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and from his-ah! that regretful sister could too readily imagine the manner of company in which so much of her little property had been squandered! But she thought her of her own shortcomings, and came to consider her loss as in the light of a justly merited retribution.
It was now winter, a season always rather trying to her spirits, for enliven them as she would by constant occupation, the long dark nights and evenings seemed sometimes interminable. Often, as the day was closing in, would she remain abroad in the hope of shortening those weary hours; and long after dusk, an erect, tall figure was often seen in the neighbourhood of the school, stepping quickly, with elastic tread, and clad in a thick grey mantle and concealing veil. This was Helen Langton, to whom it had become a habit to walk with some of the younger children to their homes; and then (after giving them over to their parents' keeping) to return to her cottage alone.
How thoroughly she enjoyed those walks ! the little children trotting gaily by her side, and either begging for more stories,' or listening delightedly to her easily comprehended talk and cheery voice; and then the brisk walk homewards, with the countless stars twinkling at her through the clear, frosty air, and the warm blood tingling through her veins by reason of the healthy exercise. There was always a bright fire awaiting her return, and the tea prepared by her clean and willing little handmaiden, while the kettle sung its evening song to her on the hearth. But in spite of this look of home comfort, Helen was not happy then. She never felt so lonely as in those long December evenings, when in that little parlour the armchair opposite to her was empty, and her only companion was the little hairy terrier, who guarded her with the humble yet devoted affection peculiar to his species.
That solitary woman might not have put her cravings into words ; but surely it was in her heart to long for a strong arm on which to lean, and for a kindly breast on which to lay her head when she was weary. Surely it was not strange that dreams in which the lisp of children bore a part should visit her in her loneliness, causing her to hate the weary stillness of the room above, where there was no infant to need a mother's care, no ‘waxen touch' to press against her childless bosom.
In the course of that last wearisome December there came a female visitor to the Vicarage, and as is usual in such cases and in distant country villages, there was talk and gossip concerning the new arrival. By some of the old folks she was described as an old young lady, talking like and pleasant. Her name was rather an uncommon one, and Helen when she heard it, had a vague idea that it had met her ears before, but when ? was a question that her memory refused to answer. There was something pleasant (as the gossips said) in Miss Teasdale’s manner;
and when, with the Vicaress, she paid a visit to the school, the Mistress was gratified by her courtesy, and pleased with the intelligence of her remarks.
Miss Teasdale, who was an old maid of what may be called negative qualities, and generally harmless enough, was however the correspondent of one, the evils of whose character were positive, and who was in herself anything but innocuous. From this correspondent (and she was no other than the Anna Talmash mentioned in an early chapter of our story) Miss Teasdale, about a week after her arrival at the Vicarage, received a letter of which the following sentence formed a part:
"Tell me by return of post the Christian name of the schoolmistress whom you describe as so beautiful. It is of great importance that I should receive this information without delay.'
It is not necessary to follow the correspondence through its course, but it is sufficient to say that, by the working of three of the. most dangerous passions of women, viz. love of writing, love of talking scandal, and love of listening to the same, the victim of those passions found herself once more adrift, to endure the buffetings of the world, and possibly to sink again under its temptations.
And what was the motive that induced those conspiring women to inflict the deadly wound ? Could they have been influenced by malignant cruelty and by the wanton love of giving pain? God forbid! We believe that were one half of the misery caused by idle and carelessly spoken words, known, or even guessed at, such words would often remain unsaid ; and that the prison of asps,' which lies under every human tongue, would cease its dangerous flow.
There are crimes (even those that are usually accounted the most heinous of the decalogue), for the commission of which excuses may be found in the strength of overpowering passions, or in the stern ne