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for there existed for her but one solitary bond, one tie so thin and fine, that a touch snapping it asunder might leave her to drift away alone, a solitary thing, without chart or compass to guide her on her way.
With such poetical rendering of her woes did Helen solace herself, as she paced rapidly along the high-road that led towards the village. She was not yet really miserable, for she could indulge in grief, and revel in the luxury of self-pity; and therefore, after a while, she began to consider that her selfbanishment had endured long enough, and that perhaps -- yes, surely, Philip must have missed her had wanted her possibly; and with this conviction on her mind, she retraced her steps, and walked rapidly home.
And Philip had missed her missed her as the lazzarone misses the sun he loves, and the herb the dew that invigorates it.
She had been absent but an hour, yet her going thus hastily had frightened him; and on her return he gladly welcomed to his breast, and to her home, the sweet though fallen angel of the house.
About a fortnight after this domestic episode, the reconciled lovers (though perhaps the name is not strictly applicable) were riding together through the pleasant lanes -- pleasant though the season was hardly yet spring, and the weather cold enough that abounded in the neighbourhood of Thornleigh. They talked together gaily as they rode along, and the fresh wind blew bright roses upon Helen's cheeks, and added to the lustre of the dark eyes, into which Philip gazed with the tender love that had shone from his own in days gone by. And thus were they looking, when at
the turn of a narrow lane, and at a spot where the ascent was steep and the banks high, they met a carriage, as it slowly descended the hill. It was an open barouche, and contained two ladies and a child. Of the former, one was a little past the prime of life, but still handsome, though of a large, coarse beauty; while the other was striking from her brilliant complexion, her speaking eyes, and the profusion of her red-brown hair. Both ladies turned aside their heads with marked avoidance when they became aware of the propinquity of the equestrians, and the slight - insult Philip mentally termed it was so obtrusively marked, that he resented it keenly, though silently; for those handsome, disdainful-looking ladies were no strangers to him, and in his early years, before he had “got into that confounded scrape,” (Alas! poor Helen,) he had known them well, and indeed had been a sort of pet of the elder lady, whose name was Ellerton, and who was the mother of the bright-complexioned girl then seated by her side.
In looking back upon Thornleigh's boyhood, it would be perhaps too much to aver that Mrs. Ellerton was the cause of his first great dereliction from the paths of moral duty; but still at thirty he might possibly have been a better man, if at twenty that lady had not generously undertaken, free of cost, except to the boy's wavering principles, to finish his education for the world he was about to enter. There had been some whispers about their flirtation – whispers softly spoken - for Mr. Mainwaring, Mrs. Ellerton's then husband, was a millionaire; and shod with gold, vice finds it easy enough to ride down the prejudices of a pack of scandal-mongers; moreover, Mrs. Ellerton, to
do her justice, gave no great cause for evil tongues to bay at her, being cold and vain, with a dear love for what she called "position,” and so could venture to take fire in her hand (as cold natures can) and remain unscathed.
As for the lad himself, his soft-skinned vanity (for where is the folly or vice in which that element of evil is not found?) was pleasantly flattered by the idea that the world thought him wickeder than he was; and (rejoicing more in his supposed iniquity than he possibly might have done had there been truth in the libel) he took his first lesson in the hornbook of human passions.
But the time came when he grew tired of his daily governess; and though between them there had been naught beyond the Platonic affection miscalled "pure, he was as wearied as though they had deserved the imputation which many-tongued rumour had cast upon them. That the boy showed this weariness, and showed it unreservedly, was an offence that Mrs. Ellerton could not pardon, and nourishing her anger in a breast devoid of any warmer and more genial feelings, the evil plant (like an unwholesome fungus) grew and grew, till the bad passion turned to hate. She had one daughter, who was about thirteen, and was absent at school during the time of the “little affair” with Philip; and many a year had passed since they two had talked of love under the chestnut trees; and the still fair woman was for a second time a widow, with another little girl to tax her maternal solicitude, when she and Philip met in that narrow lane, while a woman (of what Mrs. Ellerton called the worst description) was a witness of their chance rencontre.
At that period Gertrude Mainwaring had seen some five-and-twenty summers, several of which had of late years been passed abroad with a kind but eccentric female relation, who had generously relieved Mrs. Ellerton from the charge of the tall girl, whose rapid march towards womanhood told tales of her own advancing years.
But enough of Gertrude for the present - enough of the prosperous and successful; for we must follow Helen's fortunes, and relate the Decline and Fall of her Woman's Empire.
Whether it was that the contempt expressed in the faces of his former friends urged him to the effort of changing their scorn into a more agreeable feeling towards himself, or whether he was warmed into admiration at the sight of newer and therefore more piquant charms, certain it is, that from the date of that inauspicious meeting, Philip Thornleigh found himself often in the society of the ladies of Mainwaring Hall. He was frequently, too, at the Abbey, for there also was one to whom his presence was by no means a matter of indifference. Mrs. Wraxham the cousin of whom mention has already been made great favourite of Sir Edgar's; for she could not only lay claim to the high merit of being a relation, but she was also duly impressed with the honour which that claim conferred upon her. She had had designs upon Philip from her earliest infancy, and had pursued those designs with a tact and perseverance worthy of a better cause. At a later period, despairing of success, she had — wisely enough as was afterwards proved -married a rich and elderly widower, whose remaining term of life she certainly did not render happy; but
Mr. Wraxham died at the age of seventy, leaving her with one child, and a fortune in railway shares, which might, or might not, turn his widow into what the world calls a "catch.”
Mrs. Wraxham was fond of money, but she was fonder still of rank and title --- a predilection which may partly be accounted for by the fact, that in the days of her young-ladyhood, her very particular friend was fortunate enough to make an impression on a peer of the realm; thus raising her own dignity, while the evil-working passion of envy fermented in the breast of her less fortunate friend.
This sole remaining female scion of the house of Thornleigh was not altogether unattractive in appearance; and, joined to a certain amount of freshness and prettiness, she had the art, while making men pleased with themselves, of inducing them also to be charmed with her. She was a cunning rather than a clever woman; endowed, however, with the quality of watchfulness, for she was never taken by surprise, and with the gift of prudence, for the order of her retreats was as remarkable as the courage she displayed in her advances.
To marry her cousin Philip to be addressed as “My lady," and to reign as sovereign mistress at Thornleigh, was the unceasing object of Mrs. Wraxham's ambition; and to obtain her end there was scarcely any act, however mean and unworthy, to which she would not have descended. She had had early information of Helen's arrival at the cottage, and having seen her, the alarmed plotter set to work at once to discover some method by which she might lower the dangerous beauty in the estimation of her lover. It Recommended to Mercy. I.