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for he was rejoiced to find that she was a true woman still, and shrank instinctively from public scandal.
“Who are they, and what do they insinuate? Well, you
shall know the truth. They say that you meet Thornleigh alone, and at undue hours; and I say, dear Helen, that this is only too true, and that your danger is very great."
"And so, my good respectable cousin, you have been playing the worthy part of a spy, upon my actions, and following my steps when I foolishly imagined I was alone? God forgive me for my stupidity and blindness, but I had been really weak enough to fancy that you were above such tricks as these.”
Her words, and the laugh that accompanied them, were so taunting and bitter, that for a passing moment Edward's anger was almost equal to her own; but his old love, and the soft pity he felt for her, acted like oil upon the waters, and stilled the waves of anger in his breast.
"Helen, you wrong me," he said; "and the time will, I trust, come when your judgment will be more impartial and more just. But enough of my conduct and motives, which are as nothing when compared with the peril in which you are placed. Would that I could spare you the pain of listening to what my duty tells me I must make known to you; but, alas! it is impossible, for the whole town is talking of your meetings with Thornleigh; the merest gossips prate over the pleasant news; every chattering shop-girl has her stone ready to throw at you; and in the mess
Recommended to Mercy. I.
“The mess-room! Oh, Edward, surely you would not allow
“Helen, you know nothing of these things; and you have yet to learn that one half of the world takes delight in slandering, and the other in believing to the uttermost the vile things they hear. What can I do to stem a torrent so mighty and so overwhelming? Your own prudence should have guarded the sluicegates — which, alas! are wide open now and so have saved you from this heavy blow. In such a place too!
a place where so many idle men are, like Thornleigh, going about in search of prey!”
“And you, when you made the notable discovery which has brought you here to preach to me to-day, what were you doing, and what led you to lonely places, and to lanes where lovers meet at dusk? Fie, Cousin Edward! you whom I thought so 'steady' and respectable, to be wandering about —”
“Nay, I was there to watch
"And not to prey — unworthy joke,” interrupted Helen, laughing awkwardly to hide her confusion.
“Believe me that so profane a jest was far from my thoughts, which indeed are sad enough just now. I leave with the detachment to-morrow, dear cousin, and who can say how long we may be separated? It is with deep sorrow that I bid you farewell; for you have no protector, and are in the power of a man whom I believe to be totally unscrupulous and devoid of principle. Helen, my own dear cousin, my first friend! may I ask you one question before I go hence
never, perhaps, to look upon your sweet face again?”
“How foolish you are, Edward! Of course you
can ask me a question; nay, more, I promise to answer it."
The words were lightly spoken, but their bantering tone was assumed to hide the heaviness which her cousin's earnest appeal had laid upon her heart.
“Then tell me, Helen,” he continued, and again he feared to meet her eyes “tell me if Thornleigh has ever spoken to you of marriage."
"Never," was the unhesitating reply; "nor do I think him a likely man to marry. Such an idea never seems to occur to him."
“Then, in the name of Heaven, how is all this to end?” exclaimed Burrowes, starting up impetuously.
"How is what to end?” asked the girl, as simply and quietly as though she had no important or individual interest in the reply. “Why, this intimacy; this
this love-making, these secret assignations, which are making your name a byword, and casting a blight upon your beauty and your fair fame?"
“And pray, who has given you a right to watch over my actions?” cried Helen. "I am not alone in the world. I have a father to protect and a mother to advise me; and — and — I am fully capable of taking care of myself.”
“No, Helen, far from capable. Why, how fast your heart beats now! I see that golden gift of his, that hangs upon your neck, vibrating to its swift action; and your eyes flash far too proudly. No, Nellie, the spirit within is under no control; and you are at once too impetuous and too tender to be trusted to your own guardianship alone.”
“My heart beats, but it is with anger; and as for
pride, why that should be my safeguard, you foolish boy!”
“It should be, but I fear it will prove but a stumbling-block in your path. Do you imagine, dear cousin, that I am blind and deaf to what is passing around me? Why, I marked the very glance which gave to Thornleigh his first hope to win you. Do you recollect the day, Helen? Or have you forgotten the studied slight and cruel sneer that galled you so bitterly, when Anna Talmash, in her envy of your beauty, levelled sarcasms at you and yours ?”
"Have I forgotten it? No; the blow was too hard, and was felt the more acutely, because (invulnerable as she seemed) I was powerless to return it.”
"Poor child!" said Edward, sadly; "the mischief was begun then; yes, from that hour I date it all.”.
“True most true," mused Helen; "and it was my first real fault (if fault it can be called) to show the deep love in my heart that day. Often and often had we talked and laughed together, happily and carelessly; for you know, Eddy, how agreeable he is, and how far above other men in every way.”
Edward winced a little at this unqualified assertion, but he bore his mental torture as bravely as though he had been a woman.
"And then,” continued she (unmindful of the pain she had inflicted), “it is so hard to bear rudeness, especially from those who once liked me and were kind to me. Edward, what can have changed the Talmashes so greatly, for they seem to hate me now? If you had but known them when their poor young brother lived! Dear little Ernest! he had such a beautiful face, with a colour like a crimson rose, and
eyes so large and loving; but the little darling died; for he was too pure and good for earth,
he is an angel in heaven, watching — at least he said he would for the time when I should join him there; but that will never be — never!" and she sighed dejectedly.
"My darling Nellie! -"
But the girl hastily interrupted him; for, dreading her cousin's return to the topic of Captain Thornleigh's attentions, she strove to prolong the momentary respite by reverting to other themes and to distant memories
of the past.
“How absurd," she continued, "to talk of all this now! But I meant to say that the Talmashes were fond enough of me three years ago, and greatly pleased that I should spend so much of my time by the side of the suffering child, reading to him, and drawing figures of strange monsters with my childish fingers; and now they hate me, and seem as much afraid of coming in contact with my unfortunate person as though I carried about with me as many fevers as my father gives physic for. What is the harm of being a doctor, Eddy? A doctor is a gentleman, at least I am sure my father is; and yet every one makes a difference between us and other people.”
“What sort of difference, Nellie, and who makes it?”
“Oh, every one, almost. But never mind; I only care just at the moment; afterwards I know it is not worth thinking about. But I was mortified; there were so many that heard the remarks made by that odious girls: and then every one thinks so much of Captain Thornleigh, and the temptation was great to show that