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wrath, and let it fairly boil over. The Archdeacon was greatly amused at the ebullition.
"And so," he said, “you are indignant with Mrs. Langton, because, like a sensible woman, she declines being dragged into notoriety, and out of her own sphere of life. Take my advice, dear Esther, and leave your humble friend's youth and beauty in the shade. I have no doubt that it would be very agreeable to proner her and them as discoveries of
but it is evident that the fair Schoolmistress has no fancy for being handed about and commented on, as though she were a new fern, or any other vegetable curiosity. Really, I respect her for her discretion amazingly.”
Esther bowed (as a good wife should) to her husband's judgment; but had she guessed how much that judgment, usually so clear and penetrating, was at fault, and how entirely he had mistaken the real motives for Helen's conduct, he would, perhaps, have sunk a little in her estimation.
Meanwhile the said Helen had taken herself seriously to task, and had asked herself, and that with a stern investigation from which it was impossible to shrink, whether she were justified in withholding the confession of her former errors from her present friends.
The answer was long in coming, for sophistry brought forth many a specious argument to prove that there was no sin in secresy; but at last (moved mostly by the thought of how thoroughly she was trusted), the honest frankness of her nature conquered, and she resolved to reveal the truth. The struggle had been hard (harder, perhaps, than those who have never been called upon to confess a sin can imagine) to bring Recommended to Mercy. I.
herself to consider the art of self-accusation as a duty; but Helen's was not a common character; she had her own code of honour a code that was well nigh as a religion to her; and stern as were its laws, she resolved to obey them, though written in her heart's blood might be her sentence of condemnation.
And thus it chanced that, not many days after the conversation with his wife that has just been related, the Archdeacon found himself one Sabbath-day listening to the penitent woman's confession of her sin. He
once looked at her face while she poured it forth, but, shrouding his own countenance from observation, sat quite still and listened. And Helen told him all her temptations
her fall and her heavy punishment in the loss of him she had so dearly loved; and when she came to the end, she said, very humbly and timidly (for she mistook his silence for utter and unqualified condemnation) —
“I have done my best I have intended to do right nor do I think that I have injured the children by what I have taught them. I have tried indeed I have to give them good principles. I have endeavoured to make them love work, and have told them you do not know how often that it is not by striving after the attainment of a station above their fathers, but by leading a useful, busy life, that they can hope to be happy. I have sought to make them understand and do their duty to their God, and to their neighbour, and have tried to make them love dress and fine clothes less. Indeed, indeed, I have not given them bad principles.”
And thus she ran on, in a disjointed and hurried
fashion; while her eyes were riveted to the ground, and her breath came short and quick.
“I know it - I am sure of it,” said her greatly interested auditor. “But I must own I am greatly shocked to learn all this. Pray tell me, Fanshawe cognisant of the events of your early life? Is he aware of this this deception, the revelation of which has so completely taken me by surprise; for, truly, I never could have surmised that you were other than you seemed.”
His cold questioning chilled Helen, as does the shock of the sprinkled water when it brings back a painful life to the fainting sufferer; but, as was customary with her, sorrow found vent in bitter and self-accusing words.
“Of course you could not,” she said; "for how could
you have imagined that I was so vile a creature? Women are such wondrous cheats; and of course, like all of us, I was born an actress.”
"Hush," said the good man, "do not talk so wildly; you blaspheme against your sex. You were intended for better things than for the life you tell me of.”
“And who intended me?” asked she, now fully roused. “Was it my father, to whom I was a plaything as a child, and an encumbrance as I womanhood? Was it my mother, who never instilled into my mind one good or religious principle? Oh! you do not know how neglected I was.
There were rigorous and watchful parents among our friends, who averred that I was spoilt; and so I
but not as they counted spoiling. I had my punishments for illdoing; and in what do you think they consisted? A Psalm, a Bible chapter, or a Collect, to be learnt by
heart. And for rewards, why, a gaudy sash or an envied necklace were bestowed upon me; and the gifts became indissolubly connected in my childish mind with all that was right and praiseworthy. Steady and judicious control I never knew. No good habits were fostered, and the foundation for self-government was never laid. Can you wonder that I grew up as in my childish days I was allowed to live, and that, idle, selfengrossed, and headstrong, I was ready to sink under every temptation that was set before me?”
"Poor child!” murmured the Archdeacon, in a voice of compassion.
“Ay, poor indeed; for even my faint aspirations after good were checked, and my few virtuous resolutions nipped in their early bud! I had a tender conscience when I was a little girl; and well do I remember that once, remorseful for an unconfessed offence, I lay down upon my bed with a heavy heart. In the night-time terrible ideas assailed me. I had heard of sudden deaths; and on the day before, the awful words, ‘Died by the visitation of God' (as if we ever died by anything else!) had been repeated for the first time within my hearing. I asked myself, "What if I too should die suddenly? What if I, a wicked child, should on that night be also visited, and be, before the sun arose, a corpse!'
“I lay in my small bed, trembling and affrighted. My sin had found me out; and 'Oh!' I cried from the depths of my little penitent heart, ‘if I do but live till morning, I will tell it all, and never be wicked any more.'
“And when the morning came, I went to my mother's room (she always lay there, pale and suffer
ing, on her sofa, being weak and nervous, gentle to us children), and there I poured forth all my childish sorrow
my guilt, my repentance, and my fear of the punishments of God. Yes, kneeling by her side, and crying very bitterly, I made my confession humbly, and with an entreaty to my parent that she would help, advise, and comfort me.
And when my tale was told, truly I was as the one who, asking for bread, was in its stead presented with a stone: for my mother, seeming very wearied (so wearied, indeed, that before she could reply she was forced to ask for some revivifying drops), made her languid commentary thus:
“My dear Nellie, what is all this fuss about? You are a very good little girl, and are a better nurse to me than any of the others. Bathe my forehead now, and don't cry and talk any more; it makes my head ache.'
“It was the first and last time that I ever mentioned the subject of my conscience to any one. No, I was not intended to be good; at any rate not by those whose intentions might have availed to make me so.”
The Archdeacon was silent; for he was making mental comments on this sad little episode of her early life. But Helen, again mistaking the cause of his taciturnity, broke in impatiently:
“Pray, speak to me; pray, say at once if you intend to give me up entirely. I can bear misfortune, I can support a sudden shock, but
kills me. “I must first know to what extent Mr. Fanshawe was acquainted with this history.”