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living in a fool's paradise of vacuity. Because my cousin and her family were abroad, I put off looking my fate in the face. Something, I thought, when I thought about it at all, might turn up to alter the course of things. Something has turned up. And now, having drawn a bill on futurity, it has to be met, and I have not saved a shilling, and am quite incapable of earning my livelihood. Am I too to be supported by your exertions? And where will you bestow them? Where will you find another employer, when I am no longer able to employ you myself? A pretty pass I have brought things to, truly, by my indolence and folly!” Hilda sat still, save for the nervous movement of her folded hands. Her face was now turned away, and she looked wearily before her. The transient feeling of delight had passed away—her heart was full of love and pity and despair. She could not say that he must not make the sacrifice. She could not counsel him to save his fortune by the only way open to him; yet the announcement of his ruin crushed out of her the joy of having gained his love. Hilda was no longer a romantic girl. The stern ordeal she had undergone had laid bare only too clearly the grim hardships of poverty. She could not say to him, Take me, and together we will face the world. She knew by bitter experience all the degradation and the mean shifts involved in trying to live without means. Poverty for gentlefolks, she knew, meant duns and insolence to encounter, and want of proper food and clothing. She could not let him burden himself with her. Even her own means of living seemed crumbling away. And compared with the ills of actual poverty, how small appeared the troubles caused by mere family
jars! Her present home, once so distasteful, looked like a haven of perfect happiness compared with the drear prospect now dimly facing her. As these thoughts coursed through her mind, she could not find words of comfort or consolation for her lover or herself. Clifford still remained standing silent and apart. Presently he said, “There is yet one way of escape.” Hilda started and looked up at him. Her bright glance gave him hope. “I have not told you all,” he said, “or rather, you have not yet been able to infer all that is implied in the position. Hilda, if you marry me, you marry a beggar. And yet that I should marry the one woman who alone could avert beggary is more than ever impossible, after what I have learnt of your heart. Now I am pledged to you for ever. . And oh, Hilda, dearest, think how much is implied in this What a change your presence here has made in my life! Before you came to light up the house, all was dull and gloomy. I busied myself in a way, but my life was really flat and insipid—how much so I never fully understood till now. I did my day's task; but it was a task. But your coming here changed everything. It was not the first day, or the second, that the change came about. Have I not said that till lately my thoughts were turned another way? But latterly I have been wholly loyal to you as you gradually took possession of me. Do you know how I have listened day by day for the sound of your footstep on the stairs, as you came to lighten up my gloomy house? Every minute passed with you has been happiness, as I came to know you better and better. A husband, I think, could not know his wife better than I know you, and I have dared to hope that the time might
come when, instead of seeing you Then she looked down again, for a few minutes in the day, and away from him. making all these pretexts and pre- “For me, Hilda! Why for me tences for being with you, you only? Have you nothing to say would not have to come and go, for yourself ?” but you would be here always, “I could not wish you to marry mine by day and night—all reserve your—where your heart is not between us removed: you mine given," she answered, speaking in everything, and I yours, to be with difficulty, her modest eyes scolded and ordered about in your still averted. “I am selfish enough own pretty way, and no question not to wish to see you married to of salary or gratitude between us. another woman—at least not just Gratitude! the gratitude would be now. But you are saved from acall mine. And then, perhaps, tual poverty, and I know what a while I grew fonder and fonder of dreadful thing that is. You will you—for my love would always in- live to get over your feeling for crease and never tire—you might me,” she added, withdrawing the come to give me the same sort of hands which he had still been warm love in return. To think of clasping. “And for myself,” she all this happiness, and yet to feel continued, looking round at him that I am painting a picture of what and trying to smile, “I must try can never happen, unless— " and be brave. I believe," said
Hilda rose by a sudden impulse, poor Hilda, “I was not made to and placing her hands on his shoul- be happy." ders, rested her head against his “But is there no other alternaface.
tive ?" he cried, and his voice was “Can it be," thought the enrap- thick and hoarse with passion and tured lover, as he folded her in his excitement. “We love each other ; arms, “ that she really gives herself we are both free; we are both lonely ; to me? But there must be no and you know me well enough to misunderstanding or mistake. Per- trust me. Hilda, darling, may we haps even now, in her innocence, not be united in heart and feeling, she does not understand me. Lis- and every real bond save the forten, my dearest,” he said, releasing mal one? Why should we be apart her and then taking her hands in when we might live together in his, while he looked at her with mutual trust and confidence? I ardent glances, “I have still some can know no happiness without thing to say; I have not told you you, were I to live for ever.” all. If I marry any one but my Clifford had rightly guessed that cousin, every shilling I have goes this proposal would not arouse in to her; but if I do not marry, I his companion any outburst of inhave still something left, not very dignation. She must know him much, but still something—-enough well enough to be sure that he to live upon,-more than sufficient would never subject her to any for my modest wants.”
outward degradation, and that if Hilda, whose face had been she gave herself to him there need averted while he was speaking, be no loss of self-respect beyond looked up at him now with a glance what was inevitable in such a conin which joy and grief were blended. nection. Still he could not be “ Then you are saved !" she cried. certain how the proposal would be “Oh, Mr. Clifford ! oh, Robert, I received, and as he finished speakam so glad, so very glad—for you.” ing he looked eagerly towards her,
to see what had been the effect of his words. Hilda's answer was given by the expression of her face. She did not look at him, or speak, she only shook her head sadly. “Hilda, I implore you,” he cried passionately, “don’t refuse to listen to me; anything but that. I have frightened you, perhaps; I have been too quick; but I don't want to hurry you. I am too much in earnest to care that you should decide all at once. Take time over it. Only don't say ‘no’ at once. By heavens, Hilda!” he cried, as she made a gesture of dissent, “you shall not refuse me. The happiness of both of us requires that you should listen to my prayer. The sacrifice is all on your side, I know; but still, my great love must count for something. By heavens, Hilda's you must and shall yield to it,” and he rushed forward to seize her in his arms. But Hilda retreated a step backwards, and stopped him with outstretched hands. “No, Robert, dear,” she said tenderly, and without expressing the fear she felt, “do not be unjust to yourself. Remember that I am in your house, and under your protection. Do not be unlike yourself.” “You are right, Hilda, as you always are,” he answered, dropping
his arms as she released them, and standing ashamed and penitent before her: “I feel, that I am in a false position in pleading before you here. I wish I could have spoken anywhere else, in some place where we might be as equals. Equals | We can never be equals' You will always be my superior. You are as good and wise as you are beautiful. But you cannot surass me in the power of loving. hat can I say more to make you hearken to me?” Just then the sound of the halldoor opening made them both turn and look that way. It was one of the servants coming in. The door was shut again, and she could be heard passing into the kitchen. “There is no time to say more now, Hilda,” continued Clifford, after a pause, “but I won't take your denial in this way, there is too much involved in it. You shall not commit yourself by saying anything now.” But Hilda gave him a sorrowful look, and opening the door, passed swiftly out and sought her own room. Clifford remained standing where she had left him for a short time only, and then rushed out of the house to find in exercise an outlet for his pent-up feelings. When he returned, Hilda had gone.
Hilda had time to regain her composure before she set out homewards. And the prosaic scene of the railway station served as an effectual antidote to the emotion she had just gone through. Indeed, as she sat, one of several passengers in the railway carriage, in the afternoon train down to Rainham, she found it difficult to realise the scene she had just gone through,
still less to take in the full import of the change which had suddenly been wrought in her life. But feeling instinctively that there would be plenty of time before her to think over the past as well as the future, she strove, and to a certain extent effectually, to put the present aside, and to keep her thoughts closed to it. Of one thing she was very conscious: she had always felt that the strange situation in which she had found herself was too unreal and artificial to last. But now that the bubble had burst, she would at least live on for a few hours with senses dulled before indulging in the luxury of grief, or applying herself to the practical business of facing the future. She found no one at home but Martha the maid. And now as she sat down to rest awhile after her walk from the station, there was nothing to occupy her attention, or prevent her mind from reverting to the events of the morning. But no If her thoughts turned to Clifford, there would be the danger of dwelling on the sacrifice which he had made for her sake. She must never allow herself to admit the possibility of even considering his proposition. She must strive for the present to maintain her condition of mental stupor, and rising, she went down-stairs to help Martha to get ready the evening meal. And suffering Martha's tongue to run on as the two worked together in the little kitchen—an opportunity which the honest maid took full advantage of she was able to keep her own attention from dwelling on herself. The evening wore on, and still her father did not come home. He had gone up by the next train after Hilda's, Martha said; he told her that he had an important appointment to keep in town. He was looking quite smart, with a handbag, and a beautiful bouquet of flowers which the young man from the flower-shop brought just as he was starting. The young man carried the bag for him to the station. Just now Hilda missed him more than she might otherwise have done; although she was sensible of the comfort of being alone,
and that her father had of late been less of a companion than ever, his presence would have given her a sense of protection of which in the present state of her nerves she felt the need greatly. She would not, however, delay the serving of the simple evening meal, knowing that her father usually had plenty of refreshment when making excursions with his new friend. But although she sent Martha to bed at the usual hour, after the house had been locked up for the night, she sat up herself till after the last train from town had come in without bringing him. Sound is the sleep of youth and health, even when sorrow and care’ sit on the pillow, ready to obtrude themselves when the sleeper awakes. But it was not immediately on waking that the events of the previous day came back to Hilda's recollection, and that she remembered, too, that her father had not come home. Then there returned to her the dull feeling that a great calamity had to be faced,—that the life which had of late been so sweet was now ended, and the future all drear and uncertain. But for a little longer, at any rate, would she put off facing the inevitable problem. It was Sunday; for this day at least would she keep herself from thinking how she was to get food and clothing for herself and her father, and what must be done for little Arthur. The sun was high in the heavens when she awoke, and the morning bright and warm, the fine summer weather still holding on; and as Hilda looked at herself in the glass, she was fain to admit that care had not yet dimmed her eyes, or robbed her cheek of its bloom. “Is it true,” she thought, “that I am really as pretty as he says I am? But no! that thought must be put away altogether. He has made it impossible for me to allow myself to think about him.” She was still at her toilet when Martha came up, bringing a letter which she said she thought was in master's handwriting. It was; and Hilda with a natural feeling of anxiety, and divining by instinct that it contained some important announcement, sat down on the edge of the bed to read it.
“My DEAR HILDA,” it began, “although extremely busy, I write a hurried line to announce to you my marriage this morning to the lady who, you are aware, has lately been engaging a large share of my attention. I have been sensible for some time that my children did not value their father's society; they can hardly be surprised that he should seek for sympathy from the gentle and appreciative disposition of one who values him for his own sake. Reasons which I will not now go into rendered it expedient to make the marriage a private one, and to carry it out as speedily as possible, to relieve Mrs. Baker—as my dear Mary Ann was called till this morning—from the embarrassing situation in which she found herself, and from the insidious addresses of designing persons, which could be effectually repelled only by a husband's protection. We start this afternoon for Boulogne, as Mary Ann has always had a great desire—hitherto ungratified —to see foreign countries. And our stay abroad will be a little uncertain; but I need not say that I shall look forward to the earliest opportunity of introducing my remaining children to their new mamma, and I am sure they will give her a fitting welcome, as much on my account as on her own. Your step-mother is no longer young, and would not perhaps appear clever to you who have had
such advantages in the way of education; but she has an affectionate and sympathising disposition, and is most favourably disposed towards you. I will just add that our speedy nuptials having rendered regular marriage settlements impossible, I have not attempted to control my Mary Ann's own disposition of her quarterly jointure; but I am sure you will feel with me that there would be an obvious indelicacy in suggesting an immediate application to her purse, as it has already had a heavy call for the special licence. I am obliged, therefore, to leave my little account with you undischarged, but this I am in hopes will not cause inconvenience. After all, it is merely a very remunerative investment of a little capital. Should you be in any temporary difficulty, I am sure your generous employer would make * an advance of salary.—In great aste, ever your affectionate father, “WILLIAM REID. “P.S.—I think of letting the cottage, as the extreme quiet of Rainham would never suit my dear Mary Ann, who is fond of excitement and cheerful society. But of course you need not be in any hurry about turning out.”
Although the announcement surprised her, coming so soon and so suddenly, Hilda had not been able to avoid the suspicion that her father was meditating something of the kind; and it would be only in accordance with his weak disposition that he should commit himself privately in this way. Nor was she blind to other points in his character; but the mingled feebleness and heartlessness of the letter came to lacerate anew a heart still sore and craving for sympathy. True, her father would have been a burden and not a support, and would have added to the difficulty