صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

was true, for no feigned passion could have carried with it the force and power which made Philip Thornleigh's entire devotion so irresistible; and, often as he had loved, the last madness seemed, and even was, as violent as the one that had preceded it. There is no occasion, nor would there be any

advantage, in dwelling at length on this portion of poor Helen's story; sufficient is it to say, that the catastrophe came about after this wise. A large mansion, standing in the midst of a fair estate, had been for some two or three years unoccupied, though it was advantageously and pleasantly situated within a distance of two miles from Warminster and its exquisitely beautiful cathedral. About the period of Edward's departure, a small but agreeable family, consisting of a gentleman and his wife and one little boy, came to sojourn at "The Hazles.” Rich, lively, and given to hospitality, the new comers were received with open arms, soon universally allowed to be "great acquisitions." The little boy was the only one of the party who did not share in the general popularity; for he was a sickly child, occasionally interfering by his ailments with the social festivities, and being consequently looked upon as an intruder into the circles whose mirth he marred by his "little admired disorders.” It was the feeble condition of her only child that led to Mrs. Dormer's acquaintance with Dr. Langton, and subsequently to a still greater amount of intimacy with his daughter: for Helen was a kind and gentle nurse, fond of children, and ingenious in amusing them; and Mrs. Dormer, pleased with her bright beauty, and grateful for the attention bestowed on her child, forgot for a moment the prejudices of caste, and made an

and were

[ocr errors]

almost friend of the Doctor's daughter. Of this somewhat incongruous intimacy the fruits reaped by Helen and her family consisted of occasional gifts of game and grapes, and sometimes a drive with Mrs. Dormer in her hermetically-sealed chariot, with the fractious heir seated upon the girl's lap, tangling the braids of her glossy hair, and imprinting indelible creases on her silk dress.

It was early autumn now, and Helen was busy in some household work for the mother (whose failing intellect rendered her scarcely conscious by whom such offices were performed), when a knock at the door proclaimed a visitor, and Mrs. Dormer was announced. She had come, she said, to carry Helen off on a round of visits, among which was one that had been long owing on her part to Mrs. Talmash, of Dell Grange. Gladly would Helen have refused the offered civility, for she was proud, and was moreover not one of the many exceptions to the rule that "no creature smarts so little as a fool;” nevertheless she agreed to the proposal, and evil indeed were the consequences that arose from that ill-omened visit. They shall be described in Helen's own words, when, many a year after these events took place, she told her touching story to her childhood's friend:

"We were received,” she said, “by Mrs. Talmash and her daughter; they were very gracious to my companion, but they looked at me no, I cannot tell you how they looked; but I felt that I grew very red and frightened, and cordially wished myself at home again. Still I made an effort at composure, saying, with a voice which I tried to render steady, 'It is some time since we met, Miss Talmash, but I think you can

hardly have quite forgotten Helen Langton. She made no reply; but, after glancing at me contemptuously, turned away;

while I, shocked and ashamed (for I was anything but brave in those days), would gladly have hid myself in the remotest corner of the earth. Well, the visit, during which I had remained silent and unnoticed, came to an end at last; and no sooner were we seated in the carriage than Mrs. Dormer (as I expected she would do) questioned me closely concerning the rudeness with which I had been treated. What answer could I make? Literally none, for I had not the courage to confess what I really believed to be the truth namely, that my humble position in life rendered it necessary to disown me before richer and grander acquaintances; and for the moment I had completely forgotten the warnings I had received that evil tongues were busy with my name.

There are many truths of which I was then ignorant truths which contact with the world has since cruelly instructed me in; and, in the ignorance that is weakness, I allowed myself to be overpowered and crushed. But what and who were those women by whom I had been so deeply humbled? Of both (whether true or false no one took the trouble to inquire) but of both, what are called 'little stories' had long been extant: but they were rich, and had powerful connections, whilst I - but I had yet to learn that 'little stories' become great and condemning truths when told of little people, and that while vice is vice in the lower ranks of society, it is rank blasphemy among the higher to call the thing by its real name. Nothing is more easy to conquer than the many-tongued and million-eyed monster called the world, if only the means be in our power. Tie up its

[ocr errors]

was

con

tongues with chains of diamonds, throw gold-dust into its blinking eyes, and let the dust, too, of dead ancestors rise in clouds about the huge senseless beast, and the deed is done. This is the philosophy that the struggle of life has taught me; but I had no such weapons when my warfare began, and quered easily and at once. The remembrance of that visit haunted me for a day and night, and was then driven into the background by the near approach of a pleasure to which for weeks I had looked forward with the keenest anticipations of enjoyment. The hoped-for felicity was no less an event than the great annual Horticultural Fête and Archery Meeting combined, at which the whole county society for many a mile distant would be assembled, and to which my new açquaintance, Mrs. Dormer, had promised to chaperone

Never shall I forget the sensations of unmixed happiness with which I made my preparations for that day of anticipated bliss; and when it came, bright and cloudless, not even the gorgeous sun was more brilliant than my hopes, or the breezy air more buoyant than my spirit. I had an exquisite dress, well-fitting, light, and flowing; and my hat was a perfect triumph of art, with its wreath of ivy-leaves, and spray of lilies resting on my hair. It may seem childish to dwell

upon

these details; but the memory of my dress and figure, as I saw myself in the glass that morning, is so twined in with my last thoughts of home, with its peaceful associations and simple pleasures, that I cannot separate them, burthened with bitterness and self-reproach as those memories are. But I must return to my story.

"I was dressed, and ready for departure, when,

me.

instead of the carriage which I had been anxiously expecting, a note was brought me from Mrs. Dormer, the purport of which was to excuse her attendance. The wording of the epistle was not uncourteous. She feared, she wrote, that at the last moment she might be prevented from calling for me, and therefore hoped I sh ald be able to find some other friend to perform the office she was reluctantly obliged to forego. I was disappointed, but being, unfortunately, wholly unconscious that the words I read were merely a conglomeration of conventional falsehoods, I persevered in my intention of being present at the fête. Luckily (at least I deemed it so then, for my whole heart was bent upon the expedition), the Archery Ground lay in the way of my father's daily round of visits; and nothing doubting that, once there, I should find no lack of friends, I persuaded him to allow me to accompany him. We arrived, and my father, being as usual steeped in business cares, hastened away, leaving his hapless daughter alone in the crowded assembly. The first person on whom my eyes rested was Mrs. Dormer,

but Mrs. Dormer with a cold company face which I had never seen her wear before, and with eyes which turned from mine as though she saw me not. I looked around, and the same chill stare was everywhere; nor could I escape it, for I was surrounded by those countless eyes which glared around me like bad faces in a dream. Alone, then, I stood in that circle of cruel women: for they were cruel, ay, cruel as the Indians who gather around their victim to mark how the tortures they inflict are borne. I gave no sign of mine, but I think that if one of those who

« السابقةمتابعة »