« ПредишнаНапред »
• Dans le sein du bonheur que son âme désire,
• Vous me désespérez ;
ABOUT three weeks before the ist of March, which was the day fixed upon for our removal to town, I had been taking a long ride and came home at about four o'clock. My habit was wet and heavy, and I walked with difficulty across the hall, upstairs, and along the passage which led to my
As I was passing before the door of what was called the south bedroom my eyes suddenly fell on two trunks covered with mud, and on the brass plates of which was stamped the name of 'Edward Middleton, Esq. At the same moment the door opened and he stood before me. I felt myself turning as white as a sheet, and was obliged to lean against the wall to prevent myself from falling. He seized my hand, and said, with apparent cordiality, 'How are you, Ellen?'
I do not know what I said to him ; there was a mist before my eyes, a murmur in my ears, and a feeling about my heart that I was strangely happy, though dreadfully frightened. Soon I was alone in my room, with my feet on
the fender, and my eyes fixed on the burning embers, and repeating to myself over and over again, 'How are you, Ellen ?' and then I remembered that he knew all, that he had seen all, that he had left Elmsley because he could not bear to stay, knowing all he did, and I trembled; and hiding my face in my hands, I cried as if my heart would break. Then a new thought came to me, and brought an extraordinary peace with it. I would tell him everything, and he should decide what I ought to do; his decision should be law to me; I would submit to it humbly and obediently, although it might be that I was never to see again any of those whom I loved, and to spend my future life in loneliness and penance.
The dressing-bell rang; my maid came in with a muslin gown on her arm and some camellias in her hand, and there was again a futter at my heart, as if dressing and going downstairs and dining had been as different things yesterday from what they were to-day, as the tamest prose is from the most exciting poetry.
When I opened the door of the library, Edward was sitting with his back towards me, talking eagerly to Mr. Middleton; as I approached them I heard him say, 'If I could only be convinced of it, nothing on earth would make me so happy.'
As my uncle turned his head he did so too, and coloured when he saw me. I sat down on the sofa by the chimney, and every corner of that old library seemed to me in some way different from usual. I did not wish Edward to speak to me; on the contrary, it was enough to feel that he was there; that at any moment, by looking up, I could meet his eyes, and to know instinctively when his were fixed on mine. When I fancied myself in love with Henry Lovell, it was chiefly while he was talking to me, in the height of discussion, in the excitement of conversation. When I had not
seen him for some hours I was impatient to see him, and speak to him again, in order to prove to myself that I liked him ; but with Edward it was not so. Alas! would it not have been for me the most dreadful misfortune to have loved him? Was not there, as Henry had said, a gulf between us, which could never be filled up? Would he not have shrunk from my love as from a poisonous thing, and have recoiled from the touch of my hand as from a serpent's sting?
Tears gathered in my eyes at this thought; I felt them tremble on my eyelashes, and brushed them hastily aside as I walked into the dining-room with my uncle. Edward talked of his travels, of various persons whom he had made acquaintance with in France and in Italy, of English politics, and the approaching session. There was nothing in his conversation peculiarly adapted to my taste; and yet I listened to each word that fell from his lips with an interest which my own feelings stimulated to the highest pitch.
In the evening he asked me to sing to him, and as he leant his head on his hand, and sat in silence by my side, listening to song after song which he had known and liked in former days, I felt my heart grow fuller, till at last my voice failed, and in its place a choking sob rose in my throat. He raised his head abruptly and looked at me sternly. It is only that I am a little nervous,' I said; I have taken a long ride, and being tired
‘Oh, pray make no explanations,' he replied; excuses are perfectly unnecessary;' and he suddenly left the pianoforte.
He spoke to me no more that evening, but the next day he treated me again as he had done at first, and even seemed in some ways more satisfied with me than he had ever been before.
I have never yet described Edward, and I do not think I could describe him. He was always unlike anybody else,
and yet it would have been difficult to point out any peculiarity in him. It was not only truth, it was reality, that marked his character. He never was, never could be, anything but himself; and, like all perfectly true characters, could not even understand those that were not so, and judged them too severely or too leniently, from the impossibility of putting himself in their place. His manner was always calm; even emotion in him never partook of the semblance of agitation. Where others were angry he was stern; a few simple words from him always carried with them a strength of condemnation, which crushed under its weight any attempt to resist it. From a child I had been afraid of Edward, and he had never perfectly understood my character; now that I had so much reason to fear him, in some ways I felt more at my ease with him, because, as I had ceased to express all my feelings and pour forth my thoughts before him, I dreaded less the severity of his judgment.
During the next two or three weeks that he was at Elmsley, I felt in his presence as a criminal before his judge; his sternness was justice, his kindness was mercy; and in the softened tones of his voice, and in the tenderness of his eyes, I only read the tacit grant of a pardon which mine mutely implored. This gave to my whole manner--to my disposition I might almost say—for the time, a humility, a submission which were in no wise affected, but which did not naturally belong to my character. Edward's was despotic as well as uncompromising ; perfectly conscientious himself, strict in the discharge of every duty, he exacted from others what he performed himself. He allowed of no excuses, of no subterfuges, and ranked the weakness that shrinks from suffering in the accomplishment of what is right in the same line as that which yields to the allurements of pleasure or the temptations of guilt.
many respects he resembled my uncle, but still the difference between them was perceptibly great. Edward's feelings were stronger; it was impossible to observe the depths of thought manifested in his eyes and in his pale high forehead; to hear the sound of his voice when he addressed those he loved; to see the colour rise slowly in his cheek as he spoke of some act of virtue, of heroism, or of self-conquest, without the conviction that powers of heart and mind, not an atom of which were frittered away in vain words and empty fancies, were at work within him.
Once he spoke to me of Henry's marriage, and told me he had seen him in London. They had met accidentally in the street, and he had offered to go and call on his wife ; but Henry had made some excuse or other, and the visit had not taken place. He did not add one word regarding Henry's conduct, or what view he had taken of it himself, but looked earnestly into my face, as if he expected me to speak first on the subject; but seeing I was silent, at last he said : ‘Ellen, was this marriage a disappointment to you?'
'It was a relief to me.' How so?'
'Because I had deceived Henry, and almost deceived myself into the belief that I liked him; and his marriage proved to me how much I had been mistaken.'
Edward took my hand and kissed it; I drew it away with great emotion, and exclaimed : 'Good God, don't you know what you are doing?'
He did not say another word, and left me abruptly.
For two days afterwards he spoke to me but little, and when he did so his manner was cold.
One day that we were taking a walk together in the park, after one or two insignificant observations had passed between us, Edward asked me if I had ever received the