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was a hard task, that of working her dirty underground mine, with the open fire of the foe playing over her labours; but in time she succeeded for who will not succeed who in a bad cause labours long and low enough? She had had the courage to speak to Philip about the lady of the cottage, and how did she speak of her? Not violently, or with open virulence, but with a quiet though much-meaning contempt for the class to which she belonged, and with a cruel exaggeration of some little episodes of the poor girl's childish history
episodes which she had learnt Heaven knows how, but which were not without their effect on Thornleigh.
And yet he dearly loved his mistress still! loved her for the patience with which she supported his frequent absences, and for the cheerful spirits that for many a week sustained her when, fitful and often impatient, he allowed the impressions he received to tell upon
his manner. He little knew how hard the effort was, and how often, fearing that
"Her voice had lost its power,
Her smile had lost its charm,”
she would sit in what poets call her “bower," and drawing sad comparisons between the past and present, would look forward with vague anxiety to the future.
It was the end of March now, and the blustering month had been unusually wild and wintry. Philip had been ready with excuses for the many days that often elapsed between his visits to the much-neglected “Rosamond;" but the disappointed and sorrowing woman was not to be deceived by reasons which she more than half suspected were often invented for the
occasion. Once, and only once, she reproached him, and that not so much for his neglect as for his want of openness, and the small trust he seemed to place in her who lately had shared his every thought. “Philip," she said, “there is a cloud above us; it once,
and to you may seem so still; but for me, who live almost alone, it grows and gathers fearfully. Will it burst soon, think you? or is there more of cruel waiting yet before me?"
"I do not understand you,” said Philip, though he did.
“Nay, do not say so; there has been such trust between us through these years, and I can better bear that
you should cease to love me than that my belief in your true loyalty should be shaken now.”
Her appeal irritated Thornleigh, touching the sore place in a conscience which was still tender.
“Helen,” he said, rising and standing near her, with his elbow resting on the mantelshelf, "let us understand each other. Have I ever deceived you?”
“Till lately, never.”
“Pshaw! you must not call deception the little civil excuses that enforced absence make sometimes necessary I mean, have I ever been untrue to you, or ever led you to form expectations impossible to be realized?"
It was said, and compunction followed on the fault as rapidly as the thunder booms after the cannon's flash. He had never seen Helen angry before never seen the half-closed, sleepy eye light up with indignant fire, or the delicate nostril dilate with scom; but looking in her face now, compunction (as we have said) followed quickly on the error he had committed.
There was no violent outburst, and not one of the reproachful words that Philip in his penitence so dreaded to listen to; but after a few moments, given to quelling the angry tumult in her heart, she said, coldly and simply:
"I thank you, for you have made the task that might have been so hard an easy one, and extracted the sting from the bitterness of regret."
“What task? what regret?” faltered Philip, fearing he knew not what. “Helen, forgive me; I had no right to say those words they were cruel, rude, and most undeserved.”
“Undeserved, indeed," said the already softened woman, looking down upon the hands which were clasped upon her knee; “for much as you have given I have given you more,
you owe me something still.”
She looked so beautiful while thus proudly pardoning him, that Thornleigh, yielding to a momentary inspiration of his better self, spoke the words which many a woman in a position such as hers would have listened to with rapture.
“Helen," he said, “there is but one way left to prove my love, and but one reparation for the past, that I can offer you.
Nellie, you must be my wife.” "Must!" repeated she in a half whisper and with a whole smile upon her lip. “Must! Philip, this is not the first time that I have been told you ought to marry
not the first time that I have been informed how necessary is the reparation you have offered to the woman who gave up all for
you. I thank
for your proposal, but forgive me when I add that the
idea is as distasteful to me now as it was in the days I tell
of." It was now Philip's turn to be angry, though pride forbade any open evidence of his displeasure; and so, for yet another and a far longer period, the hearts in which so much love lay hidden were kept asunder, and Helen was left alone, mourning for her desolation, and repenting her of the bitter words in which her refusal of her lover's offer had been couched.
On an evening in early spring, that chilly time when days grow long and winds blow keenly, Helen, alone and spiritless, sat in her little drawing-room. There were no flowers in it now, only the withered leaves of dying hope, and a sad heart waiting still!
Suddenly, for her eyes hat not been turned towards the approach, a ring at the bell announced a visitor. Helen's heart beat quickly; and while listening to the rein that pattered against the window, and the wind that whistled through the leafless trees, it was with difficulty that she could contend against a creeping prognostication of evil to come. The interval of time that intervened before the door was opened seemed interminable; and at length a second and a louder peal announced that the patience of the visitor was being too largely drawn upon. The truth was that Philip's domestics (never over-attentive to their duties)
at that moment engaged in their respective pleasures; the general in-doors servant, “out of livery,” having betaken himself to the village for news and beer; and the housemaid being what is expressively termed “out of the way.” At last Helen's own maid (a somewhat flighty and independent young woman)
having condescended to "go to the door," the visitor was admitted to the lady's presence.
The latter turned very pale on the announcement of the name; but when the gentleman approached, and in a grave manner offered his hand, the blood rushed tumultuously to her cheek. She knew him well, both by name and reputation; for he was the incumbent of the living of which Sir Edgar Thornleigh was the patron; and she believed him to be a good man, Philip, whose prejudices were not usually in favour of the cloth, would not so often have spoken of him in terms of unqualified commendation.
But highly bred and kindly natured as his bearing bespoke him to be, Mr. Herbert was embarrassed now; for he had come on a cruel errand, and was at once aware that instinct, that sixth sense afforded for the protection of the weak, had already apprised the anxious woman of a coming calamity.
Seeing this, and being aware of no possible advantage that could accrue from delay, he entered at once on the subject of his mission.
“Mrs. Vaughan,” he began, in a low and hesitating tone, “I have taken the liberty of calling on you, for the purpose of performing a painful duty."
Helen took the alarm at once. Something, she feared, must have happened to Philip, or why did his friend look so grave and sympathising?
“Mr. Herbert!” she cried, with a sort of gasp, is safe? Oh! do not say that any accident has happened to Colonel Thornleigh!"
"No fresh accident," replied he, with a little peculiar meaning in his intonation. “Colonel Thornleigh is well in health, but he is suffering much mental