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Helen had wandered about her apartment till she was tired, and she had examined the engravings on the walls till she knew their small details by heart. There were bronze horses on the chimney-piece, driven by an insane-looking Apollo, with hair ereet; and of those horses she knew every vein and muscle; nor was there a paper rose or poppy in the gaudy flower-vases which had escaped her notice. She had been long alone, and what was to her a trying thing ,, had been for hours without occupation. The shades of evening were creeping on at last, and under cover of the coming twilight, she drew her chair towards the open window. There were crowds of busily idle peasants on the place outside; and much of noise and merriment. Helen looked on and listened mechanically, for her thoughts were far away. She was with Philip again in that great London house, where he had bid her work for him; and she was glad - glad in spite of loneliness and gloom that she had taken her first step in the direction to which his dying fingers had pointed. She was absorbed in these meditations, when the door of her room was opened slowly, and a figure, treading noiselessly along the uncarpeted floor, advanced towards her. Then she turned her head, and seeing a pale face, with thin, sharply cut features, and cold, grey eyes, looking at her fixedly, she knew at once, and by intuition, that it was Philip's widow who stood before her. There was no resemblance between that attenuated woman and the fresh, bright being whom (before the shadow had fallen on what was then the sunshine of her life) Helen had once seen; yet, despite the great and entire change, her instinct did not, and could not, deceive her. Recommended to Mercy. I.
She rose from her chair, and the two women confronted each other. They were very different in appearance, and apparently so in age; though, in point of fact, Lady Thornleigh was scarcely more than two years
the elder. She was, however, wasted nearly to a shadow; her cheeks were hollow, and her forehead traced with lines; while Helen was in the full zenith of her wonderfully-preserved beauty.
Gertrude was the first to break a silence which was painfully embarrassing.
“I beg to apologise for my intrusion,” said she, with all the haughtiness that could be thrown into civil words, “but it appears to me advisable that Miss Ellerton should not visit this hôtel at present; and in affairs of business, there is no one in this neighbourhood who can take my place.”
Helen bowed her head humbly; but words wherewith to answer the implied taunt, failed her.
“I am afraid,” continued Lady Thornleigh, drawing her chair to the table, and leaning her arm upon the marble, “I am afraid that I must ask your permission to rest during a few minutes, for I am weak and ill.”
Helen again inclined her head, but remained silent. She gave one look at the care-worn face and figure, clad in its deepest widow's weeds; and no feeling harder than that of pity found a place in her heart.
“You have come," said Gertrude, coldly and calmly, “to inquire of me whether I am deserving of the name I bear.”
“Oh, no, no,” interrupted Helen; "you are mistaken, madam; believe me that you are. if to your sister I expressed my meaning, and described
my errand wrongly. I know you have been greatly". - and she hesitated as though unwilling to proceed.
“Greatly what? Pray continue your remarks, for I am prepared to listen to painful truths.”
Her sense of the injustice done her, roused Helen, giving her courage to say, with tolerable composure:
“You' speak harshly, Lady Thornleigh; but you cannot anger me, for you were his wife, and are, like myself, in deep affliction. Do you think it is for my own pleasure that I am here? And can you imagine that I would causelessly have thrust myself into your neighbourhood? Believe me that I am deeply sensible of my own unfitness for the office to which I have been appointed; and that could I have obtained elsewhere a clue wherewith to guide me, I would have followed it while life lasted, sooner than have shocked you with the sight of one whose presence must be so hateful to you."
There was no servile cringing in Helen's manner, humble as were her words: and Gertrude felt that a tribute, undeserved perhaps, but still a tribute worthy of acceptance, was offered to her own implied superiority.
"I presume, madam,” continued Helen, “that you have already been made acquainted with the conditions on the fulfilment alone of which you can be restored to your former position, and I be permitted to return to poverty and obscurity. So much, at least, Miss Ellerton must have made known to you."
Lady Thornleigh bent her head in token of assent, but turned away the countenance on which deep mortification was so plainly written. "I take God to witness," pursued Helen, “that in
this affair I am a most unwilling agent, and that gladly would I delegate to another the task allotted to me by Sir Philip Thornleigh. Nay, madam, do not shrink from the mention of that name, for it is one that is filling both our hearts.” “But one that shall not be named by you within
my hearing,” broke in Lady Thornleigh, whose weakened nerves were ever set a quivering when her husband's name was uttered, and who now spoke in a voice choked by hysterical sobs. “Mrs. Vaughan — Madam it is time that this interview should cease.
I was wrong to seek it; nor know I what strange fancy seized me when I left my home to seek you here this day.”
Helen was greatly grieved at her obduracy.
“Surely,” she said, “there must be some feeling in your heart to contradict
words. Had I been a woman, insolent in my success and glorying in my wealth, you would do well to scorn me. But, with my heart full even to breaking, I have come a weary journey to devise with you or yours some means of doing justice to the wronged, and that done, why the world and you will hear of me no more."
Lady Thornleigh was at last moved; Helen saw the change of feeling, and continued.
“It is far from my wish to prolong this interview; my purpose in coming here being merely to demand whether you will accept of my services, and assist me to promote the attainment of Sir Philip's wishes."
"I cannot,” faltered Gertrude.
"You cannot! Oh! Lady Thornleigh, in mercy to yourself and to your children, reflect deeply ere you do that which may so materially affect THEIR
fortunes, while it must leave unsatisfied the last wish of him who is no more.
Pardon me for what may seem officious in this entreaty; but I have known the bitterness of the world's contempt, and dread it for those that Philip loved so well."
“And have you no doubt of my truth, no fears that even if I would, I could not clear myself?”
Instead of replying, Helen could only ejaculate the words, “Poor Philip!” and then the tears filled
Gertrude was fairly conquered by this touching evidence of genuine feeling; for no one could have spoken those two regretful words as that grieved woman had, were the heart not true and the
purposes pure and unselfish. “Forgive me,” said the remorseful lady
“forgive me for my jealous and unworthy words. angry. It seemed so bitter to find one employed to pronounce upon my conduct, and measure out my punishment "
"And that one such a thing as I am," said Helen. meekly. “Well can I understand how hard it is to bear. But you forgive him now? He had no time he could scarcely speak his wishes, save to one who felt for him as only a woman can feel.”
"But he died forgiving me, and believing that I had not wronged him?" asked Gertrude, in a hushed voice.
“Indeed he did, for you and his children occupied his latest thoughts; and you were all with him in spirit when he breathed his last."
“Thank God," said Lady Thornleigh, fervently; and for a while there was silence in the room, while