The next day I accompanied my
uncle and aunt to a dinner-party
at Mr. Wilmot's. He had two ladies
staying with him: his niece Annabella,
a fine dashing girl, or rather
young woman, - of some five-and-twenty,
too great a flirt to be married,
according to her own assertion,
but greatly admired by the gentlemen,
who universally pronounced her
a splendid woman; and her gentle
cousin, Milicent Hargrave, who
had taken a violent fancy to
me, mistaking me for something
vastly better than I was. And
I, in return, was very fond of
her. I should entirely exclude
poor Milicent in my general animadversions
against the ladies of my acquaintance.
But it was not on her account,
or her cousin's, that I have
mentioned the party: it was for
the sake of another of Mr. Wilmot's
guests, to wit Mr. Huntingdon.
I have good reason to remember
his presence there, for this
was the last time I saw him.
He did not sit near me at dinner;
for it was his fate to hand in
a capacious old dowager, and
mine to be handed in by Mr. Grimsby,
a friend of his, but a man I
very greatly disliked: there
was a sinister cast in his countenance,
and a mixture of lurking ferocity
and fulsome insincerity in his
demeanour, that I could not away
with. What a tiresome custom
that is, by-the-by - one among
the many sources of factitious
annoyance of this ultra-civilised
life. If the gentlemen must lead
the ladies into the dining-room,
why cannot they take those they
I am not sure, however, that
Mr. Huntingdon would have taken
me, if he had been at liberty
to make his own selection. It
is quite possible he might have
chosen Miss Wilmot; for she seemed
bent upon engrossing his attention
to herself, and he seemed nothing
loth to pay the homage she demanded.
I thought so, at least, when
I saw how they talked and laughed,
and glanced across the table,
to the neglect and evident umbrage
of their respective neighbours
- and afterwards, as the gentlemen
joined us in the drawing-room,
when she, immediately upon his
entrance, loudly called upon
him to be the arbiter of a dispute
between herself and another lady,
and he answered the summons with
alacrity, and decided the question
without a moment's hesitation
in her favour - though, to my
thinking, she was obviously in
the wrong - and then stood chatting
familiarly with her and a group
of other ladies; while I sat
with Milicent Hargrave at the
opposite end of the room, looking
over the latter's drawings, and
aiding her with my critical observations
and advice, at her particular
desire. But in spite of my efforts
to remain composed, my attention
wandered from the drawings to
the merry group, and against
my better judgment my wrath rose,
and doubtless my countenance
lowered; for Milicent, observing
that I must be tired of her daubs
and scratches, begged I would
join the company now, and defer
the examination of the remainder
to another opportunity. But while
I was assuring her that I had
no wish to join them, and was
not tired, Mr. Huntingdon himself
came up to the little round table
at which we sat.
'Are these yours?' said he,
carelessly taking up one of the
'No, they are Miss Hargrave's.'
'Oh! well, let's have a look
And, regardless of Miss Hargrave's
protestations that they were
not worth looking at, he drew
a chair to my side, and receiving
the drawings, one by one from
my hand, successively scanned
them over, and threw them on
the table, but said not a word
about them, though he was talking
all the time. I don't know what
Milicent Hargrave thought of
such conduct, but I found his
conversation extremely interesting;
though, as I afterwards discovered,
when I came to analyse it, it
was chiefly confined to quizzing
the different members of the
company present; and albeit he
made some clever remarks, and
some excessively droll ones,
I do not think the whole would
appear anything very particular,
if written here, without the
adventitious aids of look, and
tone, and gesture, and that ineffable
but indefinite charm, which cast
a halo over all he did and said,
and which would have made it
a delight to look in his face,
and hear the music of his voice,
if he had been talking positive
nonsense - and which, moreover,
made me feel so bitter against
my aunt when she put a stop to
this enjoyment, by coming composedly
forward, under pretence of wishing
to see the drawings, that she
cared and knew nothing about,
and while making believe to examine
them, addressing herself to Mr.
Huntingdon, with one of her coldest
and most repellent aspects, and
beginning a series of the most
common-place and formidably formal
questions and observations, on
purpose to wrest his attention
from me - on purpose to vex me,
as I thought: and having now
looked through the portfolio,
I left them to their TETE-E-TETE,
and seated myself on a sofa,
quite apart from the company
- never thinking how strange
such conduct would appear, but
merely to indulge, at first,
the vexation of the moment, and
subsequently to enjoy my private
But I was not left long alone,
for Mr. Wilmot, of all men the
least welcome, took advantage
of my isolated position to come
and plant himself beside me.
I had flattered myself that I
had so effectually repulsed his
advances on all former occasions,
that I had nothing more to apprehend
from his unfortunate predilection;
but it seems I was mistaken:
so great was his confidence,
either in his wealth or his remaining
powers of attraction, and so
firm his conviction of feminine
weakness, that he thought himself
warranted to return to the siege,
which he did with renovated ardour,
enkindled by the quantity of
wine he had drunk - a circumstance
that rendered him infinitely
the more disgusting; but greatly
as I abhorred him at that moment,
I did not like to treat him with
rudeness, as I was now his guest,
and had just been enjoying his
hospitality; and I was no hand
at a polite but determined rejection,
nor would it have greatly availed
me if I had, for he was too coarse-minded
to take any repulse that was
not as plain and positive as
his own effrontery. The consequence
was, that he waxed more fulsomely
tender, and more repulsively
warm, and I was driven to the
very verge of desperation, and
about to say I know not what,
when I felt my hand, that hung
over the arm of the sofa, suddenly
taken by another and gently but
fervently pressed. Instinctively,
I guessed who it was, and, on
looking up, was less surprised
than delighted to see Mr. Huntingdon
smiling upon me. It was like
turning from some purgatorial
fiend to an angel of light, come
to announce that the season of
torment was past.
'Helen,' said he (he frequently
called me Helen, and I never
resented the freedom), 'I want
you to look at this picture.
Mr. Wilmot will excuse you a
moment, I'm sure.'
I rose with alacrity. He drew
my arm within his, and led me
across the room to a splendid
painting of Vandyke's that I
had noticed before, but not sufficiently
examined. After a moment of silent
contemplation, I was beginning
to comment on its beauties and
peculiarities, when, playfully
pressing the hand he still retained
within his arm, he interrupted
me with, - 'Never mind the picture:
it was not for that I brought
you here; it was to get you away
from that scoundrelly old profligate
yonder, who is looking as if
he would like to challenge me
for the affront.'
'I am very much obliged to
you,' said I. 'This is twice
you have delivered me from such
'Don't be too thankful,' he
answered: 'it is not all kindness
to you; it is partly from a feeling
of spite to your tormentors that
makes me delighted to do the
old fellows a bad turn, though
I don't think I have any great
reason to dread them as rivals.
Have I, Helen?'
'You know I detest them both.'
'I have no reason to detest
'But what are your sentiments
towards me? Helen - Speak! How
do you regard me?'
And again he pressed my hand;
but I feared there was more of
conscious power than tenderness
in his demeanour, and I felt
he had no right to extort a confession
of attachment from me when he
had made no correspondent avowal
himself, and knew not what to
answer. At last I said, - 'How
do you regard me?'
'Sweet angel, I adore you!
I - '
'Helen, I want you a moment,'
said the distinct, low voice
of my aunt, close beside us.
And I left him, muttering maledictions
against his evil angel.
'Well, aunt, what is it? What
do you want?' said I, following
her to the embrasure of the window.
'I want you to join the company,
when you are fit to be seen,'
returned she, severely regarding
me; 'but please to stay here
a little, till that shocking
colour is somewhat abated, and
your eyes have recovered something
of their natural expression.
I should be ashamed for anyone
to see you in your present state.'
Of course, such a remark had
no effect in reducing the 'shocking
colour'; on the contrary, I felt
my face glow with redoubled fires
kindled by a complication of
emotions, of which indignant,
swelling anger was the chief.
I offered no reply, however,
but pushed aside the curtain
and looked into the night - or
rather into the lamp-lit square.
'Was Mr. Huntingdon proposing
to you, Helen?' inquired my too
'What was he saying then? I
heard something very like it.'
'I don't know what he would
have said, if you hadn't interrupted
'And would you have accepted
him, Helen, if he had proposed?'
'Of course not - without consulting
uncle and you.'
'Oh! I'm glad, my dear, you
have so much prudence left. Well,
now,' she added, after a moment's
pause, 'you have made yourself
conspicuous enough for one evening.
The ladies are directing inquiring
glances towards us at this moment,
I see: I shall join them. Do
you come too, when you are sufficiently
composed to appear as usual.'
'I am so now.'
'Speak gently then, and don't
look so malicious,' said my calm,
but provoking aunt. 'We shall
return home shortly, and then,'
she added with solemn significance,
'I have much to say to you.'
So I went home prepared for
a formidable lecture. Little
was said by either party in the
carriage during our short transit
homewards; but when I had entered
my room and thrown myself into
an easy- chair, to reflect on
the events of the day, my aunt
followed me thither, and having
dismissed Rachel, who was carefully
stowing away my ornaments, closed
the door; and placing a chair
beside me, or rather at right
angles with mine, sat down. With
due deference I offered her my
more commodious seat. She declined
it, and thus opened the conference:
'Do you remember, Helen, our
conversation the night but one
before we left Staningley?'
'And do you remember how I
warned you against letting your
heart be stolen from you by those
unworthy of its possession, and
fixing your affections where
approbation did not go before,
and where reason and judgment
withheld their sanction?'
'Yes; but my reason - '
'Pardon me - and do you remember
assuring me that there was no
occasion for uneasiness on your
account; for you should never
be tempted to marry a man who
was deficient in sense or principle,
however handsome or charming
in other respects he might be,
for you could not love him; you
should hate - despise - pity
- anything but love him - were
not those your words?'
'Yes; but - '
'And did you not say that your
affection must be founded on
approbation; and that, unless
you could approve and honour
and respect, you could not love?'
'Yes; but I do approve, and
honour, and respect - '
'How so, my dear? Is Mr. Huntingdon
a good man?'
'He is a much better man than
you think him.'
'That is nothing to the purpose.
Is he a good man?'
'Yes - in some respects. He
has a good disposition.'
'Is he a man of principle?'
'Perhaps not, exactly; but
it is only for want of thought.
If he had some one to advise
him, and remind him of what is
right - '
'He would soon learn, you think
- and you yourself would willingly
undertake to be his teacher?
But, my dear, he is, I believe,
full ten years older than you
- how is it that you are so beforehand
in moral acquirements?'
'Thanks to you, aunt, I have
been well brought up, and had
good examples always before me,
which he, most likely, has not;
and, besides, he is of a sanguine
temperament, and a gay, thoughtless
temper, and I am naturally inclined
'Well, now you have made him
out to be deficient in both sense
and principle, by your own confession
'Then, my sense and my principle
are at his service.'
'That sounds presumptuous,
Helen. Do you think you have
enough for both; and do you imagine
your merry, thoughtless profligate
would allow himself to be guided
by a young girl like you?'
'No; I should not wish to guide
him; but I think I might have
influence sufficient to save
him from some errors, and I should
think my life well spent in the
effort to preserve so noble a
nature from destruction. He always
listens attentively now when
I speak seriously to him (and
I often venture to reprove his
random way of talking), and sometimes
he says that if he had me always
by his side he should never do
or say a wicked thing, and that
a little daily talk with me would
make him quite a saint. It may
he partly jest and partly flattery,
but still - '
'But still you think it may
'If I do think there is any
mixture of truth in it, it is
not from confidence in my own
powers, but in his natural goodness.
And you have no right to call
him a profligate, aunt; he is
nothing of the kind.'
'Who told you so, my dear?
What was that story about his
intrigue with a married lady
- Lady who was it? - Miss Wilmot
herself was telling you the other
'It was false - false!' I cried.
'I don't believe a word of it.'
'You think, then, that he is
a virtuous, well-conducted young
'I know nothing positive respecting
his character. I only know that
I have heard nothing definite
against it - nothing that could
be proved, at least; and till
people can prove their slanderous
accusations, I will not believe
them. And I know this, that if
he has committed errors, they
are only such as are common to
youth, and such as nobody thinks
anything about; for I see that
everybody likes him, and all
the mammas smile upon him, and
their daughters - and Miss Wilmot
herself - are only too glad to
attract his attention.'
'Helen, the world may look
upon such offences as venial;
a few unprincipled mothers may
be anxious to catch a young man
of fortune without reference
to his character; and thoughtless
girls may be glad to win the
smiles of so handsome a gentleman,
without seeking to penetrate
beyond the surface; but you,
I trusted, were better informed
than to see with their eyes,
and judge with their perverted
judgment. I did not think you
would call these venial errors!'
'Nor do I, aunt; but if I hate
the sins, I love the sinner,
and would do much for his salvation,
even supposing your suspicions
to be mainly true, which I do
not and will not believe.'
'Well, my dear, ask your uncle
what sort of company he keeps,
and if he is not banded with
a set of loose, profligate young
men, whom he calls his friends,
his jolly companions, and whose
chief delight is to wallow in
vice, and vie with each other
who can run fastest and furthest
down the headlong road to the
place prepared for the devil
and his angels.'
'Then I will save him from
'Oh, Helen, Helen! you little
know the misery of uniting your
fortunes to such a man!'
'I have such confidence in
him, aunt, notwithstanding all
you say, that I would willingly
risk my happiness for the chance
of securing his. I will leave
better men to those who only
consider their own advantage.
If he has done amiss, I shall
consider my life well spent in
saving him from the consequences
of his early errors, and striving
to recall him to the path of
virtue. God grant me success!'
Here the conversation ended,
for at this juncture my uncle's
voice was heard from his chamber,
loudly calling upon my aunt to
come to bed. He was in a bad
humour that night; for his gout
was worse. It had been gradually
increasing upon him ever since
we came to town; and my aunt
took advantage of the circumstance
next morning to persuade him
to return to the country immediately,
without waiting for the close
of the season. His physician
supported and enforced her arguments;
and contrary to her usual habits,
she so hurried the preparations
for removal (as much for my sake
as my uncle's, I think), that
in a very few days we departed;
and I saw no more of Mr. Huntingdon.
My aunt flatters herself I shall
soon forget him - perhaps she
thinks I have forgotten him already,
for I never mention his name;
and she may continue to think
so, till we meet again - if ever
that should be. I wonder if it