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delicacy of feeling on your part, I called deceit. I thought you deceitful—I called you deceitful, yet my own heart contradicted me, Ellen, for it would never have loved you, clung to you, as it has done had you not been true—truer in your changeable moods and unguarded impulses “than those that have more cunning to be strange." No, my dearest, my precious love! if falsehood or deceit had ever stained those dear lips of yours—if they had ever sullied the purity of your spotless nature—my love would have vanished, and my heart hardened against you. The very strength of my own affection pleaded for you when appearances, or my own jealous feelings, accused you. Will you forgive me, dearest?'
'Forgive you !' I exclaimed, while a choking sob rose in my throat, ‘God knows-'
'I do not doubt you,' he eagerly cried; 'I do not ask you to explain or to reassure me. Have I not already acquitted you and accused myself? I should be a wretch, my Ellen, if, after having received from you the greatest proof of love which a woman could give, the shadow of a doubt could remain on my mind of the purity and of the strength of your affection. Do you think, my own love, that I should have suffered you to give me that proof of unexampled devotion had I not believed and felt that you were then suffering the agony of apprehension which I had suffered a moment before ? — that your love was great as mine; and that is saying everything, for I feel, now, Ellen, that to lose you would kill me.'
I laid my head on his shoulder, and murmured a few words of tenderness in his ear. My heart was swelling, and my head was dizzy. Three times while he had spoken I had been on the point of breaking out into vehement denials and passionate self-accusations, and each time the doctor's warning, confirmed by Edward's tremulous voice
and eager hurried manner, so different from his usual composure, checked the words on my lips, and thrust back into my bosom the remorse and shame which overwhelmed me. Yet, in the midst of all this suffering and this shame, there was a joy which, like a meteor in a stormy sky, illuminated at moments the darkness with which it struggled ; and to drown the voice of conscience I repeated to myself that, in spite of the deceit I had practised under the influence of what I deemed an irresistible fatality, there was truth, there was reality, in the ardent affection which I bore to him whose hand I held, and against whose breast my burning forehead was laid, as if I sought there a refuge from the world, from myself, and from my own upbraiding memory.
After a pause, but in a voice of perfect confidence and tenderness, Edward said to me: 'Why would you not marry me three months ago, dearest ? Did you think that my love was not great enough, or was yours not yet?
‘Oh, no,' I interrupted, “such love as mine is not the growth of a few days; but ask me not to explain the waywardness, the strange inconsistency of a character which you, wise and good as you are, can never perfectly understand.'
There passed a slight cloud over Edward's countenance at that moment, but it was only for an instant, and in the gentlest manner he said, “Perhaps I may never quite understand you, Ellen, but I can always trust you. You have always been unlike everybody else, particularly unlike me, with my matter-of-fact stubbornness, and that is probably why you bewitched me against my will, and in spite of all my resolutions,' he added, with a smile; “I suppose I never have quite understood you, but to admire blindly and ardently what we least understand is one of the peculiarities of human nature, so you must e'en admit this excuse.'
Again he kissed my hand with the fondest affection, and then at my earnest request he suffered me to leave him.
Before I went I told him that while we were staying at the Moores' I was anxious that our engagement should not be openly acknowledged, as in so small a party, and with people whom I knew so little intimately, it was pleasanter to me not to have to talk over the subject. He submitted to my wish, and I left him to go to my own room and devise there some means of escaping from the difficulties in which I had entangled myself more fatally than ever.
It was not till in the silence of the night I sat alone and undisturbed that I realised to myself the occurrences of the day, or saw in its full force the importance of what I had done. There I sat, Edward's affianced wife, and any moment after this fact was made public my persecutor might seek him or Mr. Middleton and tell them that but for me Julia would be still alive ; and when summoned to deny the foul charge and confound the vile calumniator, should I say: 'Yes, I struck the helpless child in my anger, but I meant not to kill her; I have buried the secret in my heart; day by day I have received her father's blessings and her mother's kisses in hypocritical silence. I have listened, Edward, to your words of love, I have promised to be your wife—with a lie in my mouth and deceit in my heart; but now I am found out, and I implore mercy at your hands, and that you will believe me when I say that I did not mean to kill my cousin ;' and maybe, I exclaimed, interrupting myself with a burst of anguish ---maybe he would not believe me! There is no medium in Edward's judgment when truth is concerned; implicit confidence on the one hand, unmitigated condemnation on the other. Oh how dreadful it would be to meet his eyes, from which love would have vanished, and to feel that no protestations, no appeals, could reach his heart, hardened as it would be in that hour against the miserable deceiver who had usurped its tenderness and betrayed its trust!
After an hour of harassing indecision I determined to consult Henry, and, sitting down at a table near the open window, I wrote to him the following letter :
“The last time I saw you, my dear Henry, you gave me reason to hope that I might in future consider you as a friend. You bade me open my
heart to you,
aid when new difficulties should beset my path. The moment is come when I must do so; and if you will not, if you cannot save me, nothing can. I once told you that I never intended to marry Edward ; and believe me (you know I have ever spoken the truth to you, Henry, even at the risk of rousing your utmost anger)—believe me when I say that then, and even as late as twelve hours ago, such a resolution was the steady purpose of my soul. An involuntary spontaneous acknowledgment of affection which escaped me in a moment of imminent peril to him, incurred in rescuing me from a similar peril, was followed by an assumption on his part that our marriage was to be the natural result of such a confession. My uncle considered it in the same light; and I found myself involved in an engagement which, in cool blood, I could never have contracted. An attack of illness, resulting from the events of the morning, has since kept Edward in a state which would have made any extraordinary emotion dangerous in the extreme. Against my will, and at the same time impressing this warning upon me, my aunt took me to him ; and in terror for his health, with outward calmness and inward shame and misgivings, I gave the promise which must lead to my ruin, unless you can save me.
I do not ask your aid, Henry, as a girl who wishes to marry her lover, and frets at the obstacles in her way. No; if at this moment I could cancel the events of this day, and place myself again in the position in which I stood yesterday, I would do so; but as it is, on either side I see nothing now but disgrace and
misery; and from these I implore you to rescue me. I do not know how far you have the power to do so. I cannot help thinking that your influence with that terrible woman must be great : hitherto I have doubted your willingness to exert it in my behalf; but, in the circumstances in which I now stand, I feel a strong confidence that what you can do for me you will do. I have obtained from Edward that our engagement shall be kept a secret for a few days, which will give you time to act in my behalf, and to communicate with me on the subject. Obliged to conceal the torturing anxiety of my soul from those about me, miserable in the midst of what ought to be my happiness, I feel some comfort in speaking openly to you, and in looking to you for aid, for consolation, and for sympathy. You know my sufferings ; you know my guilt and my innocence, my life's deceit and my soul's truth. You will pity me, you will help me; and in this hope I make my appeal to you.
I debated some time with myself as to the means of sending this letter unobserved and undetected. After a few minutes of anxious consideration, I recollected that Mrs. Hatton (the companion of my journey to Dorsetshire the year before) was staying with her sister, the wife of a surgeon, in London; and it occurred to me that by enclosing it to her, and requesting her to put it herself into Henry's hands, I should attain my object, and expose myself to no risk of discovery, as I could rely upon her discretion, and was certain that she would put only the most benevolent construction on my strange request. I accordingly wrote to her these few lines :
'MY DEAR MRS. HATTON—As you are the kindest person in the world, I am sure you will not be angry with me for giving you a little trouble. Do me the kindness to take this