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Title: Why Paul Ferroll Killed his Wife
Author: Caroline Clive
        (The Author of "Paul Ferroll.")
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302181.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Why Paul Ferroll Killed his Wife
Author: Caroline Clive
        (The Author of "Paul Ferroll.")

*

Published 1860.

*

"A man does not murder his wife gratuitously."

--Froude's Henry VIII.

*

CONTENTS

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII

* * *

CHAPTER I.

A LONG gallery opening on each side to small rooms gave the inhabitants
of St. Cécile's Monastery access both to them and to the larger
apartment which was inhabited by the Reverend Mother herself. This
latter room was of an oblong shape, very bare of furniture, and of all
kinds of decoration. The windows were without curtains; there was but
one table, and on it stood a crucifix. Two benches by the wall were all
the accommodation for sitting down. The one figure which occupied the
chamber required not even so much, for she was kneeling in the middle
of the floor, with support of no kind, and quite upright, except her
head, which was bowed under the thick cloth or veil hanging over it,
and which concealed even her hands.

"She is praying," said a nun, looking into the room, "you had better
wait;" and these words she addressed to a young girl who accompanied
her, in the ordinary tone of conversation, such as befitted the
occupations of the place.

The young girl advanced into the room, and herself went down on her
knees at a little distance from the Superior, running over her beads
while she waited till she might speak. She was very simply dressed in
white, with parted hair, like a child, but abundant and beautiful,
falling low on low shoulders and delicately rounded waist. Her face
was fair, with very little colour, and the eyes, which she raised
often, while she slid her beads through her fingers, had a simplicity
of religious expression, such as fades even in those happy enough
once to possess it, when the habits of a pious childhood come to be
contradicted by those of the general world.

When the Superior rose from her knees, so did Elinor, and advanced
towards the elder lady, who kissed her on the forehead, and gave a
blessing. The conversation was in French, though the girl was English,
for it was in a Convent of Brittany that the scene took place. It did
not begin in the tone supposed to be exclusively that of Lady Abbesses.

"Has Louisa finished the marking of all your shifts, my dear? Are they
ready?"

"Yes, dear Mother, and packed up," said Elinor.

"And have you heard whether Madame Néotte is come."

"Yes, that is what I came here to tell you, as you desired."

"Then to-morrow you leave us," said the Superior, in a melancholy voice.

"It is you who have determined it," said Elinor.

"Ah, my child! your guardian believes it best; it is his doing."

"And I shall come back," said the girl.

"No, dear, you will never do that. I know your feelings better than
you do. It will be a hard parting with us all, but when you are away
you will be glad. You will enjoy the world, you will choose it, and
you will be welcome in it. No; you will never wish to come back here.
I have known many gentle girls like you, who could not find what they
wanted here. They require to be carried along--not to walk alone, as in
a convent."

"Am I one of those," said Elinor, catching hold of the Abbess's hand
and passionately kissing it; "I who have been so happy?"

"And have made us all happy--but you must go. Sit down a little while,
let us talk for the last time. The world is full of snares, my dear."

"What are they?" said Elinor. "What will they tempt me to do?"

"Vanity, the pride of life, the lusts of the devil," answered the
Superior. "You must be prepared for all. Some will pretend that you
have beauty; some will praise your voice, as if you were a musician;
some will talk to you of the world--and all, all for their own bad
ends."

"What are those ends?" asked Elinor, again.

The Abbess, was a little puzzled. "Man," said she, solemnly, "is a
creature going about to devour. Listen not to him, go not near him,
keep him far from you. He will hurt you, he will destroy you; you have
already learned this; now is your time to practise. Keep your eyes from
his face, keep your speech from his commerce. One day it may come to
pass that your guardian may select one who is to be your husband. Then
submit yourself to the will of your superiors, and adopt the state of
life which shall be allotted you; but till such a fate is brought to
your door, remember that a maiden must keep her finger on her lips and
her heart full of thoughts holy and virtuous, avoiding the very shadow
of sin."

Elinor was set thinking what these sins could be; but she resolved, at
all events, to do right, and to keep the precepts of her early friend
in her memory.

She continued talking with the Reverend Mother as long as convent
duties permitted; then, for the last time, partook the Evening Service
and assisted to make the vesper beautiful by her exquisite voice,
against the world's estimation of which the Superior thought she had
successfully warned her.

She rose that night for Vigils; and next morning was up at Matins--the
last time of doing these duties making them seem to her as if she would
fain never cease to do them; and when the hour for her journey arrived,
the wrench of the first roots she had ever struck in hearts and places,
overwhelmed her with a girlish sorrow, which, fortunately, was not put
to such proof as an offer to remove it would have been; for there is no
saying how her wish to remain in the Convent would have been modified,
if the chaise into which she so sobbingly stepped had been ordered back
into its old _remise_.

CHAPTER II.

ON the English side of the Channel, which our heroine was about to
cross, a different scene was passing in the early life of one of the
opposite sex.

A young man, four years older than Elinor (who was just seventeen),
had passed that summer a triumphant Examination at Oxford, and heaped
on himself every honour which it was possible for its young members
to obtain. He had been accustomed to success ever since he became a
school-boy; and he was so far from satiated by it, that he already
looked upon all his achievements as mere marks of past progress, and on
himself as now about to begin the career which contained objects really
worthy of his ambition.

He was an orphan, never acquainted with father or mother; wholly
unconscious of tender influences on his boyhood, and of domestic
sympathy with his successes and desires. He had come not to want them;
disappointment he had not had, and the hard measure of public applause
suited him better than the fond exaggerations of home, to which he
had not grown up, nor been bettered by them. Life was a fine, hard
reality to him; he knew it, for evil and good, and while he destroyed
every illusion as fast as they courted him, he looked keenly to its
enjoyments and rated them by the vast power of pleasure within him
which he shared with most healthy and active human beings.

He was passing some weeks at a country house, where his late very hard
work gave zest to the summer repose in which the old place lay buried.
Long, solitary, morning walks in the heavenly beauty of a hot July
did his thinking faculties good, after their late stretch upon other
men's thoughts. The society of well educated women, their music, their
vivacity, their fancies; the riding parties, the evenings when there
was dancing, or the garden by moonlight, and the pleasure of pretending
to feelings, and, as it were, acting them, for they were no better to
him than a play, these things suited him for a little while, till the
moment should come for executing the projects in his head which would
drive all the present scene far away.

He had everything to recommend him to the world. A fine person, full
of health and strength, a fortune and a place which were competent to
ordinary wishes, and had been augmented by all the savings of a well
managed minority; a high reputation for ability; and natural claims
on certain great names for assistance in entering on his career. His
manner was more taking than winning, he took hold on society as if it
were his due place, and his admirable tact made him hold it gracefully,
and to the delight of his companions.

These qualities and advantages had made a strong impression on the
fancy of the young lady who presided over the house. She was the
owner's sister, a few years older than my hero (whom I will call
Leslie, though I do not assert that such was indeed his name); she was
handsome, rich, and hitherto courted by all whom she had a mind should
do so. But it was not so with her present guest; he often seemed on
the brink of fascination, and then, like Sampson, burst the withies
like burnt flax and was as free as ever. The irritation of this state
of things was excessive; she longed to break through the feminine
restraints which bound her, and ask him if indeed he cared for her or
not. The absolute impossibility of thus setting herself free was a
galling chain, for ever working on the wounded place; and the necessity
of a smiling face, and disengaged manner, at times when she was
fretting at her heart's core, acquainted her with a torment which the
daughters of Eve sometimes heavily endure.

"Let us ride this afternoon," she said, one hot but cloudy day; "the
air of the house burns one."

"With all my heart," said Leslie; "but we shall have a storm."

"I am not afraid," said Laura.

"Would I were quite sure that, in fact, you have no fears!"

"Oh! I would tell them. I am very frank, I hate concealment. It is very
hard on women that they are required to be liars and deceivers."

"But that's not the case," said Leslie, "what is so delightful to a man
as a frank, open nature which prints its thoughts as fast as they come
into the mind."

"So you say, but you know it is not so--at least, not unless a woman
has no thought whatever, except the price of a dress or the hope of a
ball."

"Oh, that would not pay the expense of printing or reading either,"
said Leslie; "but what has this to do with your first plan of riding?
Shall we go?"

"Yes; Mrs. Axross, you will ride? and Captain Bertham--ring; the horses
are ready in case we should want them. Come and put on your habit."

When they got on horseback, Leslie perversely kept with Mrs. Axross,
a timid horsewoman, and in consequence of being occupied with genuine
fear, a rather dull companion. They fell behind the others, whose
horses stepped out freely under lightly held bits, nor did Miss Chanson
know how to alter the order of their progress. When she contrived,
under pretence of pointing out a view, or a remarkable tree, to get
back to the loiterers, she still found that Leslie adhered to his first
companion, and suffered her again to get before him.

"How I hate a horse that can't walk," she said, at last, impatiently
striking her own, which bounded at the unjust assault and tossed his
head angrily.

"Well, then let us gallop," said Leslie, laughing, for he read her
heart exactly. "My companion," he added, as they went off, "thinks only
of keeping her seat. When she gets home safe, she will have fulfilled
the sole purpose of riding out."

"Well, I'm better than that," said Laura, her spirits rising instantly,
"I can enjoy all when there is anything to enjoy--but Captain Bertham
is so stupid."

Leslie laughed again, for he knew that Captain Bertham did not deserve
a reproach of which he felt himself to be the indirect cause.

"How can anyone be dull with you for a companion," said he, again, as
they increased their pace and went gaily along. Laura was pleased, she
did not consider that she had provoked the compliment, and that it is
only voluntary attentions from a man that tell.

"Here come the great raindrops," said Leslie, as the first of the storm
fell one by one.

"Oh, no! it is only the last of a shower. See, it is blowing over."

"I don't see it at all, but if you order me to see it, I will."

"I do, then," said Laura, gaily; "so let us go on."

"Was that lightning or not?" said Leslie, as a flash startled their
horses, and thunder rolled at a distance.

"It was not," said Laura; "come on."

"On, on, to the end of the world under your guidance."

But now the rain at once arrived and poured upon them.

"What will Mrs. Axross do," said Laura, laughing; "she will walk her
horse all the way home, for fear he should jump at the storm. We must
turn back and look for them."

Leslie rather wondered she should do so, instead of profiting by
her present _tête-à-tête_ with him; but presently he understood the
manoeuvre. When they came to a cross road, she examined the footmarks
on the road, and declared it was most extraordinary, but certainly
their companions had gone the wrong way.

"They will get lost in the wood," she said; "and what will Mr. Axross
say, if we go home without his wife? Let us canter up here and set them
right. We shall overtake them in a minute."

"You will be wet through," said Leslie. "No, no, canter home!"

"I don't care; go home if you like."

"No, I am yours, to the very skin," said Leslie, venturing on a
brutality.

Miss Chanson did not look angry, and on they went, away from home.
Presently a little farmhouse appeared in sight.

"They have taken shelter there," said the lady, "no doubt. Come, let us
see if they are to be found;" and arriving at the door, she jumped from
her horse, saying to the farmer, who came out at the sound of horses,
"My friends are here, are not they? Come, Mr. Leslie."

He followed, after first putting the horses into the stable, and giving
them over to the care of the farmer's boy, and found, his companion
standing before the kitchen fire, her hat off, her hair let down to
dry, and her habit open.

"The weather is too bad to stay in, is not it?" she said, as he came
in. "Let us wait till the storm goes by;" and she pulled her dress
together.

"A lucky storm for me," said Leslie, glancing at her disarranged
toilette. "Why are these lovely tresses locked up in ribbon and
garlands--not always thus delightfully visible?"

Laura affected embarrassment, and hastily twisted them in her hands,
but yielded to slight impulse from Leslie to release them. Finally she
placed herself in a very picturesque attitude on what is called the
settle, by the fire, and Leslie carried on briskly the conversation she
affected.

"All this time," said he, at last, when the flirtation became a little
wearisome, "what is become of Mrs. Axross?"

"I had almost forgotten her," said Laura, softly, with a smothered sigh.

"I had quite done so," said Leslie, sighing also.

"Only you recollected her," said Laura, a little reproachfully.

"Nay, the storm is over. It is getting late. I would not have you catch
cold for the world--I would not be responsible for the anxiety your
absence will create--I would not have you exposed to further rain--I
would..."

"Get home in time for dinner," interrupted Laura, very impatiently.
Then checking herself, she added, as gaily as she could, "which would
be an excellent thing, for I am very hungry."

"Then heaven forbid you should wait!" said Leslie. "I'll fetch the
horses in a moment."

Accordingly he went himself to the stable, and forgot to lament the
loss of the beautiful curls, which were twisted under the hat when he
came back; and placing Laura on her horse, they rode home together, the
lady feeling in herself that hollowness in her satisfaction which comes
when the foundation of a very gay and promising structure wants perfect
solidity.

"How very handsome he is," she said to herself, as she ran up the
house-steps; "how agreeable--and I don't feel sure he will make himself
agreeable next time--that makes one curious to be with him again."

The butler stopped her in the hall, and said, "Miss Elinor Ladylift was
arrived."

"Ha! our little nun," said she, turning back to Mr. Leslie; "we did not
expect her till to-morrow. Come and see her."

He followed her into the room, and saw standing by the table a young
figure, perfectly enveloped in a gray cloak, while a veil concealed her
features from any one at a little distance. The only characteristic
which he could observe was, that the flowers on the table trembled, as
if the hand which rested on it gave them that motion.

"Oh! my dear, I did not know you would be here to-day. I beg your
pardon for not being here to receive you. You forgive me, don't you?"

"Yes!" said a low, timid voice.

Miss Chanson laughed. "That's all right! Then come along with me, for I
am wet through: you would not have me die of cold, would you?"

"No!" said the voice.

"Right, again! I'll show you your room--but first I'll present Mr.
Leslie to you. This is Mr. Leslie, my dear."

"Is it?" said the voice again.

"Yes, indeed!" and again Laura laughed, looking up at the young man
sportively, and taking the girl's arm went out of the room with her.
"There's no fear that she will captivate any one whom _I_ choose for
myself, especially such a man as that, so brilliant himself, and so
fond of intellect and manner," thought she.

That perfect security at first sight generally ends in a total
contradiction. I have remarked it as often as the case of security has
taken place.

"She is tired and frightened, and won't come to dinner," said Miss
Chanson, as she entered the drawing-room after dressing. "No wonder!
the inside of a convent is all she knows of life."

"What does she look like?" asked her brother, a man five-and-twenty
years older than the bright Laura, and an indifferent, idle bachelor,
who disregarded his appearance, and looked yet ten years older than he
was, in consequence.

"She is a pale, slight girl," said Laura, "and expects to be devoured
by all of us. She has the least possible French accent, and moves about
like a mouse."

CHAPTER III.

THE next day, Elinor appeared at breakfast, coming into the room
close at the side of her hostess, to whom she clung, and sat down in
the next chair, which vexed Laura, for it was Mr. Leslie's habitual
place. He took the one below Elinor, and endeavoured to engage her in
conversation, but was received like an enemy, and did not seek to avoid
Miss Chanson's looks of intelligence, who remarked silently on the
repulses he suffered.

The impression on him, however, was not exactly what he allowed Laura
to believe. He remarked the delicate shape of the pale face, the ease
of the slight figure, the fine form of the hands, which, if not very
white as yet, were formed in the noblest feminine model. Her gray gown
was perfectly simple, and it was quite uninteresting to him whether
it was cut fashionably or unfashionably. The eyes, which were kept
cast down on her plate so pertinaciously, excited his curiosity; he
wanted to find some phrase which should raise them, that he might see
them. Interest was awakened, but do and say what he would, he never
succeeded, during all that breakfast, in making her look at him. She
disappeared when it was over, and he saw her not again till after
dinner, when, on coming into the drawing-room, he found her seated
close to Miss Chanson, diligently at work. The latter was becoming a
little tired of such close companionship; she could not rise from her
chair, but what Elinor did the same, thereby preventing many manoeuvres
hitherto easy to practise.

"My dear child, if you like that place, keep it," said she; "the lamp
suits your work, and I must go to talk to that stupid old lady, whom it
is my duty to amuse."

"Shall I go," said Elinor. "They always used to send me to talk to
Madame Les Forces."

"Did you succeed?" said Laura, laughing sarcastically.

"Yes, sometimes."

"But you don't know this lady--shall you have the courage?"

"Why not?"

"Nay, you will not speak one syllable to Mr. Leslie."

"No!"

"And why?" said Laura. "I talk to him--we all talk."

"The Reverend Mother said I must not."

"Did she say you might speak to none but women?" said Leslie, very
gently.

"Yes!"

"Oh! that's excellent!" cried Laura. "My dear nun, you must get rid
of some of those maxims; you are in a very different place from your
nunnery. Don't make yourself ridiculous."

The young girl coloured excessively; she was too young to bear being
ridiculous, too, fond of her habitual teachers to fancy _they_ could be
misinformed. She was perplexed, and rising, shrank away to the stupid
lady, whose work she began admiring; and as long as no one else heard
her voice, contrived to keep up a dialogue.

"What a quaint little creature!" said Miss Chanson, "But now I'll do my
part to amuse the other stupid people, by giving you all some music."

"Do," said Mr. Leslie; "though you know I am so lost in dulness as to
talk most when music is best."

"I know that; but at all events I entertain you even in that case."

She said this rather sentimentally; and Mr. Leslie opened the
piano-forte, and talked a little nonsense while she arranged her books.
When fairly embarked, and when other people collected round her, and
they were all interested with her performance and their own, he drew
gradually to the side of Elinor, and watched his chance of speaking
to her. She listened to the music, which was very good, with great
interest; but she drew away from him, and he could do no better than
some dialogue with the stupid old lady.

At last, when there was a pause in the performance, he took up his
courage, and said boldly to Elinor, "You perceive, Miss Ladylift, that
they are all tired, and can play and sing no more. You ought to assist
them--you ought to help in amusing us all."

She rose in a moment, as if bound to obey whoever commanded her, and
walked towards the piano-forte.

"Mr. Leslie told me I ought to sing," she said. "Ought I?"

"To be sure, if you can. But what--not psalm tunes?"

"Very well, I will not. I know a great many airs which Frère du Lap
taught all the _pensionnaires_."

"I should like to hear Frère du Lap's scholar very much," said Laura.

"Should you?" said Elinor, looking up at her, unconscious of the
sarcasm; and she placed herself before the piano-forte.

Now nature had made her a present of a voice, such as she gives very
rarely:


"It were the bul-bul, but his throat,
Tho' sweet, ne'er uttered such a note."


It was no merit of Elinor's; there seemed no object in bestowing it
upon her; but she was lucky in being the one to get it, for its effect
was to dispose the hearers to love her. It was as pure as the song
of the angels heard by Handel, and set down by him as sung to the
Shepherds; it had been well taught, also, so that it was a delight to
the ear, a charm to the heart. Leslie, who was moving away, stopped
as she began to sing, and turned to fasten his eyes upon her, as upon
a new sense of delight, a pleasure revealed for the first time. She
rose up when it was done; indeed, she had not actually sat down, but
had bent one knee towards the level of the piano-forte, and played
an accompaniment varying with the words. She was plainly a perfect
mistress of her art; and, according to the fashion of drawing-rooms,
her performance was greeted with clapping of hands, and a few bravas.
She looked round, astonished; and if any one had desired another song,
would have obeyed; but Miss Chanson came up with the last notes, and
after a brief thank you, led her away, saying her voice seemed a little
tired. She then organized other amusements, and the music was over for
the evening.

Mr. Leslie contrived to elude them all, and very quietly coming up
beside Elinor, he said to her:

"That song is one I shall never forget. I shall hear many more, I hope,
but the first time one listens to a perfect thing it is remembered for
ever."

Elinor shook her head. "My Mother told me you would say so."

"That _I_ should say so? How could the Holy Mother know anything of me?"

"Not of you, but of all."

"She could, only say that all of us should be aware you have one of the
finest voices in the world."

"Yes, she did say so--that you would try to persuade me of it."

"I don't wish it to be thought of me that I would persuade any one to
believe an untrue thing. Let us consider for a moment," and he sat down
beside her at the table, leaning upon it, and trying to look in her
face, which was bent over her work. "You have heard the music of this
evening?"

"Yes!"

"It was very good, was it not?"

"Very good, very strong; I never heard such before."

"But was there any voice as expressive as yours?"

"No!"

"Or that was so _un_like a flute, or an organ, or a harp, but was so
purely human; the perfection of human."

"I cannot hear my own voice."

"Surely, Miss Ladylift, you can."

Elinor knew she could, and he put the question plainly. She suddenly
lifted up her large eyes upon him, and looked full into his for a
moment--there was an anxiety to penetrate his meaning, but it yielded
in another instant to the dread of encountering a stranger's gaze;
however, he had seen those large eyes.

"You can if you will," said he; "everybody can judge themselves as well
as they can judge other people, if they will be honest to themselves.
And it is not being honest, to think worse of oneself than is the
truth."

"My dear Mother told me my voice was such a voice as hundreds of others
have."

"But what do you think yourself?"

"I believe her," said Elinor.

"Yes, surely," answered Leslie, afraid of alarming his companion.
"She spoke her entire conviction, no doubt; still she judged from her
Convent alone. There, perhaps, where all is holy, all dedicated to
divine things, the inhabitants may be blessed, many of them, with gifts
like the one you have in your voice; but it is not so in the world. You
are in the world now; you must judge by what you see and hear; you may
find there are things unlike those which the Reverend Mother knows."

"Oh! she cannot be mistaken," said Elinor.

"Only ask yourself whether she _is_," said Leslie. "If so, some things
which were good guides in the convent, may lead wrong here."

Elinor answered nothing. The first doubt of the kind was painful, the
more so because her honest nature saw that perhaps it was true.

After a pause, she said, "Who can I trust, then?"

"_I_ know this outer world," said Leslie.

"But I do not know _you_," said Elinor; "I know nobody. I will do my
best; you must not try to prevent me. If you liked my singing, I am
glad of that; but perhaps you do not understand music, and then you
cannot judge."

"No, perhaps I do not," said Leslie; "you know I can only say what I
honestly feel."

"Yes, to be sure! I know you do that. Everybody does that," said
Elinor, speaking as she had been unconsciously taught, and as she felt,
that though there were wicked people in the world, nobody with whom one
associates could be in the number of those wicked.

Mr. Leslie abhorred Laura for coming up and interrupting the
conversation. She said she was sorry to see Elinor look so pale; no
doubt she was used to very early hours in the Convent, and she had better
go to bed. She did not say she thought her young friend tired; for knowing
her not to be tired, she felt that Elinor would say No.

"You have persuaded the nun to talk, Mr. Leslie," said she; "how clever
you are."

"It gives one an interest in succeeding, when the task is so
difficult," said Mr. Leslie.

"No doubt; a woman who has the audacity to know or feel anything, and
to say it, must expect the contempt of the nobler sex."

"Why so?" said Leslie, coolly.

"Men are so short-sighted, so easily taken in. If women affect
simplicity and reserve, men see no further than just what those women
give themselves the trouble to put on."

"Is that little girl a dissembler?"

"Oh! I suppose you can judge."

"I should judge not; but you know best."

"If I knew anything, I would not say it against my friend," said Laura.
"My nature is more constant than that."

"More generous than that," said Leslie; "constant is not the word, for
your acquaintance is so short. It is indeed very generous."

Laura liked the words, and did not understand further, and though she
was not satisfied, she went away fancying she was.

Next morning, every one else being occupied in their rooms with what
letter-writing or other business they might have, Laura, who could not
lose any chance of being with Leslie, and Leslie, who could lose none
of being with Elinor, and Elinor, who fixed herself upon Laura as her
best safety in the new scenes, were all three in the library, standing
about, looking at a print or a flower, and not knowing very well what
to do. Elinor only was at ease, knitting gloves, move where she would.

"Suppose," said Leslie, "we show the wood-walk to Miss Ladylift. Would
it not be a good employment of this delightful morning?"

Laura assented; that _WE_ sounded so pleasantly to her.

Accordingly, each lady took up a parasol in the hall, and they all
stepped into the perfumed air, and proceeded down some broad steps,
which led from the garden to the steep wooded banks below the house.
Elinor was delighted: the space, the depth below, the vast summer hall
made by the wood, and the pavement of ferns, flowers, and briar, over
which the shadows of the leaves scattered their moving patterns; the
silence which seemed to come from far, and go afar, charmed her opening
imagination. As they proceeded, a vague feeling of fear mingled with
her pleasure. She had never known the sense of distance before.

"Shall we know how to go back," said she; "but no doubt _you_ will."

"No fear of that," said Laura, looking behind at the walk they had come
along; "the way is not difficult."

"And may you go here as far as you like?" said Elinor, thinking of her
Convent restrictions.

"Who can doubt that?" said Laura, scornfully; "or that _you_ may do so
likewise? In a Convent they are children all their lives; but you must
take off your leading-strings."

Elinor, till now, had never ceased to lean on some one for every action
of her life. Yet she got a lesson then which went straight home, not to
betray her want of help to those who could scoff her for it.

Leslie thought that the sooner she learned to doubt her former
teachers the better. He had an idea he could give her lessons himself.
They went on, therefore, on and on till Elinor, who had never known
what it was to take a walk, was tired. She longed intensely for
rest; her limbs ached; they required absolutely the new stringing
of repose. Leslie observed it, and proposed to sit down, but Laura
poured forth her playful scorn upon a girl who pretended not to be
up to a mile-and-a-half walk. As for herself, she must confess to
strength--half-a-dozen miles were nothing to her. Elinor felt ashamed;
but was unconscious that Laura meant to insinuate that the fatigue was
affected.

"I wish I could do like you," she said; "but I have not learned to
walk."

"Dear baby," said Laura; "still at nurse? I wish I could carry you!"

Elinor looked at each companion, with the mournful simplicity of a
child who has committed a fault it does not comprehend. Leslie was
enchanted.

"It is a science you must practise," said he. "It was a fault not to
have attended to your education in that respect."

Elinor was quite ready to acknowledge herself wrong, and to feel
inwardly that her bringing up was not so faultless as she had thought.

At this moment, however, her wishes were all limited to rest, and
gladly did she sink upon the seat at which Leslie prevailed on Laura to
stop; but Laura was so restless, that Leslie at last started up with a
new project in his head, and proposed that they two alone should make
for the point at which Laura had intended to reach, and should leave
their companion to enjoy a little repose before they returned for her
to go home.

"Unless you are afraid," said Laura, turning round on Elinor.

"No, I am not afraid, for you say there is no danger," said Elinor.

And now Leslie hurried his companion away, and pushing himself into the
highest spirits, rallied her on her activity, her delightful health and
strength, till Laura, quite deceived, quickened her pace to the very
utmost, and went over hill and dale at his side, with no idea but that
of keeping up the contrast between herself and the timid Elinor.

It was not till he had carried her along with him to a point much
nearer to the house than to Elinor, that he suddenly affected to
remember their charge.

"Meantime, what have we done with your ward, your nursling? Is not it
time to go back for her?"

He was well aware at this moment that Laura was most thoroughly wearied
herself, and that by a little contrivance he was secure of going alone
to conduct the young nun home again.

"What! had _you_ forgotten her?" said Laura.

"Could I think of more than one?" said Leslie, with a look of
gentleness.

"And that one was of course absent," said Laura.

"Ah! I see," said Leslie, affecting a little _pique_, "that I am little
understood. But at this moment," he added, quieting his voice, "however
that may be, we must run back to take up our charge, for do you know
what o'clock it is?"

Laura looked at her watch.

"Why did you allow me to forget time in this way?" said she.

"Was I likely to remind you?" said Leslie. "But at all events I will
repair my error, at whatever sacrifice. I will force myself"--"from
you," he thought of saying, but that was rather too strong an
expression to come easily, so he began again--"I will force myself
through the world of briars by the brook side, which will take me back
to Miss Ladylift more quickly than the path we have followed, and I
will bring her to join you by the garden road, which is, I suppose, the
nearest way to the house. Even your delightful intrepidity would shrink
from the brook side, and, indeed, should it be otherwise, I would not
permit you to hazard yourself so perilously."

He was on his feet as he said this, and Laura, heated and wearied,
could do nothing but agree; he looked back as he plunged into the
thicket, and waving his hand, saw, and smiled to see, that she was
waiting for some such token, and then sank upon the bench almost as
weary as Elinor had been.

It was very easy for him to force his way along the brook, over
great stones, and among tangled creepers and underwood; and indeed,
his desire to reach the place where he had left Elinor, made these
obstacles almost unperceived, and brought him, in a very short time,
straight to the root-house in which they had parted from her. He hoped
she would be panting with alarm, and crouching almost weeping for the
want of some one to reassure her; certainly she would not have ventured
back alone. Could he see her white dress? not yet, trees were in the
way; he could not see it--she was not there--yes, yes, quite in the
corner, there was some one. Now, how gently he would he comfort her,
and she would cling to his arm.

But there was no such scene in store for him. Elinor, as though
confiding in the assurance of safety she had received, had laid her
cheek upon her arm and had fallen asleep. The shadow of the root-house
had probably fostered the inclination of her eyes to close; her lips
were parted, her hair pushed off her face, her colour heightened by the
heat; she lay or reclined there, at rest, and Leslie paused suddenly as
he perceived her sleeping figure. But the presence of a human being,
the involuntary motions of life near her broke her slumber; she opened
her eyes, and the habitual associations of her education, caused her a
burst of alarm as she perceived who was so close to her. She sprang up
and a step or two away from him.

"Oh, do not harm me!" she cried, involuntarily; then she collected her
senses, and a deep blush spread over her face.

"I would die sooner than harm you!" cried Leslie, fervently; but
approaching no nearer than where he stood when she sprang up.

"I came," he added, after a pause, "I came to be of use, if possible.
Miss Chanson is gone home, and I will take you to her."

"You need not," said Elinor, "she told me the way was very easy to
find--I can find the way."

"But, why should I not?" said Leslie. "I left Miss Chanson on purpose
to be of use to you. _She_ did not despise my services, and she thought
_you_ would not."

"Oh, I do not even think of such a word," said Elinor, coming a step
nearer.

"That is the only feeling that can make you refuse so very common a
service," said Leslie, trying to wear an air of proud humiliation.

"Indeed, indeed, not! but I did not know--I thought--I had better go
home alone." So you had, innocent Elinor, but _he_ cared not for that.

"If you so much dislike me as a companion," said Leslie, "I will go."

"I cannot dislike you," said Elinor; "it would be wrong to dislike
anybody."

"I thought you did," said Leslie; "still, in order to be of any use to
you, I came to see whether you were still here."

"That was good of you, very good, thank you," said Elinor; "it was
doing me good even when you thought so ill of me--when you thought I
was so unjust. Pray forgive me."

"Yes, surely," said Leslie, holding out his hand.

She looked him steadily in the face for a few seconds, and then took
his hand.

"You cannot think I would harm you now," said Leslie; "what your
Reverend Mother said in the Convent, did not mean me."

"No, you are not what she meant. She said I should be told of merits I
had not, but you tell me of my faults."

"You see, then, that Miss Chanson and others, every one, in fact, is
right in making me a companion. Till you came here nobody guessed it
could be wrong. You have brought your own ideas among us."

"Oh, no, don't say that; I did not mean it. I did not know what people
did here, that is all."

"Exactly," said Leslie; "and now shall we go home?"

"Yes, if you please," said Elinor. She took up her parasol and they
walked leisurely along.

"You never," said her companion, "saw forests, and great open skies,
and plains, in the Convent?"

"Never," said Elinor. "But we walked in the garden, and might sow
flower seeds, and have beautiful flowers, and sometimes we went to the
common, and the hill."

"Did you read sometimes of other fine things, such as these woods?"

"Yes."

"Are they like what you expected?"

"No, I did not know how beautiful they are."

"I should like to show you what I saw as I came up the brook," said
Leslie; "you are not tired now, are you? Will you come a little out of
the way?"

Elinor assented, eagerly, wishing to atone for having been tired once
to-day. Leslie went off the path, and she followed, till the bank
became steep and very inconvenient. Then he held out his hand and she
leaned upon it as if it had been a helping stick; she wanted it again,
up a few steep stones in the bank, and when she was at the top of those
she came upon a sight which made her pluck away her hand altogether to
fold both in speechless delight. The brook just in front of her came
down under rocks which nearly met above it, and leaped about twenty
feet from the edge of its bed to the pool below. The white foam, the
graceful motion and shape, the sweet confusing sound, the freshness,
took her very soul by surprise, and she was melted to tears.

"There--I knew I should give you pleasure," said Leslie; "that is why I
brought you here."

"But so much pleasure is wrong, is not it?" said Elinor. "I learned in
my lessons that St. Francis, when he crossed some mountains which were
very beautiful, kept his eyes always on the ground not to see them."

Leslie did not say aloud, "Abject fool!" he said it only to himself; to
Elinor he said, "I should think that very wicked, because his Creator
offered him the pleasure, and he would not take it."

"What do you mean?". said Elinor, aghast. "It is the waterfall gives me
pleasure."

"Still," said Leslie, "it has got no pleasure of its own."

"Has not it? yes--no--yes, it pleases me, it delights me."

"But it runs on day and night without being happy."

"That is because it is not alive."

"It runs over the rock because water must fall when it comes to a
height, and it makes a noise because any one thing filling on another
must make a noise, and the trees grow over it, because there were seeds
from which they sprang; but they are all dead, as you say, and not
happy. The pleasure is something different from all those things. It
is in your mind. It is a gift to you, conveyed by things which have it
not, and, therefore, a gift for which you ought to be grateful and use
it."

"Could St. Francis be wrong?" said Elinor.

"Nay, I really think if you were to refuse to look at all this, you
would be ungrateful to me, who brought you here, in the first place,
and much more you ought to enjoy it, when you are so made that your
nature is to enjoy."

"You think I may like it as much as I can?"

"Ay, freely, freely; whatever is pleasant is in your nature to enjoy."

"Whatever is pleasant?" said Elinor, reflecting on the many things, the
late rising, the neglected task, the idle play, the lingering over her
toilette, which were pleasant but which she had been told were wrong,
and warned against the pleasure of them. Leslie enjoyed the confusion
into which she was running.

"Why, so it seems to me," said he, with a candid tone.

Elinor was silent; he was no longer in haste to proceed, he lingered
with her, teaching her that pleasure was her lawful guide; and when, at
last, they went forward, moved as slowly as she was inclined to move
and wore away the time, so that when they got back to the house, Laura
had, long before, been compelled to give up waiting for them; had gone
in alone, had been forced to preside over luncheon and to eat with the
rest, or affect to eat, and after delaying to the utmost, had been
driven from all excuses, and forced to bid the servants bring round,
the carriage, previously ordered for an expedition. Just as she and
her guests were going through the hall to set out, Mr. Leslie appeared
alone coming up to the door. A sudden hope shot through Laura's heart
that he had been alone since she left him. Elinor might have lost her
way in the wood, but of course she would soon be found; and with all
this unworded she accosted him.

"So; have you been looking for her all this time..."

"For Miss Ladylift? oh, no! I brought her home very slowly, for she
was so much tired. She went through the breakfast parlour to her own
room."

"Slowly, indeed!" said Laura, disdainfully; "you have been two hours
and a half on the way."

"To me it seemed twice that," said Leslie, in a very low voice. Laura's
lips relaxed by a line, no more.

"You will come with us?" said she, looking at the phaeton which
followed the great barouche, and in which, if he liked, he might offer
to drive her.

"That would be most delightful," said Leslie, "but I had not time for
my letters this morning. I must write them to-day--besides I must get
a crust of bread; besides I am in no condition to sit by the side of
delicate silks. No, I must sacrifice that happiness."

Laura tossed her head, and turned away; and Leslie was very glad to
have got off this tax upon him.

CHAPTER IV.

LAURA'S anger and jealousy were almost more than she could bear. She
learned to know that beating heart, that dry mouth, that distaste to
food, that early waking and no more falling asleep, which make up the
personal sufferings of mental anguish. She had to talk, to listen,
to make music, while intensely preoccupied; and she had the pain of
perceiving that Leslie grew more and more indifferent to keeping up the
appearances of devotion to herself, and became, like her, absorbed by
one object, but that object was not Laura Chanson.

Little incidents of this kind altered the position of the three persons
whom we have presented to the reader. From a forlorn stranger, Elinor
began to feel herself familiarised with persons and things, and to
be aware that many were more favourable to her than the mistress of
the house, whom she had looked upon as about to take the place of the
Superior in her Convent.

Leslie, who had thought of nothing but amusing himself for a month or
so, gradually found himself interested in a pursuit, which, at present,
had the charm of novelty in the object, besides its difficulty. He
reflected as little on the suffering he might inflict on the person to
whom he had hitherto devoted himself, as on those which in future he
might leave with the defenceless girl whom he at present worshipped;
meantime, the suffering which Laura endured was very real, whether she
were justified in having exposed herself to it or not. The young girl
who had unconsciously taken her place was hateful to Laura; it was
difficult to keep up the appearance of interest and tender protection
which had been their first relation to each other. She justified her
altered feelings to herself by saying that severity was necessary
to teach Elinor something of the ways of the world she had to move
in, and to correct the mistakes into which her Convent life led her;
and, in fact, Elinor had great need of superintendence; for with all
her early impressions wrecking around her, she did not know to what
to cling, or where to stop, or how go back. They had laughed at her
prudery, and in the innocence of her nature she did not now know what
difference to make between Leslie and Laura; between Mr. Chanson, her
elderly guardian, and Leslie, her young adorer. That Leslie was more
good-natured to her than anybody else she was certain, and if she
wanted any advice or service, she supposed that she might as well ask
him for either; _not_ to ask him would show that long-taught horror of
man which she haft just recently been made ashamed of.

In this embarrassment of perception she, one morning, brought into the
library a heavy packet, containing letters which she had written to
her Convent; and the first person from whom she made an inquiry how to
effect its transmission, was Laura. But Laura was supercilious.

"Leave it on the table, child, with the other letters. There is no need
to make a fuss about posting a letter."

Elinor coloured and did as she was bid. But she was not satisfied, and
after a short, silent bit of doubt, she looked round for some kinder
listener, and turning her shy eyes to Mr. Leslie, saw that though he
had a book in his hand, and his head was bent towards it, he was, in
fact, looking at her. Elinor's colour rose again, for shame that she
had been ashamed to appeal at once to him; and avoiding the appearance
of mistrust for which she had been laughed at, she smiled directly that
she caught his glance, and went up to him as if he had been Sister
Françoise or Sister Jeanne, and in a very low voice asked him what she
should do. He was fully disposed to make it a serious affair, that he
might be able to confer an obligation by arranging it, and rising,
took it (Elinor following him) into the recess of the window and there
examined the packet.

"It will not go by the post without a little trouble," said he; "it
weighs, I should think, six ordinary letters."

"I dare say; for I have written to so many of them," said Elinor.

"It must be paid before it leaves England," said Leslie. "The postman
will not know how much to charge. We ought to put it into the office
ourselves."

"How can I do that? It is so far to the town," said Elinor.

"Is not it possible Miss Chanson may intend to drive or ride there?"
suggested Leslie.

"Shall I ask her?"

"Do;" and he watched her timid advance to Laura, whom she instinctively
began to feel was not likely to look very benignantly on a request of
her's.

"No, it's _not_ possible," he heard Laura say, and he concluded that
she had heard the words which he himself had used. Laura said nothing
more, for or against, and went on reading her book, the pages of which
she turned tempestuously. Elinor said nothing, but again looked to
Leslie, who, by a gesture, invited her to return to the window.

"If you will trust me," said he, "I have thought how to manage it;
since there is no chance of Miss Chanson going to the post town, I will
ride over there at once, and if I go quickly, I shall be in time for
the foreign mail which goes out this morning."

"Does it?" said Elinor.

"Yes, I feel quite sure of that, and I will post and pay your letter,
and make it quite sure of reaching the hands of these dear Sisters."

"Oh, will you?" said Elinor; "how very good-natured you are. Only do
you not want to do something else? I am afraid this is so much trouble."

"No, a pleasure," said Leslie; then moderating his tone, he added, "I
like an early ride; I want one to put me in high force this morning."

"That's very lucky," said the literal Elinor. "Tell me what it will
cost," and she took out her purse. Leslie's heart smote him he saw that
slender purse so slenderly provided. It was too much in keeping with
the defenceless state and nature of that fair piece of human porcelain.

"Oh, not much. I will take care it goes safely."

"But I _must_ pay it," said Elinor, earnestly. "The Reverend Mother
told me never to run in debt, especially..."

"To the monster man," said Leslie, finishing the phrase she broke off,
and smiling.

Elinor again was ashamed of a good lesson. She did not know what
guidance to follow; plainly she felt herself laughed at, and that was
painful. She slid back her purse into the pocket of her apron, and
stood again like a puzzled, penitent child.

"Such a nothing of a debt," said Leslie, "only give me the letter." He
took it, and moving away to Mr. Chanson's room, which opened from the
library, asked him if he could have a horse, and then returning, told
Laura he was going to Cantleton and inquired if he could do anything
for her.

"I thought," said Laura, smiling painfully, "we were all to ride to the
Hollow Glen."

"True, I had forgotten; but it will make no difference will it, if I am
absent?"

"None," said Laura, "of course. One's guests, of course, amuse
themselves if their host cannot do it."

Leslie gave a deprecating "No, no;" and added, "Guests who do that, are
not worthy of being received; but I really have a little business."

Laura laughed scornfully, she could not repress her irritation.
"Selfish business, purely?" said she, interrogating.

Elinor heard all this and was very much grieved that his good-nature to
her should bring this reproach upon him. She knew it was wrong to let
another suffer in one's place and spoke bravely out.

"He is not selfish, he is going to take care of my letter."

Leslie himself coloured at this sudden shifting of the ground under his
feet, and Laura burst into that insolent laugh which bows down all but
such as can laugh insolently in return. The moisture which precedes
tears came into Elinor's eyes. She turned partly away, and Leslie could
not but gaze on the innocent pretty picture she made.

"Don't let me detain you, Mr. Letter-carrier," said Laura. "I was not
aware of your new office. You came here as an independent gentleman,
but a new character..."

"Does what?" said Leslie, after a silent pause.

"Nay, nothing at all--only I thought you were not listening to me, your
attention seemed elsewhere."

"Oh! don't doubt that whatever Miss Chanson says, or even hints, has my
best attention and consideration. I'll go now--pray excuse me."

"By all means. I wish you to...do as you like," said Laura,
abruptly; and he saw her lip tremble.

"Poor Elinor!" thought he, looking back, "what will you make of the
scolding you are about to get." And a scolding it was, indeed. Not that
Laura intended it when she began, but she lost her self-command as she
talked; and the anguish which she endured, through Elinor, made her
blind to the innocence, and deaf to the guileless purity of the young
girl.

"I don't know, Elinor," she began, "whether you think it quite proper
to send one's acquaintances all over the country on your errands; for
my part, I know _I_ should be heartily ashamed of doing so."

"Oh, my dear Miss Chanson, was it wrong?"

"Heartily ashamed, that's all I can say; and so would any one with the
least sense of decency," said Laura, beginning to tremble. "But you
have your own notions, doubtless."

"No, indeed, indeed!"

"And to give yourself such airs in another person's house--commanding
everything as if it were your own, and more than if it were your own.
The horses, the servants, the very guests, all to be at your command.
You are to send our guests just to carry your letters to the post. I
think what serves our letters might serve yours."

"I wish I had known--I am very, very sorry."

"What made you fix on Mr. Leslie for your confidant, pray. Was it
because you found him here, interested...I mean that you thought
him not likely to devote himself sufficiently to your superior merits,
unless specially invited. You need not cry, it is no use to pretend
one thing and do another; men are always taken in by anybody who gives
themselves the trouble, and for my part, I warn you that they will only
despise you, they will find out...in fact, I see through you as if
you were glass."

"I wish I could see myself and know how I have offended you," said
Elinor, weeping.

"Me offended! oh, dear me, not I! Mr. Leslie is as perfectly
indifferent to me, as you are. I only warn you for your own sake that
you are acting as not another young girl in all the whole of England
would _dare_ to act."

So saying, Laura fled from the room, for she could contain herself no
longer; and while Elinor wept silently in the library, Laura sobbed
aloud in her boudoir, the door of which she had banged behind her and
fastened with a double turn of the key.

Elinor had a guiltless conscience in her favour, and recovered first;
but she was very unhappy, and being ignorant as to what she had done
wrong she resolved first to beg Mr. Leslie's pardon, and then to
entreat his assistance in explaining to her the course of conduct
which would be doing right. She stole up the back staircase to her
room; bathed her face as she had often done in the pupils' room in the
Convent, when she had been scolded and wanted to avoid the imputation
of resenting the scolding; and putting on her bonnet and gray cloak,
went dejectedly down again, and glided by the most sequestered ways
she could find, towards the gate of the park by which she believed Mr.
Leslie would return. Here she sat down, patiently to wait for him,
and screened herself from observation by choosing her seat among some
drooping elms, whose long branches, as one sees sometimes with the
elm tree, had turned downwards soon after leaving the stem, and bowed
themselves to the ground, as if kneeling.

But, patient as she was, and used to waiting, the length of time she
remained there, during which there was nothing coming, made her first
uneasy, and at last anxious. She got up and walked into the road,
whence she could command a long sight of the highway beyond the gates,
and still, when all was blank, returned to her seat, and resumed the
paper-mark she was plaiting in the shape of a cross. The woman who kept
the lodge had seen this manoeuvre more than once, and at last, in the
civility of her heart, came out as Elinor again looked down the road,
and asked if she was pleased to be waiting for some body.

"No," said Elinor; "only I think Mr. Leslie will return this way from
Cantleton;" and as she said his name, she blushed deeply as young
girls will do, at sight or at speaking of a young acquaintance of the
opposite sex, though as heart-whole as a bird just fledged, on the edge
of its nest.

The old woman laughed in a motherly way. "Oh! that's it," said she.
"I did not know, miss; you will be pleased to forgive me," and she
withdrew to her cottage, and Elinor to her tree, puzzled again, and but
half liking what she did not understand in the old woman.

It was an hour and a half after she had come to the spot, when she
heard the trot of horses' feet, at which her heart gave a bound, but
directly the sound of wheels became audible, and the next bound of
her heart was what might be called in the opposite direction. She
went further under the trees, and saw Laura and others on horseback,
and a carriage following, all making towards the Lodge at a good,
exhilarating pace. As they approached it, she perceived Mr. Leslie
coming in the opposite direction, and both parties stopped and had some
communion together. What they said she did not know, but she perceived
some laughter, some gestures of expostulation, and that Laura, after
great apparent earnestness, suddenly jerked away her horse, and set off
at an actual gallop; while Mr. Leslie, who she supposed had refused
their invitation to join them, waved his hand to them, and came alone,
and slowly, along the road in the park.

Without the least hesitation or embarrassment, Elinor came forward
from the trees, and caught his sight, making a motion inviting him to
speak to her. He immediately rode up to the place where she stood, and
dismounting, eagerly told her what he really had done, and a great deal
more which he claimed to have done for her. Elinor was more and more
troubled, and as soon as he would hear her, professed her regret at
having thus employed him, in so penitent a manner, that the tears again
rose to her eyes, and in _his_ heart arose a tender pity, which made
him ready to fall down at her feet, and raise her by his humble love
above all claim and all necessity for pity.

"I who have been so happy to be employed by you! who felt it such a
kindness on your part to a man who has no friends, who wants so much
a little sympathy, who would be glad to earn a kind 'Thank you' at
any sacrifice, much more by the merest commonplace service. Ah, Miss
Ladylift! ah, Elinor! do not talk so, do not think in this way. Who can
have led you to such thoughts?"

"Alas! Miss Chanson was very angry with me. She told me no girl in
England would be so bold, especially with you."

"Did she; was it any consideration for me. Did she tell you that it was
from consideration--from any regard to me, then?"

"No! no! She said she did not care for you--it was all on my own
account."

"Ha! ha!" said Leslie, "she said so. Then I think it is time for me to
go away."

"You go away! are _you_ then really angry with me?"

"Oh! I beseech you, do not say, do not think such harsh, hard words,"
said Leslie, taking her hand, and gently leading her further into the
wood.

They walked on together side by side, deeply engaged in conversation,
in which Elinor's defencelessness touched Leslie's heart with more
of good emotion than he had known could dwell there. Yet he enjoyed
involving her in a situation which depended upon himself to make it
safe or dangerous, and which, at all events, was one in which she
compromised herself with the prudent, and those who had more habit of
the world than she. He perceived her perfect innocence of every such
notion, and was every moment renewing a compact with himself to hold
her in reverence. Yet he secured her hand on his arm--he could not
keep himself from touching the fingers that lay there, from gently
pressing the arm which touched his own. A trifling circumstance did
more to check him than all his good resolutions. This was his horse,
whose bridle he held, and whose uneven pace had constantly to be
regulated; sometimes it would start forward, and annoy its master with
a threatened invasion of his toes; sometimes stop to snatch at a bough,
and when jerked on again, would shake its head, and flourish in the air
in a manner dangerous to its safe keeping by the bridle.

Elinor's attention was diverted from her own griefs, and Leslie's
sympathy, by the manoeuvres of the horse. With the tears in her eyes,
she was provoked to laughter at its perversity; and when most grateful
for Leslie's assurance of friendship and support, could not help
turning their talk to the horse's entertaining movements. Leslie hated
the animal; and, at last, to keep the conversation in the train which
pleased him, he invited Elinor to sit down beneath a tree far and deep
in the wood; where, having fastened his tiresome animal to one at a
distance, he returned and placed himself by her, distant from all the
eyes that should have been guarding her, and undefended by any inward
consciousness of being where she needed defence.

"When I am gone," he said, "and go I must, will you think of me?--will
you remember the friend to whom you can always apply?"

"Yes, yes!" said Elinor; "there is no danger that I should do
otherwise, for it is you only who tell me what I ought to do, who show
me kindly where I am wrong."

"And if you want advice," said Leslie--and there he hesitated, whether
indeed to ask her to enter into secret correspondence with him.

"I can write to you, if you will tell me your direction," said Elinor.

"Divine Elinor!" cried Leslie, carried away with delicious surprise;
and suddenly lifting the hand he held to his lips, he kissed it
fervidly, so that in astonishment she drew it away, and a smile came
for an instant over her mouth.

Leslie looked down at her with delight; he drew still nearer to her,
when the sound of rustling boughs smote his ear, and then the voice of
the Squire--of Mr. Chanson, of Elinor's guardian--broke upon them.

"Hey!--what's this? You and Miss Ladylift out in the wood, here?"--he
was not a man of words.

Leslie started up; Elinor kept her seat.

"Yes; I came this way to enjoy the shade, and Miss Ladylift had done
the same. I met with her a moment ago, and was about to show her the
nearest way home."

Elinor listened with wonder. She thought certainly Leslie had forgotten
that she had come to meet him near the lodge, and that they had spent
an hour in walking to the spot together, without any reference to going
home; however, she heard him as children hear their elders say things
they have themselves been taught not to say, and unconsciously they
take a lesson in the difference between learning and practising.

Mr. Chanson asked no more; he only held out his arm to her, and said,

"Come home with me. Laura ought to have been with you." He had a
fishing-rod in the other hand, and had been making his way to the brook.

"Miss Chanson is out riding," said Elinor.

"And why did not you go? What made you wander to this out-of-the-way
place?"

Elinor hesitated; she did not like to say she had been scolded, and had
crept away.

Mr. Chanson thought she had made an appointment with Leslie, and that
her embarrassment came from that consciousness.

"Well, well!" said he. "Mr. Leslie, you had better look after your
horse. That's your best way home--along the green path, there. I'll
take her over the brook by the foot-bridge. Now then!"

And he walked forward, Elinor very willing to go with him, but looking
back to see how Leslie got up to the horse, which was drawing away, and
shying at his approach.

"Never mind _that_," said the Squire; "you must not be wandering about
in this style. I'll talk to Laura."

CHAPTER V.

LESLIE had become aware that his presence had become unacceptable to
the mistress of the house, or rather that his behaviour made it so, and
therefore that it was time he should go. Her evident pique, which he
had understood from Elinor's report of her conversation with Laura, had
confirmed this resolution, and he had determined to "have found letters
at Cantleton" which required his presence elsewhere, even before the
Squire looked so grim at him for being alone with Elinor in the wood.

At dinner, therefore, he avoided sitting by Elinor, made himself as
agreeable to Laura as her anger would allow, and before the ladies
withdrew, told her he must leave Chanson Wood next morning. Laura
believed not one word of the story of the letters. She had heard her
brother's report, and when he upbraided her with neglect of her charge,
had given him to understand that the young girl chose to manage her
own concerns, and was amenable neither to reproof nor persuasion. The
Squire had guilelessly believed her, inclined the more to do so by what
he had himself remarked; and Laura, strong in the impression she had
then made, had courage to attempt the same thing with Leslie.

"I am sorry," said she, with a voice in which it was easy to perceive
emotion, for his departure touched the sorest place in her heart, "I am
very sorry that you have found reason to leave us."

"Indeed, so am I. I have enjoyed the visit so much, that it is odious
to me to learn from my letters..."

"From them all?" said Laura, smiling sadly enough. "No, no! it's not
your letters."

"And what is it, then?" said Leslie, abruptly, and colouring.

"Why should not you treat me as a friend?" said Laura. "But I have no
right to intrude on your secrets."

"I've no secrets," said Leslie, mounting higher on his high horse.

"I will not ask any," said Laura; "only I cannot bear to see a friend I
value suffering from capricious power."

"You speak in enigmas," said Leslie. "I am not suffering at all, that I
know of, except in leaving you."

"That's unkind," said Laura, suddenly, and thrown off her guard;
"that's the last of your thoughts. I only wish you were as little
deceived as you deceive me."

"Deceived--deceit!" said Leslie'; "what are we talking about? I
leave two friends here, who are, I know, as true as the mirror of a
mountain lake; two charming ladies, whose friendship is the pride of my
life--Miss Chanson and her ward, to whose joint society I offer up all
my homage."

Laura looked at him steadily for a few seconds, and then changing her
manner suddenly, uttered her scornful laugh, which made the blood
tingle in his face as though he had been detected in the most egregious
simplicity.

"I doubt nothing, I doubt nobody," said he. "I am the simplest fellow
in the world. When I see blue sky, I believe it blue."

"And the little angels and all?" said Laura.

"Certainly."

"I'll say nothing against it, then;" and slightly shrugging her
shoulders, she escaped.

When he took leave of the Squire it was the same thing.

"You are going away in a hurry," said Mr. Chanson. "Have you had a tiff
with anybody?"

"By no means. I have business which obliges me..."

"Ay, ay. They'll miss you, especially the little girl there; but mind
you, I know nothing about her, beyond that I must take care of her. She
has not a penny, and I am afraid is whimmy."

Leslie was vexed at the Squire's caution. Laura's would have been
nothing, had not her brother's confirmed it. There must be something,
as both had made a similar observation. Yet, when he met Elinor
before breakfast next morning, walking in the garden, and she told
him that she had hoped to see him there, and it was therefore she had
come, he forgot to ask himself if such child-like simplicity could be
feigned, and renewed all those vows of friendship and support which
Elinor needed; and vowswarmer than which he felt instinctively would
not be understood. His intention was to leave her for a time, since
his hostess took his desertion so much amiss, but if his own heart
preserved the impression Elinor had made upon it, he had resolved
to see her again at any cost, and then to let the course of events
determine their future relations.

Accordingly he betook himself home, where he had occupation and
amusement awaiting him, and where the novelty of being master gave
him interests which made it the place most frequently in his thoughts
when absent. It was an ancient house, which seemed, from the remains
of building about it, to have been once a portion of a much larger
residence. It stood in a valley, upon an isolated hill, on the slopes
of which the various ruined walls, covered for the most part with the
vegetation of years, and crowned with mountain ash and birch, offered
many a romantic seat, and many a sheltered bit of terrace for whole
natural beds of wild flowers. The house was out of order, but not
ruinous, and offered scope to the eye and fancy of the proprietor as
to its restoration to a beautiful and convenient dwelling. From it
one looked down the valley to the church, with its spire rising above
the cottages and orchards of a village, and on the stream which wound
its way through wood and meadow, wandering on towards hills, for ever
varying in light and shade, and as it had a western aspect, offering
every evening the gorgeous spectacle of sunset.

All this valley belonged to Leslie, and so did the neighbouring lands,
for about 3,000 acres in all, of poor but lovely country. He had a
neighbour, richer than himself, and with a grander place, to the east
of his valley; and a few other scattered houses, together with a market
town about six miles on, over the common and heathy grounds, made up
his neighbourhood. There was plenty of game on Leslie's estate, and one
plan for this autumn was to amuse himself with its pursuit; but though
he was as active as might reasonably be guessed from his admirable
frame, he had never got up to any enthusiasm for hunting or shooting.
He tried the latter the first morning after his return, but though the
partridges were plentiful, and his success considerable, he thought it
a more stupid occupation than ever, to-day.

While he was walking over the dry stubbles, what was Elinor doing? Was
she reading one of those little dreamy books which he had commented
upon many a time, till an unwilling smile broke over her lips, and she
turned away her face that he might not see it? or was she suffering
from Laura's bad temper, with that pretty mournful expression in her
eyes and on her mouth, which made her look even younger than her
own fresh youth? Was she sitting, cool and pale, on the fallen oak
in the wood, while he was toiling, hot and red, in company with his
gamekeeper, watching a dog beguiling a bird?

He went home very early, and then walked about his own place, cutting
away boughs which shut out the lovely view, and projecting how to
convert into an entrance a hexagon room supported by a central pillar,
which was said once to have been a chapel.

But he was constantly leaning the hatchet idle against a tree, or
drawing scrolls and scrawls on the margin of the paper where he was
making his plans--his thoughts being elsewhere, at the side of Elinor,
thinking over something said or done by her, and what he had said, or
had better have said or done, in return.

Two or three days made his home intolerable--intolerable, at least, to
a man so free to go whithersoever his wishes directed him--and getting
up one morning at dawn, from a bed where he could not sleep, he put
up a portmanteau before his servant was awake, and by the time the
labourers came to their work, was driving to the little neighbouring
town where the coach changed horses at seven o'clock. Nobody asked, and
nobody knew where he was going: he went quite alone, and by one change
of vehicle and another reached the neighbourhood of Chanson Wood by
nightfall.

He would not on any account have been recognised; he was ashamed of
returning so soon, and took the most genuine precautions to remain
in obscurity. He engaged a room a couple of miles from the park,
at a little public house where, having never entered it during his
visit to the Squire, he was unknown; and pretending something about
an engagement to survey the country, and displaying some paper and
pencils, felt himself safe from inquiry.

The intense desire to see Elinor again, however, would not let him rest
in the house, and as soon as the night was quite dark, he took his way
along the lane, and through the wicket beside the carriage entrance,
and then by cautious approaches to that side of the house where was the
room the family occupied in the evening. All was carelessly secure, as
in a great country house in the midst of its gardens, and inhabited by
its multitude; and he had but to push open the low iron gate in the
fence between the garden and the park, to find himself upon the walk
which led up beneath the windows. There was a flower border, and then
a green sward, between the house and the gravel walk, so that Leslie,
by walking on the turf, and then on the silent mould of the border, got
noiselessly up to an open sash, and could look in and command the whole
room.

All was silent inside. There were three persons, and one was Elinor.
She was sitting beside a lamp, with her face to the window, but it
was leant over a piece of work which she held in her hands. There
was nothing but white of different shades about her; her muslin gown
was white, a white satin bow fastened it at her throat, a white lace
border, or collar, lay flat on her low shoulders, the work in her hands
was white cambric, which she was embroidering; her pale face and fair
hands were touched by the lamplight, and her motionless figure seemed
patient of a dull employment and ungenial companions.

Laura reclined in a chair, partly turned from the window, reading; and
the Squire was fast asleep on a sofa, breaking the silence by regular
snoring, loud enough to increase Leslie's chance of escaping detection.
He saw her then, he could speak to her with silently moving lips, he
could appeal to her with passionate eyes and entreating hands, he could
bend his knee towards the ground, adoring her beauty, or rather her
loveableness. Perhaps he a little over-wrought these gesticulations,
for while most wrapped in them, a little dog, which was lying with its
back well into Laura's silk gown, jumped up, and gave a sharp volley of
barks.

Elinor looked suddenly up, but Leslie was gone into the shadow. The
Squire did not cease his sonorous aspirations, and Laura was too much
used to her Spitz's hysterical alarms to move so much as her head. But
Leslie felt his security gone; and that probably the little Spitz's
eyes were even then on the window, beaming with the purpose of another
frantic yap upon the smallest sign from outside. He withdrew very
cautiously, but his soul was bitter against the Spitz.

"Let me catch you outside these walls, Master Puff, and see if you
disturb me again," murmured he, as he retreated.

The necessity of his soul was to see Elinor again; he wished to be the
unseen spectator of what she was and did, to make sure that a creature
so innocent really existed, and to enjoy the spectacle if it was true.
To enjoy it and destroy it; for he looked no further than to present
gratification of the passion which filled his breast--all his remoter
thoughts were of ambition and success in the tempestuous world, which
seemed another sphere from that he occupied at present.

He put on, next day, the dress of a workman, and as deeply slouched
a hat as he could suppose consistent with the character. He provided
himself with an axe, and hoped to pass unrecognised, if he could avoid
direct communication with his former host and fellow guests; and taking
his way into the woods about the house, went first to the brook,
where he had shown Elinor the waterfall, and where he knew she had
occasionally resorted after that time.

His expectations were more than fulfilled, for he had no pains of
waiting to go through, no fears, no doubtful hopes; a figure was
standing on the very spot whither he had led Elinor, and though the
face was turned away, the elegant shape was that which he longed to
see. The falling water prevented his step from being heard, and he was
able to take up a place among the trees, where he could observe her,
yet run scarce any danger of detection. Should she perceive him, he
would deal a few strokes at the trees, and trust to be taken for the
forester, and pass unnoticed.

The unconscious Elinor made her preparations for passing the burning
hours in shade and a refreshing atmosphere. She laid aside her bonnet,
put by her gloves, unfastened the cotton gown from her throat, and it
charmed him to see she did not open a book, but unfolded a piece of
household work, and industriously shaped, and hemmed, and sewed at the
white jacket she was making. Sometimes she paused, and looked long
at the lovely fall of waters, and once going down to the edge of the
brook, took water in her joined hands, and drank from that pretty cup.
Then returning, she resumed her work, and gave no sign of thoughts
within, except a few times singing some notes, like a bird alone in the
sun, trying a passage taught by the impulse of its melodious throat.

It was a fair picture of still life, and he looked at it with the
passion of a lover, and the eye of an artist; but at last he began to
grow discontented that there was no sign of wanting or thinking of him,
no looks cast upwards, no sighs, no restless movement, which he might
have interpreted into regret that he was not there. Should he suddenly
appear, would he be welcome even? Yes, welcome, perhaps, as a novelty,
not as the thing desired--welcome to come and go, but if she knew he
had come all that way merely to look at her, she would laugh. He was a
very young man, and little knew the patience of a modest maiden, nor
the absence of all spoken words, and speaking signs, when she is with
herself alone, and is occupied with her natural duties and works.

He watched her all that morning, and saw her at last fold her work,
rise and gather some beech leaves while she stood under the tree, to
wind one into the other, till they made a wreath, then hanging it on
her wrist, she took up her wicker basket, and shortly withdrew towards
the house.

"Dear household Lar," said he, coming and standing exactly in front of
the seat she had occupied, "one day you will sit beside some humble
hearth, content to do the lowly offices of home, to live the joyless
life of little wants and coarse means; your fragile loveliness will be
stained by weather and hard work, your pure voice will have lost its
clearness, but neither you nor yours will think it worsened since these
days. I should not love you then--I shall be in my grave, or on the
summit of ambition then--but there is an interval between that time and
this, in which, oh! Elinor! your quiet heart must beat--beat as mine
does now--in which you must know the agony of my adoration--in which
we must make life all diamond-light, if it be but for the space of a
moon's change! Exquisite calm face, when will you lighten thus for me?"

Next day, he came again, and saw her again. It was, as the village
bells told him, a Saint's day, and Elinor, whom no one helped to
perform her usual devotions in an appointed place, came into the
entangled woods to find a temple. He saw her kneel in front of the
great tree, and with humble eyes cast upon the ground, sign the cross
upon her bosom, and open her little book of prayer.

Even in these devotions there was something which suited his feeling
about Elinor better than if the prayer had been more untaught, more
her own creation. She passively did what she had been taught to
do--she murmured over a form of words, continually coming to the same
repetition, and making the same sign of devotion. She turned her pages
to the places where marks in the book showed she ought to go, and
though the service lasted long, showed no wish either to shorten or
prolong it, but did what was set down for her, and then rose and had
done.

Again she took her seat upon the fallen tree, again unfolded her work,
and again, with the shadows of boughs and leaves moving over her as the
breath of air gently swayed them, sat plying her household needle. What
thoughts broke in upon the even train which was necessary to guide that
needle, he would fain have guessed. Surely some thoughts must accompany
the motion of those active fingers--perhaps there were many given to
convent days; perhaps some to him--he wished it, but hardly hoped it;
but at last, without the sewing being interrupted, he heard well known
notes begin to murmur from her throat, and go on to a continued but
still low song, which made him believe those tranquil thoughts had
indeed been recalling him, and had come to the point which made that
song and him one common subject, for it was the air of a duett in
which he had attempted to join her, an air sung at village weddings
in Brittany, and he had never seen her laugh so cordially as at his
failures in trying to keep a second. Now he heard the village notes and
verses again, and believed his own image was before her.


"Nous sommes venus vous voir,
Du fond de not'e village,
Pour vous complimenter
Sur vot'e mariage
A monsieur votre epoux,
Aussi bien comme à vous," &c.


She broke off before the verse was finished, and he saw her look
from her work, and though he could not hear it, was certain she
laughed--briefly, as one does alone. Then there was some measuring or
adapting in the work, which took up her attention, and obliged her to
rise and use the fallen tree for a table, and when all was in order,
she again sat down to work, and seemed to have forgotten all about
"vot'e mariage." Probably they were the words in the song which were
the very last she thought about.

The intense pleasure of watching, and appropriating her solitary ways
and movements, had gone on long past mid-day, when Leslie heard a step
coming along the rough track which led from the wood walk to this
unfrequented place. It was only a servant, who, approaching Elinor,
delivered some message and went away again; and she, in consequence it
seemed, collected the materials of her employment, and left her seat
probably to obey a summons to the house. Leslie was vexed, first at
losing his amusement, and next at the way in which it was lost.

"I thought he had chosen a spot all unknown," said he, to himself--"one
which a lover only could discover--but it seems the very servants know
where she is to be found, much more every idle puppy and loiterer
belonging to the society"--puppy himself, though of a stout, handsome
breed.

However, there was no probability of her return, he thought, and after
half an hour's waiting for the chance of it, he had moved away, and was
descending towards the brook, when he perceived a motion in the boughs
overhanging the path, and stopping to watch, perceived it was Elinor
coming again, and in haste, to the accustomed spot. Leslie was in
front of her, and accident gave him a better place to see her than he
had ventured to choose for himself; his fear was that she should also
perceive him, but she evidently was in a mood so preoccupied as not
readily to have her attention caught by outer objects. All her humble
tranquillity was gone. As soon as she reached her fallen tree, she
sank down upon it, and leaning both hands upon one of the projecting
branches, hid her face, and wept bitterly. She lifted her head more
than once, to wipe her streaming eyes, and then hid them again, as
though the lovely scene were blotted and rendered null by the grief
within.

Presently she rose, and went hastily down to the brook, and there
kneeling and stooping over it, dashed the water repeatedly over her
face, and let her hair come dripping from the stream. She then sat down
on a rock close to the margin, and not five yards from Leslie, but, as
it chanced, with her back to him, and bringing from a little basket a
case containing paper and a pen, she put her lithe figure into such a
position as to find a desk on part of the rock where she sat, and began
hastily to write.

Leslie's heart beat faster than ever. Had she not asked him for his
direction, that she might apply to him if ever she was in trouble? Was
she writing to him? To whom else was it probable, that in that sudden
grief, whatever it might be, she should be writing? and he so near--he
could almost see the lines as she traced them. Did she summon him to
her? What would she say if he were suddenly at her side?--but then he
should lose all the gratitude due to obeying her call--he should be the
inferior who had come to seek, instead of the superior who had been
besought to come. No, he would not hazard that!--besides, he was not
sure that she was writing to him; it might be some one else to whom she
was appealing. She had very suddenly made him her confidant--it was not
impossible that there might be others equally favoured. What was it
the Squire had said she was--_whimmy_?--he had called her whimmy. Yet,
alas! that she should cry so, and no one be near to comfort her. Would
not she cling to him like a friend if she saw him? would not she be
gladder than she knew? Yet, possibly, no!--he would not hazard it--but
that letter he would get by some means, and it should not be long
before it was his; then he should know what to do.

Meantime, Elinor finished the hastily-written letter, folded it, and
replacing the little matters in her basket, pushed the basket among the
ferns and stones, and hastily took her way by a difficult path down
the dingle. Leslie concluded that she was going to the post-office to
put in her letter; and he purposed to follow soon after, and ask for
it in his own name, in case it should be addressed to him. But then
the letter would be directed to his own place, of which he had given
Elinor the direction, and at the post-office they would not dare give
it except where it was addressed. Yet he knew the old woman who acted
as post-mistress, and she had been constantly in the habit of seeing
him during his visit at Mr. Chanson's, and perhaps, if he resumed the
clothes and character of Mr. Leslie, she might be prevailed upon to
disregard the direction in favour of the bodily presence of the man
directed to. He therefore rushed back to his lodgings to change his
peasant's dress, and then, regardless of being discovered, regardless
of everything except the possession of the letter, he turned back
boldly to the post-office. For the convenience of the great house, it
was located at the park gates, in the lodge, and was kept by the same
old woman who had taken notice of Elinor's watch for Mr. Leslie. She
was perfectly familiar with his appearance, but when he went into the
house and inquired if there was anything for him, she started as if
she had no expectation nor wish to see him, and seemed to take the
circumstance occurring as a personal injury.

"A letter for P. Leslie, Esq.?" said she; "there's more fuss than
enough about P. Leslie, Esq. I can't sit to my tea for people all
coming for that blessed letter."

"Then there _is_ one," cried Leslie, eagerly, "give it."

"I did not say there was," said the old woman; "and if there should be,
it's gone away in the west bag as directed."

"Gone!" cried he, stamping impatiently; "what luck I have! but
when--there's been no mail since--when did it go, I say?"

"The mail was due at eleven and half," said the post-mistress, "but
it might be ten minutes later."

"You are not telling me the truth," said Leslie; "the letter was not
here then."

"If you know better than I, sir, then I say no more."

"Nay!" said Leslie; "but you know you were telling stories--and what's
the use? The letter is here, and you may as well get half a guinea by
giving it me as not."

"I can't do no such thing; it's made up in the bag to go where it ought
to go, and I'm forbidden by my office to let anybody meddle with it,
except the right person at the right place."

"But," said Leslie, "you have already let somebody meddle; the
person--the people--who you say have been disturbing you at your tea."

The old woman coloured up to the eyes, though she would not give way.
"I said somebody disturbed me; and so she did. Was not the hole cut
away in the window for letters to be dropped in? Where's the use of
bringing them into the house, and not being content with the natural
gap."

"That's not what you meant by disturbing you," said Leslie; "that
person may have brought the letter into the house, but after it was in
the box, I believe you have been taking it out for somebody else, and
you can't produce it for the right owner."

"Can't I?" said the old woman.

"No! I shall inform against you," said. Leslie, "for allowing your
office to be tampered with, unless you immediately put it into my
possession."

"That will just be doing the thing you are going to complain of," said
the old woman.

Leslie was provoked to smile.

"Come, come," said he, "I _will_ have the letter, and you may as well
take my money at once, for the trouble of opening your bags, although I
know they are not shut. Here, old lady, don't tell any more lies, but
do as you are bid."

The ancient post-mistress laughed, and went to the box into which the
letters were dropped. Leslie found out her fibs as fast as she composed
them, and she acknowledged him a master spirit. A little rummaging and
a little grumbling produced the letter in question, and Leslie seizing
it, first of all before devouring the contents, carefully examined the
folds and fastening, for he had conceived certain suspicions from the
old lady's words.

"Who opened this letter?" said he, abruptly, after looking at it
attentively.

"Nobody but yourself," said she, trying to lay her thumb on the
fastening; "you have worried it in turning it about so."

"No, no!" said Leslie, guarding it from her, for though he had only
asked the question as a random shot, he now was certain that there was
some mystery.

"_That_ I have not, neither shall you; but you shall tell me what I
ask, for I have you in my power, and I will know."

The old sharpshooter was chased from her defences, but ran and took up
another position. "Well--well," said she, "you are a young gentleman,
and a mighty good-looking, and if I were you, I should not take it
amiss that the ladies thought worth while escorting my letters, and
jealousing what was writ in them. It is not old gentlemen and old
ladies as do such things."

"In short, Miss Chanson has had this letter in her hands before me."

"Oh! dear me!--Miss Chanson!--no, dear no!--I never said no such thing."

"No, you did not say it!" said Leslie. "I perfectly comprehend that it
could not possibly be that lady; and now don't be afraid, for I know
all I want. Good evening."

"That's a wilful man," said the post-mistress to herself, "and those be
two silly girls to have anything to do with him."

Leslie meantime walked hastily away, and took a path over the fields to
be out of observation, opening and reading the much canvassed letter as
he went along. He could not but smile at the simplicity of the writer's
alarms, and of her confidence in him.


"Sir, ('that's Monsieur,' said he)--

"SIR--You are my only friend; I do not know what to do unless you can
help me--and you told me to ask you for help if I was in trouble. Have
you money you can lend me? I will pay you back, a little every quarter,
and once you said it was not wrong to borrow from you. Miss Chanson
called me, and gave me many bills, which I did not know of--perhaps
they will put me in prison. What will become of me?

"ELINOR LADYLIFT."


"Poor, precious, enchanting Elinor!" cried he; "how unkind, how
sententious, they are to you. I can see the matter from here; ordinary
bills are thrust into your hands, without explanation, without advice,
and your conventual imagination sees nothing in them but an ogre of
a creditor, and dungeons and chains. Oh! how can I be soonest with
you? I dare not come at once, for even your innocence would disbelieve
that I was as far off as I ought to have been when I got your summons.
Yet--summons! no, it is not that; nothing was further, I do believe,
from your thoughts, than to call me to you--yet, poor dove, you have
done so, and when such fair birds are no better looked after by their
natural guardians, what is indeed to become of them? Now I must write
so as not to frighten her."

Accordingly he wrote in the soberest manner, making much, indeed,
of her embarrassments, but promising to alleviate them; and then
informed her "that particular circumstances having called him into
her neighbourhood, he had received her letter in a most fortunately
brief space of time, and he should be able, that very evening, to meet
her near the waterfall in the wood, and to bring her the means of
extricating herself from her difficulties."

"She will wonder why I should not walk straight up to the house, and
ask to see Miss Ladylift," said he, as he sealed his letter; "but I
hope the spirit of intrigue and coquetry may awaken in her sufficiently
to do as I suggest, and ask no questions."

The next difficulty was to convey this letter to her, and it perplexed
him till he saw the Squire and Laura ride past his lodging, and thus
knew they were out of the way; and then he resolved to go himself to
the house, in the peasant's dress he had worn in the morning, and there
to put his answer into the hands of a labouring clod in the gardens.
This he did, begging him to take "Mr. Davis tailior's acquoint for the
French lady, up speedy to the house."

The obliging clod complied, and Leslie returned to his lodging, and
early in the evening to the woods, expecting the guileless creature
who put such confidence in him. Nor was he disappointed. About nine
o'clock, of a warm, moonlit, September evening, Leslie standing
anxiously in the wood-path, saw Elinor coming along it to meet him.

"How good you are," she said, as they met; "but indeed I did not mean
to trouble you thus. I thought you would have written to me; indeed, I
did not think of your coming."

"But you are not displeased?" said Leslie, taking her hand, which she
withdrew when she had performed the proper greeting. "For my part,
I am so happy to be of any service to you, I am so happy to see you
again, that I cannot but bless the difficulties which have brought this
meeting about."

"Oh! Mr. Leslie, I am sure you would not say so, if you knew how
miserable I have been."

"But you are miserable no longer, are you?" said Leslie; "you feel that
I am able and willing to remove every cause of pain--I am able to make
you happy."

"I hope so," said Elinor; "but it will be a long time before I can pay
you."

"What! pay me? Oh! I was not thinking of that; I was thinking," said
Leslie, drawing her gently to the fallen tree, where he had watched
her sitting those autumn days, and placing himself beside her--"I was
thinking whether you did not know that I look upon this moment, when
you trust me, when I you apply to me, when you know me to be a better
friend than any of those whom chance has thrown you amongst, as the
most delightful that ever in all my youth and enjoyment passed over
me"--he possessed himself of her hand--"and I don't deceive myself,
do I? You know me to be your truest well-wisher, your most anxious
counsellor, the person who would desire your happiness beyond all other
things, and do whatever may best promote it."

Elinor's hand stayed in his, but it was with the calmest voice she
answered, "Yes, or you would not be here to help me."

"No, no! and you felt it was none of those guardians of yours, who was
willing to do so?--you did not apply to them?"

"Oh! I should never have done such a thing," said Elinor, the slightest
smile passing over her face, as at the suggestion of something wholly
out of the question.

"I have a kind of right, you have given me a right to counsel you,
guard you; you are inclined to do as I advise you?"

"Yes," said Elinor, with a mournful inflection in her voice. "I know
nothing at all of this world I am in, and I have found you wise,
knowing everything. You can teach me what you please, but I know you
will teach me what is right."

"Ah, yes! right--the right way to be happy--and we are creatures made
to be happy, not to suffer pain from each, other, not to be unkindly
treated, but to seek out those who love us, and to put all our trust
that what they do will be the best they know how to do, for our
happiness."

Elinor was silent. She was listening, and trying to comprehend.

"Elinor, did any ever devote themselves to you, and think, of nothing
except how to please, how to take care of you; what you liked, where
you would go?"

"Oh! no, certainly," said Elinor.

"Your kind Mother in the Convent, your teachers the nuns, your
companions--did you ever feel that when you came they rejoiced, when
you went they mourned; that you were the thing they first thought of at
waking; the object for which they planned their plans, lamented their
failures?"

"No!" said Elinor, "they were not so unreasonable."

"But he who loves you is so unreasonable, so reasonable at the same
time, for that which is dearer than oneself must be more present, more
cherished than oneself--the happiness of that creature must be before
every other wish and plan. Would it be no pleasure, dearest Elinor, to
be thus beloved?"

His right hand suddenly transferred her's to his left, and went round
her waist, nor did it fail to press that slender, warm column, which
it had encircled. Elinor did not withdraw, but she raised her clear
eyes to his, and met his fierce glance with such inquiring, innocent
calmness, that his arm released its hold, and he did but raise her hand
to his mouth, and pressed one kiss upon it.

"May I not love you, Elinor?"

"Indeed I think you do," said Elinor.

"I doubt whether you do as much for me," said Leslie, to himself,
and he felt that he should but set her on her guard by any further
revelation of his feelings; but he was not wholly displeased with the
step he had advanced. All recollection of the cause of their meeting
had departed from him; but while he was thinking how best to go on with
the interview, Elinor took advantage of the pause, and returned to the
difficulties he was to settle for her, which to him appeared prosaic
and superfluous, but to her was the thing that made their meeting
interesting. Leslie took from her hand the little neat bundle of papers
which she produced; he comprehended that Laura had not chosen to
explain or soften anything, and promised that he would himself arrange
all.

He would then have passed to other subjects, but Elinor would stay no
longer after she had fulfilled her errand, and then he fixed the next
afternoon for another meeting at the same place, to give account of
what he should have done.

"Say nothing of our meeting," said he; "it is best not. I can scarcely
explain why; but promise that you will follow my advice."

Elinor did so. She had no conscience but Leslie--her own had never come
much into activity, and that which she brought from the Convent had
been all overthrown.

Elinor returned to the house, and to the saloon where Mr. Chanson
and his sister Laura were sitting, and entering it with her light,
noiseless movement, was taking up her work, and about to seat herself
in her usual place, when Laura stopped her, by asking, in a constrained
voice:

"Where have you been, Elinor?"

"In the wood," said Elinor, the colour rising, she knew not why.

"But, my dear," said the Squire, "that's not the proper place for a
young girl like you, at night, all alone; you should not go there."

"And _were_ you alone?" said Laura, briefly.

Elinor had nothing to say; the question was so home, that it admitted
but of yes or no; one of which she might not, and the other she would
not say.

"Speak out," said Mr. Chanson; "don't be afraid of us. Tell the truth
always."

"Oh, yes! that I will, always," said Elinor.

"You were alone, then, I dare say, were you not?" said Mr. Chanson.
"Still I don't like you to wander about alone, and you will do it no
more, will you?"

"Very well," said Elinor.

But Laura, speaking almost at the same time, said, "You were _not_
alone, then; you can't deny it, Elinor. You went there to meet
somebody."

Elinor answered nothing, but bent her head over her sewing, and had the
tears in her eyes.

Mr. Chanson was almost as much embarrassed as she. He rose up, crushed
the newspaper, and turning his back, leaned on the mantel-shelf, taking
part in his own heat with the embarrassed young girl, against his
sister, though the latter was clearly in the right.

"Was it Mr. Leslie?" said Laura.

"Oh! Mr. Leslie!" said her brother, half turning round; "quite
impossible."

Laura could not be quite sure it was he, for though, indeed, the broken
seal of Elinor's letter had revealed the intercourse between them, she
could not comprehend by what means he could so rapidly have obeyed the
summons; yet she could not but feel it must be Leslie, and her anxiety
and dread about it were extreme.

"Speak, Elinor! say whether or not it was he."

"No, no," said Mr. Chanson; "there is no sense in asking such a thing.
I had a letter from him two days ago, about the distemper-powders; he
was not going from home--besides..."

What there was besides he did not explain, but Elinor took courage
under this unexpected defence, and though she would not say a word of
denial herself, felt half justified by the denial he extemporised, and
sewed away, supported in the silence she resolved to observe. Laura, on
the other hand, was unduly discouraged, and her pressing investigation,
which must have ended in a victory, resulted in an impatient "Well!"
and the three sat in the most uncomfortable silence, till Elinor, who
felt thoroughly humble, and anxious to do something right, though she
could not do the one right thing they wanted, so anxiously watched her
chances of finding the Squire's spectacles, picking up his book, and
placing it softly on the table when it fell out of his slumbering hand,
of remembering where Laura had laid down the key of the tea-chest,
of letting Puff out of the room, and letting him in again, that Mr.
Chanson's heart was quite softened, and gently touching her head, he
said, in a low voice:

"You are a good little girl--only mind what Laura tells you;" and
Elinor was so pleased with the kind words, that she felt as if she
should never obey anybody else, nor perhaps would she, had there been
as much womanly kindness and sincerity in the sister as of gentleness
in the brother.

But Laura had feelings quite apart from the interests of Elinor,
which prevented any approach to kindliness, and those were her own
concern in Leslie, and in all that he did. He had secured a place in
her affections such as he never aspired to, and which, at this time,
he would much rather have been without; and it made Laura wild with
jealousy to think that one day Elinor might occupy the place which she
herself, with all her beauty, wit, and wealth, longed for in vain.
Should those two be coming and going together, civil to her, but lovers
of each other? should it be by short and transient fits that she should
see Leslie, but Elinor be of his house, always his and with him? should
the stranger's sustained attention be for her, but the word, the sign,
the look, the understood gesture, be for Elinor? Laura could not endure
it, and the thing was so inadmissible, that whatever she could do to
prevent it seemed the thing to be done--not the right thing, perhaps,
but still to be done. She hated Elinor, and would willingly have seen
in her all those defects which would disenchant Leslie; she wished they
were in her, and acknowledged to be there by everybody; and when Elinor
had gently crept out of the room, at an early bedtime, she broke the
long silence that had descended upon them all, and began to talk in an
ingenuous, candid tone, to her brother.

"There are great excuses to be made for that poor child," said she.
"The liberty she enjoys is so sudden, and the training she has had is
so bad, that she is liable to errors from which other people are free."

"Yes, indeed," said the Squire; "and it is very kind and just of you,
Laura, to make excuses for her. She wants a friend."

"Yes! I only wish she were more willing to listen to me."

"She is a little wilful, is she?"

"I think you must have perceived that. Don't you see how she keeps
apart all the morning? I am always willing--anxious--that she should
come to my room and be with me; but was not it strange, how she
persecuted Mr. Leslie to attend to her?--not unnatural certainly--a
man was a marvel to a girl from a convent; but I explained to her the
common forms of society, and she should have altered her conduct in
consequence; however, it was just the same, and I'm afraid, I really
am, that this walk of hers has something to do with an appointment--if
not with him, with somebody else."

"I hope not," said the Squire; "though, indeed, I saw that Leslie was
rather in love with her."

"Oh! no, no!" cried Laura, anxiously; "a man is always flattered if
a girl shows any liking for him, but that's all. How could he take a
fancy for a child like that--uneducated yet artificial, not pretty nor
amusing?"

"She does not say much," answered the Squire.

"Besides, Lawrence," went on Miss Chanson, "though he might have been
pleased with her, if he had been wholly fancy-free, yet--being as he
is..."

"What? is Leslie in love with anybody--hey; Laura! is _that_ it? is it
possible, my dear?"

"I have never said a word to any human being before," said Laura,
turning away her head.

"Is it possible? The thing I should like beyond all others; why did not
I know?"

"Nay, you think more of it than you ought. Indeed, Lawrence, I don't
quite understand him; something is on his mind, which--which...in
short, there has no word passed between us. Has he any fortune?
Sometimes I have thought, that knowing me to have a large one, his own
want of any may have held him back."

"Oh! he is not poor, but very proud. Are you civil enough to him,
Laura?"

"Nay, certainly," said Laura; "it is for him to seek, not me."

"Yes, yes; but at the same time, I can tell you that Fanny Wimbledon
would have been Mrs. Chanson, if she had not thought it necessary to
chaff and flout me, when I was looking for a kind word."

"Did she like you, vain man?".

"So I heard afterwards; but I was in Caithness, and it was too far to
come back. So don't throw him away--that is, if you think you could
like him."

"Lawrence, you are mother and brother to me;" and she laid her head on
his shoulder. "I _do_ like him."

"Is it so, dear Laura?" said he, fondly caressing her; "then may
Providence bring you and him together. If I can help you..."

"Only say nothing to him. Oh! for heaven's sake! do nothing rash. Proud
he is, and a word might alarm him. But it is a comfort, brother, to
have made a confidant of you, and to you I am not ashamed of saying
what no mortal ear besides must know."

Thus talked brother and sister; it was a pity that Laura knew all the
time that she was lying. Those words of her own, "I have never revealed
it to another human being," took herself in, for although they conveyed
a great deal, they affirmed nothing.

Elinor was perplexed beyond measure what to do about her next day's
engagement. The utmost she wished was to tell Leslie that she could
meet him no more; but she knew not by what means to effect this.
Laura would not let her go beyond her sight. The room, which she had
declared herself so anxious should be common between them, was for the
first time opened to Elinor; she took a pretext of some fine lace,
which was in bad condition, and which Elinor, profiting by a convent
accomplishment, had once offered to put in order. She had then told
how a certain veil had been wanted for an image of the Virgin, in
a procession, and how it had been trusted to her to put to rights,
when some others had refused through fear of its tenderness. She had
spread it on a thick bed of cambric, and then, by patient immersions
in certain prepared waters, had removed every trace of dirt and stain,
without the least violence to the frail fabric, so that when the
image appeared in it next day, inquiries had been made who could so
successfully have renovated the delicate fabric.

This had been a tale of the early days of her arrival, and she was
surprised to-day at Laura's recollection of it, and not best pleased
that the occupation should have been given her just this morning. Then
followed a drive in which Elinor was included, the object of which was
to meet a young relation of the Chansons, Sir Peter Bicester, who had
just got orders to join his regiment in Ceylon, and was coming for a
farewell visit to Chanson Wood. He was a lively, thoughtless lad of
eighteen, a great admirer of his cousin Laura, who was six years older
than he, and in his intense attentions, during their after-dinner
saunter in the garden, Laura lost sight of Elinor, and Elinor, with the
speed of an Italian greyhound, ran to the waterfall to say one word,
and but one, to Leslie. In case of not finding him, she had provided
herself with a little note, merely, "I cannot come this evening. Mr.
Chanson forbids me to go out.--ELINOR LADYLIFT." This she intended to
lay on the fallen tree, and trusted it would be found by Leslie, should
she not meet with him.

Leslie had been there early--as early as he thought it possible
the usual morning ride or drive of the others would set Elinor at
liberty--and the longer she delayed, the stronger the fear became that
he should not see her, so much the intenser grew his desire to do so,
and the regard in which he held the object of it.

"Innocent and artless Elinor!" thought he; "with a whole heart to give,
a whole nature to be made happy, is there anything better in life than
to make and share your happiness?" and then more dreamily his thoughts
dwelt upon images of virtuous felicity, upon the meanness of betraying
such guileless confidence, and upon the difficulty which he had not
hitherto counted upon of converting her quiet feeling into one of
passion.

It was already quite dusk, when his ear at last caught a footfall. It
was of one running quickly; and eagerly springing to meet her, he at
last beheld Elinor, and felt an almost unknown pleasure in the reality
that she was there.

"I am here for one minute only," said she. "Mr. Chanson forbade me to
walk out in the evening. I only wanted to tell you not to wait."

"And why?" said Leslie, holding fast her hand.

"He says it is wrong. You did not tell me so, or I would not have done
it."

"I know no wrong; but you must not go yet. What! will you not stay to
know what I have been doing for you? All is settled now."

"Oh! kind friend," said Elinor, receiving the little bundle of papers
which he had prepared so as to look business-like (taking care that in
fact they should trouble her no more), "how can I thank you? I can only
say thank you--thank you--Mr. Leslie, good--good Mr. Leslie. Farewell!
I must not stay; let me go."

"And it is this moment I have been waiting for all day," said he.

"Have you, indeed? I am very sorry to have kept you so long. How kind
of you not to have gone away. But I am so glad you did stay; I had got
a note written for you, but I should have been uncertain whether you
received it."

"A note!" cried Leslie; "let me have it;" and perceiving it closed
in her hand, he gently took that hand, to draw the paper from when
a violent start from Elinor made him, too, start, and looking where
she looked, he saw Laura standing but a few yards from them. She came
forward directly that she perceived she was observed.

"Elinor," said she, "is it thus you keep your promise?"

"I did not promise," said Elinor; "besides, I came only to say that I
could not come."

"Go home," said Laura, in a low, trembling voice.

Leslie did not mean to be scolded like a schoolboy; he approached
Elinor with the open, commonplace air of an acquaintance, and offering
his hand, "Good evening, then, Miss Ladylift," said he. "It gives me
great pleasure if I have been useful to you, and I trust you will
command my services on any future occasion."

"Go home, Elinor," Miss Chanson repeated, and Elinor, puzzled, moved
away and disappeared, letting fall, as she did so, the little twisted
note, which by this time she had forgotten.

Laura, meantime, made several efforts to speak, while Leslie politely
waited, his eyes averted, and only listening indifferently for anything
she might wish to say. But he was surprised and startled out of this
indifference by a sudden outburst of tears from Laura, who, unable
to withhold her emotion any longer, gave way, and wept like one most
miserable.

"Miss Chanson," said he, coming up to her; "alas! what is the matter?
Are you ill? can I do anything? Lean on me, I beseech you."

Laura's tears flowed only the more profusely, and it was in vain she
used her utmost effort to restrain the sobs which burst from her
breast. She did, in fact, put her hand on his arm, but she turned away
her head, and avoided, as much as she could, any support or assistance
he would have given her.

"Forgive me. I did not know I was so weak. I am ashamed, like one on
the rack. Pain and shame--pain and shame for me who have been so proud,
so sheltered from both!"

"What is it you mean?" cried Leslie, feeling the awkwardness of his
position, yet not displeased at its novelty, only quite resolved to
commit himself in no manner, and to no thing. "Why, or how, can Miss
Chanson be the subject of pain?"

"I shall not be, if I can think I am your sister," said she, suddenly.
"A sister prefers her brother's happiness to her own--if he is happy,
so is she. I have just learned what are your feelings. I did not always
know them, but I do now..."

Her voice broke off, and though she tried to go on she could not.

"What do you know?" said Leslie, not at all choosing that Laura should
force herself on him as a confidant, nor be able to say that he was
the lover of Elinor. "I have nothing to discover, beyond a casual
circumstance in which I have been of some slight use to your friend,
but if it is true I am to hope for the kindness of a sister here"--and
he tried to take her hand, which she very hastily snatched away--"my
happiness would be great in proportion to my want since infancy, of
every kindly home tie."

Laura raised her large, fine eyes to his, with a look interpreted by
him to mean, "Is that indeed all you can feel?" and then suddenly put
out her hand, which he took, and felt that it trembled.

"Be it so! yes," said Laura, "and now believe that I will promote your
wishes in any way you will direct me. I have no self any longer."

"How can I thank you," said Leslie; "but do not mistake me--I want
no service from any one. I have no wishes, unless, indeed, I might
entertain that of again enjoying the pleasure of such society as made
my life happy under your roof."

Laura sighed deeply, and shook her head. "Ah, yes! you use such words
very lightly. Well, be it so; come to us again, Mr. Leslie, and
if...am I not your sister?" she concluded, at last, in an eager,
abrupt voice.

"I feel," said Leslie--not knowing what to say he felt--"I, the most
unworthy..."

"I'll explain that I met you," said Laura, breaking off what he was
saying very impatiently; "you will be very welcome to my brother--my
real brother," she added, forcing a smile to her pale lips. "To-morrow,
then," and she moved away; but in all her violence of emotion, she had
recollected the little twisted note, and had stooped and secured it,
without attracting Leslie's attention to it.

"What is all this?" thought Leslie, looking after her as she hastily
disappeared. "I am to understand that she thought me her lover!
and not only forgiven, but taken for a brother. Brother, indeed!
There's something generous about her--romantic enough. But how unlike
Elinor--that inquiring, innocent look, those confiding eyes! Why should
this Laura want me to see more of _her_? Can it be real generosity? But
I will have nobody force upon me the character of a lover. I am free!"

CHAPTER VI.

LAURA had now entered on a desperate game, which she resolved at
every hazard should end in making her the wife of Leslie. Right is so
much the essential point in our actions, that scarce any villany is
deliberately done without justifying it to ourselves; and so Laura,
when not abandoned to passion, found good reasons in the advantages to
Leslie, and in her own superior powers of making him happy, to carry
her along the path from which she could not think of turning. Every
instrument must be laid hold of; she had already made her brother an
unconscious volunteer, and she next prepared her cousin to assist in
the cause.

The same fiction which had served with

Mr. Chanson she made use of to Sir Peter. His flame for Laura was
not such as to make him stand in the way of any serious matrimonial
project; on the contrary, he would have been proud to see her chosen
by some cavalier of high merit, an alliance with whom would have made
everything splendid and jovial, and creditable to his own admiration.
That _his_ cousin Laura should be neglected, or laid aside for another,
was as impossible as it would be humiliating; and Laura, who had a good
insight into motives and character, availed herself of this feeling.
She had only to sigh a little, and cast her eyes once or twice to the
ceiling, before Sir Peter inquired whether anything on earth, that he
could affect, had vexed his darling Laura; and then, with a graceful
show of candour, and of that confidence which a woman may show to a
boy, but a boy already worth trusting, did Laura partly hint, and
partly tell the same lie she had told her brother, and which she was
beginning to believe herself.

Sir Peter's indignation was boundless--his desire to approve himself
her true knight zealous--he would fight Leslie to-day if she pleased.
Laura had only to temper his ardour, and to insinuate that at the
point matters were arrived at between herself and Leslie, anything
which injured him, or drove him into a shyness of the family, would
be fatal to her interests. No, the only thing Sir Peter could do,
was to occupy Elinor's attention a little, keep her from such "open
flirtation" with Leslie.

"There is no harm in that, is there Pet--is there Peter?"

"I should think not, indeed--little coquette that she is--and fool that
_he_ is, not to see through such feminine arts. She a nun, indeed!"

Accordingly, the day when Leslie thought proper to accept the
invitation forwarded by Mr. Chanson, upon hearing from his sister that
she had accidentally met him, Sir Peter went up to Elinor the moment
she came into the drawing-room, and forced her into talk, which he
continued as he took her into dinner, and sat himself down beside her.
Leslie had given his arm to Laura, as mistress of the house, and had
quite determined to pay no attention to Elinor, such as could justify
Laura in "talking secrets" with him; but he was not prepared to see
Elinor an object of attention to another; and apparently well pleased
to be so.

And so, in fact, she was, for her whole being was at ease now that
Leslie was returned, and she had leisure to listen to her companion,
who was as young as herself, and very gay and droll, and made her
laugh, as girls will at nonsense. Leslie had habits of perfect
self-control, though he was so young, and he forced himself to be at
ease so successfully, that Laura could not determine in her own mind
whether he observed what was going on or not. Careless as he seemed,
however, he was watching them, and a jealous pang shot through Leslie's
heart, as to whether it was possible that this young soldier should
ever have indeed had an opportunity of seeing Elinor as _he_ had
done in that deep wood, by that fair fall of waters; and though his
consciousness said no, still the question made him watch uneasily the
progress of their intercourse.

After dinner, Sir Peter, intent on the interests of his cousin, still
kept up the attempt to monopolise Elinor. He had provided for so doing
by engaging her beforehand to sing a particular song for him, which,
by a great effort of his memory; he had succeeded in remembering to
have heard from her the evening of his arrival, and when the party was
settling to the employments of the evening, he followed Laura to the
piano-forte, near which Elinor was working, and while Laura played,
began to request the execution of the promise he had obtained.

"If you like," said Elinor, "by and by; but will you be so kind as to
let me sing later? Miss Chanson wishes those ladies to sing, she told
me."

Sir Peter could not but comply with this modest request, so unlike the
answer of young ladies more in the world, and moved away, while Leslie
abruptly took his place, sitting down beside her, and assuming that he
had that right to her attention which a secret between them brought
with it.

"You are happy now, are you not?" said he; "there are no more such
tears as you say you shed over that little bundle of papers?"

Elinor looked up, frightened lest any one should hear.

"No one is listening to us," said Leslie, "no one can tell what we are
saying; the insufferable drumming of the piano-forte prevents the human
voice from being heard."

"Drumming!" said Elinor, with a sudden smile of surprise; "nay, is it
not very good playing?"

"Do _you_ like it?" said Leslie, suddenly.

"Oh, yes! it is very good indeed."

"Do you _like_ it?" repeated Leslie, smiling also, but urging his
question.

"I think so," said Elinor; "one ought to like what other people are so
kind as to do, and it is very difficult music."

"Still you do not answer. Do you like that loud, hard drumming?"

"When you say loud and hard," said Elinor, "you teach me what to say.
Nobody likes what they can call loud, hard drumming."

"I prejudice you! That is very true," said Leslie. "So we will leave
off talking about it, and I will entreat you, the moment it is over, to
replace it, by singing the Spirit Song. Do you remember, you studied it
for me?"

"Yes; and since you have been away I have studied it more, and can sing
it better," said Elinor.

"Who would do that for me, except yourself?" said Leslie. "Nobody cares
where I go, or what I like, or when I shall be back, or whether I die
on the road, or live."

"_I_ do," said Elinor; "and people who know you better must care more
than I."

"If _you_ say so, never mind the rest of the world," said Leslie; "and
now the piano-forte is at rest. Come, dear Miss Ladylift, let me hear
my song."

Elinor rose, but hung back, while Leslie obtained Laura's permission.
Laura assented.

"Nay, why do you ask me? I am always delighted when Elinor can be
persuaded to let us hear that lovely voice. I merely played a little
air to bring people round the piano-forte." And while she spoke, she
looked round for her cousin, and summoned him by a glance, which he
well understood, and rushed to the rescue, seeing which, Laura moved
away, and left the coming skirmish to do what mischief it would.

"I am so glad to see you ready to sing," said Sir Peter; "I was afraid
I should have to wait long for Adeste."

"Miss Ladylift is going to have the kindness to sing a song which I
have begged for," said Leslie, stiffly.

"But mine first, I hope; you promised me first," said Sir Peter, in the
blandest tone.

"I think you had the goodness to get up on purpose to oblige me," said
Leslie, "did not you?"

"Yes," said Elinor, frightened, and looking round for Laura.

"Then let me find it; here's the book I know--yes, here is the song."

"Ah! that's not fair," said Sir Peter, "you don't forget how very
kindly you granted my petition, and I have been depending upon you."

"I did promise him," said Elinor, looking at Leslie humbly and
appealingly.

"Did you," said Leslie, very coldly; "nay, don't allow me to interfere
with your arrangements."

"_I_ can't be so indifferent," said Sir Peter; "mine, mine first; Mr.
Leslie, you see, says it does not matter."

"Allow Miss Ladylift to determine that point," said Leslie.

"May I?" said Elinor, joyfully, thinking if she might settle it,
the difficulty was over; "then let me sing first Adeste, and yours
afterwards, Mr. Leslie."

Leslie made no answer, except a bow, and stepping backward, withdrew
from the circle round the piano-forte; nor returned to claim the song
which Elinor, when she had got through Sir Peter's, at once looked
round for him to hear. Her sham admirer did all in his power to take
her attention from the real one, but Elinor could by no means regain
the composure Leslie's displeasure had taken from her, and she sought
with her timid eyes, all the evening, the opportunity of obtaining
reconciliation, which he steadily withheld.

Thus ended the first day of the visit, to which she had looked forward
as the time of such happiness.

Laura next morning took her to task.

"What makes you walk about with such a mournful air?" said she; "you
look like a naughty child who wants to kiss and make it up. What ails
you?"

"I am not a child," said Elinor, in her sweet, humble voice; "but I am
what you please to call naughty..."

"And want to kiss?" said Laura, scornfully.

"No," said Elinor, hurt at being turned into ridicule, and at receiving
reproof in a spirit that did not deserve that treatment.

"What then," said Laura, "and who is it you have offended?"

"I am afraid I have offended Mr. Leslie."

"Is it possible you think enough of a man of his age, indeed any age,
to trouble yourself about offending him or not?" said Laura.

"Why should not I?" said Elinor, aghast.

"Because," answered Laura, breaking out; "it is the most absurd thing
for a girl with any proper spirit, I ever heard of in my life."

"But I have no proper spirit," said Elinor, who felt that if Leslie
would forgive her, she would beg pardon from him with all her heart.

"You don't know even what it is," said Laura; "upon my word, your
conduct is perfectly indelicate. You might almost as well go and ask
him if he will be kind enough to accept you for his wife."

"His wife!" cried Elinor, quickly; "what has that to do with being
sorry to have displeased him? Wife! what can you mean?"

"Nonsense! I do hate affected innocence, and all that stuff, merely to
impose upon a man. Heaven knows they are open enough to flattery; but,
really you must allow me to say, that you persecute Mr. Leslie, with
yours. You follow him about, and look at him, and invite him to your
side, and force him, really force him to pay you attentions, which he
probably would willingly he paying elsewhere, only he can't get rid of
you."

"Oh! indeed, indeed, you mistake!" said Elinor, almost amazed to death;
"he can get rid of me any moment. Think how he went away yesterday
evening, and would not even say good night, and indeed I am afraid
to seem to be intrusive, and I never do put myself in his way, or do
anything to speak to him, unless it comes naturally from him."

"You mean, in short," said Laura, most disdainfully, "that his constant
attendance proceeds solely from his own wish for your society."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Elinor, bewildered; "I don't know any other
reason."

"Really, you are a perfect simpleton, or choose to seem so," said Laura.

"I dare say he is sorry for me," said Elinor, seeking excuses for
Leslie's kindness. "I am away from all my friends, and he is very, very
kind in giving me advice."

"And what right have you to ask him, rather than me," said Laura; "most
women like to consult women, rather than young men, and most people
will judge those who do otherwise, to be as forward and as bold, as I
must say, Elinor, you seem to me."

"Am I bold?" said Elinor, sadly, feeling so fearful, and so shy, that
she could not comprehend the reproach, and as Laura was habitually out
of temper with her, taking it as an instance of what she must meekly
bear from her hostess, rather than as a true accusation against herself.

It influenced her conduct however, towards Leslie, for under Laura's
eye she could not act with the total unconsciousness of her behaviour
hitherto; she was obliged to act by rule, for she had no feeling of
having transgressed a woman's duty, and therefore no impulse to direct
her. There was, however, always such quiet maidenliness about her,
that it was only by a shade that she was altered, and Leslie being on
his high horse, did not so much as perceive it, but thought all the
reserve, and all the withdrawal of friendliness was on his own side.

Sir Peter learned through Laura, that his plot had succeeded, and took
a boyish delight in the mischief made, over which he laughed with his
cousin, as two children do over a ringdove in a string, which they are
tormenting; but Elinor, if she did not offer apologies to her kind
friend Leslie, had no spirit or inclination to laugh or talk with Sir
Peter, and was almost as silent to him as she had been to Leslie, the
first time he sat by her at breakfast.

In this mood, the amusements of the day were arranged. Men have a way
of employing themselves at amusements, which causes their feelings
to become secondary to their sports, and thus Leslie, angry, even
anxious as he was, yet took it as a matter of course that he should
join heart and soul in the pastime suggested by Sir Peter, and accepted
by the Squire. This was a drag, which an adept sportsman was quickly
sent forward to lead over the country, choosing puzzling places, and
paths difficult to follow, in order to try the power of some young
blood hounds belonging to Mr. Chanson. The most perplexing pass thus
selected, was a profound gap in the country, at the bottom of which ran
the brook which formed the waterfall in the wood; and the rocky sides
of which fringed with trees and bushes, rose very far above the bed of
the stream.

On one side of this, Laura promised to take her station, and Elinor was
to accompany her in order to witness the achievements of the hounds
in these difficult circumstances. There is no faster running than a
drag, and luckily for the sportsmen, the day was a cool one, of the now
declining autumn, and the slight frost made the scent puzzling enough
to try the acumen of the eager hounds. They had a long circuit to make
before they should reach the final point where the ladies were to await
them, and these latter had arrived at the rendezvous some time before
any sound of the chase broke upon the amber stillness of the autumn
scene.

They sat down together on the stump of a tree, Laura holding a book,
and Elinor producing from the pocket of her black apron a bit of
curiously fine cambric, on which she was working a cobweb pattern, the
whole of which could have been rolled into a walnut shell. They were
quite silent. Elinor was afraid of Laura, and her spirits froze under
the unsympathetic influence. To-day, especially she was shut into
herself, and she mechanically pursued the occupation before her, so far
pleased that Laura did not disturb her in it.

At length the cheerfulest of sounds broke the silence, the distant
tongue of hounds, rising and falling, bursting out and subsiding.
It was a natural piano and forte exactly suiting woods and dingles,
and inspiring the ear, which heard them for the first time, with the
delight of an unexplored pleasure. Elinor, finely strung to sounds,
took in these with a curiosity and enjoyment which made her fingers
stay on her work, and her heart send a flush of blood into her
changeful cheeks.

"Are they coming?" she said, at last, half rising, and looking at her
companion.

"It seems so," said Laura, coldly, rising also; "I suppose you can hear
the hounds?"

"Yes, and now they are nearer; they seem going away again; there! do
listen, there's an echo."

"Everybody knows that," said Laura.

She walked forward, and Elinor by her side, they approached very
nearly the rocky gap worn by the water; they could hear the boom of
the waterfall far below and the unaccountable changefulness in the
intensity of its sound which running water gives out. It was a wide
gap, and presently the bay of the hounds increasing, they saw white
spots glancing among the underwood, then the whole shape and colour
of the hounds, full of the tension of the pursuit, and puzzling out
their way to the brink of the chasm. Here the foremost threw up his
head, and changed his note to one of distress; others came up, scented
the prey to the very edge, and then ceasing their cry of pursuit,
seemed measuring the leap, and with distracted anxiety ran to and fro,
tempting themselves to pass it.

At this moment a horseman arrived; he alighted, and cheered the hounds
to persevere. It was Mr. Chanson himself; he knew the secret pass
intended for them, but would only act like magical music, applauding
their better guesses, but not explaining wherein the achievement
lay. They were maddened to accomplish it, by his voice, and at last
the hound which first came up put himself over the edge, where there
seemed no hold, and whimpering at what he was about to venture, passed
down the rock a little way, seemed to find a point where the leap
was possible, and presently breaking out into music again, was seen
emerging almost perpendicularly on the other side of the chasm, and
away in full cry on the opposite bank. Once taught the way, the others
followed, and Mr. Chanson as soon as he saw they were over, turned his
horse up the stream, and gallopped away to a further point where was a
bridge. He met Sir Peter as he went, and turned him on the same path as
himself; a minute afterwards the third horseman came up, Leslie, making
straight to the chasm. His horse and he had been down, as appeared by
the mud they were covered with, and to make up for the time they had
lost, were going their best pace on the track the rider judged by the
sound, would bring him straight to the hounds.

As he neared the chasm, he caught a glance of the horsemen who were
now on the other side; he checked the speed of his horse a little,
encouraged him by his voice and hand, and then rode steadily towards
the leap. Laura, aware of the danger, cried to him to turn up the
stream, but though he saw the difficulty, and though he had no wish to
be killed, he was at the age, when it seems a matter of course _not_
to be killed, and not to fail; and disregarding her entreaties, put
his horse at the leap, and got safe over. Laura as pale as a corpse,
shrieked loudly as he leaped. Elinor, quite ignorant there was any
peril, was excited by the stirring sight, so that she clapped her
hands, laughed, and leaped with delight. Leslie saw them both, and when
the impetus following the leap slackened, he stopped his horse, and
giving up the pursuit turned him, and dismounted beside the ladies.

"They have run into it now," said he; "I may as well stop at once."

Laura had been so thoroughly frightened, that she did not instantly
recover. She remonstrated with him on the rashness with genuine
emotion, which he easily distinguished from any affected nervousness,
and was flattered by it; but it amused him much more to see Elinor's
excited look, which turned to perplexity, as she heard and saw Laura's
alarm.

"My horse did it gallantly, did not he?" said Leslie, looking cheerily
at Elinor, whose face caught and returned his smile.

"Like flying," said Elinor; "it was very pretty."

"How childish you are!" said Laura; "you know nothing of the danger."

"After all, there was none," said Leslie, "and the appearance of it
gave zest to the leap."

"It is very pleasant," said Elinor, "to see danger, if one is safe."

"How do you know that?" said Leslie.

"Because in the convent," said Elinor; answering quickly to his quick
question, "the waves used to dash against the garden wall, but could
not come in, and we all liked to be near them. But once the waves broke
over, and then we all ran away."

Leslie laughed, and looked investigatingly at Elinor's face which had
blushed brightly, as she replied to his imperative question, and he
was thinking why she blushed. Laura was little pleased at this effect
of Elinor's simplicity, and seeing him inclined to turn his attention
entirely to her young companion, suddenly declared herself tired, and
said they would go home. She chose a path along the rocky channel of
the brook, where no horse could be even led, and could not refrain from
turning her shoulder pettishly to Leslie as they parted. He scarcely
observed it, he had forgotten also his reigned anger with Elinor, and
he rode gently away, thinking of the little scene that had passed.

"How moveable her nature is," said he. "It was made on purpose,
I think, to complete mine, cast in my mould, when a man had been
completed, and it was fit only to form a woman."

CHAPTER VII.

ELINOR accepted peace with Leslie gladly and gratefully. Nothing
was said between them, but they resumed without words their former
position. He did not want--from her at least--any show of spirit, or
assertion of the rights of woman; the meek glad cordiality of the young
gift was what enchanted him.

"I should have taken Leslie for Elinor's lover, if you had not told me,
Laura," said her brother.

The word went like a dagger through her heart, but she smiled as though
the thing were beneath notice, and said merely, "Oh! _that_ little
girl! he is good natured to her." And Mr. Chanson was willing to adopt
her view of the subject. Nevertheless he would have been glad the
expected word should have been said, which plighted his guest and his
sister; and one morning as they stood together, after breakfast, in
front of a great dahlia bed, he broke out into words.

"This is all my sister's doing, the whole of this garden; I know
nothing of such matters, and it is very lucky for me to have a woman of
so much taste and manner at the head of my establishment."

Leslie had been profoundly meditating on Elinor, but roused himself to
answer. "Indeed it is; we are glad enough of the result, but we don't
like the trouble of providing for it beforehand."

"Laura is uncommonly clever about the management of one's house," said
her brother, "indeed about everything. She looks well, don't she, at
the head of one's table? I am proud of her."

"With great reasons," said Leslie.

Mr. Chanson was warmed by this agreement.

"And it is my good luck that a girl who might have her own house
in London, and do what she likes--for she has all her mother's
property--she is only my half sister, you know, and her mother had
Kitsal, you know, at her brother's death."

"Kitsal," said Leslie, absently, but with a kind of wise voice, as
though that word explained the whole matter.

"It was turned into money," said the Squire. "If Laura should ever
marry, I should try to keep her interested in the county by giving my
influence to bring her husband into Parliament; I could do it, sir.
They want a Whig, and at the next election, I could, and I would do it."

"That's an object worth every man's ambition," said Leslie. "I wonder
you never put yourself in, you would surely have liked it."

"No, no, it's not the place for me; I was young once, but I never could
hear anybody talk above ten minutes without falling asleep, and what
should I do therefore in the House of Commons? I leave all that to the
clever men and the fine gentlemen. It is not in _me_."

Mr. Chanson was pleased with himself for this successful exposition of
the advantages which an alliance with Laura held out, and when he saw
Leslie in the course of the day talking with his sister, he repeated to
himself with inward self applause "it works, it works!"

Sir Peter also tried to put in a good word for her; "Desperately fine
shoulders my cousin has," said he, looking at her in a becoming evening
dress; "she is a fine creature, don't you think so, yourself?"

"To be sure, everybody must; good colouring too--bright and clear."

"Yes, very unlike that little pale sparrow," said Sir Peter,
designating Elinor.

"Sparrow! oh yes! she chirps nicely, don't you think so, yourself?"
said Leslie.

"What her singing? I am not very learned about music, but I was much
indebted to her for obliging me so about that song the other night."

Nobody ever caught Leslie wincing under a sudden attack, he answered
readily. "Ay, she was conscientious in keeping her first engagement."

Sir Peter laughed; "I doubt," said he, "whether that would be uppermost
in her thoughts. Conventual as she has been, she has no objection to
learn the polite art of flirtation; you see that yourself?"

"Not I," said Leslie, "I've something else to do; and I apprehend if I
had not, that little sparrow would only chirp defiance at me."

"_I_ apprehend no such thing," said Sir Peter, "I mean to have a walk
and a talk with her to-morrow morning; just keep my secret, and don't
spoil sport."

"It is no matter of mine," said Leslie.

"You have other views, perhaps," said Sir Peter.

"What?" said Leslie, in a quite altered tone, which sounded very much
like, "Don't be impertinent."

But Elinor! Leslie felt she did not love him, that her regard was one
of respect and liking, such as she felt for the old Holy Mother in the
convent, only tempered by the unholiness of his sex and conversation,
and he did not know but what the giddy and prattling Sir Peter might
succeed in inspiring those feelings of which she was hitherto ignorant.
But _he_ could have no intentions except those of amusing himself for
the hour, and Leslie felt quite indignant that any man except himself,
should entertain views which could interfere with her happiness.
He resolved to warn her; and at dinner when a large party were all
talking, he asked her what were her engagements for the next day.
Elinor did not know that she had any.

"I said I would show Sir Peter where the stones with shells in them are
to be found," she added, after a pause.

"Why did you say you had no engagement, then?" said Leslie, abruptly.

His tone made her blush suddenly, for it alarmed her with the feeling
of having unconsciously said what she ought not; but after two or three
seconds she answered, "because I forgot it."

Leslie did not believe her, he saw the rising blood, and interpreted it
his own way; but the one truth told about her intended walk was enough
effort, without requiring a second about her motive, and he went on,
"Don't do as you promised."

"No?" said Elinor, astonished.

"Let older people show him the stones with shells in them," said he,
"you had better not."

"Why?" asked Elinor, "I once showed them to _you_."

"Yes--very true--but you know that as soon as you came to this new
scene, you thought I could be useful in giving you an insight into it,
and in advising you. I have done so to the best of my power, have I
not? so that you can be sure your fast friend."

"Indeed you are," said Elinor.

"Now you are not so sure of everybody--and unless you wish it very
much..."

"Oh! no; besides he can easily find the way if I tell him."

"Yes; and never mind saying much about it to anybody, that's my advice.
It will be better just not to do it."

Elinor instantly agreed; and after this they talked on other subjects,
about which, although Elinor laughed a great deal less than with Sir
Peter, she was far more deeply interested, and forgot every one else,
while his low voice, and her lower rejoinder was suffered to continue
uninterrupted.

"Oh! that inveterate flirt!" said Sir Peter to Laura, by whose side he
sat; and Laura with death in her heart, was cross to her cousin, and
conveyed in obscure language, which had a clear meaning for him, that
he did not help her, and was either clumsy or careless.

The boy was piqued at this, to strain his efforts for better success,
and it was therefore with eagerness that he watched next morning, lest
the promised walk should escape him; but, Leslie also had his attention
alive, and in order to give Elinor a good excuse for not going out,
he made use of a means, which no object less interesting could have
induced him to bring into play. This was a literary effort of his
own, a poem which he could willingly have read to a severe judge, who
would have treated it according to its own faults or merits; but very
unwillingly to an audience whose admiration was determined beforehand,
by the fact that it was their guest and friend who wrote it.

Laura's eagerness to accept his offer was based on exactly this reason.


"D'ailleurs tous nos parens sont sages, vertueux."

--BOILEAU.


"Oh! thanks, thanks, what a treat it will be! Peter, here's such a
pleasure for you, Mr. Leslie is going to read a poem of his own to us.
Oh! I am all impatience--such a treat."

"Nay," said Leslie, "how can you know that beforehand. I want your
opinion whether the thing is good or not."

"Oh! there can be no doubt of that. Come to my morning room, where we
shall not be interrupted; I could not endure any interruption. You
don't mind Elinor, do you, she is there already."

"Not in the least," said the candid Leslie. Accordingly, to this select
committee, he about half an hour after this time unfolded his MS.,
and told them it was a few verses, which he had a mind to send to a
magazine then in fashion, to see whether they would be accepted or not.

"Of course they must," said Laura, "they will be only too happy to
print anything _you_ may write."

"If they don't," said Leslie, "I shall be mortified that my verses
should be worse than those which they do print--but a man cannot judge
for himself. _I_ like them, but that is no test; I shall learn their
value from your decision."

"I know _THAT_ will be favourable," said Laura.

"And you, Miss Ladylift?" said Leslie, to Elinor.

"I can tell if I like them, or not; but that's all," said Elinor.

Leslie smiled, and Laura flattered herself he was comparing the
childish simplicity of the young girl, with her own confidence in his
genius. It was a poem of some ten or twelve quatrains, beginning,
"I stood within the graves o'ershadow'd vault," verses which were
afterwards sealed with public applause, and which delighted Leslie
himself; but, he had no confidence that they would be approved by
others. The approbation on this occasion was unbounded on the part of
the mistress of the house; but the author was not at all touched by it,
except so far as he considered it a homage to his own personal merits;
indeed he thought none of them able to form any useful judgment, but he
had a mind to hear what Elinor would say.

"It is too long, I think," said Elinor.

"Good heavens, too long!" cried Laura, "I only wish it were ten times
longer."

Elinor coloured up to her eyes, at being thus convicted of
misapprehension; but Leslie smiled brightly, and after a few seconds
said she was quite right; as he read it, he had himself been struck by
the necessity of cutting out some of the stanzas.

"It is very useful to read aloud what one has silently written," said
he; "which do you think I must take away?"

Elinor answered nothing at all to this, and Leslie had not expected she
could.

The morning had worn on meantime, and when the party seemed likely to
disperse, Elinor had withdrawn to her room, and it was plain to Sir
Peter that his chance was over for the present. He took Laura into
the conservatory just outside, and here their conversation soon began
to break into gleeful laughter, and exclamations of capital! and then
hush! and foolish boy! Leslie paid no attention, but went his way, with
his verses in his hand, remodelling what he thought faulty, and intent
on showing the approving answer of the magazine when it should arrive,
to his late audience.

In no long time after, he was summoned to luncheon, and then to an
expedition which had been arranged to a neighhouring lion. When the
ladies had gone upstairs to get their cloaks and bonnets, hats and
habits, Laura followed Elinor into her room, and in a friendly tone
asked whether she particularly wished to go to Gilbert's Glen.

"I should like it very much," said Elinor, not sure what answer the
question meant to get.

"Oh! then of course it is settled--it does not signify."

"What does not? I am quite willing to stay at home."

"What, really!" said Laura; "are you certain?"

"Quite, if you prefer it."

"Nay, in that case, you could do me a service. I meant to have gone
myself this morning, but Mr. Leslie's interesting poem prevented me.
I want some specimens from the Neenshill quarry to show Mr. Goell
to-night, and if you don't mind staying, you could get them while I am
away."

"Is Sir Peter going to Neenshill?" said Elinor, speaking suddenly the
thought that instantly occurred.

"Peter! no--he is to ride with me--what should take _him_ there?"

Elinor coloured again, at her mistake, and willingly undertook Laura's
commission. Pleased at her success, Laura descended the staircase,
and found the party assembled in the hall, some for riding, some for
driving.

"Isn't Miss Ladylift coming?" said Sir Peter.

"Well! do you know, she has changed her mind," said Laura; "she says
she thinks the day too hot, though I don't know that it is hotter than
it was. I can't persuade her, she thinks she had better stay quietly in
her room--her head aches she says."

Thus glibly lying, Laura got into the phaeton, and the party set off.

Leslie had been appointed to drive Laura; therefore he saw nothing of
the movements of the rest, till they arrived at the destined place, and
assembled to walk up the glen; then both he and his companions missed
Sir Peter.

"Oh! such a misfortune!" said one of the girls who had come on
horseback, "that beautiful horse of Mr. Chanson's, which Sir Peter was
riding, fell lame."

"Really," cried Laura, "how annoyed my brother will be."

"And Sir Peter thought best to ride it back gently, when we were about
half-way."

"The best thing he could do," said Laura.

Leslie meantime spoke to the groom who had accompanied the riding
party. "What's the matter with the horse?" said he, indifferently.

"Don't think there's nothing, sir," said the groom; "but Sir Peter took
it quite on his-self."

Leslie feared Sir Peter had taken more interesting matter on his-self
than conveying home a lame horse, and instantly he suspected Elinor of
being a party to this pre-arranged lameness of Rampage; and he resolved
to know what it all meant.

He followed the party who had walked forward into the glen, and
expressing his admiration of the scene to Laura, said he should like
to climb the right side of the valley, where the rocks were steepest,
and would join her again at the farthest outlet; but, if he should not
be arrived by the time they reached it, they were not to wait. Laura
gave an easy assent, which was more than he expected; but he had been
prepared to disregard any remonstrance she might make, and therefore
at once struck away into the wood, and having lost sight of the rest,
turned, and came straight to the inn where the horses were being put
up. The present of a sovereign convinced the groom that it could do
the horse he had ridden no harm to turn round and carry Mr. Leslie
home, and that he, the groom, was to return in the vacated seat of the
phaeton. Accordingly Leslie mounted and riding gently away for the
first quarter of a mile gradually increased his horse's speed, till
he was going at a good hand-gallop back on the road to Chanson Wood.
Had Sir Peter been cautiously riding a lame horse, Leslie must have
overtaken him, but he did no such thing, and this convinced him more
and more that the sudden lameness was a mere fiction, fitting into the
sudden headache which he believed to be equally fictitious.

When he came to the house, nobody was there--the servants knew
nothing--had not seen Miss Ladylift go out or come in. Leslie had met
with Rampage in the stableyard being led about quite cured of his
lameness, but not yet of his perspiration; his own horse required
similar cares, and the head groom uttered anathemas upon young
gentlemen's "hignorance of orses," such as often follow upon young
gentlemen's excited passions which the grooms leave out of the account
when they attribute all to "hignorance."

Turning at once to the wood, Leslie strode along the path which led
to the quarry, with all the feelings of an injured man, and in a very
short time had reached the hill, the highest point of which contained
the quarry. It was dotted with trees in natural clumps, growing from
rocky ledges which broke out over the surface from top to bottom, and
among these the path wound, appearing and disappearing in its descent
to the level ground. He stood a moment at the bottom, feeling that his
appearance in pursuit of his rival would not wear a very dignified
aspect, and while this occurred to him, two figures emerged for a
moment from the wood to an open space and again disappeared among the
trees. Leslie's eyes were fixed on the next opening, devouring the
space beforehand; again the figures came and vanished, but nearer and
plainer, and near and plain enough to know they were Elinor and Sir
Peter. Leslie ground his teeth--to be deceived was one of the bitter
feelings-that a creature so guileless as she _seemed_ should have
deceived, and been believed by _him_, was another. He thought at first
he would meet and confound her by mere silence--then he would have
given much not to have returned, and not to be found out by her in such
interest as to watch her.

Under this sudden thought he dashed into the thick of the wood, and
there, from safe distances, again fixed his eyes on the path along
which they must go. They passed very near, Sir Peter carrying her
basket, and talking with great animation. Elinor's face was hidden
by her great hat and veil; she was saying nothing as she passed, but
how could she when her companion was so loquacious? enough, enough,
she was walking with him! They passed on, and Leslie strode away,
burying himself in the woods till nearly dinner time, and then dressed
furiously, and came down to the drawing-room as placidly and calmly as
if not one disturbed thought raged within.

"What became of you, Mr. Leslie?" said Laura; "did you lose your way in
the glen?"

"No," said Leslie; "but I got so entirely away from the place where we
were to have met, that I resolved to borrow your groom's horse, and
ride home without waiting for you."

Laura let the subject drop. "Look here," she said, turning to the
table; "Elinor has been so kind as to get me some fossils to show Mr.
Goell this evening, and after all that tiresome man is not come. They
are beautiful, are they not?"

"Very," said Leslie, and turned to Elinor. "You got as far as the stone
quarry then," said he, in the blandest tone, "this hot day?"

Irreproachable as the voice was, it made her colour.

"Yes," she said, in a low voice; "but..." the disjunctive
conjunction was indicated, not spoken through, and Leslie, taking up
two or three in his hand, said "You must have had a great weight to
carry. Your arm must ache, does it not?"

"No," said Elinor; "for Si..."

"I had the honour of sparing Miss Ladylift that trouble," said Sir
Peter.

"Oh--yes!" said Leslie, as if the explanation were most satisfactory,
and he would not catch the eyes of Elinor, which he felt sought his, to
explain or deprecate, or deceive--he thought the latter.

And now for the next few days Leslie behaved like a brute to Elinor; a
polished brute, bringing her shawl, setting her chair, opening the door
with frigid politeness, but never once looking her in the face; never
coming near for a word of explanation, never entering into what she
said or did; never including her in any project or employment. All the
time he felt he was straightening, rather than loosing the bond between
them, for he was aware she was intent upon explanation, and that at any
moment by a return to kindliness he could open all the pent-up feelings
of that guileless heart; yes, guileless, for in his most secret thought
he was convinced there was no guile in Elinor, though he chose to say,
even to himself, there was.

Meantime, she was so unhappy that she sometimes rebelled against it;
she seriously thought she would return to her convent, and hide herself
from a world where plainly nobody cared for her. When all her efforts
to speak to Leslie, and to conciliate him, failed--when he persevered
in mortifying her, and in affecting unconsciousness of her presence,
her heart rose quite full of tears, and seemed too swollen for her
bosom.

"What right has he to make me so unhappy," she said to herself, but
Leslie did not melt, though he saw her eyes cloud with what he knew
were tears, suppressed though they might be.

Laura saw all this and was delighted; she thought her plans were
working their full effect; and Leslie's attention to her, which was
mostly aimed at vexing Elinor, she readily deceived herself into
thinking was wholly to please herself. She was in great spirits; she
looked very handsome, and did all that she could imagine would best
please her favoured guest. His poem she continually brought forward
till he dreaded the very mention of it. Every post, she remembered
not to forget her interest about the expected answer, and each time
she expressed her conviction that the editor would only not know how
to give it sufficient welcome. Leslie felt confident enough of that
also, but the _pudeur_ of composition (when the author has written
what he felt) made him shrink from so much talk about it. It was the
fourth morning after his estrangement from Elinor that the letters as
usual being brought round at breakfast, Laura's inquiry again broke
in on Leslie's glance over those laid beside him. "Is there an answer
yet?"--and he, breaking open the seal of a business-like looking one,
ran his eye down the page, and replied in rather an unnecessarily
indifferent tone:

"Yes, they refuse it." Laura had not much tact; instead of dropping so
distasteful a subject, she could not let it alone.

"Impossible! how absurd! and the things they do take, yet refuse
yours!--for _my_ part I thought they would have seized upon it like a
gold mine! Well they don't know their own interest."

"That is just what they _do_ know," said Leslie; "what is likely to
please, they are certain to adopt," and he folded each fold of the
paper, and put it into his pocket.

"I only wish you would give it me," said Laura; "I would print it,
and show the world what poetry is." So she went on, not conscious how
this effort to show the author was not mortified, pressed on him the
assurance that everybody saw he was.

Leslie, however, turned the matter into laughter, wished his enemy
might write a book; and, in fact, took the rejection to heart very
little after the first moment of making it public. But Elinor had seen
that he was vexed for some instants, and when the ladies were lingering
in the morning-room before separating for their several avocations, she
had heard Laura making much of it to the circle round her.

"Poor Mr. Leslie," she said; "I'm sorry for Mr. Leslie, he bore it
pretty well."

In the innocence of her heart, Elinor deduced that he had suffered a
great fall, that he was humbled, he who had been so proud and lofty in
every way. She glided away, unnoticed; and with a beating heart reached
the door of the library, where Leslie was reading, forgetful, probably
of the whole matter; or, if he thought of it at all, merely resolving
to annihilate the editor some day or other, by giving all his support
to the rival magazine. He did not look up, though he saw in a mirror
opposite that it was Elinor, and his heart quickened its throb in
consequence; but he would not relax from his unkindness.

She had laid her little plan for doing him a sort of homage, in what
she looked upon to be adverse circumstances, and in pursuance of it
had already sought for, and found a book, the only circumstance about
which that interested her, was that the text in one page was mixed
with a certain number of Latin verses, which verses she meant to be
her allies in her harmless stratagem. Yet she hesitated for a minute
before carrying her plan into execution, and in the mirror he contrived
to watch her, without attracting her observation. He saw her timid
approach, he marked the pause she made, and how she lightly pressed her
small white teeth upon her under lip, like one in perplexity about the
thing she was going to do. Presently she resolved to come forward, and
did so hastily; upon which, Leslie rose, and was ceremoniously placing
a chair for her, when she broke in.

"No, I don't want to sit down, I want to ask you if you will explain
this Latin for me."

He took the book a little surprised at her request, and read into
English four lines beginning--


"Pannonis haud aliter post ictum Saevior Ursa."


"Thank you," said Elinor, looking him in the face, "you know
everything, you can do everything. How pleasant to be so clever as you
are."

Leslie returned her look, trying to comprehend what this little scene
meant.

"What book is it," said he, "where you have found this passage?" and he
turned to the title page of the little volume. Elinor did not know; she
held out her hand for it.

"It is," said she, "it is..." and she tried to catch the title at
the top of the page, Leslie saw in a moment that she knew nothing about
it.

"Have you read it through, as far as this?" said he.

"Not quite," said Elinor.

"It is a volume of Montaigne's Essays," said Leslie. "What would the
Reverend Mother say, if she knew you had such a book in your hands?"

"Would she be angry?" said Elinor, in sincerest alarm.

"Nay, does not it strike you as you read, especially now this twentieth
Essay," (he knew perfectly well she had not read a word of it)--"that
she would hardly have thought it a fit study for her pupil?"

"Would not she indeed," said Elinor, "Oh! indeed I did but just look at
it a very little."

"If you had looked a very little more," said Leslie, "I should not have
had the pleasure of being your interpreter, for here is the Latin done
into French at the bottom of the page."

"Is there?" said Elinor, more embarrassed, "I did not think--that is I
thought..."

"You thought," said Leslie, his whole manner changing to tenderness,
"that I was vexed, and you came to raise my self-esteem."

"No, no, not vexed," she murmured.

"Yes, indeed; do not deny it. I see it, like a glimpse of Paradise.
How gentle, how womanly--all I could have aspired to, would have been
forgiveness, for I have done very ill, but you no sooner fancy me
humbled, than your generosity comes to put me higher than I was before."

"Indeed," said Elinor, "I wanted to know the meaning."

"Indeed no," said Leslie; "you had something better in view. You acted
from the impulses of your noble heart. How inferior I am--despicable.
If I might ever reach to your height--nay, do hear me, Elinor--I begin
to know myself."

"I know you are good and clever," said Elinor.

"Good? alas! but I may become so. All good is possible in contact
with such lovely goodness. Elinor! I cannot tell whether there is any
feeling in your heart for me, beyond that which you would have for your
father confessor; but in mine, there is a perfect love for you, which
I did not know I was capable of. Love me! love me! Oh! Elinor, say you
can love me enough to be my wife."

Elinor stood speechless, puzzled by his change of manner, uncertain
whether he was displeased at first, amazed at his earnest expressions,
and perfectly bewildered by the prayer to which it all led.

"How can I tell," she said, at last, and Leslie's earnestness increased
with his uncertainty.

"Is there no answer for me but that," he said; "what does it mean,
Elinor, am I such a stranger to all your thoughts, am I so indifferent
to you, that you cannot tell whether you think kindly of me?".

"Oh yes! I can tell that," said Elinor, "you know you are my only
friend."

"And is not your only friend fit to ask you for _his_ only friend, the
nearest, dearest friend--his wife?"

"That only Mr. Chanson can tell," said Elinor.

"Oh! your guardian? yes, I understand you now; but it is your answer,
not his, that I want; Elinor, I am not asking your guardian to be my
wife."

Elinor smiled, and her bright, shy eyes were kindled almost to
laughter, but she answered with a grave voice. "It is only he, who can
determine for me about such things."

"So they say in your convent," said Leslie, "but consider how many
things were told you there, which differ from what you have learned
in the world. Think, most precious Elinor, is it he who can tell, or
you, whether you would be pleased at dwelling always where I dwell, at
being as certain that my heart is full of you, as that you say your
daily prayers, at making my life, (and yours with mine) good and happy;
at knowing all I know, no secret ever between us, and if we have any
trouble, having it together, and knowing exactly the measure and weight
of each other's pain as well as pleasure?"

Elinor was silent, but she was listening to every word; her eyes had
fallen from his, but her hand rested in the grasp of his two hands.

"Can any tell all this, except yourself? Can you not tell it now?
answer me, only answer may I love you."

"I thought I had made you angry," said Elinor.

"Oh! never think that again--be my wife, and such thoughts could never
come--there would be but one thought between us, neither you could
doubt me, nor I you; would not there be a pleasure in that?"

"Yes," said Elinor, thinking, "he will never suspect me again," while
through Leslie's mind it glanced--

"She played me false about that rendezvous with Bicester, but never
mind, I won't tempt her to tell me stories." Aloud he said, "Then tell
me your own self you are mine. Say there is so much happiness for me
in this world, land for you too, happiness--is it not--will it not
be?" and now his hand unforbidden got round her waist. Elinor began to
understand him.

"Yes--it is more happiness than I ever thought of," she said; "but Mr.
Chanson must say if I may."

"No, no; not yet, at least, you have nothing to ask from him; it will
be enough that he should be told by and by. This is our own concern,
that the world's. Why should they meddle, and whisper, and smile; to us
it is serious, it is sacred? Why should every fool know our precious
secret?"

Elinor was glad to be allowed silence, she would have felt it a painful
task, to say anything so interesting to Mr. Chanson, to whom she never
talked; or to Laura, of whom she was afraid; and she went out of that
room full of a consciousness of the great thing that had happened, yet
apparently as much the same quiet Elinor, as it was possible to be.

Leslie was equally self-controlled, he wished beyond measure to keep
his secret, and therefore succeeded; there was no covert thought
prompting either of them to let it be discovered, and therefore there
was a perfect simplicity and good faith in their manner of doing it.

The days following were a time of incredible happiness to Leslie. He
had been vanquished by generous and good feelings suddenly getting the
mastery over him, and he was lifted above the base purposes which he
had entertained towards Elinor. He enjoyed his own better feelings,
the nobler part of his nature took the place of the baser, and had an
artistic attraction for him; he felt himself freer for great things
than before, he had the pleasure of loving what was not himself, yet
his own; and although he was unable to conceive the guileless purity of
the young girl, he was more and more captivated by the degree of it,
which he could not help discerning, as he became more intimate with
her thoughts and ways. Elinor was awakening to the hopes and happiness
of life; the Being under whose influence these prospects unfolded
themselves, became her one interest, and identified himself with all
her feelings. She opened her heart to his love, and mused upon his
home, his society, their position together as dwellers under one roof,
mused with the innocence of a child which hears many things, but has
no interpreter within, by which to understand them. She would have
been contented with this state of things for an indefinite length of
time, but Leslie began to entertain some remorse as to the part he was
playing by Laura.

"She must be told," he said to himself. "It is due to her generous
behaviour towards me, and my position as guest of her house. I will
tell her, if nobody else."

Accordingly, one morning, when he knew her to be alone in her
sitting-room, he bade Elinor make some pretence for going to her there,
and when she had been in the room for a few minutes, he also knocked at
the door, and on hearing permission, went in. Laura rose hastily, with
a look of sudden wonder, and of some other emotion which prompted her
to get rid of Elinor by all means.

"Have you found what you want, dear child," she said; "there, yes,
that's it, is not it?..." but Leslie interrupted her.

"Nay," he said, "it was I who told--begged, that is, her to be here. We
want your concurrence." He observed, though without fixing his eyes on
Laura's face that there was a kind of horror in it, such as comes when
an object of phantom-like dread rises before one, and the mind refuses
to believe it. He immediately finished his sentence. "This lady,"
Leslie indicated Elinor, "consents to be my wife. I owe it to you that
you should be the first informed."

The blood forsook Laura's lips; her heart it was plain had stopped,
so far as a heart can stop which is to go again. The nerves relaxed,
so that the strong will could hardly make instruments of them; but
she did force them to act. She smiled as some one among us may have
seen a dying man attempt to smile when the power over his muscles was
half departed; she looked on both with eyes where were no tears, the
conventionalities of society held them back. Leslie went on speaking,
without appearing to observe her.

"And now we shall look to your kind offices for counsel and assistance
in our project, and for making known to the world in general what we
thought it right to bring first to the best friend of both."

"Not yet," said Laura, speaking with a steadily, uniform voice; "my
brother has so little thought of such a thing, that he would, perhaps,
throw obstacles in the way."

"Obstacles!" said Leslie, carelessly.

"No, not that, but he might be angry with her I mean; it would so
disturb him."

"Believe me," said Leslie; "we are both willing to leave it to you to
make the discovery when you like. Neither of us shall interfere on that
subject, if one way or another seems better to you."

"It is merely your advantage I think of," said Laura.

"Of that I am _QUITE_ sure," said Leslie: in order to convey some
pleasant impression to Laura's mind.

"And now," he said, "I'll leave my little betrothed with you to get
some woman's talk about fringe and so on. She wants a friend on all
matters as you well know, and I humbly beg for one than whom she could
not anywhere find a better." Leslie drew back, courteously applying his
compliment by a slight indication of his head, and quitted the room,
after an encouraging glance at Elinor.

When he was gone, the agitation of the scene acted upon Elinor, and
she could not restrain her tears, while she tried to possess herself
of Laura's hand, but Laura's efforts were exhausted; she drew away her
hand as if it had come in contact with a fester, or a nest of snakes,
and forcing open the door to her bed-room flung it behind her, and
fell on the floor by her bed, totally giddy and beside herself for a
brief time. In some people, their first thought under a sudden shock
is, that the thing is not; or that it will cease to be. In the worst of
her anguish this latter idea spread a gloomy light through the thick
darkness, otherwise no strength of hers could have supported it. It was
that which by degrees gave consistency to her thoughts, and upon which
her mind as tenaciously laid hold, as the falling man, on the bush
which grows over the edge of the precipice. She collected her senses
and forced her mind into action, not with any view ever entertained for
a moment of making the best for herself and others of what had taken
place, but with the desperate purpose of destroying it at no matter
what sacrifice.

The first thing was to gain time, and this her instinct had already
prompted her to do, when she besought Leslie to keep the secret for
awhile. What was to follow she ran over in her head, and sate in her
tranquil room, among all, the pretty luxuries of toilette and draperied
mirror, of _flaçons_ and flowers, leaning her rounded cheek on her
hand, while the natural folds of rich silk fell around her figure,
and all this time was brooding the project which should immolate the
innocent girl, and the beloved man to the idol enshrined in her own
person.

To this end she laid her plan, and with farsighted anticipation she
soon after sought her brother, and engaged him by gentle degrees in
a conversation on his political interest, which had always a certain
charm for him. There was some property at a little distance lately
acquired by him, where the votes of the tenants were less their
landlord's than those which had longer felt his subject of discourse,
and suggested the propriety of "at some future time, any leisure day,"
cultivating their acquaintance and gaining a hold on their opinions.

Her brother assented, but complained of the tediousness of the
operation. Laura hinted that he should lighten the disgust by taking a
companion; some one, she said, who would do credit to the cause, and
whom he might recommend to them whenever there was occasion.

"Why not speak out," said Mr. Chanson; "there is one I should be glad
enough to recommend, if you can tell me _you_ wish it."

"Nay, you know all I know about him," said Laura.

"All?"

"Yes, and far more than any other human being ever can know."

"Then I wish it were more, for my dear little Laura is not the woman to
be trifled with."

"No, no, don't say such a word. I understand him, and so he does me.
Only be best friends with him, and give him an interest among us."

"I will do anything for you, sister," said he; "you are as clever as
you are handsome, and deserve the very best man wit and money can gain.
I shall be sorry to part with you, that is all. But if you gain by it,
I won't think of myself."

"Thank you, Lawrence," said Miss Chanson, and the kindness breathed
over her heart like dew upon some burning, arid plain. The tears came
to her eyes, and she hid them on his shoulder.

"You are happy, Laura?" said he, inquiringly; "you are satisfied?"

"Yes," said Laura; "oh, yes, I am." It was very hard to form those
words, but she succeeded.

She had provided in this manoeuvre for securing the absence of Leslie
whenever her plans should require such a movement to work out the
present details. She had only her cousin Peter to help her, and in the
late circumstances of apparent estrangement between Leslie and Elinor,
he had been laid aside as not wanted. Now, however, he was her chief
hope; and the day of his departure drawing very near, what he had to do
must be done without delay.

"Peter," she said, "we are all going to walk after luncheon. Now that
little flirt will enjoy a _tête-à-tête_ with you. I really think she
begins to get an appetite for it."

"Do you think so," said her cousin; "well she shows it in an odd way.
How uncommonly silent she is, except to Leslie."

"Oh! she torments him to death," said Laura, "he was saying to me this
morning that he wished--wished--that is..."

"What, Laura?"

"He came, Peter, to my room to speak to me; and she was there, and
would not go away."

"My dear Laura!"

"No, no, nonsense; I don't know what he had to say, but with her in the
room, and so determined to stay..."

"Yes, yes; but during the walk this afternoon there may be a better
opportunity. Well, cousin Laura, you know it will break my heart, but I
devote myself, I cover my head with a white mantle, and stretch out my
hands to the infernal gods."

"What nonsense you talk, dear Peter."

"Shall we take a gentle walk in the woods?" said Laura, to the party
after luncheon, "the autumn colours are growing beautiful, and the day
is neither too hot nor cold."

Everybody agreed, and they assembled gradually under the portico, as
they were ready, previous to the start. Leslie had gently driven Laura
into a corner, and in the fulness of contentment with himself and
others, was asking questions sufficiently embarrassing.

"Have you taught her, Miss Chanson, how to cut out cloaks and gowns;
and what to do with a housekeeper?"

Laura commanded her voice, and made some trifling answer.

"You know it is to you only I can talk on the subject," Leslie went on;
"in the first place, I have no mind to let everybody into my affairs,
and in the next, you bid me be silent for the present."

"Oh yes! be silent," said Laura, "I have more reasons than one for that
request. Pray say nothing yet."

"That you command me is sufficient reason," said Leslie, who felt that
he owed her some reparation.

"You yourself, perhaps, may find reason to thank me," said Laura.

"Nay, I thank you already. The one point being gained, of security in
the regard of that little lady, I am grateful for every evidence of
interest in either her, or me."

"How happy you are in a confiding, honest nature," said Laura.

"People always despise those whom they call confiding," said Leslie,
"and those despised persons always presume on their own particular
clear-sightedness, and say others may be taken in, but as for them it
is impossible."

"Heaven forbid, that it should happen to you!" said Laura, then hastily
went on. "You talk so loftily about despising, and being despised, like
one who knows there is no such word for him; but come, the party is all
assembled now I think."

She moved a step forward, and so did Leslie, and saw that Elinor
was standing just within the door, and that the officious Sir Peter
had offered her his arm for the walk. Laura eagerly watching also,
perceived that Elinor lifted her eyes to Leslie, and that a slight
glance of intelligence passed between them, after which Elinor
demurely took the offered arm, and proceeded with Sir Peter. That look
wrenched the dagger round in Laura's heart; it was the thing which her
imagination had represented as most intolerable, the familiar token
which both understood, and from which all others were shut out; her
insidious words had fallen useless, and now, friendly as Leslie might
be, faithfully as he kept by her side, he did but confirm her anguish
by a behaviour which was so friendly, merely because he had made her
the confidant of his successful love for another. She could not play
out her part to the end to-day. She was obliged to complain of a
headache before the walk was over, and sank into silence, which this
excuse justified, and which with her throbbing head and dry lips, it
was impossible for her to avoid. When they reached home again, she went
straight to her room, and appeared no more, accepting Elinor's timid
offers of service, in order to keep her away from the society of Leslie.

For a time she preserved the impenetrable silence which her feelings
dictated and which Elinor, frightened at the repulses she met, shrank
into herself to observe; but at last, as she slowly won self-command,
she resolved to employ the time in preparing the ground for the scheme
before her, and however odious to herself to enter into conversation
with the happy young girl.

"How was this all arranged, dear?" she began, in an invalid tone, "tell
me about it."

Elinor was as little inclined as she to pour out confidences, but she
hesitated not to answer.

"I was afraid he was angry," she began...

"Well," said Laura, impatiently.

"I was afraid he was unhappy," said Elinor.

"What do you mean?" again said Laura, hastily.

"He seemed angry."

"Oh! nonsense--what stuff--what made him angry?"

"Your cousin..." Elinor began, but was glad to be interrupted by
her imperious sympathizer.

"By the by, I wanted to speak about Peter; he is a very young man, and
you must not make mischief. You have been talking a great deal with
him, you know _that_ surely; and flirting, the world would say, and
now that another man is going to marry you, that man may take fancies
against Peter; you must say nothing against Peter, that's the only
reparation you can make."

"I have never..."

"Yes, you have--never mind that. Have you talked to Mr. Leslie about
that time when you stayed at home on account of a bad headache you had,
and then walked to the stone quarry?"

"Had I a bad headache?"

"Yes, of course, you can't forget that."

"I don't think..."

"Yes, very bad, you did not drive with me to the glen on account of it."

Elinor was silent.

"Have you talked to him about it? I say."

"No."

"Oh! that's very well, then do not. I know that you and Peter went
together."

"No...he..."

"Well, came back together, from the stone quarry, and if you were to
make a long story about it to Mr. Leslie, there is no knowing what
might happen. It was foolish, perhaps thoughtless that is, in my dear
cousin, but merely that, scarcely that; and Mr. Leslie is so proud,
he might take the greatest offence, he might shoot him dead, my poor
cousin."

"Might he really?" said Elinor.

"So promise me one thing, never to say one word about that walk--now
promise."

"I never will, if I can help it."

"Oh! you _can_ help it of course. Promise."

"I promise, as far as I can," said Elinor.

"Can! ridiculous! however, that will do, and now pray let me be quiet.
I really cannot talk any more, my poor head in such a state."

And now putting her hand to her head, she leaned it down against the
back of her easy chair, and there in anything but ease, she acted
the motionless invalid, in which character she could escape further
conversation, yet retain the young girl as nurse, and watch in her
room. This lasted till bed time, and a severe trial it was.

When at last she had dismissed Elinor, with severe directions to go
at once to her chamber, and had got rid of the importunate services
of her maid, she was at liberty to start up, and walking through her
room, to give vent to the bodily expressions of the tempest in her
mind. The one fixed purpose was that the marriage of Elinor and Leslie
should be prevented. She had ceased to justify that purpose to herself,
and had reached the point when the right or wrong was cast aside, and
the end only, kept resolutely in view. When all the house was quiet,
when her brother had come, and tenderly stroked her hair, asking how
his little Laura did now; when he was gone, carefully closing the door
without noise behind him, Laura unlocked her desk, pressed the spring
of the secret drawer within, and took out a slip of written paper,
poor Elinor's note to Leslie, which had fallen on the ground the night
of their interview in the wood. And there in the early hours, between
night and morning, when she ought to have been stretched in maiden
slumber on her bed, when she ought to have been profiting by the
safety and the indulgence of her prosperous position, Laura sat cold
and weary, yet absorbed from such feelings, patiently effacing by the
smallest advances one letter after another from the harmless billet, in
order to replace them by others which should carry condemnation to the
guiltless writer. Her brother's name was the word she rubbed out; and
then with a pen, prepared with the most delicate touches of the knife,
and tried twenty times before it suited her, Leslie's was the one she
put in. Now it stood--

"I cannot come to-night. Mr. Leslie forbids me to go out.--ELINOR
LADYLIFT."

This note thus altered, she purposed to convey to Sir Peter as coming
from Elinor, and from him it should pass either by Sir Peter, or by
Laura herself to Leslie, whom she trusted it would persuade of Elinor's
falsity, and by so doing wrench two hearts asunder. There were chances
of an explanation between them, and _that_ Laura saw with fearful
distinctness; should it take place, her plot was ruined, and she
herself with it--where should she be then?

"Hated, despised!" she cried to herself; "for ever parted from him.
But so I am now. Can it be worse than to see _her_ in my place. Oh!
nothing is worse. Death were most dear in comparison..." and as she
said so, tears of self-compassion broke from her eyes, and she laid her
head on her arms and wept. Presently she rose from this position, and
letting her dressing-gown fall from her shoulders, put one knee on her
luxurious bed, and laid herself down beneath the fine woollen, fine
linen of the bed clothes.

"Alas!" she said to herself, "if the felicity which I labour through
all obstacles to attain were mine by the gracious course of fortune and
fate, how good I could be, how kind to others, how grateful myself!"

CHAPTER VIII.

THE next morning, after breakfast, Leslie contrived to say to Elinor,
that he had been unjustly deprived of her society the previous evening,
and that she must come out and walk with him.

"Miss Chanson can say nothing against it," he added; "for you need only
answer her that you are going with your affianced husband, and her
brother won't think of us one way or the other."

"Besides," said Elinor, "he will be at the stable for the next half
hour, and Miss Chanson will have the housekeeper almost directly. I can
come down the turret stair and out by the great Datura."

"We are doing all we can to spoil the most guileless nature in the
world," said Leslie to himself; "when she came here, such a woman's
calculation as that was out of the reach of her imagination. Well,
well, she is a creature of whom I am most unworthy, be she spoiled a
little or not."

In about a quarter of an hour Elinor did as she had proposed and joined
him in the garden, and then seizing her hand he led her into the park
and out thence to the fields, and soon they were quite away from all
frequented track. It was an autumn day, the heavy mists were golden
with the sun which was vigorously dispelling them from the valleys and
brook courses, and lifting them up all gorgeously from the glowing
earth. The red berries of the wild convolvulus hung in long festoons
upon the hedges, and its yellow leaves shone like pale gold in the
sun. The wild cherry trees were glowing with bright red, the birch all
amber; the ferns dressed the hill sides with their rich shapes and
colours, and the hills drew nearer than usual, with every white house
and spire distinct on their intense blue. A fragrance of vegetation
came and went on the breeze; perhaps it was the breath of dying Nature,
but it pleased the lungs with its exciting draught.

"I feel my heart beating," said Elinor; "at seeing everything so
beautiful. Why does it beat?"

"Because everything is so beautiful," said Leslie, smiling.

"And you told me I might enjoy the pleasure," said Elinor.

"Yes, it is fitted to give enjoyment. It is innocent; you feel no
regret afterwards."

"No, I don't," said Elinor; "but I should have done so in my convent,
because I was taught to fear the things I liked. It was you who taught
me differently."

"Yes; but at all events do whatever you think is right," said Leslie.
"I only meant to say that whatever is _good_ and pleasant you may do."

"I think," said Elinor, "that walking through this autumn country, and
my hand held by yours is both."

"Both, both," said Leslie; "and it will soon be our right for ever. We
shall be never parted, Elinor; never, not at all, together always, and
it will be right to be so; do you understand?"

"Yes," said Elinor, her calm, maidenly face looking straight forward;
"there will be no stranger to interrupt our talk, no necessity to ask
anybody's leave to walk with you. I may sit in the room where you
write, and work without talking; when you like, I may sing what you
only like; if you are tired you can sleep without caring whether I am
there or not, and I _shall_ be there watching that neither the sun nor
the flies disturb you. I have been thinking of all those things."

Leslie was silent. It was a new, strange pleasure to hear the
meditations of that innocent heart. He believed at that hour what
so very few men have the enjoyment of believing, the purity and
guilelessness there can be, and is, in many young girls. His pleasure
was like that of a man who gets sight of an unsunned treasure, which
the earthly air and light he lets in will soon crumble away; but which
_is_ there and _has been_ there in perfection, for all the time before
he discovered it. The loveliness of the day, the accidents of the scene
gave scope to the easy happiness they were enjoying. It grew hot,
and Elinor untied her bonnet in the shade, and Leslie took it from
her to carry, maltreating the ribbons as he talked and walked, and
then laughing with Elinor at his male ignorance of their nature and
wants. They came to a steep slope, and beginning to move quicker and
quicker down it, ended by running at the top of Elinor's speed, so that
laughing, and the blood mounting in her cool cheek, she came to the
bottom holding tight by Leslie's arm, while he kept her safely on her
feet, and laughed with her at nothing but their own spirits, and their
own active frames.

There, as they coasted along a high bank with an irregular hedge on the
crest, Elinor's eye was caught by something hounding about in the fern,
and in a moment they saw it was a leveret which seemed at play so near
them. Elinor paused to look, but Leslie saw how it was, and said it was
caught in a noose, and the string was tightening round its neck.

"Oh! how cruel, how wicked!" said Elinor; "who could! loose it do,
pray." Leslie, to obey Elinor, went up the bank and tried to lay hold
of the leveret, which, half dead as it was, still sprang about to avoid
him.

"It will die," cried Elinor, the tears almost running over; "oh! do
catch it," and she also scrambled up, and helped Leslie to try to lay
hold of it. At last they succeeded. Then Leslie, with one hand upon the
suffocated little beast, searched his waistcoat pocket for a knife, and
gave it to Elinor to open, and to insinuate it between the leveret's
neck and the string in order to set it free. He watched her earnest
face, all given over to pity and interest; her fear to give pain, her
resolution to venture it, her disgust at suffering inflicted; and she,
thinking of nothing but the leveret, most delicately, most skilfully
got in the knife, and drawing the sharp edge across the string released
it. The poor leveret, under the sudden revulsion of blood to its
natural course, lost all active power, and lay motionless.

"Poor brute, it's all over," said Leslie, putting it on the grass;
but Elinor was not so indifferent. She raised its head upon a little
tussock, stroked it gently, pitied it, while her lover stood by smiling
at the pretty picture; and at last the leveret began to move, and
Elinor was relieved and delighted.

"Oh! I'll carry it home," she said, breaking off a great burdock leaf,
and placing the little body upon it; then carefully set it on her arms,
and Leslie held her by the elbow, to get her safely down the bank.
"I'll get what they call a whisket for it," said Elinor, pleased like a
fresh child with the imaginary details of the leveret's life; "and keep
it in my room, and give it leaves. What does it like best?"

"Flowers, I think," said Leslie; "any fresh, tender annuals out of the
garden. It will eat up the verbenas with the greatest pleasure."

"Do you think you can get some?" said Elinor.

"Oh yes, every morning; but I must take care Miss Chanson does not see
me."

"Oh! you must not hurt her garden."

"Well, well; we will take the hare away with us, when you and I go away
ourselves, and it shall have all the flowers at the Tower to itself, if
_you_ like."

Elinor looked at Leslie, and smiled. "Yes, thank you; it shall live on
the eastern terrace you told me of, and have a wooden house of some
kind to go into at night."

"That will be the very place," said Leslie.

At this moment the leveret, which had recovered its senses, but kept
the recovery to itself watching its opportunity, made so sudden a
spring, that before Elinor could utter the little cry its movement
provoked, it was out of her arms, and scudding away to the copse.

"Oh dear!" said Elinor, looking at her empty leaf.

Leslie laughed.

"Never mind, I can have your hand again; so all is for the best," said
he.

And thus they walked, by the hedgerow sides of the corn fields,
across banky meadows cropped by sheep, along woodland paths, which
descended to the brook courses; where they were crossed by gray large
stepping-stones; within the edges of the wood, where with trees for
a natural colonnade, they looked out upon the silent, sunny country;
hand in hand they walked, healthy, beautiful, good. It was Adam and Eve
moving through the Garden of Eden.

They had scarcely met a human being, the country was thinly inhabited,
and they had unconsciously sought the least frequented parts; but
some hours after they first began their walk, the forest silence was
disturbed by a distant voice, uttering a loud "mark!" and then was
fired a gun as distant, and before long both sounds came nearer; nay,
they presently saw a towering pheasant hit by the discharge from the
loud gun, and tumbling over and over in the air, fall with hanging
wings, and dropped head, out of sight in the underwood.

The next moment, Sir Peter Bicester, and a gamekeeper, and couple of
beaters came in view; he immediately left off his pursuit, and came
up to Elinor, hoping he had not frightened her, and so on. Leslie had
dropped Elinor's hand; till she was declared his promised wife, he did
not wish to claim any intimacy with her; but Elinor was unconscious
of such scruples, and replied in the simplest way to the young man's
apologies.

"But we are going home now," she said, "so do not stop your amusement
for me. Thank you for thinking of it." And she moved on.

"Shan't you come out, Leslie?" said Sir Peter.

"No, not I; if there's anything better to do, I don't care for a gun."

"And there _is_ something it seems," said Sir Peter.

"Well! that is as it may be," answered Leslie, and followed Elinor,
whom he speedily overtook.

CHAPTER IX.

THAT evening, Sir Peter knocked at the door of his cousin's
sitting-room, when he came in an hour before dinner.

"Have you got some tea, Laura?" he asked; "let me have a cup with you,
if you are going to have any."

"Come in, come in!" said Laura, ringing the bell at the same time, and
ordering tea for him and her. "Well, what have you shot?"

"Six pheasants, and a woodcock," said Sir Peter; "I just went into that
outside cover, you know, below the lime kiln."

"And quite enough," said Laura, "for a distant part, scarcely
preserved."

"Yes, it is a good way off," said Sir

Peter; "and do you know, Leslie had taken your ward walking all that
way."

"He had?"

"Yes, and they looked as like real lovers as ever you saw any two
people. Now, Laura, I want you to answer me one question; are you quite
certain there is nothing between them, quite certain? Because if there
is, I would not put myself in their way for the generalship of the
Indian army--no, not to be made knight banneret on the field of battle."

"Have not I told you," said Laura, "how matters stand."

"Yes; but he may be a fool, and he may have taken up with the little
idiot; and if the flirting is not on her side, I will have nothing to
do with making her break her little heart."

"It is all, all on her side; but for her intrigues I should be
happy--and I can be happy--I am; what is that man to me?"

"Nothing, Laura; that's right, don't throw away a thought upon him, if
he has been such an ass."

"But he has not!" said Laura, struggling mentally against the doom,
as one does bodily against the great weight that is pressing the
lungs together, so as to stop breath. "It is merely that a child is
artful enough to deceive him, is thoughtless enough to hazard her own
character, and ruins my peace."

"Nay, if it is so..."

"I tell you it is."

"Swear!" said Sir Peter, crossing the forefingers of his two hands,
playfully, yet in his heart looking seriously to such an appeal as
safe to procure him the truth. Laura did not think nor hesitate for a
moment. She laid her hand on his crossed fingers--

"I swear!" she said. She hated her cousin for making her do this, but
she had no doubt, nevertheless, about doing it.

"Very well, then, I will serve you loyally and zealously to the extent
of my power, and that extent is limited, for I _must_ go on Thursday."

"Yes, yes, go on Thursday," said Laura, "and before that time, let
Leslie merely see whether or not her pretended passion for him is true,
only let her show herself in her true colours, that is all I ask."

"As how?"

"Well, if she appoints you to meet her? If she tampers with you, as she
does with Leslie?"

"Oh! in that case."

"You will let him know it?"

"No, I shall not tell him--that's quite impossible."

"He can find it out then," said Laura.

"It would be better for him if he did; would lose a trifle and gain a
treasure. Oh! Laura, I wish I were but older, wiser, or of more value
in the world, I would fling myself at your feet, though Croesus and
Lycurgus were in the way."

"And I would not have you," said Laura, peevishly, then correcting
herself, she added, "what a hoary pair to offer to a young lady; _you_
would have a much better chance my Pet."

Sir Peter went on talking nonsense, which he much preferred to plotting
against Elinor, for of that employment he was getting rather tired, and
Laura was afraid to weary him entirely of the subject, for upon his
co-operation all her remaining hopes depended. She therefore treated
the subject as lightly as she could, only insisting on some display
of despair on his part at his approaching separation from Elinor, and
contriving to amuse him with details, each of which she hoped would be
a blow against the security in which she saw that Leslie was fortified.

She herself conducted the assault this evening. Leslie gave her
occasion; he told her that he must very soon announce to her brother
the engagement into which his ward had entered; and Laura, now
thoroughly on her guard assented, proposing that the end of the week
should be the time chosen. Leslie agreed, and Laura had gained one
point, for did not the Thursday of Sir Peter's departure come between?

"I shall be glad when he is gone for your sake," said Laura to Leslie.

"Why so?"

"Nay, I think you deserve all the walks and talks and little
appointments to yourself."

"Oh, I am not uneasy about that," said Leslie; "such fancies trouble me
not. As King Pericles says, 'Falseness cannot dwell in thee!'"

"Falseness in me?" said Laura, startled.

"In her, I ought to have said, but I was too conscientious to misquote
Shakespeare. Oh! no, that trouble is quite over."

"Then why did she and my cousin find themselves at the stone quarry
that day she had the sudden headache, and could not drive with us?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Leslie; "the best way would be to ask
her."

"Do, if you think the truth so easy to be had."

"Only I don't care to know," said Leslie.

"Oh! very well. I am sure _I_ don't," said Laura.

She turned away, and proposed music to one of the party, but her eyes
did not fail to observe that Leslie took advantage of the opportunity
to stand talking with Elinor at the open window, and she persuaded
herself was asking the explanation she intended him to seek. There was
some little pre-occupation in his way of carrying on the beginning of
the conversation, a shade of embarrassment, and a questioning air.
Elinor coloured deeply, and hesitated to answer him, and Laura believed
that the headache which she herself had ordered Elinor to remember,
and the silence which she herself had ordered Elinor to keep about the
stone quarry walk, were throwing the appearance of double-dealing over
the entangled girl. Leslie's fond look at last she could not so well
interpret. She did not think he was satisfied with respect to the walk,
yet "perhaps" (thought she), "he believes a woman cannot speak the
truth, and forgives her--forgives _her_; yes, but he would not forgive
me."

Laura was not much out in her interpretation of Leslie's looks;
in fact, he was disposed to believe and to excuse in Elinor, the
manoeuvres which he fancied the inexperienced young girl had been led
to practise before her present engagement with him; but at all events,
as things were now, he determined to put a stop to all proceedings of
the kind, and would fain have warned and set Elinor on her guard, as
her mother would have done, had she ever known her mother.

"Nobody may interrupt me now," he said, "in the happiness of such walks
as we had yesterday. Nobody has any claim on you now, when I claim you.
You have given me that right, remember."

"Mr. Chanson said I must go with him to see his greyhounds fed," said
Elinor; "but I will not."

"Oh! Mr. Chanson. Yes, you may go with him."

"Miss Chanson also said I was to carry the hymn books to the school.
She wants to show me how to teach them to sing. I will tell her I
cannot do it."

"No, no; you must do what she asks till you leave her altogether."

"But you said I was to walk with you only."

"I mean it is not fit for a young girl to let an idle young man like
Bicester, meet and follow her."

"So my Reverend Mother told me, and I did not, till you laughed, and
made me laugh too, about it."

"Well, well, yes; but a man says things he does not mean; you should
be aware that _he_ does not even remember many things he says, and if
a girl does, and believes it is all true, she gets into a very awkward
position."

"_You_ are a young man," said Elinor, smiling; "am I to believe you?"

"Oh! it is quite a different thing with me. What I say now, does not
apply to me. Only I don't want you to let that puppy talk to you. He
can, only mean mischief, and you had better be on your guard."

"So the Reverend Mother said," repeated Elinor; "and I will obey her
and you."

"Next Thursday he goes away," said Leslie; "and do you know, dearest
and gentlest Elinor, that I am going too? Chanson has got a project
in his head about visiting some property he bought not long ago; and
he says his sister thinks it will be a good opportunity to do so when
young Bicester leaves the house, and before fresh guests come in. He
wants me so very much to be his companion, that I have consented. We
shall not be away above a few days, and during those days I will tell
him that his ward is his ward no longer, but that it is I who have to
answer for her in future."

"Do," said Elinor.

Leslie looked at her, and half laughed. "You will not tell him the
contrary?" said he.

"Oh! no, no," said Elinor; "no more, surely, will he? I am sorry though
that I did not ask him first if I might, for the Reverend Mother told
me it was my guardian who must settle _that_."

"And _I_ told you not; very true. But you do not think I told you to do
anything wrong?"

"I hope not," said Elinor, "for I have no right or wrong in my head
now, except what I learn from you."

"Ay! trust me, then...Oh! I could not mislead you."

"No, I am sure of that," said Elinor, lifting her eyes to his. He
thought of the morning at breakfast, when he could not get one glimpse
of those shy eyes; and he thought also of the many things between
that moment and the one in which her innocence had converted all his
thoughts into pure projects like itself. In his heart he worshipped the
creature who held so strong, yet so silken a dominion over him, and in
his enjoyment of the prospect now before him, he instinctively tried to
forget the cruel one which he had entertained and abandoned.

Laura had no time to spare, or she would have let things work more
gently than she could now afford. This was Saturday evening; and the
evening of Sunday she destined to commence a plot which must explode
before Thursday, or all her schemes would be at fault. The course of
Sunday contented her well enough. The usual duties of the day went
forward, and however mechanically to Laura, there was no outward
dereliction. She would have had a vague uneasiness at absenting herself
from the village church, but no word that she heard there struck her as
forbidding--no word she uttered there, struck her as renouncing--the
secret purposes she meditated. Once, as a very young child, instructed
to lay by every secular employment on the Sabbath day, it chanted that
her mother, who led a usually secluded life, was invited by a very
great house to very great feast on a Sunday; and the mother went, not
because she thought and explained that there was no harm in it, but
because the temptation was so strong. Laura had opportunities enough
to melt down the impression which this fact made on her; nor did it,
probably, in itself produce much effect, but her nature had that bias
which caused it to select and feed upon this and various similar
incidents which the tide of things presented to her, until at length
led away by selfishness and by uncontrolled passions, she had come
to be, as one may say, two Lauras, the one who professed in theory
whatever was good, and the one whose actions regarded simply what was
convenient. It is a very common character.

This Sunday, therefore, saw her in the family pew with her guests;
saw her take the school report from the hand of the curtseying
schoolmistress, and rebuke the child who was shown up for inattention.
She let the horses and servants rest to-day, and proposed merely a walk
by way of amusement. Before she could prevent him, Leslie drew Elinor
away, and by the side of the waterfall and up the banks of the brook,
they passed the afternoon hours.

Laura had got a present for her cousin

Peter, a travelling bag, fitted in the smallest compass with the most
numerous articles, and called him to her sitting-room to give it.

Sir Peter was rather melancholy and sentimental. He was going to the
other side of the world, and was pleased to do so, and yet it touched
him to feel that nobody was much interested in his departure except
himself; his place would close over at once, and it was he only who
cared or reflected that he was going. Laura's care, therefore, to
procure a present for him, gave him pleasure. He employed himself in
examining and admiring every article, and in obtaining from Laura a few
words in her own hand, declaring herself the giver of the bag, and the
well-wishing cousin of the recipient.

"And you will think of me once or twice, will you?" said Sir Peter;
"when my thoughts are travelling homewards they will now and then meet
yours coming out to Ceylon."

"To be sure they will; and many others will be on the same journey,
anxious to know what you are about."

"No, Laura, no. My mother, if she were alive, would have let no post go
by without a letter. I have a green bag stuffed with those she wrote to
me at school, and so would a sister, perhaps, if I ever had one, but
nobody else ever cares for a young man more than for one grain of wheat
rather than another in a sack full."

"Oh! indeed, _I_ do," said Laura, "and I am not the only one."

"Who else?"

"Nay, I don't think I shall tell you. It is such nonsense."

"You don't mean the little nun?"

"No, no; of course not."

"You do," said Sir Peter, starting up, and forgetting his melancholy;
"what did she say?"

"Oh! nothing--I forget--nothing worth hearing."

"Nay, Laura, you shall tell me, or I will ask her. Where is she?"

"In her own room, I should think. You can't go there and ask her."

"I thought she was walking with Leslie."

"Not very likely after what she said to me. If she is walking with Mr.
Leslie her coquetry passes all allowable bounds."

"Why, what did she say?"

"Nay, you will be so vain."

"Not vainer than I am," said Sir Peter, smiling gaily.

"True; that's hardly possible," said Laura; "well, well, she is very
demure, and does not talk much you know, to me at least, but she said
this morning in her sudden way, as if her words broke out of her
thoughts, 'Sir. Peter smokes every evening, does not he?'"

"What an unsentimental meditation!" said Sir Peter.

"I did not think so," said Laura.

"As how, is it not?"

"When you smoke, you walk out; when you walk out you can be met."

"Nay, is that it? nice little girl!"

"I don't know that it is _that_, but it would be easy to make the
experiment. If it is so, and she likes you Peter, do take her with you
to Ceylon. I use no concealment. I should be glad if she were gone."

"Thanks, thanks, dear cousin, but I can't be quite so convenient as
that, for I suppose you would have her my wife."

"Peter!"

"But if she do think of morning walks with Leslie, and moonlight walks
with me, at least _he_ will never marry her."

"Never, never, never!" said Laura.

Dinner was not over till the evening was dark, for October was at the
end of its first week. The rooms were bright with lamps and candles,
but the windows were open to the shadowy scene without, for the weather
was very hot, even as though summer were abroad masquerading in the
splendidly coloured robes of the aged year.

"Let us walk down the garden," said Laura to Elinor, who was the only
lady beside herself of the party; "the air is oppressive, further from
the house it will be cooler."

They went together along the garden paths, and reached the avenue of
great Scotch firs which terminated it, and which at its other extremity
had a wicket opening into the park.

"I wonder," said Laura, "whether Eliza Mosterick has had the broth she
wanted; did you hear anything about it?"

"No, I did not."

"But you knew she was ill. Did you call to inquire about her when you
were out this morning?"

"No," said Elinor.

"You might just as well have done so, and put the Sunday to some better
purpose than merely amusing yourself," said Laura; "poor woman, perhaps
she has been waiting vainly all day. I wish I could go as far before my
brother comes into the drawing-room; he does not like me to be absent."

Elinor was silent; whatever she might say she felt would bring down a
rebuke.

"Could you go, Elinor?" said Laura, at last.

"Certainly," said Elinor, who was accustomed at the convent to wait on
the sick, and to be employed about their errands. "Shall I?"

"Well, if you will. You know the house; it is the underkeeper's--you
know, just fifty yards from the end of the avenue on the right--she
was very ill--unless she is better--and I meant to send her some broth
and things...Stay, take her five shillings will you, in case she
wants to buy anything. Here, put my scarf over your head. It is as good
as a bonnet."

Elinor did all she was bid, and Laura, when she was disappearing like
a white spirit down the gloomy avenue, turned hastily and ran to the
house, where she gave thanks (like Shylock when his enemies' ships are
lost, and he says, "Thank God, I thank God!") to see that the time for
evening Sunday prayers was not more than a quarter of an hour distant,
at which epoch of the evening the absence of any member of the party
must become conspicuous. Both Leslie and Sir Peter glanced round the
room as soon as they came in, for Elinor. Both looked at Laura to
account for her absence. A faint smile, and a slight elevation of
her eyebrows informed the latter that Elinor would be found where he
expected, and Sir Peter vanished to keep the imaginary rendezvous on
his side. Leslie asked in a low voice, where was Elinor.

"Is not she here?" said Laura, looking round; "I have been in the
garden, but she refused to come. I think she said she was going to
write a letter."

Leslie was obliged to content himself; and taking up a book, sat
watching the door which, every time it opened drew his eager eyes,
till the appearance of some uninteresting figure caused them to be
impatiently cast down again. Laura's attention went nervously to the
clock, which ticked on so composedly, and would not hasten towards
half-past nine. Nor even when the half-hour had leisurely lifted up
its voice twice, to denote that it was come, did the outer bell sound
for prayers, till another full minute had gone by; and yet further,
several seconds, which seemed like hours (as they do to a man under the
surgeon's hands, or hanging on the edge of a precipice while relief
is coming), passed by, before the butler threw open the door, and
announced, after the manner of butlers, "Prayers is ready." Laura rose
at once, and with a bland smile, walked alone out of the room followed
by her brother, by Leslie, and by the few men who were guests in the
house. Nothing could have answered better, for as they crossed the
ante-room, which opened on the garden, Elinor came hastily in, the veil
on her head, and Sir Peter following closely. Laura saw Leslie's start
of displeased surprise; he went to her and offered his arm, regardless
who observed him, or what they thought.

"Where have you been?" he said, in a very low voice.

"Miss Chanson took me into the garden and sent me on an errand."

Leslie had just heard that Miss Chanson bad been alone in the garden,
and that Elinor had said she was going to her own room.

"But you are not alone," said Leslie.

"I could not help it," said Elinor; "he came out to smoke and met me."

"He always smokes in the garden at night. You knew it?"

"Indeed, indeed, I did not."

"Dear, dear Elinor, do not..."

They had now crossed the hall and entered the parlour where the
servants were assembled. The necessary outer decorum prevailed, but
stormy was Leslie's bosom, sad and frightened was Elinor's, while holy
words and pious attitudes alone appeared to the public ear and eye.
Laura hastened Elinor away with her after prayers, saying that they
must be punctual to-morrow at breakfast in order to be ready for an
expedition which she had arranged, and however early it was they would
now go to bed to prepare for it. Leslie was so much in love that he
did not venture on being offended with Elinor; he no longer assumed
an authoritative manner with her, that was too paternal, too like a
guardian, but he had a grieved look and way towards her, wholly natural
and unpremeditated, which brought the tears into her eyes. He saw them,
and they atoned for everything.

"She is sorry," he said to himself; "she knows she has been wrong.
No doubt it is his fault more than hers. Still, why did she use the
worn out plea to Laura of writing letters. Why did she, to me, invent
the pretext of being sent on a message. And she tells these little
lies so innocently, she would deceive any man, if he were fool enough
to think there is a woman in the world who does not lie." He stamped
the unoffending boards of his room as he came to this conclusion, and
walked up and down till he reflected there was such a thing as going to
bed.

And now came Monday, the day on which the drawing, the needlework,
the gardening, the professional duties, if there be any, or the gun
and the dogs, the fishing rod and ride if there be none, are resumed
after one day's suspension. There has been the village church changing
the disposal of the morning and afternoon from the six days' course;
there has been, perhaps, a different style of books read, an abstinence
from some favourite employment, and, at all events, there has been the
sight of the poor man's holiday; twenty-four hours, in short, in some
way different from other similar periods, and a consequent mark left
upon Time. Laura awaking, saw before her three wretched days, in which
she had to fight against the natural order of things in order to bring
about a base purpose of her own; a purpose liable in a high degree to
failure, she was disinclined to get up and do this iniquitous battle,
although it was not that the iniquity struck her, but her own hard fate
in being unable to obtain the object necessary to her happiness without
such a struggle.

"And why is it?" thus her thoughts came over her, but not worded; "why
is it that I love him thus?--he is not eager to please me, as others
are. I am obliged to cultivate conversation before it runs freely
between us. He does not seek out my wishes as my poor brother does, and
as William Mansfield and the other man did whom I could not bear. No!
I must sacrifice plans and comforts to him. If he once loved me, if
I once knew that he would be sorry to go away, then I could renounce
him--perhaps--but if he went now, he would forget me to-morrow. I
should think of him, and he would not think of me; he is so commanding
among men, he cares so little what is thought of him; he is so
acceptable in society, so beautiful--if I could but know I had power
over him--shall another?--she...?"

Laura sprang out of bed and took up her self-imposed burthen. How
carefully were all the minute cares of her person attended to, and how
mechanically; but as for her mind, its habits were not those which
led her to be true with herself; hence all was slurred and burred
within, and she had a most imperfect view of what she herself was
doing. But at half-past nine she descended clean as a white pebble
from a running brook, neat as a rose-bud still bound by its unfolding
calyx; agreeable, attentive, handsome; but within, there was a heart
constantly conscious in its way of beating that something was wrong;
there was a dry mouth which disliked the business of talking, and hated
that of eating; there was the sense of hearing strained to catch one
voice, and rebelling because that voice was not addressed to her. There
was fear over all, that some of the many words might be said which
would reveal those secrets which lay so near the surface, and which any
chance might lay bare from the covering she was able to draw over them.

Chance did not show itself favourable to-day; for her plan had been
to keep the lovers apart by dividing the party between carriage
and horseback, and to visit a show place in the neighbourhood, of
which the possessors were friends of hers, and their society and
chaperonage round their house and garden, would prevent the formation
of _tête-à-têtes_. But before breakfast was over, the clouds let fall
their long-threatening torrents, and in a very short time Mr.

Chanson declared the expedition impossible.

"It will be too late, even if the rain stops by mid-day," said he; "you
must do something else. Come, we'll have a game of billiards first, and
then, when you two women have written a dozen letters, and worked your
frills, or your kettle-holders, you shall help me to change the shells
out of the library to the new cases. I want the labels neatly written,
and little card boxes made. I am glad it rains."

"I will be glad too, for your sake," said Laura; "Elinor, will you
help?"

"Oh, yes!" said Elinor.

"You can't want to write more letters!" said Laura, availing herself of
the shot which accident opened to her.

"No," said Elinor.

"Have you finished all?" asked Leslie, in a low voice.

"I have not," said Elinor, in a voice still lower; "but say nothing. I
shall be so glad to do Mr. Chanson a little service."

"His sister believed that you were employed in writing last night,"
said Leslie.

"How could she," said Elinor; "I went to bed by her desire as soon as
we were upstairs."

"Equivocator!" thought Leslie.

Evening came, and with it a change in the weather. Before setting, the
sun shone brightly out, and it left the autumnal garden in a gentle
haze of warm air, where the smell of the fresh earth and the excited
flowers, and the air renovated with moisture, flattered every sense of
eye and ear.

"How delicious," said Laura, when she and Elinor stood again outside
the window which opened on the walk; "let us take our bonnets and walk
for ten minutes."

They did so, and at the end of that time, Laura said she must return to
the house. "Elinor, will you be so good as to go as far as the clerk's,
and ask him to look in our pew for my prayer book? the one in vellum,
you know, which my brother gave me. I forgot to bring it away, and I
want to gum down the label on the back before it gets rubbed off."

"I can't do that to-night," said Elinor; "in the morning if you like."

"Why not?" said Laura, turning full round upon her.

"Sir Peter does not allow me to walk alone."

Laura burst into laughter. "What, must Sir Peter shut himself up every
time it pleases you to take the air?"

"I don't mean that," said Elinor.

"Oh! you fancy he means to assassinate you, or take hold of your
hand...or..."

"No!"

"Or that his sole object in walking out is to share the delights of
your conversation, and wait upon your presence. Upon my word his sole
object is, rather, to smoke his pipe."

"Oh! yes."

"Which object he pursues in the garden and the fir-grove. Therefore,
even though that frightful young man were to amuse his leisure with
the sin of tobacco, you would be quite safe my dear in walking to the
church. Now go, will you, Elinor?"

"No," said Elinor, "I cannot. Mr. Leslie does not choose I should."

"Oh! now it comes out. She's afraid of being scolded, is she? What!
she has been scolded already, and has cried and said she would never do
so no more, no! never. What a good child!"

Elinor stood with tears in her eyes. "Yes," she said, when Laura
scornfully waited for an answer; "I said I never would do what he
disliked."

"I never heard anything so babyish in my life. Why you are no more fit
to be a married woman than an infant. If you let a man tyrannize over
you in that way while he is your lover, he will be cruel as a husband,
and sick to death of you in six months."

Elinor stood silent: her colour rose under the hard words and fearful
prophecy, but she did not credit it, and yet would not contradict the
utterer.

"Now, my dear child," said Miss Chanson, "for your own sake let me
entreat you to behave a little more like a woman. Have a little
independence, just enough to make him think you his equal. If he finds
fault with things right and innocent, don't mind him, go your own way.
Stand up to him. Men like to be stood up to."

"Very well," said Elinor, smiling, "I will remember what you say."

"And go to the church for me," said Laura, smiling also, "there's a
good girl."

Elinor shook her head.

"You will not?"

"I cannot."

"Say _will_ not at once, if you mean it. Well?"

"Indeed I cannot, I will not."

"That will do. Then will you be so very obliging as to go in and tell
my brother, that I am obliged to go on an errand, because you _will_
not, and that I...and that you...what you choose."

Laura turned her back, and set out hastily; but in a few seconds
she stopped, and looked back, she had expected that the gentle girl
would have run after her, but there was Elinor, standing quite still,
watching her. Laura ran back--

"What! will you do neither one nor the other, do you defy me? am I to
be defied in my own house? ridiculed? go to the church directly, or let
me believe you are the most ungrateful of women."

"I will not walk alone this evening," said Elinor.

"Will you do this, then?" said Laura, commanding her voice to the
lowest and calmest tone. "Will you pass this evening in your own room?"

"I am very sorry I have offended you," said Elinor, "I will do whatever
you bid me," and she turned away, and went straight into the house, and
upstairs, while Laura dashed the tears of passion from her eyes, and
inveighed against the cruelty of the young girl, for triumphing in her
victory over the lover of her benefactress.

When she reached the drawing-room it was still empty. She opened a
book of drawings on the table, and composed her agitated frame. A few
minutes brought in her brother and his guests, and then the first
inquiry was for Miss Ladylift.

"She told me she was going to write letters," said Miss Chanson,
demurely.

Sir Peter instantly glanced at his cousin, and smiled. Mr. Leslie
caught the smile, and his eye turned in the same moment upon Laura, but
she was looking straight forward, as innocent as a bird. He perceived,
however, that young Bicester was swallowing a scalding cup of coffee,
and that lounging apparently from one window to another, he silently
opened the door, and disappeared. Leslie, with no attempt at mystery,
went out directly after. The evening was growing very dusky, but he saw
the man he deemed his rival, entering the avenue, and hastily followed
him. Sir Peter was alone; and that he was alone, surprised Sir Peter.
But that the person who joined him should be Leslie, thoroughly annoyed
him, and Leslie on his part was equally angry at finding the young
soldier thus apparently awaiting a rendezvous. The one overtook the
other, and they walked together a few yards in silence.

"Are you going into the park?" said Sir Peter, at last.

"No; are you?"

"No." Again there was silence; then Sir Peter began again.

"I never knew you choose this walk before."

"Did not you?"

"No."

Sir Peter shook the ashes from his cigar bitterly, and then turned
suddenly, and walked in the opposite direction. Leslie, who seldom
smoked, took out a cigar, in order to give himself some reason for
being here, and puffing with undue vigour, excited a great smoke, and
marched to the end of the avenue; here he turned, and about mid-way,
the two young men met, and crossed each other, each sending out a large
gale of tobacco, and looking as happy as he could. How long this was
to go on, Leslie did not like to conjecture but at all events he did
not intend to leave the ground while his rival occupied it, even though
they should walk thus till morning. Sir Peter it seemed was not so
persevering, for before they came across each other a third time, he
stepped on one side of the path, and left the avenue by a wicket which
led by a back way to the house. Leslie immediately stood still and
flung his cigar as far as its weight would carry it, and then collected
his thoughts with more form than the presence of Sir Peter had allowed.

"It is too plain, that he expected her," he said to himself;
"then he has already met her. Yet I warned her--besought her--but
he is a villain, availing himself of her untaught, guileless,
nature--inexperienced, bewildered, humble as she is! If he knew my
claim upon her, she would be safe. Yet impossible! shall the silly
coxcomb know that it is my promised wife, whom he has hoped would come
at midnight to meet him? Impossible! He is going, thank heaven! to the
other side of the world...tempest, fever, sword, and shot, pursue
him!"

Thus he stormed within, standing beside one of the stern fir-stems,
which threw a steadfast shadow on the turf from its branches between
the moonlight and the ground. Nearly half an hour passed, in which time
Sir Peter felt fully persuaded that his rival must have been tired
of his suspicion, and have left the avenue. He himself had been to
the saloon, where still the fair Elinor was not, and with some hope,
rekindled from the malicious eyes of Laura, he returned again to try
his fortune. Slowly he paced down the avenue, and failed to perceive
the dark figure beneath the fir-tree. As he came on, it advanced
suddenly from the shadow. Sir Peter started slightly.

"I forgot something," said he.

"Did you," said Leslie.

"Yes!" said Sir Peter, and again they passed each other, and Sir Peter
proceeding to the end of the avenue, opened the gate, and went finally
out. "What right has _he_ to act dragon?" said the young man, as he
returned home.

Next morning, Tuesday, Leslie and Miss Chanson were walking together
through the garden to the conservatory. Elinor looking from her window
saw them, and was pleased that her angry guardianess should be in
company with one who she felt would speak even better of her than she
deserved. So warbling some low notes with her melodious throat, she
turned away to put in order part of her simple wardrobe, with skilful
fingers well versed in the arts of hemming and darning.

"She told me," said Leslie, to Miss Chanson, "that you sent her to her
room last night."

Laura started, not knowing how much of their interview had been
repeated, and looked Leslie inquiringly in the face.

"If I did..." she began, and paused.

"Tell me one thing," said Leslie, "did you do so from any idea that it
was better not to leave her walking alone?"

"Why do you ask me?" said Laura, quite at ease again; "what does it
matter?"

"No, no, it does not matter...very much," said Leslie; "only is it
possible, do you think that she intended to join...that is...to
meet..."

"Only _that_ could have justified me," said Laura, candidly. Leslie was
silent. "I told you long ago," said Laura, at last, "that I hoped your
confidence was not misplaced."

"No, no, it is not," said Leslie, "but she has been in an unnatural
atmosphere. She came here full of innocent mistakes, and we undeceived
her too hastily; she has lost the landmark for all minor proprieties."

"Then I wonder," said Laura, "that she should think it necessary to
conceal them, by such complicated statements."

Leslie again was silent. "She is bewildered," said Leslie, at last, "by
the admiration she excites; I have not flattering words so freely at
command as others, and perhaps, she is better amused by those who have
them, than by me."

"That's quite impossible," said Laura, very quickly; then as if
frightened at what she herself had said, she added hastily, "perhaps
she wants character, she is like most women..."

"Oh no!" said Leslie, sighing, "she has a firm purpose, hidden under
her soft exterior. I will talk to your brother the moment we are alone,
on Thursday, and I will make her mine before any other candidate dare
come between my treasure and me."

It was now Laura who was silent. To hear a purpose announced which
directly contradicts the secret object of one's endeavours and desires,
is like a blow struck right upon the heart. Why cannot the blinded eye
of our companion see and choose the path which we perceive so plainly
is the one fit for him?

Leslie was out of spirits, and when he had gone through the flowers of
the conservatory mechanically with Laura and the gardener, he walked
back with her, till they came in sight of the house again, and then
turned into the park, and wandered away alone, whither he did not care.

Laura proposed twenty things in order to entangle Elinor with her
cousin, but was baffled in all. Elinor would not take a lesson in
billiards, would not learn to sit the pony, would not teach Sir Peter
a duet, would not lend him a book of her own--she declined all, even
before they were fully proposed; and at last, upon the arrival of some
morning visitors, attached herself to the mother of the party, who did
not choose to walk far, and never left her side the rest of the morning.

Laura did not venture upon any scheme for the evening, but she saw
with bitter pleasure, that Leslie, by seeming accident sat by another
than Elinor at dinner, and that when they were all assembled in the
drawing-room, he and Elinor seemed to want subjects of conversation,
and were grave and embarrassed in place of that joyful glee which
Leslie's face had so often assumed, to Laura's anguish, when listening
to, and talking with Elinor.

Wednesday was come, and now Laura had her last blow to strike, the
one that must undo her if it did not succeed. There was a feeling in
the house about seeing the last of Sir Peter, since after to-day, he
could be seen and heard no more. He was not to go shooting alone, nor
to take a solitary gallop; he was to walk with Laura and the rest,
he was to visit the stables with Mr. Chanson. Even if those who were
not to be travellers had something better to do, there would be time
for that to-morrow, when there would be no more time available for
Sir Peter. Mr. Chanson, Leslie, and Sir Peter, were all to set out
early on the morrow. They were to drive together to the neighbouring
town, and there to separate, the two first to pursue their way to Mr.
Chanson's property, and the young soldier to go on to London where
his final preparations would be made. Leslie, in a doubtful state of
mind, was looking out for offence and cause of unhappiness; Elinor, in
an humble one, was unconsciously giving it. She was accustomed to the
discipline of a conventual school education, and had learned a degree
of patience, which made her take Leslie's absence as an unavoidable
trouble, of which she must not complain. He also had been accustomed to
the natural teaching of school, but had acquired a different lesson,
for his spirit had been one of those which make others yield to them,
and had gratified every wish as it arose. Her meekness, therefore,
in resigning him for a certain number of days seemed indifference in
his eyes, mystified as he was by Laura; and though he loved her the
more anxiously for her coldness, he imagined that it gave him greater
reason to suspect that another occupied part of his place in her heart.
Elinor felt there was something wrong, though she knew not what, and
Leslie was conscious of a restraint, unlike those happy days--the few
days--when he and she wandered among the fields and woods.

"So now it is come to the last evening," said Sir Peter, as he and
Laura sat together an hour before dinner, in her own apartment. "I have
had a very pleasant visit, and I shall not forget it."

"And what remembrances do you carry away from our nun?" said Laura.

"Oh! hang the little nun, I am tired of her; I can make nothing of her,
and really I believe our meetings have all been either my own doing, or
accident. She cares for nobody but Leslie."

"She does not care for _him_," said Laura; "he is half offended, that
she should take his departure so quietly."

"Did he tell you so?"

"No--not in so many words--but words are not always necessary to
explain meanings."

"You are so clever, Laura! you see everything."

"Women have that faculty, you know. Now, I would venture to lay a
wager, that if this last day, you were to write, soliciting one last
interview, the interview would be granted, or you would get a kind
excuse for not granting it."

"Oh! it is too much trouble."

"Where is the trouble? there is pen and ink, and I will tell you what
to write."

"But it is hardly fair."

"Fair indeed! as if any measures were to be kept with her. What has she
done by me?"

"You! oh, I can't keep in my head that you can possibly have any regard
for a person who does not adore you."

"No, it is most unworthy," said Laura. "I will do better...there,
there...shake him off--forget him. But that little girl I should
like to unmask, nevertheless; come play out the play, write her a
little love-letter."

Laura now took her portfolio on her knees, drew the little writing
table close, and laughing and coquetting, composed a note which amused
Sir Peter, and which he copied at Laura's side, and promised to remit
to Elinor. Laura agreed that he should do so, but just as he was
leaving the room, recalled him, and told him to trust it to her care,
for that she could manage it much better than he. Sir Peter tossed her
the note, which she caught in a very pretty attitude, and kissed the
tips of her fingers to him as he paused at the door, to give her a last
look.

It was ten o'clock that night when a woman wrapped over her head and
whole figure in a cloak, brushed by Sir Peter, as he walked in the
avenue, and as she passed thrust a note into his hand. He caught the
hand that gave it, but it told nothing except that it was enveloped in
a glove. Rather than be detained by him, the hand slipped out of the
glove, and the figure darted into the thick shade, and disappeared.
The glove was merely a concealment for the hand, for it had plainly
been held loosely, as a measure prepared beforehand to avoid detention;
but it was a woman's glove, of delicate size, and was finished with
a plaited ribbon, such as Elinor frequently employed herself in
fashioning. Sir Peter laughed as he recognised it, and placing it in
his bosom, proceeded by the light of the moon to decipher, though with
great difficulty, these words--

"I cannot come to-night, Mr. Leslie forbids me to go out.--ELINOR
LADYLIFT."

Poor Elinor's ill starred billet!

CHAPTER X.

SEE that man walking up and down his room all night, except when at
times he flung himself on the sofa, burying his head in his clenched
hands. The little shred of paper lay sometimes on the table, sometimes
on the floor, trampled on, crumpled, torn; again spread out, and read
with unabating fury. Beside it lay the glove, which together with the
note had been brought to him by Laura, and which with scarce any words
she pressed upon him as the tokens of Elinor's falsity. He saw them
and believed; they seemed to him to indicate that the meetings between
Elinor and the young soldier, which he had persuaded himself were the
effects of accident, or of mere momentary thoughtlessness, were parts
of a long-continued understanding between them, and that to Elinor they
had become so habitual as to make an apology necessary, when she was
unable to keep the appointment. How could Leslie doubt? there was her
handwriting, there was the glove of her fine hand--false hand, false
heart!--her he had trusted then in vain! the innocence by which he had
remodelled his own intentions, did not exist. Laura had stabbed him
with this poisoned dagger, and left it to work out her own ends; and
frantic indeed was the effect of the wound she had inflicted.

As soon as day dawned, Leslie left the house, and continued his
agitated walk up and down the garden where he knew, by many a morning's
experience, it was Elinor's practise to walk before the breakfast hour,
and where of late he had usually joined her.

The cold October air chilled his frame, the heavy rime, almost frost,
weighed down the remaining flowers and the dripping grass; the sun,
long hidden after it had left the horizon, struggled with the mist that
filled the whole atmosphere. It was late before the day became as light
as the hour warranted; and the savage impatience of Leslie grew almost
to delirium.

At last, a window which opened to the ground from one of the
sitting-rooms was heard to rise, he stood still, partly hidden by
the trunk of a cedar, and saw shrouded in a gray cloak, and a hood
concealing her face, Elinor step into the garden, and move along the
walk to his place. He instantly came forward, and silently seizing her
arm, saying no word, answering no look, dragged her forward with a hand
which she felt violently trembling, nor stopped till they were in the
wood together, deeply hidden, as the words they had to say together
required hiding. Then letting go her arm from one hand, and opening
the other, he showed her the little note and the glove, which it had
clenched as they came along.

"Your's?" he said, fixing his bloodshot eyes on her face.

"Oh, it is my glove which I had lost," said Elinor, holding out her
hand for it, and looking up at Leslie, perplexed, whether to smile or
yield to terror.

"And where, and how did you lose it?" said Leslie; "tell me,
explain...confess that..."

"How can I tell?" said Elinor, frightened, and with a trembling voice.

"No; in one sense you cannot tell, shame forbids--your false nature
forbids--can you tell me this? Did that glove deliver that note? look
at it."

Elinor looked at the little paper in his fierce hand, and recognised
the first words of the billet she had written months before.

"Leslie," she said, "I do not know, how should I? it is so long ago."

"Silence!" cried Leslie, "you can deceive me no longer; no affected
innocence, no well-continued deceit can perplex or blind me now. This
is then your writing?"

"Yes," said Elinor, earnestly looking in his face, and saying the one
true word, for she had nothing else her nature permitted her to say.
Then his fury burst out--

"Devil! angel! woman!" cried he. "You have failed then to deceive me!
you confess--we are even again. I was on the point of believing in
virtue--you fail--I am free, falsest, hardest, perfidious woman..."

Elinor interrupted him. "What harm have I done? did not you tell me I
might write to you."

"To me! oh, well-acted innocence! yes, I was so cunning. I thought to
have surpassed you in cunning; would I had...any crime better
than to have been smiled at till I was a fool, and for an instant to
have been held in your mocking snares--but it is over--seek your other
victim, if you will, follow your soldier if he will have you! I have my
eyes open at last."

"As I live and stand here, Leslie, there is no human being who cares
for me, or whom I care for, but you."

"Words! sweetest words!" cried Leslie, "falser than sweet, and crueller
than false, were I not free. But they are nothing to me now; no, nor
those; tears, nor those clasped hands, nor that well-acted fear--no,
no, no."

"Leslie!" cried Elinor, laying her hand upon his arm.

He caught hold of her hand, and crushed it in his, like one whose
nerves have escaped control, and are contracting upon the object that
excites them with mechanical fury; then his hold relaxing, he flung her
hand away, and uttering a groan, which at the same time he struggled to
repress, lie turned, and rushed from her sight.

Elinor was changed to stone, by all that the few minutes just passed
contained; she gazed on the blank space where Leslie had been, and had
said such killing words; she thought of herself, entering the garden
but now, about, as she believed, to converse with her lover, and part
from him for a few days, soon never to part again; and could by no
means realise that his love had turned to fury, that he had said he was
about to leave her for ever. Her mind and body seemed paralyzed, and
when at last she recovered strength of both, enough to move from the
place where she was, she did but return with benumbed steps to her own
room, and there sinking upon the floor, lay crushed and bowed together,
sobbing as though her comfortless heart must break.

The guilty cause of all this woe, once more glittering in outside
show, like some splendid serpent, was descending in apparent peace
to the morning meal; but _her_ bosom also burned with anxiety, and
she trembled internally at the thought of what aspects she might
meet. Might she not there see, perhaps, Leslie and Elinor, with all
explained between them, and united for ever against her. Might she not
see Leslie frowning and despising her, Elinor sheltered by him against
all future malice, or should she see them alienated from each other,
and she herself successful. She opened the breakfast-room door, with
a hesitation unseen on her serene face, and glanced round; but her
conjectures were all wrong, for although all else were assembled, the
two were not there. Again her heart bounded with fear, that they might
be together, too angry to keep up any appearance of good will with her;
and after enduring the doubt and anxiety for a few decent minutes, she
affected to be anxious what could have become of Elinor, and left the
room to look for her.

When she beheld the young girl, she knew that her artifices had
succeeded, and triumph filled her heart. Elinor, abandoned by what was
all the world to her, and terrified at her own solitude, no sooner saw
a familiar face, than she rose and flung herself on Laura's shoulder,
straining her in her embrace with inarticulate mourning. Laura thought
of her own fine lace and muslin, which Elinor was deranging; and
raising her, so as to stand free of the sorrowing girl, asked her, with
a voice as kindly as she could make it, the cause of her distress.

Elinor's explanation would hardly have made anything clear, had not
Laura possessed already a more perfect knowledge of the circumstances
than she could receive. The single point she cared about was, what had
become of Leslie, and Elinor could only repeat that he had flung her
off, and rushed away through the thick wood, where she soon had lost
that last sight of him.

"Last indeed!" said Laura; "after such a parting, there can be no
reconciliation. What have you done Elinor?"

"Indeed, indeed, I have done nothing! he is too cruel to me."

"Yes, too cruel; he has been very hard on you; he should have
overlooked what faults your ignorance of the world led you into. Think
of him no more, give him up as he has given you."

"I must die before I do that!" said Elinor.

"Nay, nay, dear child; dying is not the thing in question. Here, dear,
take a little water...can't you? well, lie down, or sit down, I
will come again to you--but they are all waiting now--I will bring you
a cup of tea."

And Laura departed, going down stairs elastically, and filled with the
image of her rival, whom she had left behind humiliated, robbed of her
beauty by tears, and abandoned by the man who once abandoned Laura for
her. She made the excuse of headache, and having over-walked herself,
about Elinor, and now if Leslie had but come in, would have been
perfectly happy; but his absence raised new fears in her heart, that
in giving up one, he would not renew his allegiance to the other, nay,
might commit some rash act, her fear and her love began to dread what.

Breakfast was nearly over when a note was brought to her brother at the
other end of the table; he opened and read it to himself, and Laura all
the time was obliged to keep smiling at her cousin, who sat beside her,
for his last breakfast in her society, but whose words at this time
conveyed no meaning to her at all.

"What have you got there, Lawrence?" she said, at last; "you look
perplexed?"

"This fellow Leslie," said he; "he writes me word that a messenger came
for him from home, and he is obliged to set off at a moment's warning.
Who saw any messenger?"

"No, sir," said the servant, who was waiting at breakfast.

"Who saw Mr. Leslie go?" said Mr. Chanson.

"It was not I, sir."

"Go to his room. Are his things gone?"

Nothing was gone.

"Nor does he say anything about sending them," said Mr. Chanson; "he'll
write again, I suppose--but what a nuisance for me. Now I shall have to
go alone...I shall stay, I think."

"Oh! no," said Laura; "go, and perhaps he will meet you. What can have
happened. Perhaps his house is burned down?"

"Perhaps he is arrested for debt?" said another.

"Perhaps the bank he deals with is stopped?" said a third; but both Mr.
Chanson and Sir Peter looked at Laura, suspecting a quarrel between
her and Leslie. She neither said nor looked any answer, but she was
officious and obliging in promoting the arrangements of the party,
and when she fancied her brother still hesitated about his journey in
consequence of Leslie's secession, she exerted herself to persuade her
cousin to accompany him, and demonstrated that with a little extra,
exertion he might both perform this friendly office by Mr. Chanson,
and also get through his business in London before the time came for
the sailing of the ship. Sir Peter, for her sake, at last consented.
Mr. Chanson was satisfied to exchange Leslie for him, and all seemed
arranged to the general satisfaction. But five minutes before the time
of departure, Laura, watching her opportunity, followed her brother
into his study, where he was giving his last directions to a servant,
and sending the man from the room, suddenly put her arms round her
brother's neck and appeared to be stifling the sobs which stopped her
utterance.

"My dear child--Laura--sister--what is it? Speak to me--can I help you?
Only tell me who has grieved you."

"Has he not forsaken me, Lawrence? Shall I ever see him again?"

"Who is gone, Leslie! is that it? I was afraid something had gone wrong
between you."

"Oh! I have been so wrong; I have acted so foolishly. Only that little
girl's artful manoeuvres bewildered me. This very morning she appointed
to meet him in the garden, and I could not bear it. I...I..."

"You quarrelled with him, did you? and is it that which keeps Elinor up
stairs and drives Leslie away? But what right had you to quarrel with
him; tell me, had you any?"

"What right!" said Laura impetuously, "except that of a betrothed
woman?"

"Is it so?" said her brother seriously; "in that case I have no
business to go looking after prospective votes. My business is to stay
at home, and see that my sister has justice done her."

But Laura sank almost on her knees, her arms clasping her brother all
the time.

"Oh! no, Lawrence--no!--don't ruin me quite. Any interferences of that
sort would destroy my happiness for ever. He loves me--he will return
to me, but it must be by his free will. Could I deign to accept a
hand that did not bring a heart...but the heart is there--it is
mine--my own fault has alienated it for an instant, but if it be left
to itself it will not fail to return. If he departs at my rash word, my
penitent word can recall him."

"I thought you implied it was he who had left you?"

"I cannot measure exactly what I say. I am distracted. I came to tell
you all."

"Let me remain with you, Laura; it will be best."

"No, no! I would not have him think you know anything that has passed
between us. Go, dear Lawrence, I will recall you if it prove necessary.
All I want is to have nothing concealed from you on my own part, and to
be able to trust my brother through good fortune and evil."

Real tears came into Laura's eyes, as though she had been spectatrix of
the same scene at a play. Mr. Chanson was moved, and repeatedly pressed
upon her his offers of assistance. She, however, continued steadily to
refuse, and returning with him to the hall, suffered Sir Peter to think
she had been reddening her eyes with sisterly weeping for him, and at
last saw them all depart, and was very glad when the house was finally
cleared, and she was at liberty to put the finishing stroke to her
plans.

CHAPTER XI.

LESLIE'S anger and despair carried him to the end of three days, and
when those were elapsed, the mild image of Elinor began to break
through his stormy passions like present moonlight in a sky thick with
black clouds. His own harshness, exercised upon so delicate a feature,
shocked himself; her fear, her courage when she laid her soft hand upon
him, her utter bereavement when he left her in the deep wood alone,
wounded his heart. He believed in all the faults which he had believed
at that moment, but he began to think they were immeasurably punished
by him; he felt himself the greater sufferer under that punishment, and
when his spirit revolted from the idea of receiving again the broken
vows which she had once made him, he yet felt impelled to implore her
pardon for the manner in which he had resented her perfidy.

When he had persuaded himself that such was the object which made him
long to see her again, he at once gave way to his desire to do so, and
a very short time saw him again in the neighbourhood of Chanson Wood,
haunting every spot where he could hope to meet with Elinor. But it
was all in vain, the cold weather caused all the shutters to be closed
with declining daylight, so that he had no such chance as the summer
had afforded him of investigating the dwellers of the rooms. No old
favourite haunt was visited by her footstep, no morning or evening hour
brought her out to behold its beauty.

Leslie wandered about for four and twenty hours, and then made his way
to the house itself, and inquired for Mr. Chanson. He was not yet come
home.

"Miss Chanson?" She was walking in the flower-garden. He had not words
to ask for Elinor, but followed the servant silently into the garden,
dreading more than wishing that the two ladies might be together.
But no; Laura only was there. While the servant was within hearing,
Leslie's tone and manner preserved their common-place, but they were no
sooner alone than he broke out eagerly, "Can I see Miss Ladylift?"
Laura hesitated. "What! she cannot forgive me?"

"Could _you_ forgive her?"

"A man has always a right to forgive a woman. Where is she?"

"Mr. Leslie...don't you know?"

"My God!" cried Leslie; "I have killed her!" and his wild eyes searched
and commanded Laura's face for the fearful words he expected.

"Not so," said Laura; "but she is not here. Before I could communicate
with my brother, before I could reflect what to do, she insisted on
setting out for her convent."

"Her convent?"

"After you were all gone, and I returned to her room, she had already
made her preparations, and no efforts of mine could detain her. I did
what I could; I sent to Mr. Roundel, you know him, my brother's man of
business, and requested him to take charge of her on her journey, which
he did."

"Tell me," said Leslie, laying hold of Miss Chanson's arm, and speaking
in a very low voice; "was she willing that he should go with her?"

"Why?" said Laura.

"Was there not another whom she expected to join her."

Laura's colour rose to scarlet in-her face.

"It never occurred to me till now," she said; and in truth, Leslie had
suggested an event in the plot which Laura had overlooked in contriving
it.

"Where is the companion you gave her?" cried Leslie.

"He returns to-morrow; but surely if what you fear had occurred, I
should have heard it from him."

"I can't tell," said Leslie, as if unable to argue, able only to fear
and suffer. "I shall see him the moment he comes home. Farewell! Ours
has been a troubled intercourse, Miss Chanson," he said, offering his
hand; "forgive me much that you have against me, and which you will
forget when I no longer darken your happy home." So saying, he turned
away and walked up the garden, Laura pursuing him with stedfast eyes.

"Does he think to leave me thus?" she said to herself; "is all over
between us, does he suppose? and he goes without a look behind,
unconscious that there is a spell upon him, and of necessity he must
return." Then as she saw him ascend the steps of the terrace, her eye
could not but mark that he did so with a step very unlike the decided
strong movement of his general pace. "He is ill," she said to herself;
"I may lose him even in trying to win him. Better even that, than that
he should belong to another."

The day was by this time dark, and Laura, whose general habits
were luxurious, and who was to be found on cold evenings in her
lounging-chair at the side of a bright fire, her feet upon the warm
hearth, abundance of wax light on her marqueterie table, her book, her
work, her dress all in keeping, on this night muffled her person in a
gray cloak, and going herself to the stables, at the time of the hall
supper, when she knew one lad only would be left there, caused this
boy to prepare her pony carriage with uncompromising haste, and, with
him to drive her, set off in cold and darkness for Cantleton, the town
where Mr. Roundel lived. She had readily answered Leslie that he would
return to-morrow, her instinct being on all occasions to gain time;
but she was perfectly aware herself, that he had already been back a
whole day, having in fact received from him the assurance that he had
conducted Elinor to the convent whither all Laura's skill and power had
been exerted to make her fly. She had, however, felt in a moment that
she must see him before Leslie could do so, and had gained twenty-four
hours by her ready lie.

It was ten o'clock before she reached the town; she had a humiliating
part to play, _that_ she felt, but at least she would do it in a grand,
unquestionable way, and would come out of the house quite beyond being
assailed in person by any remarks which might be made by its indwellers
when she should be gone. Besides, she had brought a sum of money, so
considerable (under the name of paying Mr. Roundel's expenses on his
journey) that the acceptance of it--and she was quite sure it would be
accepted--would constitute an acknowledgment that further services must
be rendered in return. Still, while she waited for him in his parlour,
where the fire was out, and the chairs all set back against the wall,
she had uneasy beatings at her heart which kept her standing; and which
she thought to subdue when he came in, by taking a seat with as much
dignity as if she were in her usual position of command. She did not
begin with any reference to the strange lateness of the visit, for the
cause of it would soon, she knew, seem stranger than the visit itself,
but without apology or explanation opened her business.

"You have done me a service, Mr. Roundel," Laura began, "in conveying
that young lady back to France."

"Since it was for your interest, as I understand," began Mr. Roundel.

"For her own, I beg it to be understood," said Laura.

"Oh! certainly, certainly."

"Did she seem delighted at returning to the convent?"

"I can hardly say delighted," answered Mr. Roundel.

"Indeed! I am surprised at that. What could then make her wish so much
to return? Did anybody come to welcome her?"

"A maid-servant answered the bell when..."

"No; before you reached the convent? In fact, Mr. Roundel, I have cause
to suspect that her eagerness for the journey--for the trouble of
which, by the by, allow me to offer you this note"--Mr. Roundel looked
at it, and began to understand that his answers must take some shape
which he did not as yet perceive--"her eagerness must be connected with
the departure of...you knew my cousin, Sir Peter?"

Mr. Roundel bowed assent.

"You must be aware that her fancy for this gentleman could never be
encouraged by us; but it is possible that infatuation on his
part..."

"Very possible," said Mr. Roundel.

"What, you had reason to suspect?"

"Nay, I cannot deny I had my suspicion," said Mr. Roundel, thinking
that expression would suit whatever came next.

"Indeed! and what followed?"

"What followed?" said Mr. Roundel. "Well, to tell the truth, nothing
very particular."

"You trifle, sir; if that young man gave you cause to suspect
intentions which she favoured, I conclude that you were unable to
conduct your charge safely to the convent."

"I assure you," answered Mr. Roundel, hastily, "I safely delivered Miss
Ladylift into the hands of the Superior; what might happen afterwards,
I cannot say."

"Unfortunately, Mr. Roundel, I fear that _I_ can."

"Is it possible?" said Mr. Roundel. "At all events, I discharged my
duty."

"Undoubtedly, there is no fault of yours; but however distressing to
myself to speak upon such a subject, I feel it my painful task to
mention to you, that should any one inquire about her from you, you
had better put an end at once to any interest taken in her, by stating
that, on too good authority, you know her to be unworthy of it."

"Upon my soul!" said Mr. Roundel; "and if particulars are asked, I can
refer..."

"It is not probable that I should enter upon such subjects," said
Laura, in the most dignified manner; "I have already said, perhaps, too
much; and when I came to you, I did so as to a friend, who, I trusted,
would relieve me from the necessity of saying more."

Mr. Roundel bowed, and Laura, rising, prepared to depart.

"But if I am asked where I left the young lady," said he, "what must I
say?"

"The truth, sir," said Laura, very loftily. "What you yourself know to
have been true as to her arrival, and what you understand from me to
have been true with respect to her subsequent departure."

"I understand," said Mr. Roundel, in a very low voice. Laura's eyes met
his; then, in a grand way, she requested his pardon for disturbing him
at this late hour, and bidding him good-night, sailed out of the house,
Mr. Roundel following her to the pony carriage, and when she was gone
shrugging his shoulders, and muttering an epithet I will not repeat.

The next morning, Leslie, who had passed the night in walking about a
bedroom of the inn in the town, wandered forth, dragging through the
time till he might inquire when Mr. Rounder's return was likely to take
place.

"Master was already at home," the maid answered, and Leslie and he
soon stood face to face. Mr. Roundel had thought over the matter, and
had resolved in his own mind that the rich and powerful Miss Chanson
was the injured person in this, to him, obscure history, and that, on
the whole, in adopting her views of it, he should best consult his own
interests, as well as her wishes. He therefore scrupled not to give
Leslie the version Laura had taught him.

Leslie received the story so calmly, and so much as a matter-of-fact,
that Mr. Roundel became almost persuaded that he himself had been
telling the truth.

"A very fine young man," said he to himself, when, after thanking and
wishing him good morning, Leslie disappeared down the street. "A fine
man, and takes the result of his adventures quietly;" and with that Mr.
Roundel turned back to his office.

Leslie meantime reached the inn, and wished to inquire what public
conveyance would first start on the road to his own place; but the
words which he found himself using were not those which bore the
meaning he wished to convey. He tried to frame the name of the town
nearest to his own house, and spoke as slowly as he could in order to
fasten the sound and the idea together; but even then he failed, and
perceiving that he had done so, he turned away by a great exertion,
and forced his limbs to carry him a few step's; then a great dizziness
came over everything, and stumbling forward upon a seat which he just
descried, he there lost consciousness of himself and everything else.

He was known at the inn as the guest of Mr. Chanson, and when the
doctor had seen him, and declared him dangerously ill with brain
fever, and when it became apparent how desirable the presence of some
responsible person might become, the landlord sent information to
Chanson Wood of what had happened. Mr. Chanson had returned the evening
before, and his hospitable nature led him at once to the desire of
receiving his sick friend, and to have him nursed under his own roof.
Laura seconded him, and looked upon all as the favourable working of
her fate, which was relieving her own brain from the necessity of
forming further devices for the achievement of her scheme.

A carriage fitted up for bearing an invalid, was despatched with a
handy footman. Mr. Chanson went on horseback to the inn, and before the
end of the day, the unconscious Leslie was conveyed to Chanson Wood;
and lay there helpless, like one entangled of old in the meshes of a
corrupt and beautiful enchantress.

The struggle between life and death was more severe and more solemn
than Laura had anticipated. It lasted very long, and sometimes forced
upon her the real probability of that which she had hitherto put to
herself in words only, namely, that Leslie would die. "If he should
die?" she said to herself, believing it, and trembling at what it
implied, but she threw off the image, for it was in disagreement with
all, the web she had been weaving, and whatever unfavourable report was
brought her, attributed its worst gloom to mistake or ignorance, which
falsely represented the real state of things.

But it was very long before the demon of the fever could be cast out
of Leslie's frame, and when at last it was expelled, it left him
shattered, exhausted, and so utterly devoid of the strong sense of
life he had hitherto enjoyed, that it seemed to him impossible ever
to be again the free, careless, powerful being he was accustomed to
be; rather, he felt that he had only escaped the death of fever to go
down more slowly, and as surely, into the grave, where all things are
dark and at rest. His mind had begun under the auspices of the pure
love with which Elinor had at last inspired him, to have healthier
feelings than were habitual to it, of happiness and of virtue; but the
disappointment of his newly-born faith and hope had swept away all the
better feelings which grew up with them, and a more gloomy scepticism
as to whatever was just and good never darkened any human bosom than
that with which he got up from his long illness.

It was now five months since he had fallen down unconscious in the inn
at Cantleton, and been conveyed by Mr. Chanson to his own house. He
had just become able to walk about, and his only desire was to go home
and die there. He felt the burthen of his obligations to Mr. Chanson
and Laura, and heartily wished they had left him to perish when he
fell ill, and have neither tormented him with a second long process of
dying, nor with a debt to them, which nothing he could do was able to
pay. He made efforts beyond his present strength in order to get away
the sooner, and the re-action when he was alone piled over his spirit
the mountain weight of its oppression.

Laura watched him; and it seemed to her the moment was coming when she
might finish her enchantment, and prove whether the spell had been
woven strong enough or not. She did not deceive herself as to the fact
that he loved her not; he was obliged, but not grateful; he was waiting
impatiently to leave her, though there was no one whose society he
would seek in exchange. She could not talk so as to interest him now;
though he did his best to renew the easy gossip of bygone days. Still
she had strong hold on him, and knew it. She had kept the secret of his
engagement to Elinor inviolable; and he was thankful that it had never
reached Mr. Chanson. She had falsely insinuated to him that her own
name had been coupled with his through the county, and that the result
was injurious to her hitherto sacred reputation; he had believed her;
and though he said to himself the fault was hers, and so must be the
penalty, yet it was difficult to feel himself in no degree committed;
and, finally, his fixed expectation of death and his disenchantment
with all faith in happiness, persuaded her that he would be indifferent
to one scheme of life almost as much as to another.

It was one early April day that she proposed to him to walk for ten
minutes in the garden; and he, eager to prove himself strong and
independent again, complied. Laura knew how weak was his frame, and
wondered that he could force himself to pass and repass so often up and
down the dry gravel walk; at last, she proposed to rest under a bower
which kept off the active breeze of April and the bright sunbeam, and
Leslie consenting, they sate down side by side.

"This short walk is long for me," said Leslie, "but my ability to
perform it reminds me that I am able at last to relieve you of a
burthen which you have so kindly supported. To-morrow I will find my
way home."

"If you have resolved upon a thing," said Laura, "you will do it;
remonstrance is useless."

"Yes," said Leslie; "but it is a kindness in you to speed me thus."

"The kindness of letting you free yourself from my society without
useless contradiction? you cannot say yes to that; social forms forbid
you; but honesty forbids you to say no."

"Not so much honesty," said Leslie, "as the conviction that I am a
dying man. I cannot fence with words at this time; I have strength for
nothing but the bare truth, and I allow that to die in a dark corner at
home, is what remains of my ambition."

"Alas!" said Laura, "since you say those cruel words, I know that you
mean them; I too have a meaning," she went on.

"Nay, do not tell me," said Leslie, for he felt she had a scene in
store, and he shrank from the trouble of it. "There is no meaning, no
purpose which has anything to do with me, or in which I have a part to
bear."

"I mean," said Laura, suddenly, "that in your death, more die than you."

"By no means. I was a pleasant fellow enough last year, but this one, I
am a mere curtain, a drop-scene; when I am pulled away, all the stage
will be bright again."

"And all this for the sake of one who is unworthy to be remembered!"
ejaculated Laura.

"One," said Leslie, shuddering, "whose name must not be a sound again,
for God's sake. Unspoken as it is, it galvanizes life back to my heart."

"Forgive me, Leslie, I am grieved to have said it."

"Forgive!" he answered, "there is much of that needed on all sides--not
by you, however. These are idle words."

"No, not idle," said Laura, "I am not without need of forgiveness,
though others want it more."

"Don't say so, for you do not mean it, nor have I wit or strength to
unravel your feigned humility. In my best days I always was idle about
contradicting those who spoke ill of themselves."

"You are hard," said Laura, "and oblige me to look very narrowly to
my judgment of myself. Perhaps you are right; though I may have done
a wrong thing, still it is possible that, like Othello, I was not the
most guilty."

"'More sinned against, than sinning,'" said Leslie; "I told you so."

Laura paused, she thought he would ask in what she had been sinned
against, but he said nothing, and she was obliged herself to make use
of the opportunity she had opened. After a minute's silence, therefore
she resumed.

"Society makes crimes out of things which are innocent by Nature. When
man is in prosperity a woman is obliged to deny that his good or evil
destiny can interest her, but when fortune has forsaken him, when he is
unhappy, ill, lonely, is it unwomanly then to say she feels for him?"

"Alas!" said Leslie, "I am not deserving of one kind feeling. I tell
you truly that I cannot rouse one in return, for any human creature.
Who could, when his grave was dug, his shroud making?"

"Do not talk thus, Leslie; even were it true, a woman, were she friend,
sister, wife, would know no comfort, except to watch and support every
step which remained of his earthly career to one in such trouble."

"I am no judge of that," said Leslie, smiling; "I think, however for
my own part, that I am like an unsociable lion, who stalks into the
wilderness to die, and leaves the lionesses to enjoy themselves in the
world again, when he is gone."

"The world," said Laura, forcing back conversation to a grave tone,
"looks to _you_ for its opinion of me."

"Nay," said Leslie, "it cannot be so unjust."

"Cannot be!" cried Laura; "why use that vain phrase when nothing is
more certain than that it _is_? But heed it not. It is fair, I know
that the woman who has ventured to feel unasked should learn to the
uttermost how she has offended the pride of man."

"On the contrary," said Leslie, "our manly phrase is that we are much
flattered by such generosity."

"And your meaning is that, you despise it."

"That depends upon whether it gives pleasure. For my part," he went
on, "she whom I loved is dead, she is as if dead, and that deadness
has spread over me, so that I am already a mere citizen of that quiet
country, from returning to which I have been unblessed with a short
respite. Let us talk no more."

"Yes, I must say what I have to say; I am wrong to do so, but your
desolate words wring it from me. I liked you prosperous, I love you
miserable; answer what you will, these are plain words--I cannot
deceive."

"Oh no! I can never be deceived again, I can never feel again. I tell
you truly, those words of yours leave me unmoved, therefore unsay them.
I can easily forget."

"No, Leslie, they are as true as that they have been spoken."

"They have a meaning, certainly," said Leslie, "but hardly that which
they bear at first sight. Let us understand each other: do you believe
that busy bodies would respect you more if you bore my name? A dying
man's name is not much to give."

"Leslie, can you think, that even if the world has been so unjust, (and
so it may have been), such selfish thoughts can prompt me in what I
say?"

"Call them by some other title than selfish thoughts, and they seem a
fair motive enough. Only be honest with yourself; confess to yourself
that you are moved by some such motive, and that you know I am so
indifferent to the whole world that I cannot love nor esteem any member
of it; nay, that kind words, such as you have used, pain or annoy me,
more than any amount of indifference."

"You hate me for them," said Laura.

"No, I cannot hate, I cannot love; it is to me as if you said my name
could be useful to you, and as if I hesitated whether to give it or
not. Can you still wish it?"

"Can I do otherwise?" said Laura.

"Yet reflect: should you not buy too dear the suppression of certain
rumours which you say exist, if to attain that end, you must undertake
to walk by a dying man to his grave?"

"Leslie, you know me, or affect to know me very little. I have said the
word which once you almost said to me, I have truly said it; you knew
long since, that you were dear to me--you forget it--it was indifferent
to you. It was not _I_ who forgot it, and now, when all forsake you, I
say again, I love you."

"Remember, even those words leave my heart unmoved. Laura forgive me,
but I seem to myself like the statue of stone, upon taking whose hand
we have all seen such unpleasant consequences ensue at the opera."

"Can you jest?" said Laura.

"No, I will not--I will calculate. I hear those strange words of yours
comparing them with scenes which I confess remain in my memory. I
reflect on the evil you say the world has cast on you. I repeat that I
feel nothing, and that what I do, or what I forbear is indifferent to
me. And after that--if you will--_be_ my wife."

Laura held out her hand, he took it; not as a friend takes his
friend's, not as a lover grasps that of his mistress; but he laid his
palm upon the back of her hand, and rising, led her silently towards
the house.

Pale, unanimated, uncongenial, these two went slowly along the walk,
while the clouds of a suddenly overcast spring sky veiled the light of
the day. It was like Adam and Eve wandering through the world after
they were cast out of Paradise.

Next day Leslie told Mr. Chanson of his engagement with Laura, and
departed to his own house. All approach to tenderness on the part
of Laura, he treated as if it aid not exist, and Mr. Chanson, a
matter-of-fact man, was completely puzzled. But Laura was contented.
The project which had seemed almost impossible was executed; and when
she pondered over the situation in which she found herself, she shut
her eyes upon the fact that Leslie's misery was her own creation, and
dwelt upon that of attaching herself to an unhappy and suffering man,
till she believed that she was both generous and unselfish in so doing.

Leslie meantime reached the Tower in a state of perfect exhaustion,
and he thought with pleasure that the next tidings Laura would receive
of her bridegroom, would be in the formal style, and on the formal
deep-edged paper of the undertaker. He sank into a stupified sleep, at
the length of which the few servants in his house were too uninterested
in their master to wonder, and probably did him the best service in
their power by neglect. He woke and wondered that he did so, and now
without rule and without physic, proceeded to live or die, just as
day by day might determine. His time was passed in the most absolute
solitude, so that through the twenty-four hours he would sometimes
not find occasion to utter a word; he would lie at length on an easy
chair, his gloomy eyes fixed on one spot, or wander into the air, and
out of sight, nobody knew whether afar off, or just hidden by the first
great tree, or projecting buttress of the old wall; and here suffering
his ideas to come or go as they would, the gloom of his mind seemed
to settle thicker and thicker, as weary day was added to weary day.
To himself he appeared drifting into that dark chaos, which, as he
believed surrounded on all sides the brief light of conscious being;
and the impression was the stronger, because he had lost entirely
the activity of those mental faculties which had hitherto been his
pride and pleasure. He never read, never composed, never remembered
the images with which former reading had stored his mind. Nature was
uninteresting. There was sound without music; forms, but no beauty;
actions, but no crime, and no virtue. Even the bitter past was not
enough to account for his total shipwreck; he was convinced as fully as
if it had been matter-of-fact, that the near approach of dissolution it
was which thus covered him over with shadow.

In this mental condition, he wrote several times to Laura, to break
off the engagement she had taken on herself. To him it was a matter
of indifference, but to her it would plainly be mere misery. Laura,
however, heeded no more what he said about himself than she had heeded
the evil reports of the physician, when he was ill at Chanson Wood.
She had her own intemperate hallucination about Leslie, which had
begun in fancy, went on in jealousy, and was confirmed by the measures
into which she had thrown her conscience, and her very soul, to secure
him. It was not likely that she should stop now. If a thing could be
done twice, it would very seldom be done the second time. But the girl
who marries for money must reach the enjoyment of coaches, respect,
and fine clothes before--if it were to be done again--she would _not_
do it; the man who sets his fancy on power, must have possessed the
pride of governing, and the homage of the multitude, before he can
tell whether the sacrifices made for it were worth while. In the same
way, Laura, with a mind incapable of self-control or self-sacrifice,
acknowledged no alternative except being the wife of Leslie; and thus,
under gloomy auspices, their marriage was privately celebrated in the
drawing-room of Chanson Wood, during the month of November of this year.

CHAPTER XII.

LESLIE'S excuse to himself for marrying as he did, was the ever present
conviction that he must die. But for that sick state of mind he could
have done no such thing. He believed the world to be closed upon him,
and circumstances drifting him towards Laura, he had wearily yielded
himself to them for the few months he expected to know the last of
life, and its society.

Time, however, as any one more accustomed to illness would have
anticipated, produced a gradual amelioration; and it was with
reluctance that Leslie found himself compelled to acknowledge a
renewal of the life which his will was ever prompt to lay down. The
commonplace matters of a household in which he was called to act, did
him good. A detected poacher, for instance, a cheating tradesman, a
groom who neglected a horse; and he would have been ashamed to suffer
the intellectual despair which consumed him, to show itself among
practical men, or domestics of his house. He had letters to write
about ordering claret, or paying for a dog-cart, and not deigning to
ask assistance, performed these commonplace tasks, and found they made
inroads on the army of his phantoms. When he mounted his horse again,
the familiar exercise was useful to him, and the first animal he rode
being excessively perverse and obstinate, he had no time to meditate by
brook sides, or through shadowy lanes.

Thus through the winter he went on resuming his intellectual health,
though the moral sank to a lower and lower tone, as he continually
reflected on the dream of innocence and virtue which had existed only
to make him the dupe of a girl of seventeen. That false girl was ever
present to his ideas, he repented his forbearance, he imaged her to
himself in the society she had chosen, he analysed over and over the
apparent guilelessness, the exquisite innocence of her demeanour,
baffled how to reconcile them with what he knew of her treason.

"But did not I myself bid her follow her soldier, if he would have
her?" he repeated to himself. "Heaven! how infinitely far was I from
believing such a coarse word could resemble the truth."

He had more thoroughly believed that he was speaking the truth, when
he told Laura, that in marrying her, she was perfectly indifferent to
him. So she was indeed, and very soon did Laura, after reaching the
point she had allowed to dazzle her, begin the descent which led away
from that glittering height. All her life she had so far taken pleasure
in being popular, as to make people as comfortable as she readily
could; her brother's habits and fancies, her cousin's whims and wishes,
she had never traversed, nay, much more had promoted, and this same
patronising and good-humoured compliance she was now quite willing to
extend to her husband. But in return she had hitherto got gratitude and
worship, and had been exalted to the place of oracle in all matters
which admitted a reference. There was a difference now; for she had
become the companion of a man excessively her superior, whose time
and habits were spent on objects which required rather her exclusion
than her assistance. She attempted changes, but found quickly that
the ways of the house must be the ways of the master; and that there
was an unbending will in this respect which stopped her at once. To
gain the upper hand, she tried jealousy, she tried sickness, she tried
magnanimity, but all in vain; Leslie kept her to her bargain, that in
marrying him, it was her whim and fancy which were gratified.

"Poor Laura," he said to himself, "I promised her I would die, and
here she is suffering all the penalties of believing me. I am sure I
intended it."

Laura's goodhumour soon gave way to these trials; her next effort was
anger, passion, reproach; but to those he put an authoritative stop.
Love was far from them both he knew; but ridicule should be equally
far; an outer decorum should prevail in his house; and as for the rest,
were not women proved to him to be creatures undeserving respect,
incapable of goodness?

Rather more than a twelvemonth had passed since their ill-omened
marriage; and however apparent the unsuitableness of Laura's character
became, the secret of her machinations remained undiscovered. In the
early days of her marriage, the apprehension that some chance might
reveal it, had continually haunted her. Every letter which she saw
Leslie reading made her anxious; she watched his face for the sudden
lighting of discovery; she dreaded when he put it by and said nothing
about the contents, that suspicion had been excited which he would
silently follow out; she examined his letters before they reached him,
if she found it possible to do so; and made pretexts, which afforded
mirth to the servants'-hall, to look at the addresses of those which
he left for the post; every acquaintance awakened her fears, lest some
chance word should reveal the real position of those whom she had
represented under such false colours; and in her anxiety and alarm,
she had invented many ingenious excuses for avoiding communication
with all who could by any chance be acquainted with the persons and
circumstances of the past months.

But as time went by and no revelation took place, as Leslie remained
unaltered, and no kind of allusion to the past ever arose between them,
the silence in which all was involved began to give her confidence, and
that which might have happened at any moment, and which did not happen,
seemed like a thing gone into oblivion, which never could possess a
tangible shape again.

Laura grew bold in impunity, and then followed the reflection that she
had secured the position she now occupied beyond the power even of
discovery to dispossess her. By degrees she began to feel as if the
very discovery would have its advantages. There would be at least a
momentary triumph, in showing how she had outwitted Leslie; and when
his superiority weighed upon her, unsoftened by any kindness on his
part, there would arise a longing on her's, to show that she had once
baffled his talents, and possessed herself of a place from which no
efforts of his could now remove her. It was a heavy secret, which she
dreaded to betray, yet found it difficult to keep, and which would come
almost into the shape of words occasionally, yet shrink back in terror
when there arose a real chance that it should escape.

In this uneasy state, irritation arose out of many a trivial
circumstance; harsh words were said on her side; cold scorn of them was
implied on his; he forgot them, and was neither more nor less annoyed
by the companion who had forced herself upon him than he had expected
to be; his interests were all apart from her, and were tinctured by the
gloomy atmosphere which still clouded his spirits. The habits of his
mind made him resort as necessarily to reading, as his bodily appetite
to food; but the only subjects which could fix his attention were the
stern expression of great passion, the details of strong purpose and
of grand crimes--whatever was bitter towards man, whatever lowered
human nature, he dwelt upon, and thence broke away to his own gloomy
reflections, pursuing the phantom of past faith and hope to their
disappearance, and racking himself against the problem of Elinor's
character and conduct (as they appeared to him), which it baffled him
to explain. He wearied himself with restless exercise, and sought the
reality or the semblance of danger as a means of forgetting for a
while his vain longing for the past; and his hatred of the present.
Miserable, but resolutely silent, he lived through the days.

In these circumstances Mr. Chanson found them, when, in the end of the
autumn following their marriage, he returned from a moor belonging to
him in Scotland, and came to pay a visit at the Tower. He saw nothing
that was going wrong; outer forms were carefully observed, and he was
satisfied with the smooth surface which was presented to his eye; the
bitter words which Laura could not restrain, were unanswered by her
husband, or made to pass for jests; the complaints she suggested were
unreasonable; and her brother, who, in the midst of all his admiration,
had sometimes felt her government rather a severe one, secretly
applauded the manner in which Leslie reigned so absolutely, yet without
any ostentation of dominion. He was well pleased with his reception,
with the amusements of the wild and extended country, and finding
himself alone with his sister and his brother-in-law, his talk flowed
more freely than it did when tramelled by society.

They were all three one afternoon upon the terrace of the Tower, where
the building wanted most repair, and where Leslie had arranged some
plans of alteration.

Laura was very much opposed to these; she had always drawn the
elevation of her brother's cottages, and had as constantly met with
unbounded applause; and when she first heard of the necessity of
building at the Tower, she had prepared a drawing of battlements and
loopholes, which Leslie negatived at once. The subject had been ever
since a sore one, and Leslie avoided it as much as possible. To-day he
had been far from willing to make this spot the scene of their saunter,
but Laura, who was in a bad temper, knew no ease till she had got her
brother there, and could vent her discontent.

"I should not wish this picturesque building spoiled," said Laura;
"should you, Lawrence?"

"No, who would?"

"We don't agree about the way of restoring it," said Leslie.

"No; I incline for preserving the character of the building. I don't
see any reason for destroying a beautiful thing, merely because another
person wishes to preserve it."

"Look here, Lawrence," said his host; "this fragment of a wall fell
when I was a boy, climbing the Tower. It and I came down together."

"And you not killed?" said the Squire.

"So it seems," said Leslie.

"Is that the reason," asked Laura; "why you mean to leave the Tower
with a great rent in it?"

"But I don't mean to do so."

"Nay, the other day when I showed you my idea of the restoration, I
understood you to say it did not suit you to do anything to the Tower."

"Pardon me, I did not feel the merit of your suggestion; but I was and
am aware, that restoration of some kind is essential."

"When do you mean to begin building," said Mr. Chanson.

"I have not thought much about it," said Leslie.

"Then you may leave it to me. I have thought, and I have a right to do
as I please with a part, at least, of the expenditure of the house."

"What is your meaning?" said Leslie.

"Once I could do as I pleased with all that was then my own."

"That's a strange observation," said Leslie; "let us speak of it this
once, because your brother is here. Lawrence, I beg of you to say
whether the implied reproach is well founded."

"Laura, my dear, really I am obliged to acknowledge that for once you
are wrong. Leslie's magnificence to you...do recollect!"

"Wrong? did you ever say such a word as that to me, while I was so
happy in your house."

"One more word," said Leslie; "be just with yourself. In bringing you
here, did I deceive you?"

"Oh, dear no! _I_ am not so easily blinded as others are who boast very
much of their penetration."

"What are you saying or meaning," said her brother, who observed
Leslie's heightened colour at this last thrust, and the sudden
compression of his stern lips. In fact, he understood Laura to allude
to his fatal secret with regard to Elinor, which she had hitherto kept
from her brother, but which he would prefer at once revealing, to
having it held out as a threat whenever she might lose her temper.

"It is quite true," said he to Mr. Chanson, "that I was strangely
deceived by one to whom your sister alludes."

"No, no, Leslie!" cried Laura; "I did not mean that."

"What do you mean? What does anybody mean?" said Mr. Chanson.

"It is best to cast away secrets," said Leslie; "who could bear one
clinging about him like a poisoned shirt? That young girl..."

"What! Elinor?" said Mr. Chanson; "nay, Laura told me all about her the
very day we parted, when Peter took the place with me which you threw
up, and went I know not where...but what does it matter? Laura
forgave you."

"Forgave me?" said Leslie.

"Well, whatever word lovers please to use. You were reconciled at all
events, for here you are man and wife."

"Do choose some other topic for discussion," said Laura; "I will
explain what he means presently," she added, in a low voice to Leslie.

"No, allow me to understand your brother," said Leslie; "I remember
the day perfectly, but being absent, you know, I was not aware of the
movements of the rest of the party. Your nephew took my place?"

"He did. Laura persuaded him."

"Yes," said Laura; "they travelled part of their journey together. Now,
Lawrence, you promised to walk to the brook. Let us go, or it will be
too late."

"Well, if you wish it," said her brother; but Leslie interposed.

"Did you ever learn where Sir Peter went when you parted?"

"To Ceylon, man! We all know that.."

"But in the interval between the time when you parted from him and he
set out, are _you_ aware where he went?"

"Nowhere at all," answered Mr. Chanson, "except where I went. I never
did part with him till he went abroad. How could he go anywhere?"

"I heard a very different tale," said Laura.

"That's unaccountable," said Mr. Chanson; "why, you know very well that
I went to sea with him for a dozen miles, and came back in Mendip's
yacht."

"Are you sure," said Leslie to Laura in the commonplace tone of
conversation; "that you _did_ hear a different account?"

"Did not _you_?" said Laura, in an abrupt, scornful voice.

"Yes. I was told another."

"And believed it," whispered Laura, under her breath.

Leslie looked at her fixedly. Mr. Chanson went on speaking. "Peter was
sorry enough that his visit was at an end. He was a great admirer of
Laura, and in a lesser degree of Elinor also. It was a pity she could
not marry him."

"Do you speak so easily of what passed?" said Leslie.

"Why not? if she had liked him it would have been all very well."

"She had no mind to marry so poor a man," said Laura.

"Poor little thing! Any fate would have been better than shutting
herself up in the nunnery," said Mr. Chanson; "I often think of her."

"She is there?" said Leslie, in a voice of perfect composure, and Laura
could not but start at the self-command which enabled him to catch at
the revelation her brother was unconsciously making without betraying
that it was new to him.

"Certainly; it was entirely her own choice to go there, was not it,
Laura?"

"Her own, solely, I suppose we must conclude," said Laura.

"You hear of her sometimes?" asked Leslie.

"Yes; every three months an ecclesiastic connected with the
establishment acknowledges my remittance of her little income. It is
little, indeed, but since she has chosen that life, they tell me it is
better not to add to it."

"You have never failed to hear from him?" asked Leslie.

"No, except when I was absent from home. Laura had the letter then. Did
not she mention it?"

"Not I," said Laura; "was it worth while? I am tired of the subject--I
am cold. I shall go in..." and she departed, walking leisurely
towards the house.

"I see how it is," said Mr. Chanson; "Laura has not quite forgotten
the fit of jealousy which Elinor caused her, but take no notice of it.
Women are naturally unreasonable, and must be allowed for."

"In what have I given her cause?" said Leslie.

"Oh! I am alluding to the time before your marriage, to your great
quarrel, when we all parted."

"She complained to you?"

"No, no! don't think it; but seeing her so unhappy, I could not
but inquire the cause, and then, for the first time I learned your
engagement, and her fears that Elinor had entangled you, though in love
all the time herself with young Bicester."

"All that, she told you?"

"Yes."

"Indeed!" said Leslie; "never mind. I begin to understand. And Sir
Peter, what did he say?"

"I never said much to him on the subject. But in what little he did,
say, he alleged in his own excuse that having learned your engagement
to Laura, from Laura herself, he thought himself entitled to make love
to Elinor, as you had no right to do so--all the time acknowledging
that she avoided him as much as she could, and that he was wrong to
have so persecuted her."

"Did he say that?" asked Leslie; then, as Mr. Chanson made no answer
beyond a brief "Ay," he repeated in a tone which would have startled
one more observant than the Squire: "Did he say _that_?"

"Yes: honourable of him was it not? I should have been quite deceived
in that young girl had not Laura told me beforehand of her little
skittish ways."

Leslie kept silence, but with a sudden effort he broke in two the short
stick which he held in his hand; his brother-in-law looked at him in
astonishment.

"By Jove! that's a strong arm. Is it some trick? How do you do it?"

"Sometimes one has a wish to do a strong thing," said Leslie, pitching
away the broken pieces.

Mr. Chanson rose from the stone wall where he had been sitting. Leslie
also moved, and took the way towards the house, whither, following the
impulse thus given, the Squire also bent his steps, and entering it
by the first door they came to, Mr. Chanson turned into the hall, and
Leslie, the moment he was alone, strode up stairs in quest of Laura.

She knew he was coming, but did not know herself what mood his coming
would excite in her. She was frightened at one moment, angry and fierce
at another; sometimes he seemed the Leslie upon whom she had let her
fancy doat, and then the Leslie whom at other times she hated with all
the violence of her former love. He found her, at apparent ease, in a
lounging chair, with a newspaper in her hand. She looked at him as he
entered almost as a wild animal would look, excited to self-defence,
and ready for flight or fight as the movements of the intruder might
determine. Leslie came forward to the table which was on one side of
her, and there he stood, saying at once in a perfectly calm voice:

"I am come to demand account from you of the deceit you have practised
upon me."

"Have I deceived you?" said Laura; "did you believe me?"

"Yes; a lie like yours there is no defence against. Unsay it."

"What am I to say and unsay?"

"Where is that young girl?"

"Whom do you mean?" said Laura.

"Elinor Ladylift."

Laura laughed. "You speak out. Elinor Ladylift is in the convent of St.
Cécile. You heard my brother say so."

"Did she at once go there, stay there? did no one ever seek her there?
did she take refuge and remain there?"

"So Lawrence said."

"You dare not trifle!" said Leslie, striking the table with his hand,
and advancing a step nearer to Laura. "Do you know it of your own
knowledge?"

"I know nothing to the contrary," said Laura.

"You acknowledge, then, that your representations were false..."

"False!" said Laura.

"Go on. There was a letter brought to me by yourself. Explain it."

"I have often brought you letters," said Laura.

"There was a letter purporting to be written by Elinor Ladylift to your
cousin Bicester. Was that letter a forgery?"

"It was her writing," said Laura.

"What is behind in your meaning? Dare you say she sent it to him? Dare
you..."

"I did dare, and it answered my purpose," said Laura; "you believed.
I could have laughed at times to think how the great, manly intellect
yielded to despised woman."

"Laugh! yes," said Leslie; "that is the very word for perfidy and crime
which in due time have lost their covering, and are carrying you to the
ruin you have wrought for others."

Laura sprang up. "Nay, not so; guilty I have been, but what has made
me so? Miserable I may be, but I ventured all for that which I have
won--I am yours!--you are mine! In that hope I knew nothing, cared for
nothing, except itself. Whatever I have done, you, you Leslie should
pardon me, for that for which I perilled my very soul was your love!"

But Leslie drew back as she approached him. "Love!" he said; "is it
by that name you call a vile fancy which was contented patiently to
destroy life and hope in its object? How nearly you have dragged me to
death, how far from happiness. But no more of that. The past has been
yours, the present is mine. I care nothing for unravelling the web of
your perfidy. Enough that I know all you have said and done is false.
Enough. I have borne with you while what you acted passed for true. Now
do _you_ bear with whatsoever befalls you, dragged on your own head by
your own deed! I have done."

He left the room at once. Laura sprang up before he was gone, and
called him, but he closed the door and went to his room. Here, like a
man who once possessing the amulet that ensured the blessing of his
life, and who, dropping it into some profound lake, stands despairingly
gazing into the waters; did Leslie stand awhile, horror-stricken at
the knowledge of his own fate. All that he had left behind he now saw
and knew; all the clouds that had hidden past actions rolled away, and
left the view of the sunny land behind him, which he had exchanged for
the dreary pestilential region now surrounding him. The horror of his
entanglement bewildered him; the thought of all those days and months,
wherein reparation for his cruel injustice had been delayed, pressed
upon his senses; the choking feeling of distance and alienation wrought
so fiercely on him, that of all impossible things the most impossible
to his imperious and self-indulged nature was to delay by even another
hour to seek, nay, to force an interview with Elinor, leaving the issue
of that interview to be what it will.

Springing out of the first torpor, he took measures at once to leave
the Tower. He provided himself with what money was in the house;
he thrust his papers and letters into the drawers, and summoning a
servant, bade him instantly prepare what was necessary for a journey,
and bring it after him to the neighbouring town, whither he himself
would proceed at once on foot. To put himself into action was the only
relief he could find, and hastily he passed through the hall, and out
on his road away, able he knew to conceal his emotion from any one he
might casually meet, but not trusting himself either with inaction or
with the sight of the woman who had ruined him.

When joined by his servant, he took charge himself of the portmanteau,
sending back the man without message or explanation, and hastened
alone with all possible despatch to the coast. Here he took the first
conveyance which crossed the sea, and was put ashore at early dawn
on the Breton coast, at a village but a few miles from St. Cécile's
nunnery.

It was Thursday, and he remembered having heard Elinor say that
Thursday was the day on which the pensioners were chiefly permitted to
receive their visitors. He therefore pressed forward with all haste
to add one more chance to those shadowy chances which remained of
ever beholding that dear face again, but his heart died within him
to think how faint they were; sixteen months' grief, neglect, Time,
what had they done? Was she even there? was she perhaps lying at
perpetual rest beneath a reviving turf? or if she lived, was she by
this time a professed nun, alive, but dead to him? Could she forgive
him? had he not believed accusations which the deceiver herself had
thought it incredible to impose upon him? Oh! what mountain piles of
sin had he not committed against the gentlest, most charitable, most
defenceless of beings! He saw the little low building rising before
him with emotion that almost choked his breath. It stood on a common
which descended to the sea-shore, terminating in rushes and sand
hills; a marshy pool or two glittered in the sun, and some small cows
were picking up the coarse herbage under the care of a boy and girl
bareheaded and barefooted. The building itself was low, and formed a
square, of which the side opposite Leslie was unpierced by windows,
and except for one low door at the upper end, it might have been, what
Leslie's gloomy feelings likened it to, a tomb.

At this door he knocked, and presented a letter he had prepared,
entreating permission, in her guardian's name, to speak to Miss
Ladylift. The lay sister took it, and returning before long, conducted
him to another part of the low, gray square, where she admitted him
to the parlour and there left him. There was already a young girl,
laughing with a motherly woman, and with a child, who seemed the girl's
sister. Leslie turned to the window, his back to these people, his face
therefore not to be seen at once, although he could watch whoever came
in at the door. And before any long time, there was the voice he loved
so fearfully.

"Qui me demande?" and Elinor stood there looking at the group within.

"One not worthy so much as to ask pardon," said Leslie, turning to her
and approaching.

"Mr. Leslie!" cried Elinor, starting as if a bullet had struck her
heart.

"That's the last word you said when I last beheld you," said Leslie;
"if I was mad then--if there was a curse upon me, can you forgive me?"

"I forgave you long since," said Elinor.

"That is, you would wish me no harm," said Leslie; "but is that all--is
forgiveness only that?"

"Yes, only that," said Elinor; "but indeed, full and free forgiveness,
for though you were more unjust than I understood, you know that,
_now_, or you would not be here. Good-bye."

"No! no! no!" said Leslie, taking her hand, and drawing her to the
window, while he spoke very low. "It is not all so lost between us. You
are to me all that woman can be to man. You have my destiny in your
hand; you must hear me."

"There is nothing to hear," said Elinor; "you renounced me, and I found
shelter here. Your wife sent me."

"I have none," said Leslie.

"How! I know from herself that you have married Miss Chanson."

"No; there is a fiend who lays claim to me; a serpent stole round me,
but I am free!"

"You speak madly," said Elinor; "I will go. May you be happy! Farewell!"

"Is that all? you loved me once, Elinor."

"I try to forget all the past," said Elinor. "It is quite gone...Let
me go now."

"You try? Do you say that? Alas! is it your will never to see me again?"

She did but bow her head as if in assent, but he felt her trembling
hand.

"Oh, my beautiful! my perfect!" he cried, grasping that hand and trying
to look into her eyes; "you love me still! that love is still there.
You are too true and good to say 'No!' when you cannot but say to
yourself 'It is Yes!"' Elinor hid her face as far as she could on her
own shoulder, the tears ran down her cheeks. "You loved me once," he
repeated.

"You tried to make me," said Elinor.

"Oh, angel! I did. It was long before your heart gave way; very long
before your colour mounted when I came, but it did at last, and you
never can forget it."

A sob broke from Elinor.

"La pauvre enfant," said the old mother, who was present; "laissons
les!"

"Mais, ma mère, c'est si joli," whispered the young pensioner.

"Fi, donc, Jacqueline! un jour cela t'arrivera à toi, peutêtre. Faut
être compatissant," and the good woman drew away her girls, leaving the
room to Leslie and Elinor.

Leslie drew a chair for her, and sank down before her. "I have been so
miserable," he said, dropping his face on her knees, "I am so--not at
this moment, with your precious hand in mine, but if I loose it and am
again what I was before I grasped it, I cannot go on living, I must
die."

"It would be best if we both could die," said Elinor, "for on earth we
must part for ever."

"Then you, you--are _you_ happy?"

"No!" said Elinor, hiding her face and weeping.

"Alas! and once we were so near it--a word or two was all that was
between it and us. I had it in my hand, I let it go. But it is near
again, now we are near."

"How _could_ you doubt me?" said Elinor; "I learned you thought I could
possibly feel regard for one who was not you."

"Was I not mad? was I not a fallen spirit, into whose hands an angelic
one had been put? But you are here again to save me; it is your destiny
to save me."

"Do not talk idly; you have chosen your companion; your wife..."

"Wife, hush! hush! there is one whom my heart acknowledges--here, this
is my lawful wife. That woman is a mere adultress."

"You frighten me, Leslie."

"Ah! save me from what frightens myself--come with me now. Rise, fly
with me. The world is waiting for us outside that open door. We cannot
stay in prison; home, paradise, innocence, wait for us there! Come, my
own Elinor!"

Elinor's eyes raised to his face, reminded him of that day, now two
years old, when they before so innocently looked at him, wondering at
his meaning.

"Could I leave my Mother so? Would she allow it?"

"No, no; but to be happy is our nature. I am good if I am happy, but
make me miserable, Elinor, and what crimes lie before me!"

"Nay," said Elinor, "we need not be happy, but we must be good."

"Are not those two things one," said Leslie; "if it lie in your power
to render a human creature the most blessed being on the earth, would
you not do wrong to leave him in his misery? Must not that be wrong?"

"I cannot tell," said Elinor; "we must wait--one day, no doubt, we
shall be happy."

"And will our youth wait for us, will our life wait?"

"Oh no!" said Elinor, "and I wish, with all my heart I wish, that we
were old, and sick, and infirm, for then we should be near the land
where I may come to you."

"Ah Elinor! but should those lands be dreams! Hear me!..."

"I cannot, dear Leslie--oh yes! indeed you are _dear_ Leslie--I only
know we are parted for ever." Elinor forcibly rose, while Leslie with
her hand in his, detained her, pleading, still more by the agony he
suffered than by his words; and at that moment the door opened, and
a tall handsome woman, her face bounded by the straight lines of her
head-gear, came in, and Elinor at once broke away, and took up her
place, pressed close against the Reverend Mother. She whispered a
word or two to the young girl, and Elinor instantly stood freely up,
and though the tears ran over, spoke out, "God bless you, Leslie!
Farewell!" and vanished through the door, from his sight.

"You have brought her bad news, I fear," said the Superior.

"Yes, bad news," repeated Leslie, mechanically.

"Poor child! she has need of good. Ever since she came back here so
suddenly, she has had a weight at her heart. What sort of people were
they, those guardians of hers?"

"I know scarcely anything about them," said Leslie.

"Yet you came from them to her, I understood."

"Yes," said Leslie, "I am acquainted with them, but they are people
perfectly indifferent to me."

"Do you think anything happened there to make her unhappy? Who visited
chiefly at the house?"

"I knew one, a mere fool," said Leslie, "he thought himself clever, and
was the gull of every female and male idiot that chose to deceive him."

"Then he it could not be, whom she regrets."

"Does she regret some one?"

"I cannot tell; her confessor knows; if she have proved the vanity of
worldly affections, I hope it may turn her soul to the holy bridal of
the church."

"God forbid!" cried Leslie.

"And why, sir? Do you think she has no vocation?"

"Vocation!" repeated Leslie, hardly knowing what he said.

"Before she went to England, I thought so too," said the lady, "but
experience of the world's emptiness and sorrow, often work a change for
the better in the heart."

"Alas!" said Leslie.

"There would be a difficulty, of which you are perhaps aware," said the
Superior.

"Difficulty? yes, no doubt--what is it?"

"When we have devoted ourselves to our profession, and have no leisure
for the works which earn a living, we must have means of subsistence,
live as hardly as we will. Therefore those who enter here for a life of
devotion must be able to support themselves and others, by contributing
to the general stock, or else they must come as menials, which would
not do for her...but Elinor is so very poor."

"Is she poor?" said Leslie, with infinite pity in his voice.

"She has perhaps ten thousand francs for all her fortune; what you
call, she tells me, sixteen pounds a-year."

"Oh! my Elinor!" groaned Leslie.

"With that she boards, and though it is too little, we keep the
precious child among us, and she nurses, teaches, works, up to her best
strength to make up what is wanted."

"Madam," said Leslie, "your society is most worthy, most deserving,
would not a few thousand francs, bestowed on it in her name, secure her
more comforts, more ease?"

"Such a donation might enable her to assume the veil," said the
Superior.

Leslie shrank as if his hand had found itself on the bag of a nest of
hornets.

"Don't let her do that, Reverend Mother," said he; "what is so
dangerous as to encourage vows which are not voluntary, or of which the
vower may repent? You might have a sin to answer for."

"Fear not," said the Superior, with dignity, "that we need the advice
of a stranger in guiding our flock."

"No, no, I am aware of that--yet I entreat you forbid her to become a
nun."

"Leave her to us, young man," said the Superior.

"I must see her again," said Leslie.

"Nay, your interview has already been long."

"And write to her."

"Give me your letter, if you wish to write, she shall have it."

"But if she wishes it, I may return."

"If she does not wish it, you cannot."

"And you will influence her. Oh! madam, there are miseries in the
world, so great that you would pity the very devils whom you hate, for
suffering them."

"There is a refuge from all," the Superior began--but Leslie broke away.

"I can't hear it now; preach to ease, not to the rack. Let me go," and
he rushed away in a state of mind almost beyond his own control.

For several days he wandered round the Convent, asking admittance, and
still refused, offering rewards to get a letter conveyed to Elinor, but
denied; haunted by her tearful eyes, by her poverty, by her desolation.
He was terrified at the possibility of the vows she might contract,
and was for ever grasping at those blessings which might have been
his and hers, but which were now mere shadows of those real things
floating away, further and further into the past. He was fast bound in
the meshes, which a woman, a mere woman, had found the means to twine
around him, and fiercely did he resent the injury, and gaze sternly at
her falsehood and successful deceit. It was in vain he raged against
his bonds, which Elinor refused to assist him in evading, and which the
hand that fastened them, even if willing, had no power to untie, though
it had sought and forced the fatal spell to make them fast. She was his
fate; a contemptible, but all powerful agent; a hateful presence which
had forced itself upon him, and which held him imprisoned in sight of
the felicity he had once grasped, and let go at the false accents of
that despicable deceiver.

Violent were the passions of the strong but fettered man, fierce the
hatred of the powerful but baffled intellect; wild was the fury of the
man, who believed in but one world of good, and saw the mortal moments
passing away, unenjoyed, and irretrievable.

Out of those hours arose a purpose. The reader sees the man, and knows
the deed. From the premises laid before him, he need not indeed have
concluded that even that man would do that deed; but since it was told,
in 1855, that the husband killed the wife, so now, in 1860, it is
explained _why_ he killed her.


THE END


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