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There was something ominous in the words, and Helen shuddered imperceptibly.
That gloomy, dreadful woman,' continued her visitor, if she would but enjoy existence a little herself, she might possibly allow you to do the same. ...She does certainly contrive to make a shadow in a sunshiny place,' said Helen, with a half-sigh. “But, indeed, dear Mrs. Morton, I fear I must ask you to excuse me, for I cannot break through the rules she has laid down for me.'
The children will think you very unkind,' cried the impetuous little woman. “But still I cannot believe you will continue to refuse me, when I ask for your compliance as a personal favour to myself.'
Helen was very sorry, but very firm. It went to her heart to disappoint and annoy by her refusal one who had shown her such marked kindness and consideration, but from some unfathomable motive her resolution remained unchangeable. The Archdeacon's
gentle wife was as angry as it was in her nature to be. She was vexed for her children, and, perhaps, a little jealous of the encroachments of the Vicaress in the government of the parish; and thus, for at least a week, she nursed her wrath in her warm heart, till it was very hot indeed. She had hoped and expected that the contumelious Schoolmistress would write her a note, full of penitential excuses ; but when no such missive came, she removed the cover from the vessel of her wrath, and let it fairly boil over. The Archdeacon was greatly amused at the ebullition.
And so,' he said, you are indignant with Mrs. Langton, because, like a sensible woman, she declines being dragged into notoriety, and out of her own sphere of life. Take my advice, dear Esther, and leave your humble friend's youth and beauty in the shade. I have no doubt that it would be very agreeable to proner her and them as discoveries of your own; but it is evident that the fair Schoolmistress has no fancy for being handed about, and commented on as though she were a new fern, or any other vegetable curiosity. Really I respect her for her discretion amazingly.'
Esther bowed (as a good wife should) to her husband's judgment, but had she guessed how much that judgment, usually so clear and penetrating, was at fault; and how entirely he had mistaken the real motives for Helen's conduct, he would, perhaps, have sunk a little in her estimation.
Meanwhile the said Helen had taken herself seriously to task, and had asked herself, and that with a stern investigation from which it was impossible to shrink, whether she were justified in withholding the confession of her former errors from her present friends.
The answer was long in coming; for sophistry brought forth many a specious argument to prove that there was no sin in secresy; but at last (moved mostly by the thought of how thoroughly she was trusted) the honest frankness of her nature conquered, and she resolved to reveal the truth. The struggle had been hard (harder, perhaps, than those who have never been called upon to confess a sin can imagine), to bring herself to consider the art of self-accusation as a duty ; but Helen's was not a common character; she had her own code of honour, a code that was well nigh as a religion to her, and stern as were its laws, she resolved to obey them, though written in her heart's blood might be her sentence of condemnation.
And thus it chanced that not many days after the conversation with his wife that has just been related, the Archdeacon found himself, one Sabbath day, listening to the penitent woman's confession of her sin. He never once looked at her face while she poured it forth, but shrouding his own countenance from observation, sat quite still and listened. And Helen told him all-her
temptations—her fall—and her heavy punishment in the loss of him she had so dearly loved; and when she came to the end, she said very humbly and timidly (for she mistook his silence for utter and unqualified condemnation)
“I have done my best—I have intended to do right-nor do I think that I have injured the children by what I have taught them. I have tried-indeed I have—to give them good principles. I have endeavoured to make them love work, and have told them - you do not know how often—that it is not by striving after the attainment of a station above their fathers, but by leading a useful, busy life that they can hope to be happy. I have sought to make them understand and do their duty to their God, and to their neighbour, and have tried to make them love dress and fine clothes less. Indeed, indeed, I have not given them bad principles.'
And thus she ran on, in a disjointed and hurried fashion; while her eyes were riveted