In little more than twenty minutes
the journey was accomplished.
I paused at the gate to wipe
my streaming forehead, and recover
my breath and some degree of
composure. Already the rapid
walking had somewhat mitigated
my excitement; and with a firm
and steady tread I paced the
garden-walk. In passing the inhabited
wing of the building, I caught
a sight of Mrs. Graham, through
the open window, slowly pacing
up and down her lonely room.
She seemed agitated and even
dismayed at my arrival, as if
she thought I too was coming
to accuse her. I had entered
her presence intending to condole
with her upon the wickedness
of the world, and help her to
abuse the vicar and his vile
informants, but now I felt positively
ashamed to mention the subject,
and determined not to refer to
it, unless she led the way.
'I am come at an unseasonable
hour,' said I, assuming a cheerfulness
I did not feel, in order to reassure
her; 'but I won't stay many minutes.'
She smiled upon me, faintly
it is true, but most kindly -
I had almost said thankfully,
as her apprehensions were removed.
'How dismal you are, Helen!
Why have you no fire?' I said,
looking round on the gloomy apartment.
'It is summer yet,' she replied.
'But we always have a fire
in the evenings, if we can bear
it; and you especially require
one in this cold house and dreary
'You should have come a little
sooner, and I would have had
one lighted for you: but it is
not worth while now - you won't
stay many minutes, you say, and
Arthur is gone to bed.'
'But I have a fancy for a fire,
nevertheless. Will you order
one, if I ring?'
'Why, Gilbert, you don't look
cold!' said she, smilingly regarding
my face, which no doubt seemed
'No,' replied I, 'but I want
to see you comfortable before
'Me comfortable!' repeated
she, with a bitter laugh, as
if there were something amusingly
absurd in the idea. 'It suits
me better as it is,' she added,
in a tone of mournful resignation.
But determined to have my own
way, I pulled the bell.
'There now, Helen!' I said,
as the approaching steps of Rachel
were heard in answer to the summons.
There was nothing for it but
to turn round and desire the
maid to light the fire.
I owe Rachel a grudge to this
day for the look she cast upon
me ere she departed on her mission,
the sour, suspicious, inquisitorial
look that plainly demanded, 'What
are you here for, I wonder?'
Her mistress did not fail to
notice it, and a shade of uneasiness
darkened her brow.
'You must not stay long, Gilbert,'
said she, when the door was closed
'I'm not going to,' said I,
somewhat testily, though without
a grain of anger in my heart
against any one but the meddling
old woman. 'But, Helen, I've
something to say to you before
'What is it?'
'No, not now - I don't know
yet precisely what it is, or
how to say it,' replied I, with
more truth than wisdom; and then,
fearing lest she should turn
me out of the house, I began
talking about indifferent matters
in order to gain time. Meanwhile
Rachel came in to kindle the
fire, which was soon effected
by thrusting a red- hot poker
between the bars of the grate,
where the fuel was already disposed
for ignition. She honoured me
with another of her hard, inhospitable
looks in departing, but, little
moved thereby, I went on talking;
and setting a chair for Mrs.
Graham on one side of the hearth,
and one for myself on the other,
I ventured to sit down, though
half suspecting she would rather
see me go.
In a little while we both relapsed
into silence, and continued for
several minutes gazing abstractedly
into the fire - she intent upon
her own sad thoughts, and I reflecting
how delightful it would be to
be seated thus beside her with
no other presence to restrain
our intercourse - not even that
of Arthur, our mutual friend,
without whom we had never met
before - if only I could venture
to speak my mind, and disburden
my full heart of the feelings
that had so long oppressed it,
and which it now struggled to
retain, with an effort that it
seemed impossible to continue
much longer, - and revolving
the pros and cons for opening
my heart to her there and then,
and imploring a return of affection,
the permission to regard her
thenceforth as my own, and the
right and the power to defend
her from the calumnies of malicious
tongues. On the one hand, I felt
a new-born confidence in my powers
of persuasion - a strong conviction
that my own fervour of spirit
would grant me eloquence - that
my very determination - the absolute
necessity for succeeding, that
I felt must win me what I sought;
while, on the other, I feared
to lose the ground I had already
gained with so much toil and
skill, and destroy all future
hope by one rash effort, when
time and patience might have
won success. It was like setting
my life upon the cast of a die;
and yet I was ready to resolve
upon the attempt. At any rate,
I would entreat the explanation
she had half promised to give
me before; I would demand the
reason of this hateful barrier,
this mysterious impediment to
my happiness, and, as I trusted,
to her own.
But while I considered in what
manner I could best frame my
request, my companion, wakened
from her reverie with a scarcely
audible sigh, and looking towards
the window, where the blood-red
harvest moon, just rising over
one of the grim, fantastic evergreens,
was shining in upon us, said,
- 'Gilbert, it is getting late.'
'I see,' said I. 'You want
me to go, I suppose?'
'I think you ought. If my kind
neighbours get to know of this
visit - as no doubt they will
- they will not turn it much
to my advantage.'
It was with what the vicar
would doubtless have called a
savage sort of smile that she
'Let them turn it as they will,'
said I. 'What are their thoughts
to you or me, so long as we are
satisfied with ourselves - and
each other. Let them go to the
deuce with their vile constructions
and their lying inventions!'
This outburst brought a flush
of colour to her face.
'You have heard, then, what
they say of me?'
'I heard some detestable falsehoods;
but none but fools would credit
them for a moment, Helen, so
don't let them trouble you.'
'I did not think Mr. Millward
a fool, and he believes it all;
but however little you may value
the opinions of those about you
- however little you may esteem
them as individuals, it is not
pleasant to be looked upon as
a liar and a hypocrite, to be
thought to practise what you
abhor, and to encourage the vices
you would discountenance, to
find your good intentions frustrated,
and your hands crippled by your
supposed unworthiness, and to
bring disgrace on the principles
'True; and if I, by my thoughtlessness
and selfish disregard to appearances,
have at all assisted to expose
you to these evils, let me entreat
you not only to pardon me, but
to enable me to make reparation;
authorise me to clear your name
from every imputation: give me
the right to identify your honour
with my own, and to defend your
reputation as more precious than
'Are you hero enough to unite
yourself to one whom you know
to be suspected and despised
by all around you, and identify
your interests and your honour
with hers? Think! it is a serious
'I should be proud to do it,
Helen! - most happy - delighted
beyond expression! - and if that
be all the obstacle to our union,
it is demolished, and you must
- you shall be mine!'
And starting from my seat in
a frenzy of ardour, I seized
her hand and would have pressed
it to my lips, but she as suddenly
caught it away, exclaiming in
the bitterness of intense affliction,
- 'No, no, it is not all!'
'What is it, then? You promised
I should know some time, and
'You shall know some time -
but not now - my head aches terribly,'
she said, pressing her hand to
her forehead, 'and I must have
some repose - and surely I have
had misery enough to-day!' she
added, almost wildly.
'But it could not harm you
to tell it,' I persisted: 'it
would ease your mind; and I should
then know how to comfort you.'
She shook her head despondingly.
'If you knew all, you, too, would
blame me - perhaps even more
than I deserve - though I have
cruelly wronged you,' she added
in a low murmur, as if she mused
'You, Helen? Impossible?'
'Yes, not willingly; for I
did not know the strength and
depth of your attachment. I thought
- at least I endeavoured to think
your regard for me was as cold
and fraternal as you professed
it to be.'
'Or as yours?'
'Or as mine - ought to have
been - of such a light and selfish,
superficial nature, that - '
'There, indeed, you wronged
I know I did; and, sometimes,
I suspected it then; but I thought,
upon the whole, there could be
no great harm in leaving your
fancies and your hopes to dream
themselves to nothing - or flutter
away to some more fitting object,
while your friendly sympathies
remained with me; but if I had
known the depth of your regard,
the generous, disinterested affection
you seem to feel - '
'That you do feel, then, I
would have acted differently.'
'How? You could not have given
me less encouragement, or treated
me with greater severity than
you did! And if you think you
have wronged me by giving me
your friendship, and occasionally
admitting me to the enjoyment
of your company and conversation,
when all hopes of closer intimacy
were vain - as indeed you always
gave me to understand - if you
think you have wronged me by
this, you are mistaken; for such
favours, in themselves alone,
are not only delightful to my
heart, but purifying, exalting,
ennobling to my soul; and I would
rather have your friendship than
the love of any other woman in
Little comforted by this, she
clasped her hands upon her knee,
and glancing upward, seemed,
in silent anguish, to implore
divine assistance; then, turning
to me, she calmly said, - 'To-morrow,
if you meet me on the moor about
mid-day, I will tell you all
you seek to know; and perhaps
you will then see the necessity
of discontinuing our intimacy
- if, indeed, you do not willingly
resign me as one no longer worthy
'I can safely answer no to
that: you cannot have such grave
confessions to make - you must
be trying my faith, Helen.'
'No, no, no,' she earnestly
repeated - 'I wish it were so!
Thank heaven!' she added, 'I
have no great crime to confess;
but I have more than you will
like to hear, or, perhaps, can
readily excuse, - and more than
I can tell you now; so let me
entreat you to leave me!'
'I will; but answer me this
one question first; - do you
'I will not answer it!'
'Then I will conclude you do;
and so good-night.'
She turned from me to hide
the emotion she could not quite
control; but I took her hand
and fervently kissed it.
'Gilbert, do leave me!' she
cried, in a tone of such thrilling
anguish that I felt it would
be cruel to disobey.
But I gave one look back before
I closed the door, and saw her
leaning forward on the table,
with her hands pressed against
her eyes, sobbing convulsively;
yet I withdrew in silence. I
felt that to obtrude my consolations
on her then would only serve
to aggravate her sufferings.
To tell you all the questionings
and conjectures - the fears,
and hopes, and wild emotions
that jostled and chased each
other through my mind as I descended
the hill, would almost fill a
volume in itself. But before
I was half-way down, a sentiment
of strong sympathy for her I
had left behind me had displaced
all other feelings, and seemed
imperatively to draw me back:
I began to think, 'Why am I hurrying
so fast in this direction? Can
I find comfort or consolation
- peace, certainty, contentment,
all - or anything that I want
at home? and can I leave all
perturbation, sorrow, and anxiety
behind me there?'
And I turned round to look
at the old Hall. There was little
besides the chimneys visible
above my contracted horizon.
I walked back to get a better
view of it. When it rose in sight,
I stood still a moment to look,
and then continued moving towards
the gloomy object of attraction.
Something called me nearer -
nearer still - and why not, pray?
Might I not find more benefit
in the contemplation of that
venerable pile with the full
moon in the cloudless heaven
shining so calmly above it -
with that warm yellow lustre
peculiar to an August night -
and the mistress of my soul within,
than in returning to my home,
where all comparatively was light,
and life, and cheerfulness, and
therefore inimical to me in my
present frame of mind, - and
the more so that its inmates
all were more or less imbued
with that detestable belief,
the very thought of which made
my blood boil in my veins - and
how could I endure to hear it
openly declared, or cautiously
insinuated - which was worse?
- I had had trouble enough already,
with some babbling fiend that
would keep whispering in my ear,
'It may be true,' till I had
shouted aloud, 'It is false!
I defy you to make me suppose
I could see the red firelight
dimly gleaming from her parlour
window. I went up to the garden
wall, and stood leaning over
it, with my eyes fixed upon the
lattice, wondering what she was
doing, thinking, or suffering
now, and wishing I could speak
to her but one word, or even
catch one glimpse of her, before
I had not thus looked, and
wished, and wondered long, before
I vaulted over the barrier, unable
to resist the temptation of taking
one glance through the window,
just to if she were more composed
than when we parted; - and if
I found her still in deep distress,
perhaps I might venture attempt
a word of comfort - to utter
one of the many things I should
have said before, instead of
aggravating her sufferings by
my stupid impetuosity. I looked.
Her chair was vacant: so was
the room. But at that moment
some one opened the outer door,
and a voice - her voice - said,
- 'Come out - I want to see the
moon, and breathe the evening
air: they will do me good - if
Here, then, were she and Rachel
coming to take a walk in the
garden. I wished myself safe
back over the wall. I stood,
however, in the shadow of the
tall holly-bush, which, standing
between the window and the porch,
at present screened me from observation,
but did not prevent me from seeing
two figures come forth into the
moonlight: Mrs. Graham followed
by another - not Rachel, but
a young man, slender and rather
tall. O heavens, how my temples
throbbed! Intense anxiety darkened
my sight; but I thought - yes,
and the voice confirmed it -
it was Mr. Lawrence!
'You should not let it worry
you so much, Helen,' said he;
'I will be more cautious in future;
and in time - '
I did not hear the rest of
the sentence; for he walked close
beside her and spoke so gently
that I could not catch the words.
My heart was splitting with hatred;
but I listened intently for her
reply. I heard it plainly enough.
'But I must leave this place,
Frederick,' she said - 'I never
can be happy here, - nor anywhere
else, indeed,' she added, with
a mirthless laugh, - 'but I cannot
'But where could you find a
better place?' replied he, 'so
secluded - so near me, if you
think anything of that.'
'Yes,' interrupted she, 'it
is all I could wish, if they
could only have left me alone.'
'But wherever you go, Helen,
there will be the same sources
of annoyance. I cannot consent
to lose you: I must go with you,
or come to you; and there are
meddling fools elsewhere, as
well as here.'
While thus conversing they
had sauntered slowly past me,
down the walk, and I heard no
more of their discourse; but
I saw him put his arm round her
waist, while she lovingly rested
her hand on his shoulder; - and
then, a tremulous darkness obscured
my sight, my heart sickened and
my head burned like fire: I half
rushed, half staggered from the
spot, where horror had kept me
rooted, and leaped or tumbled
over the wall - I hardly know
which - but I know that, afterwards,
like a passionate child, I dashed
myself on the ground and lay
there in a paroxysm of anger
and despair - how long, I cannot
undertake to say; but it must
have been a considerable time;
for when, having partially relieved
myself by a torment of tears,
and looked up at the moon, shining
so calmly and carelessly on,
as little influenced by my misery
as I was by its peaceful radiance,
and earnestly prayed for death
or forgetfulness, I had risen
and journeyed homewards - little
regarding the way, but carried
instinctively by my feet to the
door, I found it bolted against
me, and every one in bed except
my mother, who hastened to answer
my impatient knocking, and received
me with a shower of questions
'Oh, Gilbert! how could you
do so? Where have you been? Do
come in and take your supper.
I've got it all ready, though
you don't deserve it, for keeping
me in such a fright, after the
strange manner you left the house
this evening. Mr. Millward was
quite - Bless the boy! how ill
he looks. Oh, gracious! what
is the matter?'
'Nothing, nothing - give me
'But won't you take some supper?'
'No; I want to go to bed,'
said I, taking a candle and lighting
it at the one she held in her
'Oh, Gilbert, how you tremble!'
exclaimed my anxious parent.
'How white you look! Do tell
me what it is? Has anything happened?'
'It's nothing,' cried I, ready
to stamp with vexation because
the candle would not light. Then,
suppressing my irritation, I
added, 'I've been walking too
fast, that's all. Good-night,'
and marched off to bed, regardless
of the 'Walking too fast! where
have you been?' that was called
after me from below.
My mother followed me to the
very door of my room with her
questionings and advice concerning
my health and my conduct; but
I implored her to let me alone
till morning; and she withdrew,
and at length I had the satisfaction
to hear her close her own door.
There was no sleep for me, however,
that night as I thought; and
instead of attempting to solicit
it, I employed myself in rapidly
pacing the chamber, having first
removed my boots, lest my mother
should hear me. But the boards
creaked, and she was watchful.
I had not walked above a quarter
of an hour before she was at
the door again.
'Gilbert, why are you not in
bed - you said you wanted to
'Confound it! I'm going,' said
'But why are you so long about
it? You must have something on
your mind - '
'For heaven's sake, let me
alone, and get to bed yourself.'
'Can it be that Mrs. Graham
that distresses you so?'
'No, no, I tell you - it's
'I wish to goodness it mayn't,'
murmured she, with a sigh, as
she returned to her own apartment,
while I threw myself on the bed,
feeling most undutifully disaffected
towards her for having deprived
me of what seemed the only shadow
of a consolation that remained,
and chained me to that wretched
couch of thorns.
Never did I endure so long,
so miserable a night as that.
And yet it was not wholly sleepless.
Towards morning my distracting
thoughts began to lose all pretensions
to coherency, and shape themselves
into confused and feverish dreams,
and, at length, there followed
an interval of unconscious slumber.
But then the dawn of bitter recollection
that succeeded - the waking to
find life a blank, and worse
than a blank, teeming with torment
and misery - not a mere barren
wilderness, but full of thorns
and briers - to find myself deceived,
duped, hopeless, my affections
trampled upon, my angel not an
angel, and my friend a fiend
incarnate - it was worse than
if I had not slept at all.
It was a dull, gloomy morning;
the weather had changed like
my prospects, and the rain was
pattering against the window.
I rose, nevertheless, and went
out; not to look after the farm,
though that would serve as my
excuse, but to cool my brain,
and regain, if possible, a sufficient
degree of composure to meet the
family at the morning meal without
exciting inconvenient remarks.
If I got a wetting, that, in
conjunction with a pretended
over-exertion before breakfast,
might excuse my sudden loss of
appetite; and if a cold ensued,
the severer the better - it would
help to account for the sullen
moods and moping melancholy likely
to cloud my brow for long enough.