Page images

you see that

feasibility of this. “But what will ment is formally concluded. Come, you do with Arthur ? You have Hilda," he continued, noticing the him still on your hands ?"

effect of his words,“ Both of them by tacit agreement I am my sober self again, and you seemed to put on one side the sup- are a woman of sense if ever there position that Captain Reid would for was one; come and take a walk, the present provide for any one but and let us discuss the thing in a himself.

business-like way.

You have not “No, you have not,” he con- been out to-day, I see; a walk will tinued. "I am only joking, of do you good." course; you know me well enough Hilda caught gladly at this; she to be sure that I am not likely to would feel freer and safer in the want to forego the responsibility open air; and rising from her chair, I have undertaken for him. You she went up-stairs to get her hat. can't want your little brother to No other preparation was required suffer on your account; you must on this sultry day, and she came be satisfied to let him continue to down directly. * But


had be my charge. Nor can you help better bring an umbrella," he said, my continuing to pay you your as they were passing out of the salary until you are able to support little hall, “ for it looks like rain; yourself. Now, surely, you will let carry this one for you. not be satisfied to hold this posi- This is the Captain's, I suppose; tion ? If our old relations are to he has had so much to think of be broken off, let us at least con- he has forgotten to take it with sider how we stand as a matter of him.” Hilda smiled; it was the business. Remember that you are first smile she had given him, restill my secretary till the engage- minding him of her old self.



They passed down the lane to what he meant, without replying, the river, and then took the tow- and he went onpath by the bank. There were a “I don't scoff at Christianity, be good many people strolling along it observed; I wish I could believe it, dressed in their Sunday clothes, in it, I should be happier and betand several boats on the water. ter. And I am not in the least

The bells of Rainham church proud of my unbelief; I simply began to ring for afternoon ser- feel an incapacity for belief—that vice.

is, for dogmatic Christianity as Hilda,” observed Clifford, “ you generally accepted. And very sorry never go to church; you are like I should be to see the rest of my me in that respect. You have been countrymen sharing my opinions. baptised, no doubt, but you are not It would be an evil day for Engpractically a Christian. Only there land if ever that came to pass; for is this difference between us; I am whether Christianity be true an unbeliever because I can't help not, I am sure it makes the world myself; you are one, just as so better and happier. The working many others are, because you have classes, it is true, have most of never thought about the matter one them no religion to speak of, but way or the other.”

they get the benefit of the reflected Hilda looked up at him to see Christianity of other people; and that, and the arm of the law, keep stinctively, “to what purpose is all them in order, otherwise we should this ?” be in bad case. My friends the “Why, surely, my meaning must Bryants are just like you, except be plain. In all and each of these that they go to church on Sunday cases the ceremony is nothing in mornings, when it is fine, as a sort itself. It is of importance only as of fetich, and to avoid scandalising it gives the wife and husband certheir neighbours; otherwise they tain rights, and prevents the husare perfect heathens, and never band from ill-using or deserting the give religion a thought from one wife. In many countries there is week's end to the other. But they,

But they, nothing solemn, still less sacred, too, get the benefit of other people's about the institution in itself. The Christianity: the rector dines with religious part of the ceremony is a them frequently, and the curate mere tag to the legal contract, and comes to Jawn-tennis almost every doesn't render it at all more bindafternoon. The girls are very nice, ing. The religious sanction has but they would be nicer still if value only for the religious. The their conduct was guided by some- marriages best observed, as those thing higher than mere custom of the patriarchs, were not celeand convention. So that, you see, brated by any formalities at all. Hilda, feeling for you as you know The tie in that case was one of I do—I shall not frighten you by simple confidence. And nothing saying so much I should admire can be more matter-of-fact than an you still more if you were a re- English marriage before a registrar. ligious woman, and I should be If all men were good and kind and glad to see you different in this honest, there would be no need to respect, under ordinary circum- bind them by legal ties——the bond stances. Just now I am selfish of love and honesty would be suffienough

cient. Such a man would not need He stopped speaking here, as a legal bond to make him true and they were just passing a man and faithful to the woman who had his wife sauntering along with a given him her confidence.” family of children, the man carry- “ There is a storm coming,” ining a baby. After they had passed terrupted Hilda, looking up; “I this party, their attention think we had better be turning." diverted by a steam-launch coming Clifford, too, looked round him. up the river at a great pace, and The sky had grown blacker, and making a great wash. It was just just then a flash of lightning and passing a man in a skiff. Some- the roll of thunder proclaimed the body called out that the skiff approach of the storm. Hilda would be swamped, and they stop- turned, and he was fain to turn ped involuntarily to see the result. too, and they began to walk homeThe skiff escaped, and they con- wards. tinued their walk. Then he began Because you

make me cut short again.

what I have to say, Hilda,” he said "Have you ever thought how presently, “it is, I hope, that you curiously the marriage ceremony understand my meaning, and will varies in different countries and listen to my prayer ?

r?” among different peoples ?"

“Oh, Robert,” she replied, in a “Robert,” said Hilda, with down- tone of distress, and again hastencast eyes, speaking for the first ing her steps, “why speak any time, and hurrying her steps in- more of what can never be ?"


Clifford did not answer her at “ There it is. I want to think once. They were again overtaking the best of you; to think of you as the family they had passed before, gentle, and loving, and trustful.” and were themselves overtaken by “But you would despise me, others hurrying home: they were nevertheless; not just now pernot sufficiently alone for him to haps, but by-and-by, when your pour out the fulness of his heart. fancyNow they came to the lane which “ Fancy! Hilda, is this the way led up from the river to Hilda's you jest with my love? You cancottage, unoccupied, as they turned not be in earnest to speak like that. into it, by any save themselves. You know that I am not light and He stopped, and taking her hand, fickle. If I thought it possible made her stop too.

that the time should ever come “ Hear me out, Hilda dear,” he when I should love and cherish said, in a low yet earnest voice and respect you a whit less than “My happiness is so bound up in if you were my wedded wife, why you that I cannot let you go till then, dearly as I love you, I would you have heard my whole case.”

not ask for you.

But you know “Dear Robert,” said Hilda, there is no fear of this; you know pleadingly, “why go on this way that you can trust me. You know Why set your heart on what you in your heart that I should show ought to know is impossible ?" my sense of your sacrifice by greater

But why is it impossible? If and fuller respect." you were surrounded with friends “But I could not respect myself. and relations, who would take the Please let me go, Robert," she conventional view, and deem you added, trying to withdraw her disgraced by coming to share my hands. fortunes, do you think I do not “There you are again," he cried love you too well to ask you to eagerly, and still holding her," with do what would lower you in their your conventional notions. A woeyes ? It is because you are alone man sells herself to a man she is in the world, like myself, and worse indifferent to, or even despises, and than alone, with worthless relatives because the sale of her person is from whom you should be glad to legalised, and made the subject of escape, and having only yourself to a religious ceremony, forsooth, perthink of, that I ask you to make formed over the contract, it is honme happy, and yourself happy too. ourable and respectable. This, if For I believe you love me a little, you like, is a mere concession to though not as I love you. Come, the requirements of society-someHilda, it is not such a dreadful fate." thing to be ashamed of—legalised

Hilda, with averted eyes, shook dishonour, which goes on every day. her head sadly.

If my cousin had sold herself to me, “ Then perhaps it is that you do as she was minded to, and I had not love me after all? And I have bought her, there would indeed befooled myself and persecuted you have been real loss of self-respect. for nothing ?”

Marriage without love must always Hilda looked at him gently and be immodest and disgraceful, if you sorrowfully. “You know it is not look at the thing rightly; but there that, Robert : you have my whole will be nothing to feel shame for heart; why not be satisfied with in such a union as ours, based on that, and let me go, thinking the mutual love and confidence.” best of me?"

The lightning flashed round them, and the peals of thunder came nearer born in shame; the mother kept and louder. Hilda looked round, away and visited in secret, the son anxious and scared.

never publicly acknowledged, and "Nay,” said he, releasing her brought up under an assumed name! hand, if you fear the storm, Hilda, Why, then, should I care for the I will not detain you; but you are conventions of society? With you close at home; there is time to gain it is different; and yet the sacrifice shelter if the rain comes. But oh, is not all on one side. I still keep Hilda, do not cast me off rashly! part of my fortune although reThink how much is at stake for nouncing my cousin; that is, so both of us! I will not persecute long as I do not marry before her, you or come again. I will take my I am legally entitled to it. But do answer now; but oh, pray, be wise you not see that in proposing such and kind - do not crush all hope a union with you as I have dared out of me! We should be so happy to build my happiness upon, I feel together; we shall be so miserable myself to be taking advantage of apart! Again, I say, I know and a mere quibble ? should be in appreciate the sacrifice I ask you to my own eye retaining everything I make; but if you love me as I love could wish for, yet practically evadyou, you will not esteem the sacri- ing the conditions of the will. I fice too great."

say nothing of the sacrifice of the " But I am not alone,” pleaded bulk of my fortune, and with it the Hilda, “there is my brother; think abandonment of all my schemes of how he would despise me when he life, because, even if I had never grows up."

met you, I think the condition of " What would he know about marrying my cousin would have it?" said her lover eagerly, her been too great a price to pay for hesitation raising an ecstatic throb keeping it; but it is something for of hope in his breast; “ we should a man who is perhaps a little senbe as man and wife in his eyes, sitive on such points to feel for the as we should be before the world. rest of his life that he is holding Who would know our secret? We the property which he does retain should not stay here, of course; we

on terms which do not appear would go away abroad, to America, honourable to himself.” anywhere, so long as we were to- Hilda turned her face towards gether: but we would take Arthur him for an instant.

He thought with us; the boy would look on he could detect a look of uncertainty me as a brother."

and hesitation. Could it be that “But have you thought,” said he had convinced her at last, and Hilda, blushing, “ that there may that she was yielding? be others whose disgrace would There was silence for a minute follow from—from their

while he stood eagerly scanning the “Their mother? Hilda, darling, expression of her now averted face. do you think that I have not It was first broken by Hilda. thought with rapture that you might Her reply, undeceiving him, be the mother of my children? dashed away his hopes. “ You You speak of disgrace; but where speak of sacrifices,” she said, sadly; would they be worse than their "I cannot vie with you in nobility father? Hilda, is it possible you of aim, but think at least of what do not know that I am an illegiti- I am sacrificing too for what you mate son myself? But ah! how must know to be right. I say different was my case ! Really nothing of myself, and what I am


giving up, and no doubt I shall be A few steps brought them to the able to earn a living in some way; garden-gate. He opened it for her, but is it nothing to have deprived and she passed in, and then turned my poor little brother of so good a round towards him as he was about friend ?”

to follow. “But you have not deprived


,” he said, as if divining her him,” cried Clifford. “Do you sup- intention to stop him. “I don't pose for a moment that I would want to come farther with you toallow any consideration of your day. Give me only one little word material comfort to affect your de- of comfort, Hilda, and I will leave cision ? that I would tempt you you and hurry off to make ready with the prospect of a life of ease for taking you away to new and combined with what you persist in happier scenes. Only one little thinking to be vice on the one side, word, Hilda darling," he added, contrasted with a life of want and but in a less hopeful voice, notichardship combined with virtue on ing with alarm the set expression the other? Vice and virtue indeed! of her face. I did think that you would rise "Oh, Robert,” she said, sadly, superior to such conventions. No, “I thought before you came that Hilda, whether you take me or not, I could not be more unhappy than half my remaining small fortune is I was; but you have made me far yours in any case; and a part goes more wretched now. You will be on to your little brother Arthur if angry with me now, and think me you die before he is grown up and hard and cruel; but in time to come, started in life. So much is settled perhaps, you will judge me more in any case. The deed is not kindly, and say that I have done actually drawn, but the lawyers right.' have got my instructions. So you “I see what it is,” he cried, cannot escape out of the difficulty bitterly, “I have been mistaken in in that way, consoling yourself with you; you do not really care for me the belief that you have purchased as I do for you. It is easy to take the unhappiness of both of us by a this high tone where the heart is great sacrifice. There is only one not in question.” sacrifice asked of you, or possible for “Robert, Robert,” pleaded the you, such as it is, to me a priceless poor girl," why say such cruel bounty-the gift of your own sweet things ?" self. Hilda, dearest, surely you

“Cruel ! It is you who are will never refuse me this?"

cruel. What sort of love is this As he finished speaking, the dark which wants all the sacrifice to clouds above them were suddenly be on one side ! Farewell then, loosened, and poured down a deluge Hilda, since farewell it must be. of rain. Hilda stood irresolute for I thought you to be soft and sweet an instant and then turned towards and loving, but I have been carried the house.

away by my own fancies. You are “Yes, that will be best,” he said, really hard and selfish. You require hastily; "you must not stay here everything from me and will give to get wet. Here, come under this nothing in return." And he strode shelter," and he opened the umbrella away in the storm, and turning the and held it over her.

corner of the lane, was lost to view.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »