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heard enough to convince him that Philip was indeed not one of "the old school,” and, what was more perplexing still, that the influence of the redoubted “Helen” was not a thing to be easily shaken. At this crisis, however, wearied with so rare an after-dinner exertion, as the discussion of an improper love affair, the old county member, faithful to his custom of an afternoon, whether in the "season” or out of it, rested his well-shaven chin on his neatly-plaited shirt-frill, and slept the sleep of the just.
Meanwhile Philip, in respectful silence, pondered over the words that had been said, and his thoughts savoured of worldly 'wisdom. The walls of the lofty apartments were panelled with oak, which time had darkened gloomily; and hung aloft were eleven lifelength effigies of dead ancestors, who, (all possessed of an air of agreeable majesty, but to none of whom any individual interest was attached,) looking benignly down upon their descendant, took, in their silent, dignified manner, à place in his deliberations.
And now, it must be said, that in spite of Colonel Thornleigh's expressed contempt for the opinions of the county, he was by no means indifferent to that of the world, and had no fancy (metaphorically speaking) for tying up his knocker, and being sick or dead to the many anxious acquaintances - friends, as they are conventionally called, who would crowd to welcome the future possessor of Thornleigh Abbey. He was extremely attached to Helen, who was a very good girl and all that sort of thing," and in India, where the practice of strict morality is rather at a discount, and where his own code was that not only of most of his associates, but also of the public at large, his liaison
with her, even openly avowed, had seemed quite an every-day affair. But here, as he now recollected, such things were viewed differently; and with the
of England - rural England
upon him, Philip felt the necessity of shrouding his peccadillos in a decent amount of mystery. The idea was irksome, troublesome, and annoying; and the more so, as it seemed to put Helen before him in a new and not very flattering light.
In an Indian bungalow, surrounded by soldiers, and leading with him the laisser aller kind of life which had been so enjoyable, his mistress had seemed in
very fair harmony with the scene and its accessories; for if not a “perfect woman,” she had appeared at least very "nobly planned,” and ready for all the praise, love, kisses, tears, and smiles in the atmosphere of which “perfect women are supposed to be most at home. Yes that was the Helen of an Indian home; but here, with his heart's voice deadened by the decent draperies of respectability, the hapless victim to his passions stood forth as what in truth she was, woman with a brand across her forehead and a scarlet letter on her breast!
Among the useful gifts of instinct bestowed upon the feebler sex (gifts which are often, in their curious way, more subtle and penetrating than the nobler powers of reason), not one of the least remarkable is a woman's intuitive knowledge when a subject in which her hopes of happiness are involved has deeply occupied the mind of the man on whom that happiness depends. It was an instinct such as this which warned Helen (when, after two days' absence, Thornleigh re
turned to the cottage) that evil influences were at work against her.
Philip had been out hunting and was wet, tired, and rather cross, when (without much of unnecessary ceremony) he flung himself, dirty boots included, upon Helen's sofa. The act was so contrary to the habits of the man, and also of a gentleman, that many a woman, feeling an English lady's drawing-room to be her castle, would have remonstrated thereon, or at any rate would have permitted herself to ask the simple, but leading question of what was “the matter?” This, however, was not Helen's way; and knowing that nothing confirms a man's ill-humour so much as seeming to notice it, she busied herself quietly and unobtrusively in making the peevish man as comfortable as circumstances permitted. And to do him justice, Philip soon grew rather ashamed of himself, and being grateful for the warm slippers, and warmer tea, that Helen prepared to solace his inner man, he rewarded her attentions by becoming more communicative.
“It seems a long while,” said Helen, when the time came for her to relate the little uneventful history of her two days' solitude, “a very long while since you left home; but I have been too busy to be dull. Is it not pretty?" she asked, for Philip had as yet expressed no approbation of sundry changes which her tasteful fancy and willing fingers had wrought in their little apartment. They had planned the arrangement of the furniture together, and when he left her, only eight-and-forty hours before, he had seemed as interested as herself in all the details of chintz and muslin, carpets and window curtains; but now all seemed
changed, and his
wandered over the work of her hands, as though he saw it not. Helen had laboured very hard to please him, and her delicate fingers were chafed with the contact of the pins, needles, and stiffened calico with which she had had to deal; but when all was done, and a few winter flowers had been placed in graceful arrangement upon the table, she looked round approvingly upon the result of her toil, and thought with satisfaction of the kiss that would be her reward.
Foolish woman! foolish among the thousands who have been so since the world began! Had the labour of your hands gratified, in any way, the selfish vanity of the man on whom you had wasted so much time and thought, he would have taken you into his arms, and let the light of his countenance shine upon you; but after all, and with all your pains, you had only contrived to make a small room (fifteen feet square) habitable (and how poor and mean it looked when compared with the gorgeous apartments of Thornleigh!) and, in so doing, you had but performed a humble household duty, and were entitled to no reward.
Helen was disappointed and mortified, so mortified that she could not at first tell her little story calmly.
“A Mr. Brandreth called here yesterday,” she said, as soon as she could trust the steadiness of her voice. "He paid me a long visit, and was very entertaining."
“Extremely impertinent of him to call, and very bad taste to stay when he found I was not at home.”
“Bad taste?” said Helen, a little archly. “Now, Philip, you can't think that?”
“He wants my vote, I conclude,” said the angry man, overlooking Helen's small pleasantry altogether, “but he won't get it; I don't know the man, and I don't want to know him.”
“Wait a little, dear Philip, please, before you make up your mind to dislike my new acquaintance. I think you would approve of many of his opinions, and he seems so thoroughly in earnest! I cannot tell you how wisely he talked about bettering the condition of the poor.”
"A liberal reformer, eh? Liberal enough of words and promises, no doubt. Is he a young man? What sort of a looking fellow?”
“Oh, nothing very remarkable – a good head, and in figure tall and slight; but such a kind face; and such a pleasant voice! The only thing against his appearance is a rather ridiculous trick he has of twitching his mouth, which almost made me laugh."
Helen was not well up in the arts of coquetry, or she would have described her visitor somewhat differently; and would have remembered (had she planned to retain her sceptre) that women are strong because men are weak, and been aware that could Philip only have surmised (what she knew full well) that for two hours Brandreth's expressive countenance had shown his fervent admiration of the one that was now looked upon so coldly, Thornleigh would have appreciated her better for that knowledge than for all the gentle care she had bestowed upon his creature comforts.
But Helen loved too sincerely to be on her guard, and so her opportunity was lost, while time sped on,