, if he pleases; and, doubtless, he will please some time. God grant the partner of that home may be worthy of his choice, and make it a happy one–such a home as he deserves to have! And how delightful it would be to–‘ But no matter what I thought.

I began this book with the intention of concealing nothing; that those who liked might have the benefit of perusing a fellow- creature’s heart: but we have some thoughts that all the angels in heaven are welcome to behold, but not our brother-men–not even the best and kindest amongst them.

By this time the Greens had taken themselves to their own abode, and the Murrays had turned down the private road, whither I hastened to follow them. I found the two girls warm in an animated discussion on the respective merits of the two young officers; but on seeing me Rosalie broke off in the middle of a sentence to exclaim, with malicious glee –

‘Oh-ho, Miss Grey! you’re come at last, are you? No WONDER you lingered so long behind; and no WONDER you always stand up so vigorously for Mr. Weston when I abuse him. Ah-ha! I see it all now!’

‘Now, come, Miss Murray, don’t be foolish,’ said I, attempting a good-natured laugh; ‘you know such nonsense can make no impression on me.’

But she still went on talking such intolerable stuff–her sister helping her with appropriate fiction coined for the occasion–that I thought it necessary to say something in my own justification.

‘What folly all this is!’ I exclaimed. ‘If Mr. Weston’s road happened to be the same as mine for a few yards, and if he chose to exchange a word or two in passing, what is there so remarkable in that? I assure you, I never spoke to him before: except once.’

‘Where? where? and when?’ cried they eagerly.

‘In Nancy’s cottage.’

‘Ah-ha! you’ve met him there, have you?’ exclaimed Rosalie, with exultant laughter. ‘Ah! now, Matilda, I’ve found out why she’s so fond of going to Nancy Brown’s! She goes there to flirt with Mr. Weston.’

‘Really, that is not worth contradicting–I only saw him there once, I tell you–and how could I know he was coming?’

Irritated as I was at their foolish mirth and vexatious imputations, the uneasiness did not continue long: when they had had their laugh out, they returned again to the captain and lieutenant; and, while they disputed and commented upon them, my indignation rapidly cooled; the cause of it was quickly forgotten, and I turned my thoughts into a pleasanter channel. Thus we proceeded up the park, and entered the hall; and as I ascended the stairs to my own chamber, I had but one thought within me: my heart was filled to overflowing with one single earnest wish. Having entered the room, and shut the door, I fell upon my knees and offered up a fervent but not impetuous prayer: ‘Thy will be done,’ I strove to say throughout; but, ‘Father, all things are possible with Thee, and may it be Thy will,’ was sure to follow. That wish–that prayer–both men and women would have scorned me for–‘But, Father, THOU wilt NOT despise!’ I said, and felt that it was true. It seemed to me that another’s welfare was at least as ardently implored for as my own; nay, even THAT was the principal object of my heart’s desire. I might have been deceiving myself; but that idea gave me confidence to ask, and power to hope I did not ask in vain. As for the primroses, I kept two of them in a glass in my room until they were completely withered, and the housemaid threw them out; and the petals of the other I pressed between the leaves of my Bible–I have them still, and mean to keep them always.

CHAPTER XIV–THE RECTOR

The following day was as fine as the preceding one. Soon after breakfast Miss Matilda, having galloped and blundered through a few unprofitable lessons, and vengeably thumped the piano for an hour, in a terrible humour with both me and it, because her mamma would not give her a holiday, had betaken herself to her favourite places of resort, the yards, the stables, and the dog-kennels; and Miss Murray was gone forth to enjoy a quiet ramble with a new fashionable novel for her companion, leaving me in the schoolroom hard at work upon a water-colour drawing which I had promised to do for her, and which she insisted upon my finishing that day.

At my feet lay a little rough terrier. It was the property of Miss Matilda; but she hated the animal, and intended to sell it, alleging that it was quite spoiled. It was really an excellent dog of its kind; but she affirmed it was fit for nothing, and had not even the sense to know its own mistress.

The fact was she had purchased it when but a small puppy, insisting at first that no one should touch it but herself; but soon becoming tired of so helpless and troublesome a nursling, she had gladly yielded to my entreaties to be allowed to take charge of it; and I, by carefully nursing the little creature from infancy to adolescence, of course, had obtained its affections: a reward I should have greatly valued, and looked upon as far outweighing all the trouble I had had with it, had not poor Snap’s grateful feelings exposed him to many a harsh word and many a spiteful kick and pinch from his owner, and were he not now in danger of being ‘put away’ in consequence, or transferred to some rough, stony- hearted master. But how could I help it? I could not make the dog hate me by cruel treatment, and she would not propitiate him by kindness.

However, while I thus sat, working away with my pencil, Mrs. Murray came, half-sailing, half-bustling, into the room.

‘Miss Grey,’ she began,–‘dear! how can you sit at your drawing such a day as this?’ (She thought I was doing it for my own pleasure.) ‘I WONDER you don’t put on your bonnet and go out with the young ladies.’

‘I think, ma’am, Miss Murray is reading; and Miss Matilda is amusing herself with her dogs.’

‘If you would try to amuse Miss Matilda yourself a little more, I think she would not be driven to seek amusement in the companionship of dogs and horses and grooms, so much as she is; and if you would be a little more cheerful and conversable with Miss Murray, she would not so often go wandering in the fields with a book in her hand. However, I don’t want to vex you,’ added she, seeing, I suppose, that my cheeks burned and my hand trembled with some unamiable emotion. ‘Do, pray, try not to be so touchy– there’s no speaking to you else. And tell me if you know where Rosalie is gone: and why she likes to be so much alone?’

‘She says she likes to be alone when she has a new book to read.’

‘But why can’t she read it in the park or the garden?–why should she go into the fields and lanes? And how is it that that Mr. Hatfield so often finds her out? She told me last week he’d walked his horse by her side all up Moss Lane; and now I’m sure it was he I saw, from my dressing-room window, walking so briskly past the park-gates, and on towards the field where she so frequently goes. I wish you would go and see if she is there; and just gently remind her that it is not proper for a young lady of her rank and prospects to be wandering about by herself in that manner, exposed to the attentions of anyone that presumes to address her; like some poor neglected girl that has no park to walk in, and no friends to take care of her: and tell her that her papa would be extremely angry if he knew of her treating Mr. Hatfield in the familiar manner that I fear she does; and–oh! if you–if ANY governess had but half a mother’s watchfulness–half a mother’s anxious care, I should be saved this trouble; and you would see at once the necessity of keeping your eye upon her, and making your company agreeable to– Well, go–go; there’s no time to be lost,’ cried she, seeing that I had put away my drawing materials, and was waiting in the doorway for the conclusion of her address.

According to her prognostications, I found Miss Murray in her favourite field just without the park; and, unfortunately, not alone; for the tall, stately figure of Mr. Hatfield was slowly sauntering by her side.

Here was a poser for me. It was my duty to interrupt the tete-a- tete: but how was it to be done? Mr. Hatfield could not to be driven away by so insignificant person as I; and to go and place myself on the other side of Miss Murray, and intrude my unwelcome presence upon her without noticing her companion, was a piece of rudeness I could not be guilty of: neither had I the courage to cry aloud from the top of the field that she was wanted elsewhere. So I took the intermediate course of walking slowly but steadily towards them; resolving, if my approach failed to scare away the beau, to pass by and tell Miss Murray her mamma wanted her.

She certainly looked very charming as she strolled, lingering along under the budding horse-chestnut trees that stretched their long arms over the park-palings; with her closed book in one hand, and in the other a graceful sprig of myrtle, which served her as a very pretty plaything; her bright ringlets escaping profusely from her little bonnet, and gently stirred by the breeze, her fair cheek flushed with gratified vanity, her smiling blue eyes, now slyly glancing towards her admirer, now gazing downward at her myrtle sprig. But Snap, running before me, interrupted her in the midst of some half-pert, half-playful repartee, by catching hold of her dress and vehemently tugging thereat; till Mr. Hatfield, with his cane, administered a resounding thwack upon the animal’s skull, and sent it yelping back to me with a clamorous outcry that afforded the reverend gentleman great amusement: but seeing me so near, he thought, I suppose, he might as well be taking his departure; and, as I stooped to caress the dog, with ostentatious pity to show my disapproval of his severity, I heard him say: ‘When shall I see you again, Miss Murray?’

‘At church, I suppose,’ replied she, ‘unless your business chances to bring you here again at the precise moment when I happen to be walking by.’

‘I could always manage to have business here, if I knew precisely when and where to find you.’

‘But if I would, I could not inform you, for I am so immethodical, I never can tell to-day what I shall do to-morrow.’

‘Then give me that, meantime, to comfort me,’ said he, half jestingly and half in earnest, extending his hand for the sprig of myrtle.

‘No, indeed, I shan’t.’

‘Do! PRAY do! I shall be the most miserable of men if you don’t. You cannot be so cruel as to deny me a favour so easily granted and yet so highly prized!’ pleaded he as ardently as if his life depended on it.

By this time I stood within a very few yards of them, impatiently waiting his departure.

‘There then! take it and go,’ said Rosalie.

He joyfully received the gift, murmured something that made her blush and toss her head, but with a little laugh that showed her displeasure was entirely affected; and then with a courteous salutation withdrew.

‘Did you ever see such a man, Miss Grey?’ said she, turning to me; ‘I’m so GLAD you came! I thought I never SHOULD, get rid of him; and I was so terribly afraid of papa seeing him.’

‘Has he been with you long?’

‘No, not long, but he’s so extremely impertinent: and he’s always hanging about, pretending his business or his clerical duties require his attendance in these parts, and really watching for poor me, and pouncing upon me wherever he sees me.’

‘Well, your mamma thinks you ought not to go beyond the park or garden without some discreet, matronly person like me to accompany you, and keep off all intruders. She descried Mr. Hatfield hurrying past the park-gates, and forthwith despatched me with instructions to seek you up and to take care of you, and likewise to warn–‘

‘Oh, mamma’s so tiresome! As if I couldn’t take care of myself. She bothered me before about Mr. Hatfield; and I told her she might trust me: I never should forget my rank and station for the most delightful man that ever breathed. I wish he would go down on his knees to-morrow, and implore me to be his wife, that I might just show her how mistaken she is in supposing that I could ever–Oh, it provokes me so! To think that I could be such a fool as to fall in LOVE! It is quite beneath the dignity of a woman to do such a thing. Love! I detest the word! As applied to one of our sex, I think it a perfect insult. A preference I MIGHT acknowledge; but never for one like poor Mr. Hatfield, who has not seven hundred a year to bless himself with. I like to talk to him, because he’s so clever and amusing–I wish Sir Thomas Ashby were half as nice; besides, I must have SOMEBODY to flirt with, and no one else has the sense to come here; and when we go out, mamma won’t let me flirt with anybody but Sir Thomas–if he’s there; and if he’s NOT there, I’m bound hand and foot, for fear somebody should go and make up some exaggerated story, and put it into his head that I’m engaged, or likely to be engaged, to somebody else; or, what is more probable, for fear his nasty old mother should see or hear of my ongoings, and conclude that I’m not a fit wife for her excellent son: as if the said son were not the greatest scamp in Christendom; and as if any woman of common decency were not a world too good for him.’

‘Is it really so, Miss Murray? and does your mamma know it, and yet wish you to marry him?’

‘To be sure, she does! She knows more against him than I do, I believe: she keeps it from me lest I should be discouraged; not knowing how little I care about such things. For it’s no great matter, really: he’ll be all right when he’s married, as mamma says; and reformed rakes make the best husbands, EVERYBODY knows. I only wish he were not so ugly–THAT’S all _I_ think about: but then there’s no choice here in the country; and papa WILL NOT let us go to London–‘

‘But I should think Mr. Hatfield would be far better.’

‘And so he would, if he were lord of Ashby Park–there’s not a doubt of it: but the fact is, I MUST have Ashby Park, whoever shares it with me.’

‘But Mr. Hatfield thinks you like him all this time; you don’t consider how bitterly he will be disappointed when he finds himself mistaken.’

‘NO, indeed! It will be a proper punishment for his presumption– for ever DARING to think I could like him. I should enjoy nothing so much as lifting the veil from his eyes.’

‘The sooner you do it the better then.’

‘No; I tell you, I like to amuse myself with him. Besides, he doesn’t really think I like him. I take good care of that: you don’t know how cleverly I manage. He may presume to think he can induce me to like him; for which I shall punish him as he deserves.’

‘Well, mind you don’t give too much reason for such presumption– that’s all,’ replied I.

But all my exhortations were in vain: they only made her somewhat more solicitous to disguise her wishes and her thoughts from me. She talked no more to me about the Rector; but I could see that her mind, if not her heart, was fixed upon him still, and that she was intent upon obtaining another interview: for though, in compliance with her mother’s request, I was now constituted the companion of her rambles for a time, she still persisted in wandering in the fields and lanes that lay in the nearest proximity to the road; and, whether she talked to me or read the book she carried in her hand, she kept continually pausing to look round her, or gaze up the road to see if anyone was coming; and if a horseman trotted by, I could tell by her unqualified abuse of the poor equestrian, whoever he might be, that she hated him BECAUSE he was not Mr. Hatfield.

‘Surely,’ thought I, ‘she is not so indifferent to him as she believes herself to be, or would have others to believe her; and her mother’s anxiety is not so wholly causeless as she affirms.’

Three days passed away, and he did not make his appearance. On the afternoon of the fourth, as we were walking beside the park-palings in the memorable field, each furnished with a book (for I always took care to provide myself with something to be doing when she did not require me to talk), she suddenly interrupted my studies by exclaiming –

‘Oh, Miss Grey! do be so kind as to go and see Mark Wood, and take his wife half-a-crown from me–I should have given or sent it a week ago, but quite forgot. There!’ said she, throwing me her purse, and speaking very fast–‘Never mind getting it out now, but take the purse and give them what you like; I would go with you, but I want to finish this volume. I’ll come and meet you when I’ve done it. Be quick, will you–and–oh, wait; hadn’t you better read to him a bit? Run to the house and get some sort of a good book. Anything will do.’

I did as I was desired; but, suspecting something from her hurried manner and the suddenness of the request, I just glanced back before I quitted the field, and there was Mr. Hatfield about to enter at the gate below. By sending me to the house for a book, she had just prevented my meeting him on the road.

‘Never mind!’ thought I, ‘there’ll be no great harm done. Poor Mark will be glad of the half-crown, and perhaps of the good book too; and if the Rector does steal Miss Rosalie’s heart, it will only humble her pride a little; and if they do get married at last, it will only save her from a worse fate; and she will be quite a good enough partner for him, and he for her.’

Mark Wood was the consumptive labourer whom I mentioned before. He was now rapidly wearing away. Miss Murray, by her liberality, obtained literally the blessing of him that was ready to perish; for though the half-crown could be of very little service to him, he was glad of it for the sake of his wife and children, so soon to be widowed and fatherless. After I had sat a few minutes, and read a little for the comfort and edification of himself and his afflicted wife, I left them; but I had not proceeded fifty yards before I encountered Mr. Weston, apparently on his way to the same abode. He greeted me in his usual quiet, unaffected way, stopped to inquire about the condition of the sick man and his family, and with a sort of unconscious, brotherly disregard to ceremony took from my hand the book out of which I had been reading, turned over its pages, made a few brief but very sensible remarks, and restored it; then told me about some poor sufferer he had just been visiting, talked a little about Nancy Brown, made a few observations upon my little rough friend the terrier, that was frisking at his feet, and finally upon the beauty of the weather, and departed.

I have omitted to give a detail of his words, from a notion that they would not interest the reader as they did me, and not because I have forgotten them. No; I remember them well; for I thought them over and over again in the course of that day and many succeeding ones, I know not how often; and recalled every intonation of his deep, clear voice, every flash of his quick, brown eye, and every gleam of his pleasant, but too transient smile. Such a confession will look very absurd, I fear: but no matter: I have written it: and they that read it will not know the writer.

While I was walking along, happy within, and pleased with all around, Miss Murray came hastening to meet me; her buoyant step, flushed cheek, and radiant smiles showing that she, too, was happy, in her own way. Running up to me, she put her arm through mine, and without waiting to recover breath, began–‘Now, Miss Grey, think yourself highly honoured, for I’m come to tell you my news before I’ve breathed a word of it to anyone else.’

‘Well, what is it?’

‘Oh, SUCH news! In the first place, you must know that Mr. Hatfield came upon me just after you were gone. I was in such a way for fear papa or mamma should see him; but you know I couldn’t call you back again, and so!–oh, dear! I can’t tell you all about it now, for there’s Matilda, I see, in the park, and I must go and open my budget to her. But, however, Hatfield was most uncommonly audacious, unspeakably complimentary, and unprecedentedly tender– tried to be so, at least–he didn’t succeed very well in THAT, because it’s not his vein. I’ll tell you all he said another time.’

‘But what did YOU say–I’m more interested in that?’

‘I’ll tell you that, too, at some future period. I happened to be in a very good humour just then; but, though I was complaisant and gracious enough, I took care not to compromise myself in any possible way. But, however, the conceited wretch chose to interpret my amiability of temper his own way, and at length presumed upon my indulgence so far–what do you think?–he actually made me an offer!’

‘And you–‘

‘I proudly drew myself up, and with the greatest coolness expressed my astonishment at such an occurrence, and hoped he had seen nothing in my conduct to justify his expectations. You should have SEEN how his countenance fell! He went perfectly white in the face. I assured him that I esteemed him and all that, but could not possibly accede to his proposals; and if I did, papa and mamma could never be brought to give their consent.’

‘”But if they could,” said he, “would yours be wanting?”

‘”Certainly, Mr. Hatfield,” I replied, with a cool decision which quelled all hope at once. Oh, if you had seen how dreadfully mortified he was–how crushed to the earth by his disappointment! really, I almost pitied him myself.

‘One more desperate attempt, however, he made. After a silence of considerable duration, during which he struggled to be calm, and I to be grave–for I felt a strong propensity to laugh–which would have ruined all–he said, with the ghost of a smile–“But tell me plainly, Miss Murray, if I had the wealth of Sir Hugh Meltham, or the prospects of his eldest son, would you still refuse me? Answer me truly, upon your honour.”

‘”Certainly,” said I. “That would make no difference whatever.”

‘It was a great lie, but he looked so confident in his own attractions still, that I determined not to leave him one stone upon another. He looked me full in the face; but I kept my countenance so well that he could not imagine I was saying anything more than the actual truth.

‘”Then it’s all over, I suppose,” he said, looking as if he could have died on the spot with vexation and the intensity of his despair. But he was angry as well as disappointed. There was he, suffering so unspeakably, and there was I, the pitiless cause of it all, so utterly impenetrable to all the artillery of his looks and words, so calmly cold and proud, he could not but feel some resentment; and with singular bitterness he began–“I certainly did not expect this, Miss Murray. I might say something about your past conduct, and the hopes you have led me to foster, but I forbear, on condition–“

‘”No conditions, Mr. Hatfield!” said I, now truly indignant at his insolence.

‘”Then let me beg it as a favour,” he replied, lowering his voice at once, and taking a humbler tone: “let me entreat that you will not mention this affair to anyone whatever. If you will keep silence about it, there need be no unpleasantness on either side– nothing, I mean, beyond what is quite unavoidable: for my own feelings I will endeavour to keep to myself, if I cannot annihilate them–I will try to forgive, if I cannot forget the cause of my sufferings. I will not suppose, Miss Murray, that you know how deeply you have injured me. I would not have you aware of it; but if, in addition to the injury you have already done me–pardon me, but, whether innocently or not, you HAVE done it–and if you add to it by giving publicity to this unfortunate affair, or naming it AT ALL, you will find that I too can speak, and though you scorned my love, you will hardly scorn my–“

‘He stopped, but he bit his bloodless lip, and looked so terribly fierce that I was quite frightened. However, my pride upheld me still, and I answered disdainfully; “I do not know what motive you suppose I could have for naming it to anyone, Mr. Hatfield; but if I were disposed to do so, you would not deter me by threats; and it is scarcely the part of a gentleman to attempt it.”

‘”Pardon me, Miss Murray,” said he, “I have loved you so intensely- -I do still adore you so deeply, that I would not willingly offend you; but though I never have loved, and never CAN love any woman as I have loved you, it is equally certain that I never was so ill- treated by any. On the contrary, I have always found your sex the kindest and most tender and obliging of God’s creation, till now.” (Think of the conceited fellow saying that!) “And the novelty and harshness of the lesson you have taught me to-day, and the bitterness of being disappointed in the only quarter on which the happiness of my life depended, must excuse any appearance of asperity. If my presence is disagreeable to you, Miss Murray,” he said (for I was looking about me to show how little I cared for him, so he thought I was tired of him, I suppose)–“if my presence is disagreeable to you, Miss Murray, you have only to promise me the favour I named, and I will relieve you at once. There are many ladies–some even in this parish–who would be delighted to accept what you have so scornfully trampled under your feet. They would be naturally inclined to hate one whose surpassing loveliness has so completely estranged my heart from them and blinded me to their attractions; and a single hint of the truth from me to one of these would be sufficient to raise such a talk against you as would seriously injure your prospects, and diminish your chance of success with any other gentleman you or your mamma might design to entangle.”

‘”What do your mean, sir?” said I, ready to stamp with passion.

‘”I mean that this affair from beginning to end appears to me like a case of arrant flirtation, to say the least of it–such a case as you would find it rather inconvenient to have blazoned through the world: especially with the additions and exaggerations of your female rivals, who would be too glad to publish the matter, if I only gave them a handle to it. But I promise you, on the faith of a gentleman, that no word or syllable that could tend to your prejudice shall ever escape my lips, provided you will–“

‘”Well, well, I won’t mention it,” said I. “You may rely upon my silence, if that can afford you any consolation.”

‘”You promise it?”

‘”Yes,” I answered; for I wanted to get rid of him now.

‘”Farewell, then!” said he, in a most doleful, heart-sick tone; and with a look where pride vainly struggled against despair, he turned and went away: longing, no doubt, to get home, that he might shut himself up in his study and cry–if he doesn’t burst into tears before he gets there.’

‘But you have broken your promise already,’ said I, truly horrified at her perfidy.

‘Oh! it’s only to you; I know you won’t repeat it.’

‘Certainly, I shall not: but you say you are going to tell your sister; and she will tell your brothers when they come home, and Brown immediately, if you do not tell her yourself; and Brown will blazon it, or be the means of blazoning it, throughout the country.’

‘No, indeed, she won’t. We shall not tell her at all, unless it be under the promise of the strictest secrecy.’

‘But how can you expect her to keep her promises better than her more enlightened mistress?’

‘Well, well, she shan’t hear it then,’ said Miss Murray, somewhat snappishly.

‘But you will tell your mamma, of course,’ pursued I; ‘and she will tell your papa.’

‘Of course I shall tell mamma–that is the very thing that pleases me so much. I shall now be able to convince her how mistaken she was in her fears about me.’

‘Oh, THAT’S it, is it? I was wondering what it was that delighted you so much.’

‘Yes; and another thing is, that I’ve humbled Mr. Hatfield so charmingly; and another–why, you must allow me some share of female vanity: I don’t pretend to be without that most essential attribute of our sex–and if you had seen poor Hatfield’s intense eagerness in making his ardent declaration and his flattering proposal, and his agony of mind, that no effort of pride could conceal, on being refused, you would have allowed I had some cause to be gratified.’

‘The greater his agony, I should think, the less your cause for gratification.’

‘Oh, nonsense!’ cried the young lady, shaking herself with vexation. ‘You either can’t understand me, or you won’t. If I had not confidence in your magnanimity, I should think you envied me. But you will, perhaps, comprehend this cause of pleasure–which is as great as any–namely, that I am delighted with myself for my prudence, my self-command, my heartlessness, if you please. I was not a bit taken by surprise, not a bit confused, or awkward, or foolish; I just acted and spoke as I ought to have done, and was completely my own mistress throughout. And here was a man, decidedly good-looking–Jane and Susan Green call him bewitchingly handsome I suppose they’re two of the ladies he pretends would be so glad to have him; but, however, he was certainly a very clever, witty, agreeable companion–not what you call clever, but just enough to make him entertaining; and a man one needn’t be ashamed of anywhere, and would not soon grow tired of; and to confess the truth, I rather liked him–better even, of late, than Harry Meltham–and he evidently idolised me; and yet, though he came upon me all alone and unprepared, I had the wisdom, and the pride, and the strength to refuse him–and so scornfully and coolly as I did: I have good reason to be proud of that.’

‘And are you equally proud of having told him that his having the wealth of Sir Hugh Meltham would make no difference to you, when that was not the case; and of having promised to tell no one of his misadventure, apparently without the slightest intention of keeping your promise?’

‘Of course! what else could I do? You would not have had me–but I see, Miss Grey, you’re not in a good temper. Here’s Matilda; I’ll see what she and mamma have to say about it.’

She left me, offended at my want of sympathy, and thinking, no doubt, that I envied her. I did not–at least, I firmly believed I did not. I was sorry for her; I was amazed, disgusted at her heartless vanity; I wondered why so much beauty should be given to those who made so bad a use of it, and denied to some who would make it a benefit to both themselves and others.

But, God knows best, I concluded. There are, I suppose, some men as vain, as selfish, and as heartless as she is, and, perhaps, such women may be useful to punish them.

CHAPTER XV–THE WALK

‘Oh, dear! I wish Hatfield had not been so precipitate!’ said Rosalie next day at four P.M., as, with a portentous yawn, she laid down her worsted-work and looked listlessly towards the window. ‘There’s no inducement to go out now; and nothing to look forward to. The days will be so long and dull when there are no parties to enliven them; and there are none this week, or next either, that I know of.’

‘Pity you were so cross to him,’ observed Matilda, to whom this lamentation was addressed. ‘He’ll never come again: and I suspect you liked him after all. I hoped you would have taken him for your beau, and left dear Harry to me.’

‘Humph! my beau must be an Adonis indeed, Matilda, the admired of all beholders, if I am to be contented with him alone. I’m sorry to lose Hatfield, I confess; but the first decent man, or number of men, that come to supply his place, will be more than welcome. It’s Sunday to-morrow–I do wonder how he’ll look, and whether he’ll be able to go through the service. Most likely he’ll pretend he’s got a cold, and make Mr. Weston do it all.’

‘Not he!’ exclaimed Matilda, somewhat contemptuously. ‘Fool as he is, he’s not so soft as that comes to.’

Her sister was slightly offended; but the event proved Matilda was right: the disappointed lover performed his pastoral duties as usual. Rosalie, indeed, affirmed he looked very pale and dejected: he might be a little paler; but the difference, if any, was scarcely perceptible. As for his dejection, I certainly did not hear his laugh ringing from the vestry as usual, nor his voice loud in hilarious discourse; though I did hear it uplifted in rating the sexton in a manner that made the congregation stare; and, in his transits to and from the pulpit and the communion-table, there was more of solemn pomp, and less of that irreverent, self-confident, or rather self-delighted imperiousness with which he usually swept along–that air that seemed to say, ‘You all reverence and adore me, I know; but if anyone does not, I defy him to the teeth!’ But the most remarkable change was, that he never once suffered his eyes to wander in the direction of Mr. Murray’s pew, and did not leave the church till we were gone.

Mr. Hatfield had doubtless received a very severe blow; but his pride impelled him to use every effort to conceal the effects of it. He had been disappointed in his certain hope of obtaining not only a beautiful, and, to him, highly attractive wife, but one whose rank and fortune might give brilliance to far inferior charms: he was likewise, no doubt, intensely mortified by his repulse, and deeply offended at the conduct of Miss Murray throughout. It would have given him no little consolation to have known how disappointed she was to find him apparently so little moved, and to see that he was able to refrain from casting a single glance at her throughout both services; though, she declared, it showed he was thinking of her all the time, or his eyes would have fallen upon her, if it were only by chance: but if they had so chanced to fall, she would have affirmed it was because they could not resist the attraction. It might have pleased him, too, in some degree, to have seen how dull and dissatisfied she was throughout that week (the greater part of it, at least), for lack of her usual source of excitement; and how often she regretted having ‘used him up so soon,’ like a child that, having devoured its plumcake too hastily, sits sucking its fingers, and vainly lamenting its greediness.

At length I was called upon, one fine morning, to accompany her in a walk to the village. Ostensibly she went to get some shades of Berlin wool, at a tolerably respectable shop that was chiefly supported by the ladies of the vicinity: really–I trust there is no breach of charity in supposing that she went with the idea of meeting either with the Rector himself, or some other admirer by the way; for as we went along, she kept wondering ‘what Hatfield would do or say, if we met him,’ &c. &c.; as we passed Mr. Green’s park-gates, she ‘wondered whether he was at home–great stupid blockhead’; as Lady Meltham’s carriage passed us, she ‘wondered what Mr. Harry was doing this fine day’; and then began to abuse his elder brother for being ‘such a fool as to get married and go and live in London.’

‘Why,’ said I, ‘I thought you wanted to live in London yourself.’

‘Yes, because it’s so dull here: but then he makes it still duller by taking himself off: and if he were not married I might have him instead of that odious Sir Thomas.’

Then, observing the prints of a horse’s feet on the somewhat miry road, she ‘wondered whether it was a gentleman’s horse,’ and finally concluded it was, for the impressions were too small to have been made by a ‘great clumsy cart-horse’; and then she ‘wondered who the rider could be,’ and whether we should meet him coming back, for she was sure he had only passed that morning; and lastly, when we entered the village and saw only a few of its humble inhabitants moving about, she ‘wondered why the stupid people couldn’t keep in their houses; she was sure she didn’t want to see their ugly faces, and dirty, vulgar clothes–it wasn’t for that she came to Horton!’

Amid all this, I confess, I wondered, too, in secret, whether we should meet, or catch a glimpse of somebody else; and as we passed his lodgings, I even went so far as to wonder whether he was at the window. On entering the shop, Miss Murray desired me to stand in the doorway while she transacted her business, and tell her if anyone passed. But alas! there was no one visible besides the villagers, except Jane and Susan Green coming down the single street, apparently returning from a walk.

‘Stupid things!’ muttered she, as she came out after having concluded her bargain. ‘Why couldn’t they have their dolt of a brother with them? even he would be better than nothing.’

She greeted them, however, with a cheerful smile, and protestations of pleasure at the happy meeting equal to their own. They placed themselves one on each side of her, and all three walked away chatting and laughing as young ladies do when they get together, if they be but on tolerably intimate terms. But I, feeling myself to be one too many, left them to their merriment and lagged behind, as usual on such occasions: I had no relish for walking beside Miss Green or Miss Susan like one deaf and dumb, who could neither speak nor be spoken to.

But this time I was not long alone. It struck me, first, as very odd, that just as I was thinking about Mr. Weston he should come up and accost me; but afterwards, on due reflection, I thought there was nothing odd about it, unless it were the fact of his speaking to me; for on such a morning and so near his own abode, it was natural enough that he should be about; and as for my thinking of him, I had been doing that, with little intermission, ever since we set out on our journey; so there was nothing remarkable in that.

‘You are alone again, Miss Grey,’ said he.

‘Yes.’

‘What kind of people are those ladies–the Misses Green?’

‘I really don’t know.’

‘That’s strange–when you live so near and see them so often!’

‘Well, I suppose they are lively, good-tempered girls; but I imagine you must know them better than I do, yourself, for I never exchanged a word with either of them.’

‘Indeed? They don’t strike me as being particularly reserved.’

‘Very likely they are not so to people of their own class; but they consider themselves as moving in quite a different sphere from me!’

He made no reply to this: but after a short pause, he said,–‘I suppose it’s these things, Miss Grey, that make you think you could not live without a home?’

‘Not exactly. The fact is I am too socially disposed to be able to live contentedly without a friend; and as the only friends I have, or am likely to have, are at home, if it–or rather, if they were gone–I will not say I could not live–but I would rather not live in such a desolate world.’

‘But why do you say the only friends you are likely to have? Are you so unsociable that you cannot make friends?’

‘No, but I never made one yet; and in my present position there is no possibility of doing so, or even of forming a common acquaintance. The fault may be partly in myself, but I hope not altogether.’

‘The fault is partly in society, and partly, I should think, in your immediate neighbours: and partly, too, in yourself; for many ladies, in your position, would make themselves be noticed and accounted of. But your pupils should be companions for you in some degree; they cannot be many years younger than yourself.’

‘Oh, yes, they are good company sometimes; but I cannot call them friends, nor would they think of bestowing such a name on me–they have other companions better suited to their tastes.’

‘Perhaps you are too wise for them. How do you amuse yourself when alone–do you read much?’

‘Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read.’

From speaking of books in general, he passed to different books in particular, and proceeded by rapid transitions from topic to topic, till several matters, both of taste and opinion, had been discussed considerably within the space of half an hour, but without the embellishment of many observations from himself; he being evidently less bent upon communicating his own thoughts and predilections, than on discovering mine. He had not the tact, or the art, to effect such a purpose by skilfully drawing out my sentiments or ideas through the real or apparent statement of his own, or leading the conversation by imperceptible gradations to such topics as he wished to advert to: but such gentle abruptness, and such single- minded straightforwardness, could not possibly offend me.

‘And why should he interest himself at all in my moral and intellectual capacities: what is it to him what I think or feel?’ I asked myself. And my heart throbbed in answer to the question.

But Jane and Susan Green soon reached their home. As they stood parleying at the park-gates, attempting to persuade Miss Murray to come in, I wished Mr. Weston would go, that she might not see him with me when she turned round; but, unfortunately, his business, which was to pay one more visit to poor Mark Wood, led him to pursue the same path as we did, till nearly the close of our journey. When, however, he saw that Rosalie had taken leave of her friends and I was about to join her, he would have left me and passed on at a quicker pace; but, as he civilly lifted his hat in passing her, to my surprise, instead of returning the salute with a stiff, ungracious bow, she accosted him with one of her sweetest smiles, and, walking by his side, began to talk to him with all imaginable cheerfulness and affability; and so we proceeded all three together.

After a short pause in the conversation, Mr. Weston made some remark addressed particularly to me, as referring to something we had been talking of before; but before I could answer, Miss Murray replied to the observation and enlarged upon it: he rejoined; and, from thence to the close of the interview, she engrossed him entirely to herself. It might be partly owing to my own stupidity, my want of tact and assurance: but I felt myself wronged: I trembled with apprehension; and I listened with envy to her easy, rapid flow of utterance, and saw with anxiety the bright smile with which she looked into his face from time to time: for she was walking a little in advance, for the purpose (as I judged) of being seen as well as heard. If her conversation was light and trivial, it was amusing, and she was never at a loss for something to say, or for suitable words to express it in. There was nothing pert or flippant in her manner now, as when she walked with Mr. Hatfield, there was only a gentle, playful kind of vivacity, which I thought must be peculiarly pleasing to a man of Mr. Weston’s disposition and temperament.

When he was gone she began to laugh, and muttered to herself, ‘I thought I could do it!’

‘Do what?’ I asked.

‘Fix that man.’

‘What in the world do you mean?’

‘I mean that he will go home and dream of me. I have shot him through the heart!’

‘How do you know?’

‘By many infallible proofs: more especially the look he gave me when he went away. It was not an impudent look–I exonerate him from that–it was a look of reverential, tender adoration. Ha, ha! he’s not quite such a stupid blockhead as I thought him!’

I made no answer, for my heart was in my throat, or something like it, and I could not trust myself to speak. ‘O God, avert it!’ I cried, internally–‘for his sake, not for mine!’

Miss Murray made several trivial observations as we passed up the park, to which (in spite of my reluctance to let one glimpse of my feelings appear) I could only answer by monosyllables. Whether she intended to torment me, or merely to amuse herself, I could not tell–and did not much care; but I thought of the poor man and his one lamb, and the rich man with his thousand flocks; and I dreaded I knew not what for Mr. Weston, independently of my own blighted hopes.

Right glad was I to get into the house, and find myself alone once more in my own room. My first impulse was to sink into the chair beside the bed; and laying my head on the pillow, to seek relief in a passionate burst of tears: there was an imperative craving for such an indulgence; but, alas! I must restrain and swallow back my feelings still: there was the bell–the odious bell for the schoolroom dinner; and I must go down with a calm face, and smile, and laugh, and talk nonsense–yes, and eat, too, if possible, as if all was right, and I was just returned from a pleasant walk.

CHAPTER XVI–THE SUBSTITUTION

Next Sunday was one of the gloomiest of April days–a day of thick, dark clouds, and heavy showers. None of the Murrays were disposed to attend church in the afternoon, excepting Rosalie: she was bent upon going as usual; so she ordered the carriage, and I went with her: nothing loth, of course, for at church I might look without fear of scorn or censure upon a form and face more pleasing to me than the most beautiful of God’s creations; I might listen without disturbance to a voice more charming than the sweetest music to my ears; I might seem to hold communion with that soul in which I felt so deeply interested, and imbibe its purest thoughts and holiest aspirations, with no alloy to such felicity except the secret reproaches of my conscience, which would too often whisper that I was deceiving my own self, and mocking God with the service of a heart more bent upon the creature than the Creator.

Sometimes, such thoughts would give me trouble enough; but sometimes I could quiet them with thinking–it is not the man, it is his goodness that I love. ‘Whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are honest and of good report, think on these things.’ We do well to worship God in His works; and I know none of them in which so many of His attributes–so much of His own spirit shines, as in this His faithful servant; whom to know and not to appreciate, were obtuse insensibility in me, who have so little else to occupy my heart.

Almost immediately after the conclusion of the service, Miss Murray left the church. We had to stand in the porch, for it was raining, and the carriage was not yet come. I wondered at her coming forth so hastily, for neither young Meltham nor Squire Green was there; but I soon found it was to secure an interview with Mr. Weston as he came out, which he presently did. Having saluted us both, he would have passed on, but she detained him; first with observations upon the disagreeable weather, and then with asking if he would be so kind as to come some time to-morrow to see the granddaughter of the old woman who kept the porter’s lodge, for the girl was ill of a fever, and wished to see him. He promised to do so.

‘And at what time will you be most likely to come, Mr. Weston? The old woman will like to know when to expect you–you know such people think more about having their cottages in order when decent people come to see them than we are apt to suppose.’

Here was a wonderful instance of consideration from the thoughtless Miss Murray. Mr. Weston named an hour in the morning at which he would endeavour, to be there. By this time the carriage was ready, and the footman was waiting, with an open umbrella, to escort Miss Murray through the churchyard. I was about to follow; but Mr. Weston had an umbrella too, and offered me the benefit of its shelter, for it was raining heavily.

‘No, thank you, I don’t mind the rain,’ I said. I always lacked common sense when taken by surprise.

‘But you don’t LIKE it, I suppose?–an umbrella will do you no harm at any rate,’ he replied, with a smile that showed he was not offended; as a man of worse temper or less penetration would have been at such a refusal of his aid. I could not deny the truth of his assertion, and so went with him to the carriage; he even offered me his hand on getting in: an unnecessary piece of civility, but I accepted that too, for fear of giving offence. One glance he gave, one little smile at parting–it was but for a moment; but therein I read, or thought I read, a meaning that kindled in my heart a brighter flame of hope than had ever yet arisen.

‘I would have sent the footman back for you, Miss Grey, if you’d waited a moment–you needn’t have taken Mr. Weston’s umbrella,’ observed Rosalie, with a very unamiable cloud upon her pretty face.

‘I would have come without an umbrella, but Mr. Weston offered me the benefit of his, and I could not have refused it more than I did without offending him,’ replied I, smiling placidly; for my inward happiness made that amusing, which would have wounded me at another time.

The carriage was now in motion. Miss Murray bent forwards, and looked out of the window as we were passing Mr. Weston. He was pacing homewards along the causeway, and did not turn his head.

‘Stupid ass!’ cried she, throwing herself back again in the seat. ‘You don’t know what you’ve lost by not looking this way!’

‘What has he lost?’

‘A bow from me, that would have raised him to the seventh heaven!’

I made no answer. I saw she was out of humour, and I derived a secret gratification from the fact, not that she was vexed, but that she thought she had reason to be so. It made me think my hopes were not entirely the offspring of my wishes and imagination.

‘I mean to take up Mr. Weston instead of Mr. Hatfield,’ said my companion, after a short pause, resuming something of her usual cheerfulness. ‘The ball at Ashby Park takes place on Tuesday, you know; and mamma thinks it very likely that Sir Thomas will propose to me then: such things are often done in the privacy of the ball- room, when gentlemen are most easily ensnared, and ladies most enchanting. But if I am to be married so soon, I must make the best of the present time: I am determined Hatfield shall not be the only man who shall lay his heart at my feet, and implore me to accept the worthless gift in vain.’

‘If you mean Mr. Weston to be one of your victims,’ said I, with affected indifference, ‘you will have to make such overtures yourself that you will find it difficult to draw back when he asks you to fulfil the expectations you have raised.’

‘I don’t suppose he will ask me to marry him, nor should I desire it: that would be rather too much presumption! but I intend him to feel my power. He has felt it already, indeed: but he shall ACKNOWLEDGE it too; and what visionary hopes he may have, he must keep to himself, and only amuse me with the result of them–for a time.’

‘Oh! that some kind spirit would whisper those words in his ear,’ I inwardly exclaimed. I was far too indignant to hazard a reply to her observation aloud; and nothing more was said about Mr. Weston that day, by me or in my hearing. But next morning, soon after breakfast, Miss Murray came into the schoolroom, where her sister was employed at her studies, or rather her lessons, for studies they were not, and said, ‘Matilda, I want you to take a walk with me about eleven o’clock.’

‘Oh, I can’t, Rosalie! I have to give orders about my new bridle and saddle-cloth, and speak to the rat-catcher about his dogs: Miss Grey must go with you.’

‘No, I want you,’ said Rosalie; and calling her sister to the window, she whispered an explanation in her ear; upon which the latter consented to go.

I remembered that eleven was the hour at which Mr. Weston proposed to come to the porter’s lodge; and remembering that, I beheld the whole contrivance. Accordingly, at dinner, I was entertained with a long account of how Mr. Weston had overtaken them as they were walking along the road; and how they had had a long walk and talk with him, and really found him quite an agreeable companion; and how he must have been, and evidently was, delighted with them and their amazing condescension, &c. &c.

CHAPTER XVII–CONFESSIONS

As I am in the way of confessions I may as well acknowledge that, about this time, I paid more attention to dress than ever I had done before. This is not saying much–for hitherto I had been a little neglectful in that particular; but now, also, it was no uncommon thing to spend as much as two minutes in the contemplation of my own image in the glass; though I never could derive any consolation from such a study. I could discover no beauty in those marked features, that pale hollow cheek, and ordinary dark brown hair; there might be intellect in the forehead, there might be expression in the dark grey eyes, but what of that?–a low Grecian brow, and large black eyes devoid of sentiment would be esteemed far preferable. It is foolish to wish for beauty. Sensible people never either desire it for themselves or care about it in others. If the mind be but well cultivated, and the heart well disposed, no one ever cares for the exterior. So said the teachers of our childhood; and so say we to the children of the present day. All very judicious and proper, no doubt; but are such assertions supported by actual experience?

We are naturally disposed to love what gives us pleasure, and what more pleasing than a beautiful face–when we know no harm of the possessor at least? A little girl loves her bird–Why? Because it lives and feels; because it is helpless and harmless? A toad, likewise, lives and feels, and is equally helpless and harmless; but though she would not hurt a toad, she cannot love it like the bird, with its graceful form, soft feathers, and bright, speaking eyes. If a woman is fair and amiable, she is praised for both qualities, but especially the former, by the bulk of mankind: if, on the other hand, she is disagreeable in person and character, her plainness is commonly inveighed against as her greatest crime, because, to common observers, it gives the greatest offence; while, if she is plain and good, provided she is a person of retired manners and secluded life, no one ever knows of her goodness, except her immediate connections. Others, on the contrary, are disposed to form unfavourable opinions of her mind, and disposition, if it be but to excuse themselves for their instinctive dislike of one so unfavoured by nature; and visa versa with her whose angel form conceals a vicious heart, or sheds a false, deceitful charm over defects and foibles that would not be tolerated in another. They that have beauty, let them be thankful for it, and make a good use of it, like any other talent; they that have it not, let them console themselves, and do the best they can without it: certainly, though liable to be over-estimated, it is a gift of God, and not to be despised. Many will feel this who have felt that they could love, and whose hearts tell them that they are worthy to be loved again; while yet they are debarred, by the lack of this or some such seeming trifle, from giving and receiving that happiness they seem almost made to feel and to impart. As well might the humble glowworm despise that power of giving light without which the roving fly might pass her and repass her a thousand times, and never rest beside her: she might hear her winged darling buzzing over and around her; he vainly seeking her, she longing to be found, but with no power to make her presence known, no voice to call him, no wings to follow his flight;–the fly must seek another mate, the worm must live and die alone.

Such were some of my reflections about this period. I might go on prosing more and more, I might dive much deeper, and disclose other thoughts, propose questions the reader might be puzzled to answer, and deduce arguments that might startle his prejudices, or, perhaps, provoke his ridicule, because he could not comprehend them; but I forbear.

Now, therefore, let us return to Miss Murray. She accompanied her mamma to the ball on Tuesday; of course splendidly attired, and delighted with her prospects and her charms. As Ashby Park was nearly ten miles distant from Horton Lodge, they had to set out pretty early, and I intended to have spent the evening with Nancy Brown, whom I had not seen for a long time; but my kind pupil took care I should spend it neither there nor anywhere else beyond the limits of the schoolroom, by giving me a piece of music to copy, which kept me closely occupied till bed-time. About eleven next morning, as soon as she had left her room, she came to tell me her news. Sir Thomas had indeed proposed to her at the ball; an event which reflected great credit on her mamma’s sagacity, if not upon her skill in contrivance. I rather incline to the belief that she had first laid her plans, and then predicted their success. The offer had been accepted, of course, and the bridegroom elect was coming that day to settle matters with Mr. Murray.

Rosalie was pleased with the thoughts of becoming mistress of Ashby Park; she was elated with the prospect of the bridal ceremony and its attendant splendour and eclat, the honeymoon spent abroad, and the subsequent gaieties she expected to enjoy in London and elsewhere; she appeared pretty well pleased too, for the time being, with Sir Thomas himself, because she had so lately seen him, danced with him, and been flattered by him; but, after all, she seemed to shrink from the idea of being so soon united: she wished the ceremony to be delayed some months, at least; and I wished it too. It seemed a horrible thing to hurry on the inauspicious match, and not to give the poor creature time to think and reason on the irrevocable step she was about to take. I made no pretension to ‘a mother’s watchful, anxious care,’ but I was amazed and horrified at Mrs. Murray’s heartlessness, or want of thought for the real good of her child; and by my unheeded warnings and exhortations, I vainly strove to remedy the evil. Miss Murray only laughed at what I said; and I soon found that her reluctance to an immediate union arose chiefly from a desire to do what execution she could among the young gentlemen of her acquaintance, before she was incapacitated from further mischief of the kind. It was for this cause that, before confiding to me the secret of her engagement, she had extracted a promise that I would not mention a word on the subject to any one. And when I saw this, and when I beheld her plunge more recklessly than ever into the depths of heartless coquetry, I had no more pity for her. ‘Come what will,’ I thought, ‘she deserves it. Sir Thomas cannot be too bad for her; and the sooner she is incapacitated from deceiving and injuring others the better.’

The wedding was fixed for the first of June. Between that and the critical ball was little more than six weeks; but, with Rosalie’s accomplished skill and resolute exertion, much might be done, even within that period; especially as Sir Thomas spent most of the interim in London; whither he went up, it was said, to settle affairs with his lawyer, and make other preparations for the approaching nuptials. He endeavoured to supply the want of his presence by a pretty constant fire of billets-doux; but these did not attract the neighbours’ attention, and open their eyes, as personal visits would have done; and old Lady Ashby’s haughty, sour spirit of reserve withheld her from spreading the news, while her indifferent health prevented her coming to visit her future daughter-in-law; so that, altogether, this affair was kept far closer than such things usually are.

Rosalie would sometimes show her lover’s epistles to me, to convince me what a kind, devoted husband he would make. She showed me the letters of another individual, too, the unfortunate Mr. Green, who had not the courage, or, as she expressed it, the ‘spunk,’ to plead his cause in person, but whom one denial would not satisfy: he must write again and again. He would not have done so if he could have seen the grimaces his fair idol made over his moving appeals to her feelings, and heard her scornful laughter, and the opprobrious epithets she heaped upon him for his perseverance.

‘Why don’t you tell him, at once, that you are engaged?’ I asked.

‘Oh, I don’t want him to know that,’ replied she. ‘If he knew it, his sisters and everybody would know it, and then there would be an end of my–ahem! And, besides, if I told him that, he would think my engagement was the only obstacle, and that I would have him if I were free; which I could not bear that any man should think, and he, of all others, at least. Besides, I don’t care for his letters,’ she added, contemptuously; ‘he may write as often as he pleases, and look as great a calf as he likes when I meet him; it only amuses me.’

Meantime, young Meltham was pretty frequent in his visits to the house or transits past it; and, judging by Matilda’s execrations and reproaches, her sister paid more attention to him than civility required; in other words, she carried on as animated a flirtation as the presence of her parents would admit. She made some attempts to bring Mr. Hatfield once more to her feet; but finding them unsuccessful, she repaid his haughty indifference with still loftier scorn, and spoke of him with as much disdain and detestation as she had formerly done of his curate. But, amid all this, she never for a moment lost sight of Mr. Weston. She embraced every opportunity of meeting him, tried every art to fascinate him, and pursued him with as much perseverance as if she really loved him and no other, and the happiness of her life depended upon eliciting a return of affection. Such conduct was completely beyond my comprehension. Had I seen it depicted in a novel, I should have thought it unnatural; had I heard it described by others, I should have deemed it a mistake or an exaggeration; but when I saw it with my own eyes, and suffered from it too, I could only conclude that excessive vanity, like drunkenness, hardens the heart, enslaves the faculties, and perverts the feelings; and that dogs are not the only creatures which, when gorged to the throat, will yet gloat over what they cannot devour, and grudge the smallest morsel to a starving brother.

She now became extremely beneficent to the poor cottagers. Her acquaintance among them was more widely extended, her visits to their humble dwellings were more frequent and excursive than they had ever been before. Hereby, she earned among them the reputation of a condescending and very charitable young lady; and their encomiums were sure to be repeated to Mr. Weston: whom also she had thus a daily chance of meeting in one or other of their abodes, or in her transits to and fro; and often, likewise, she could gather, through their gossip, to what places he was likely to go at such and such a time, whether to baptize a child, or to visit the aged, the sick, the sad, or the dying; and most skilfully she laid her plans accordingly. In these excursions she would sometimes go with her sister–whom, by some means, she had persuaded or bribed to enter into her schemes–sometimes alone, never, now, with me; so that I was debarred the pleasure of seeing Mr. Weston, or hearing his voice even in conversation with another: which would certainly have been a very great pleasure, however hurtful or however fraught with pain. I could not even see him at church: for Miss Murray, under some trivial pretext, chose to take possession of that corner in the family pew which had been mine ever since I came; and, unless I had the presumption to station myself between Mr. and Mrs. Murray, I must sit with my back to the pulpit, which I accordingly did.

Now, also, I never walked home with my pupils: they said their mamma thought it did not look well to see three people out of the family walking, and only two going in the carriage; and, as they greatly preferred walking in fine weather, I should be honoured by going with the seniors. ‘And besides,’ said they, ‘you can’t walk as fast as we do; you know you’re always lagging behind.’ I knew these were false excuses, but I made no objections, and never contradicted such assertions, well knowing the motives which dictated them. And in the afternoons, during those six memorable weeks, I never went to church at all. If I had a cold, or any slight indisposition, they took advantage of that to make me stay at home; and often they would tell me they were not going again that day, themselves, and then pretend to change their minds, and set off without telling me: so managing their departure that I never discovered the change of purpose till too late. Upon their return home, on one of these occasions, they entertained me with an animated account of a conversation they had had with Mr. Weston as they came along. ‘And he asked if you were ill, Miss Grey,’ said Matilda; ‘but we told him you were quite well, only you didn’t want to come to church–so he’ll think you’re turned wicked.’

All chance meetings on week-days were likewise carefully prevented; for, lest I should go to see poor Nancy Brown or any other person, Miss Murray took good care to provide sufficient employment for all my leisure hours. There was always some drawing to finish, some music to copy, or some work to do, sufficient to incapacitate me from indulging in anything beyond a short walk about the grounds, however she or her sister might be occupied.

One morning, having sought and waylaid Mr. Weston, they returned in high glee to give me an account of their interview. ‘And he asked after you again,’ said Matilda, in spite of her sister’s silent but imperative intimation that she should hold her tongue. ‘He wondered why you were never with us, and thought you must have delicate health, as you came out so seldom.’

‘He didn’t Matilda–what nonsense you’re talking!’

‘Oh, Rosalie, what a lie! He did, you know; and you said–Don’t, Rosalie–hang it!–I won’t be pinched so! And, Miss Grey, Rosalie told him you were quite well, but you were always so buried in your books that you had no pleasure in anything else.’

‘What an idea he must have of me!’ I thought.

‘And,’ I asked, ‘does old Nancy ever inquire about me?’

‘Yes; and we tell her you are so fond of reading and drawing that you can do nothing else.’

‘That is not the case though; if you had told her I was so busy I could not come to see her, it would have been nearer the truth.’

‘I don’t think it would,’ replied Miss Murray, suddenly kindling up; ‘I’m sure you have plenty of time to yourself now, when you have so little teaching to do.’

It was no use beginning to dispute with such indulged, unreasoning creatures: so I held my peace. I was accustomed, now, to keeping silence when things distasteful to my ear were uttered; and now, too, I was used to wearing a placid smiling countenance when my heart was bitter within me. Only those who have felt the like can imagine my feelings, as I sat with an assumption of smiling indifference, listening to the accounts of those meetings and interviews with Mr. Weston, which they seemed to find such pleasure in describing to me; and hearing things asserted of him which, from the character of the man, I knew to be exaggerations and perversions of the truth, if not entirely false–things derogatory to him, and flattering to them–especially to Miss Murray–which I burned to contradict, or, at least, to show my doubts about, but dared not; lest, in expressing my disbelief, I should display my interest too. Other things I heard, which I felt or feared were indeed too true: but I must still conceal my anxiety respecting him, my indignation against them, beneath a careless aspect; others, again, mere hints of something said or done, which I longed to hear more of, but could not venture to inquire. So passed the weary time. I could not even comfort myself with saying, ‘She will soon be married; and then there may be hope.’

Soon after her marriage the holidays would come; and when I returned from home, most likely, Mr. Weston would be gone, for I was told that he and the Rector could not agree (the Rector’s fault, of course), and he was about to remove to another place.

No–besides my hope in God, my only consolation was in thinking that, though he know it not, I was more worthy of his love than Rosalie Murray, charming and engaging as she was; for I could appreciate his excellence, which she could not: I would devote my life to the promotion of his happiness; she would destroy his happiness for the momentary gratification of her own vanity. ‘Oh, if he could but know the difference!’ I would earnestly exclaim. ‘But no! I would not have him see my heart: yet, if he could but know her hollowness, her worthless, heartless frivolity, he would then be safe, and I should be–ALMOST happy, though I might never see him more!’

I fear, by this time, the reader is well nigh disgusted with the folly and weakness I have so freely laid before him. I never disclosed it then, and would not have done so had my own sister or my mother been with me in the house. I was a close and resolute dissembler–in this one case at least. My prayers, my tears, my wishes, fears, and lamentations, were witnessed by myself and heaven alone.

When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which yet we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often naturally seek relief in poetry–and often find it, too–whether in the effusions of others, which seem to harmonize with our existing case, or in our own attempts to give utterance to those thoughts and feelings in strains less musical, perchance, but more appropriate, and therefore more penetrating and sympathetic, and, for the time, more soothing, or more powerful to rouse and to unburden the oppressed and swollen heart. Before this time, at Wellwood House and here, when suffering from home-sick melancholy, I had sought relief twice or thrice at this secret source of consolation; and now I flew to it again, with greater avidity than ever, because I seemed to need it more. I still preserve those relics of past sufferings and experience, like pillars of witness set up in travelling through the vale of life, to mark particular occurrences. The footsteps are obliterated now; the face of the country may be changed; but the pillar is still there, to remind me how all things were when it was reared. Lest the reader should be curious to see any of these effusions, I will favour him with one short specimen: cold and languid as the lines may seem, it was almost a passion of grief to which they owed their being:-

Oh, they have robbed me of the hope
My spirit held so dear;
They will not let me hear that voice My soul delights to hear.

They will not let me see that face
I so delight to see;
And they have taken all thy smiles, And all thy love from me.

Well, let them seize on all they can; – One treasure still is mine, –
A heart that loves to think on thee, And feels the worth of thine.

Yes, at least, they could not deprive me of that: I could think of him day and night; and I could feel that he was worthy to be thought of. Nobody knew him as I did; nobody could appreciate him as I did; nobody could love him as I–could, if I might: but there was the evil. What business had I to think so much of one that never thought of me? Was it not foolish? was it not wrong? Yet, if I found such deep delight in thinking of him, and if I kept those thoughts to myself, and troubled no one else with them, where was the harm of it? I would ask myself. And such reasoning prevented me from making any sufficient effort to shake off my fetters.

But, if those thoughts brought delight, it was a painful, troubled pleasure, too near akin to anguish; and one that did me more injury than I was aware of. It was an indulgence that a person of more wisdom or more experience would doubtless have denied herself. And yet, how dreary to turn my eyes from the contemplation of that bright object and force them to dwell on the dull, grey, desolate prospect around: the joyless, hopeless, solitary path that lay before me. It was wrong to be so joyless, so desponding; I should have made God my friend, and to do His will the pleasure and the business of my life; but faith was weak, and passion was too strong.

In this time of trouble I had two other causes of affliction. The first may seem a trifle, but it cost me many a tear: Snap, my little dumb, rough-visaged, but bright-eyed, warm-hearted companion, the only thing I had to love me, was taken away, and delivered over to the tender mercies of the village rat-catcher, a man notorious for his brutal treatment of his canine slaves. The other was serious enough; my letters from home gave intimation that my father’s health was worse. No boding fears were expressed, but I was grown timid and despondent, and could not help fearing that some dreadful calamity awaited us there. I seemed to see the black clouds gathering round my native hills, and to hear the angry muttering of a storm that was about to burst, and desolate our hearth.

CHAPTER XVIII–MIRTH AND MOURNING

The 1st of June arrived at last: and Rosalie Murray was transmuted into Lady Ashby. Most splendidly beautiful she looked in her bridal costume. Upon her return from church, after the ceremony, she came flying into the schoolroom, flushed with excitement, and laughing, half in mirth, and half in reckless desperation, as it seemed to me.

‘Now, Miss Grey, I’m Lady Ashby!’ she exclaimed. ‘It’s done, my fate is sealed: there’s no drawing back now. I’m come to receive your congratulations and bid you good-by; and then I’m off for Paris, Rome, Naples, Switzerland, London–oh, dear! what a deal I shall see and hear before I come back again. But don’t forget me: I shan’t forget you, though I’ve been a naughty girl. Come, why don’t you congratulate me?’

‘I cannot congratulate you,’ I replied, ’till I know whether this change is really for the better: but I sincerely hope it is; and I wish you true happiness and the best of blessings.’

‘Well, good-by, the carriage is waiting, and they’re calling me.’

She gave me a hasty kiss, and was hurrying away; but, suddenly returning, embraced me with more affection than I thought her capable of evincing, and departed with tears in her eyes. Poor girl! I really loved her then; and forgave her from my heart all the injury she had done me–and others also: she had not half known it, I was sure; and I prayed God to pardon her too.

During the remainder of that day of festal sadness, I was left to my own devices. Being too much unhinged for any steady occupation, I wandered about with a book in my hand for several hours, more thinking than reading, for I had many things to think about. In the evening, I made use of my liberty to go and see my old friend Nancy once again; to apologize for my long absence (which must have seemed so neglectful and unkind) by telling her how busy I had been; and to talk, or read, or work for her, whichever might be most acceptable, and also, of course, to tell her the news of this important day: and perhaps to obtain a little information from her in return, respecting Mr. Weston’s expected departure. But of this she seemed to know nothing, and I hoped, as she did, that it was all a false report. She was very glad to see me; but, happily, her eyes were now so nearly well that she was almost independent of my services. She was deeply interested in the wedding; but while I amused her with the details of the festive day, the splendours of the bridal party and of the bride herself, she often sighed and shook her head, and wished good might come of it; she seemed, like me, to regard it rather as a theme for sorrow than rejoicing. I sat a long time talking to her about that and other things–but no one came.

Shall I confess that I sometimes looked towards the door with a half-expectant wish to see it open and give entrance to Mr. Weston, as had happened once before? and that, returning through the lanes and fields, I often paused to look round me, and walked more slowly than was at all necessary–for, though a fine evening, it was not a hot one–and, finally, felt a sense of emptiness and disappointment at having reached the house without meeting or even catching a distant glimpse of any one, except a few labourers returning from their work?

Sunday, however, was approaching: I should see him then: for now that Miss Murray was gone, I could have my old corner again. I should see him, and by look, speech, and manner, I might judge whether the circumstance of her marriage had very much afflicted him. Happily I could perceive no shadow of a difference: he wore the same aspect as he had worn two months ago–voice, look, manner, all alike unchanged: there was the same keen-sighted, unclouded truthfulness in his discourse, the same forcible clearness in his style, the same earnest simplicity in all he said and did, that made itself, not marked by the eye and ear, but felt upon the hearts of his audience.

I walked home with Miss Matilda; but HE DID NOT JOIN US. Matilda was now sadly at a loss for amusement, and wofully in want of a companion: her brothers at school, her sister married and gone, she too young to be admitted into society; for which, from Rosalie’s example, she was in some degree beginning to acquire a taste–a taste at least for the company of certain classes of gentlemen; at this dull time of year–no hunting going on, no shooting even–for, though she might not join in that, it was SOMETHING to see her father or the gamekeeper go out with the dogs, and to talk with them on their return, about the different birds they had bagged. Now, also, she was denied the solace which the companionship of the coachman, grooms, horses, greyhounds, and pointers might have afforded; for her mother having, notwithstanding the disadvantages of a country life, so satisfactorily disposed of her elder daughter, the pride of her heart had begun seriously to turn her attention to the younger; and, being truly alarmed at the roughness of her manners, and thinking it high time to work a reform, had been roused at length to exert her authority, and prohibited entirely the yards, stables, kennels, and coach-house. Of course, she was not implicitly obeyed; but, indulgent as she had hitherto been, when once her spirit was roused, her temper was not so gentle as she required that of her governesses to be, and her will was not to be thwarted with impunity. After many a scene of contention between mother and daughter, many a violent outbreak which I was ashamed to witness, in which the father’s authority was often called in to confirm with oaths and threats the mother’s slighted prohibitions–for even HE could see that ‘Tilly, though she would have made a fine lad, was not quite what a young lady ought to be’–Matilda at length found that her easiest plan was to keep clear of the forbidden regions; unless she could now and then steal a visit without her watchful mother’s knowledge.

Amid all this, let it not be imagined that I escaped without many a reprimand, and many an implied reproach, that lost none of its sting from not being openly worded; but rather wounded the more deeply, because, from that very reason, it seemed to preclude self- defence. Frequently, I was told to amuse Miss Matilda with other things, and to remind her of her mother’s precepts and prohibitions. I did so to the best of my power: but she would not be amused against her will, and could not against her taste; and though I went beyond mere reminding, such gentle remonstrances as I could use were utterly ineffectual.

‘DEAR Miss Grey! it is the STRANGEST thing. I suppose you can’t help it, if it’s not in your nature–but I WONDER you can’t win the confidence of that girl, and make your society at LEAST as agreeable to her as that of Robert or Joseph!’

‘They can talk the best about the things in which she is most interested,’ I replied.

‘Well! that is a strange confession, HOWEVER, to come from her GOVERNESS! Who is to form a young lady’s tastes, I wonder, if the governess doesn’t do it? I have known governesses who have so completely identified themselves with the reputation of their young ladies for elegance and propriety in mind and manners, that they would blush to speak a word against them; and to hear the slightest blame imputed to their pupils was worse than to be censured in their own persons–and I really think it very natural, for my part.’

‘Do you, ma’am?’

‘Yes, of course: the young lady’s proficiency and elegance is of more consequence to the governess than her own, as well as to the world. If she wishes to prosper in her vocation she must devote all her energies to her business: all her ideas and all her ambition will tend to the accomplishment of that one object. When we wish to decide upon the merits of a governess, we naturally look at the young ladies she professes to have educated, and judge accordingly. The JUDICIOUS governess knows this: she knows that, while she lives in obscurity herself, her pupils’ virtues and defects will be open to every eye; and that, unless she loses sight of herself in their cultivation, she need not hope for success. You see, Miss Grey, it is just the same as any other trade or profession: they that wish to prosper must devote themselves body and soul to their calling; and if they begin to yield to indolence or self-indulgence they are speedily distanced by wiser competitors: there is little to choose between a person that ruins her pupils by neglect, and one that corrupts them by her example. You will excuse my dropping these little hints: you know it is all for your own good. Many ladies would speak to you much more strongly; and many would not trouble themselves to speak at all, but quietly look out for a substitute. That, of course, would be the EASIEST plan: but I know the advantages of a place like this to a person in your situation; and I have no desire to part with you, as I am sure you would do very well if you will only think of these things and try to exert yourself a LITTLE more: then, I am convinced, you would SOON acquire that delicate tact which alone is wanting to give you a proper influence over the mind of your pupil.’

I was about to give the lady some idea of the fallacy of her expectations; but she sailed away as soon as she had concluded her speech. Having said what she wished, it was no part of her plan to await my answer: it was my business to hear, and not to speak.

However, as I have said, Matilda at length yielded in some degree to her mother’s authority (pity it had not been exerted before); and being thus deprived of almost every source of amusement, there was nothing for it but to take long rides with the groom and long walks with the governess, and to visit the cottages and farmhouses on her father’s estate, to kill time in chatting with the old men and women that inhabited them. In one of these walks, it was our chance to meet Mr. Weston. This was what I had long desired; but now, for a moment, I wished either he or I were away: I felt my heart throb so violently that I dreaded lest some outward signs of emotion should appear; but I think he hardly glanced at me, and I was soon calm enough. After a brief salutation to both, he asked Matilda if she had lately heard from her sister.

‘Yes,’ replied she. ‘She was at Paris when she wrote, and very well, and very happy.’

She spoke the last word emphatically, and with a glance impertinently sly. He did not seem to notice it, but replied, with equal emphasis, and very seriously –

‘I hope she will continue to be so.’

‘Do you think it likely?’ I ventured to inquire: for Matilda had started off in pursuit of her dog, that was chasing a leveret.

‘I cannot tell,’ replied he. ‘Sir Thomas may be a better man than I suppose; but, from all I have heard and seen, it seems a pity that one so young and gay, and–and interesting, to express many things by one word–whose greatest, if not her only fault, appears to be thoughtlessness–no trifling fault to be sure, since it renders the possessor liable to almost every other, and exposes him to so many temptations–but it seems a pity that she should be thrown away on such a man. It was her mother’s wish, I suppose?’

‘Yes; and her own too, I think, for she always laughed at my attempts to dissuade her from the step.’

‘You did attempt it? Then, at least, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that it is no fault of yours, if any harm should come of it. As for Mrs. Murray, I don’t know how she can justify her conduct: if I had sufficient acquaintance with her, I’d ask her.’

‘It seems unnatural: but some people think rank and wealth the chief good; and, if they can secure that for their children, they think they have done their duty.’

‘True: but is it not strange that persons of experience, who have been married themselves, should judge so falsely?’ Matilda now came panting back, with the lacerated body of the young hare in her hand.

‘Was it your intention to kill that hare, or to save it, Miss Murray?’ asked Mr. Weston, apparently puzzled at her gleeful countenance.

‘I pretended to want to save it,’ she answered, honestly enough, ‘as it was so glaringly out of season; but I was better pleased to see it lolled. However, you can both witness that I couldn’t help it: Prince was determined to have her; and he clutched her by the back, and killed her in a minute! Wasn’t it a noble chase?’

‘Very! for a young lady after a leveret.’

There was a quiet sarcasm in the tone of his reply which was not lost upon her; she shrugged her shoulders, and, turning away with a significant ‘Humph!’ asked me how I had enjoyed the fun. I replied that I saw no fun in the matter; but admitted that I had not observed the transaction very narrowly.

‘Didn’t you see how it doubled–just like an old hare? and didn’t you hear it scream?’

‘I’m happy to say I did not.’

‘It cried out just like a child.’

‘Poor little thing! What will you do with it?’

‘Come along–I shall leave it in the first house we come to. I don’t want to take it home, for fear papa should scold me for letting the dog kill it.’

Mr. Weston was now gone, and we too went on our way; but as we returned, after having deposited the hare in a farm-house, and demolished some spice-cake and currant-wine in exchange, we met him returning also from the execution of his mission, whatever it might be. He carried in his hand a cluster of beautiful bluebells, which he offered to me; observing, with a smile, that though he had seen so little of me for the last two months, he had not forgotten that bluebells were numbered among my favourite flowers. It was done as a simple act of goodwill, without compliment or remarkable courtesy, or any look that could be construed into ‘reverential, tender adoration’ (vide Rosalie Murray); but still, it was something to find my unimportant saying so well remembered: it was something that he had noticed so accurately the time I had ceased to be visible.

‘I was told,’ said he, ‘that you were a perfect bookworm, Miss Grey: so completely absorbed in your studies that you were lost to every other pleasure.’

‘Yes, and it’s quite true!’ cried Matilda.

‘No, Mr. Weston: don’t believe it: it’s a scandalous libel. These young ladies are too fond of making random assertions at the expense of their friends; and you ought to be careful how you listen to them.’

‘I hope THIS assertion is groundless, at any rate.’

‘Why? Do you particularly object to ladies studying?’

‘No; but I object to anyone so devoting himself or herself to study, as to lose sight of everything else. Except under peculiar circumstances, I consider very close and constant study as a waste of time, and an injury to the mind as well as the body.’

‘Well, I have neither the time nor the inclination for such transgressions.’

We parted again.

Well! what is there remarkable in all this? Why have I recorded it? Because, reader, it was important enough to give me a cheerful evening, a night of pleasing dreams, and a morning of felicitous hopes. Shallow-brained cheerfulness, foolish dreams, unfounded hopes, you would say; and I will not venture to deny it: suspicions to that effect arose too frequently in my own mind. But our wishes are like tinder: the flint and steel of circumstances are continually striking out sparks, which vanish immediately, unless they chance to fall upon the tinder of our wishes; then, they instantly ignite, and the flame of hope is kindled in a moment.

But alas! that very morning, my flickering flame of hope was dismally quenched by a letter from my mother, which spoke so seriously of my father’s increasing illness, that I feared there was little or no chance of his recovery; and, close at hand as the holidays were, I almost trembled lest they should come too late for me to meet him in this world. Two days after, a letter from Mary told me his life was despaired of, and his end seemed fast approaching. Then, immediately, I sought permission to anticipate the vacation, and go without delay. Mrs. Murray stared, and wondered at the unwonted energy and boldness with which I urged the request, and thought there was no occasion to hurry; but finally gave me leave: stating, however, that there was ‘no need to be in such agitation about the matter–it might prove a false alarm after all; and if not–why, it was only in the common course of nature: we must all die some time; and I was not to suppose myself the only afflicted person in the world;’ and concluding with saying I might have the phaeton to take me to O-. ‘And instead of REPINING, Miss Grey, be thankful for the PRIVILEGES you enjoy. There’s many a poor clergyman whose family would be plunged into ruin by the event of his death; but you, you see, have influential friends ready to continue their patronage, and to show you every consideration.’

I thanked her for her ‘consideration,’ and flew to my room to make some hurried preparations for my departure. My bonnet and shawl being on, and a few things hastily crammed into my largest trunk, I descended. But I might have done the work more leisurely, for no one else was in a hurry; and I had still a considerable time to wait for the phaeton. At length it came to the door, and I was off: but, oh, what a dreary journey was that! how utterly different from my former passages homewards! Being too late for the last coach to -, I had to hire a cab for ten miles, and then a car to take me over the rugged hills.

It was half-past ten before I reached home. They were not in bed.

My mother and sister both met me in the passage–sad–silent–pale! I was so much shocked and terror-stricken that I could not speak, to ask the information I so much longed yet dreaded to obtain.

‘Agnes!’ said my mother, struggling to repress some strong emotion.

‘Oh, Agnes!’ cried Mary, and burst into tears.

‘How is he?’ I asked, gasping for the answer.

‘Dead!’

It was the reply I had anticipated: but the shock seemed none the less tremendous.

CHAPTER XIX–THE LETTER

My father’s mortal remains had been consigned to the tomb; and we, with sad faces and sombre garments, sat lingering over the frugal breakfast-table, revolving plans for our future life. My mother’s strong mind had not given way beneath even this affliction: her spirit, though crushed, was not broken. Mary’s wish was that I should go back to Horton Lodge, and that our mother should come and live with her and Mr. Richardson at the vicarage: she affirmed that he wished it no less than herself, and that such an arrangement could not fail to benefit all parties; for my mother’s society and experience would be of inestimable value to them, and they would do all they could to make her happy. But no arguments or entreaties could prevail: my mother was determined not to go. Not that she questioned, for a moment, the kind wishes and intentions of her daughter; but she affirmed that so long as God spared her health and strength, she would make use of them to earn her own livelihood, and be chargeable to no one; whether her dependence would be felt as a burden or not. If she could afford to reside as a lodger in–vicarage, she would choose that house before all others as the place of her abode; but not being so circumstanced, she would never come under its roof, except as an occasional visitor: unless sickness or calamity should render her assistance really needful, or until age or infirmity made her incapable of maintaining herself.

‘No, Mary,’ said she, ‘if Richardson and you have anything to spare, you must lay it aside for your family; and Agnes and I must gather honey for ourselves. Thanks to my having had daughters to educate, I have not forgotten my accomplishments. God willing, I will check this vain repining,’ she said, while the tears coursed one another down her cheeks in spite of her efforts; but she wiped them away, and resolutely shaking back her head, continued, ‘I will exert myself, and look out for a small house, commodiously situated in some populous but healthy district, where we will take a few young ladies to board and educate–if we can get them–and as many day pupils as will come, or as we can manage to instruct. Your father’s relations and old friends will be able to send us some pupils, or to assist us with their recommendations, no doubt: I shall not apply to my own. What say you to it, Agnes? will you be willing to leave your present situation and try?’

‘Quite willing, mamma; and the money I have saved will do to furnish the house. It shall be taken from the bank directly.’

‘When it is wanted: we must get the house, and settle on preliminaries first.’

Mary offered to lend the little she possessed; but my mother declined it, saying that we must begin on an economical plan; and she hoped that the whole or part of mine, added to what we could get by the sale of the furniture, and what little our dear papa had contrived to lay aside for her since the debts were paid, would be sufficient to last us till Christmas; when, it was hoped, something would accrue from our united labours. It was finally settled that this should be our plan; and that inquiries and preparations should immediately be set on foot; and while my mother busied herself with these, I should return to Horton Lodge at the close of my four weeks’ vacation, and give notice for my final departure when things were in train for the speedy commencement of our school.

We were discussing these affairs on the morning I have mentioned, about a fortnight after my father’s death, when a letter was brought in for my mother, on beholding which the colour mounted to her face–lately pale enough with anxious watchings and excessive sorrow. ‘From my father!’ murmured she, as she hastily tore off the cover. It was many years since she had heard from any of her own relations before. Naturally wondering what the letter might contain, I watched her countenance while she read it, and was somewhat surprised to see her bite her lip and knit her brows as if in anger. When she had done, she somewhat irreverently cast it on the table, saying with a scornful smile,–‘Your grandpapa has been so kind as to write to me. He says he has no doubt I have long repented of my “unfortunate marriage,” and if I will only acknowledge this, and confess I was wrong in neglecting his advice, and that I have justly suffered for it, he will make a lady of me once again–if that be possible after my long degradation–and remember my girls in his will. Get my desk, Agnes, and send these things away: I will answer the letter directly. But first, as I may be depriving you both of a legacy, it is just that I should tell you what I mean to say. I shall say that he is mistaken in supposing that I can regret the birth of my daughters (who have been the pride of my life, and are likely to be the comfort of my old age), or the thirty years I have passed in the company of my best and dearest friend;–that, had our misfortunes been three times as great as they were (unless they had been of my bringing on), I should still the more rejoice to have shared them with your father, and administered what consolation I was able; and, had his sufferings in illness been ten times what they wore, I could not regret having watched over and laboured to relieve them;–that, if he had married a richer wife, misfortunes and trials would no doubt have come upon him still; while I am egotist enough to imagine that no other woman could have cheered him through them so well: not that I am superior to the rest, but I was made for him, and he for me; and I can no more repent the hours, days, years of happiness we have spent together, and which neither could have had without the other, than I can the privilege of having been his nurse in sickness, and his comfort in affliction.

‘Will this do, children?–or shall I say we are all very sorry for what has happened during the last thirty years, and my daughters wish they had never been born; but since they have had that misfortune, they will be thankful for any trifle their grandpapa will be kind enough to bestow?’

Of course, we both applauded our mother’s resolution; Mary cleared away the breakfast things; I brought the desk; the letter was quickly written and despatched; and, from that day, we heard no more of our grandfather, till we saw his death announced in the newspaper a considerable time after–all his worldly possessions, of course, being left to our wealthy unknown cousins.

CHAPTER XX–THE FAREWELL

A house in A—, the fashionable watering-place, was hired for our seminary; and a promise of two or three pupils was obtained to commence with. I returned to Horton Lodge about the middle of July, leaving my mother to conclude the bargain for the house, to obtain more pupils, to sell off the furniture of our old abode, and to fit out the new one.

We often pity the poor, because they have no leisure to mourn their departed relatives, and necessity obliges them to labour through their severest afflictions: but is not active employment the best remedy for overwhelming sorrow–the surest antidote for despair? It may be a rough comforter: it may seem hard to be harassed with the cares of life when we have no relish for its enjoyments; to be goaded to labour when the heart is ready to break, and the vexed spirit implores for rest only to weep in silence: but is not labour better than the rest we covet? and are not those petty, tormenting cares less hurtful than a continual brooding over the great affliction that oppresses us? Besides, we cannot have cares, and anxieties, and toil, without hope–if it be but the hope of fulfilling our joyless task, accomplishing some needful project, or escaping some further annoyance. At any rate, I was glad my mother had so much employment for every faculty of her action-loving frame. Our kind neighbours lamented that she, once so exalted in wealth and station, should be reduced to such extremity in her time of sorrow; but I am persuaded that she would have suffered thrice as much had she been left in affluence, with liberty to remain in that house, the scene of her early happiness and late affliction, and no stern necessity to prevent her from incessantly brooding over and lamenting her bereavement.

I will not dilate upon the feelings with which I left the old house, the well-known garden, the little village church–then doubly dear to me, because my father, who, for thirty years, had taught and prayed within its walls, lay slumbering now beneath its flags–and the old bare hills, delightful in their very desolation, with the narrow vales between, smiling in green wood and sparkling water–the house where I was born, the scene of all my early associations, the place where throughout life my earthly affections had been centred;–and left them to return no more! True, I was going back to Horton Lodge, where, amid many evils, one source of pleasure yet remained: but it was pleasure mingled with excessive pain; and my stay, alas! was limited to six weeks. And even of that precious time, day after day slipped by and I did not see him: except at church, I never saw him for a fortnight after my return. It seemed a long time to me: and, as I was often out with my rambling pupil, of course hopes would keep rising, and disappointments would ensue; and then, I would say to my own heart, ‘Here is a convincing proof–if you would but have the sense to see it, or the candour to acknowledge it–that he does not care for you. If he only thought HALF as much about you as you do about him, he would have contrived to meet you many times ere this: you must know that, by consulting your own feelings. Therefore, have done with this nonsense: you have no ground for hope: dismiss, at once, these hurtful thoughts and foolish wishes from your mind, and turn to your own duty, and the dull blank life that lies before you. You might have known such happiness was not for you.’

But I saw him at last. He came suddenly upon me as I was crossing a field in returning from a visit to Nancy Brown, which I had taken the opportunity of paying while Matilda Murray was riding her matchless mare. He must have heard of the heavy loss I had sustained: he expressed no sympathy, offered no condolence: but almost the first words he uttered were,–‘How is your mother?’ And this was no matter-of-course question, for I never told him that I had a mother: he must have learned the fact from others, if he knew it at all; and, besides, there was sincere goodwill, and even deep, touching, unobtrusive sympathy in the tone and manner of the inquiry. I thanked him with due civility, and told him she was as well as could be expected. ‘What will she do?’ was the next question. Many would have deemed it an impertinent one, and given an evasive reply; but such an idea never entered my head, and I gave a brief but plain statement of my mother’s plans and prospects.

‘Then you will leave this place shortly?’ said he.

‘Yes, in a month.’

He paused a minute, as if in thought. When he spoke again, I hoped