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tenants at one and the same period, she would have been shocked at the immorality nay, the coarse impropriety — of the imputation. But, nevertheless, it is to be feared that she in some sort deserved it.
Her affection for the one had grown with her youth, and strengthened with her strength, till it had seemed to become a part of her very being; and to lose her hold on Herbert's esteem and regard would have been to her a heavy misfortune. Moreover, all his surroundings had become endeared to her. She loved the country where he dwelt, and the pretty Rectory which was to be her home (for the trees and flowers that adorned it seemed to be already hers), while the cottagers which were the object of his care were likewise reckoned among the interests and responsibilities of her future life. And then his church, the organ or which on saints' days and holidays she played, and played so exquisitely that strangers came many a mile, as much to hear that celestial harmony as to admire the costly adornings of the young Rector's best beloved bride, id est the church in which his soul delighted! All these were objects of love and veneration to Alice; and yet, unknown to herself, there was a something wanting, and that something was the love that was springing up in Brandreth's heart; a love that her affianced husband was utterly incapable of either feeling or inspiring.
Had Arthur been cognizant of that want, he would
at least let us hope he would have felt the peril with which his visits were fraught, and have absented himself at once and entirely from Thornleigh Abbey. He should have guessed but, in truth, he did not
that there was danger to that young girl in a com
panionship with one far better fitted than was Herbert, to rouse the dormant passions in her heart; and so feeling, he should have denied himself the luxury of her society. And Alice's own perfect innocence tended also to throw him off his guard, keeping him by her side, and thus preserving her from both the sorrow which his absence would have caused her, and from the enlightenment as to her own feelings, which might possibly have ensued. After all, it is hard to fathom the depths, or sift out the small grains of reality from the dark depths of even the purest heart, for even “innocence itself has many a wile," and all unknown to herself, it may be, that Alice practised some of the hypocrisy that is taught by Love to women.
And so the intimacy continued, and it was not by her own will at last that they were arrested in a course which might have ended in soiling the current of her sinless years, and turning her pure heart's purest blood to tears.'
Recommended to Mercy. I.
“Alas! I have walked through life
Too heedless where I trod;
And fill the burial sod:
Not unmarked by God!” – THOMAS HOOD.
"ALICE, this delicious evening is not one to waste indoors," said Lady Thornleigh to her young sister, as together they left the dining-room on the evening when Philip and his guests discussed the wants of the poor and the requirements of the rich, beneath the
perfumed shelter of the wide verandah.
“Come out into the air, come and sit with me under the tulip tree, and we will read our letters there."
The post arrived late at Thornleigh, and a servant had just presented the letter-bag to his mistress, whose habit it was to open it with her own hands. The distribution of its contents was soon made, and then (the evening being warm) the sisters, in their light gossamer dresses and without taking the precaution of donning any extra covering), stepped out from the open window to the velvet lawn.
They were both winning objects to look upon, those two women, and the dozen years of difference in their ages was scarcely perceptible to those who caught glimpses of them from a distance. Gertrude's fair skin and beautiful colouring gave her the semblance of
youth, which was increased by the greater vivacity of her movements, while Alice, on the contrary, was quiet in the extreme, and her cheek was usually colourless; her chief charm of person consisting in her peculiar gracefulness, and in the loving softness of her eyes.
Gertrude opened her letters with feverish haste, dropping a few steps behind her sister as she did so; while the latter, feigning ignorance of her agitation, busied herself with propping up some rare carnations that lay drooping on their bed. Suddenly Lady Thornleigh spoke, but her voice was altered, and she seemed as though struggling to subdue some violent and almost overpowering emotion.
“My dear Alice," she exclaimed, “how stupid and forgetful I have been! I promised to see Mrs. Whatman at the South Lodge to-day, for her grandchild is
Lend me your scarf to throw over my head; in a quarter of an hour I shall be there and back again. But quick, dear, or I shall be late, and you know how Thornleigh hates a deserted room.”
“Then pray let me go in your place, dear Gertrude,” said Alice; “I am by far the most skilful doctor of the two, and it will be better for Philip to remark on my absence than on yours.”
"And why, pray?” asked Lady Thornleigh, as she turned sharply round upon her sister. .
“Why," repeated Alice, embarrassed how to answer her, "really, Gertrude, I can hardly say, except, perhaps, because because you are his wife.”
Conscience, or some other cause equally effective, had made a great coward of the elder sister, or she would hardly have blushed so vividly under the girl's imagined insinuation. There was, however, no dis
suading her from her design, and almost snatching at the scarf which her sister had removed from her shoulders, she hurriedly threw it over her own, and walking away at a rapid pace, was soon lost to view among the trees.
For a few moments Alice stood irresolute, and then slowly and sadly turned her steps towards the house. There was a turn in her homeward path from which she could obtain a glimpse of the “South Lodge,” the place to which Gertrude had declared her errand to be, and at that turn did she instinctively (and with an anxious heart) pause for a moment, and strain her eyes in search of her absent sister.
But alas! along that road no human form was passing, so with her suspicions that all was not right with Gertrude painfully confirmed, and filled with direful apprehension that those suspicions would (in consequence of her sister's lengthened absence) be shared by Philip, she lingered long and nervously on her way. Nervously, indeed, and painfully, for it was a very pale face that some time after made its appearance at the glass door which opened on to the lawn, and a very trembling hand that was laid on Thornleigh's shoulder as if in propitiation. He looked into her face inquiringly.
“We have had a delicious walk," was her answer to the mute appeal, and then (for oh, Love, how rare are the sacrifices that a woman's heart can make for you!) she added, while her cheek blushed deeply for her own duplicity, “a delicious walk through the shrubberies; but Gertrude was tired, and sat down to rest; she will, however, be here immediately. And turning to Herbert, with a rapid utterance which sur