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of her penniless position; still it would have been a real comfort in her present forlorn condition to have some one who knew her at hand; not to be so thoroughly alone in the world as she now seemed to be. Then unbidden would come up the thought that she need not be alone if she chose. But no l that thought must be sternly put aside. She must not at any cost admit the possibility of consenting to the proposal her lover had made. Crushed and weary, Hilda descended to the little parlour to her solitary breakfast. She had not the heart, in reply to Martha's inquiries what was the news from master, to tell her the whole truth; she merely said that he had gone to France for a few days, and it was not quite certain when he would be back. But the maid could see from Hilda's manner that something was amiss. Now came the long day, and Hilda afterwards remembered but dimly how she got through it. The bells were ringing for church, but Hilda knew no consolation in that direction. When living abroad with her aunt and uncle they had seldom attended any services, and at home there was the same neglect. Hilda's family and Hilda herself differed from a great many of her own class merely in not making any pretence of having any religion; whereas the religious profession of such people is limited to going to church once a week, without even pretending to pray when there, as if their attendance was rather a concession to public opinion than of any efficacy in itself. Hilda and the rest of the household, except Martha, with whom it was the one holiday and excitement of the week, never went at all. Hilda could not find any consolation in believing that she was singled out for misfortune by the
goodness of Providence; she could not fall back on any higher feeling than a sense of duty. Just now she felt unfit for any mental process: she sat in the little drawing-room looking out idly into the garden.
The day wore on, and, first time for many days, became overcast. The dull overshadowed afternoon seemed to reflect her own condition, deserted as she was by all her family. Harry would now be nearly out of the Channel. Even Arthur had left her, and for the moment the thought of the child's happiness, contrasted with her own desolation, struck her with a sense of bitterness. But a healthier feeling soon succeeded. Poor little Arthur, his good fortune would be but short-lived let him at least be happy for a time. For him, too, like herself, a change of life was impending. Then, her thoughts having turned to her little brother, she began to feel a longing to see him again. The sight of his loving face would be some consolation in her desolate condition. And why should she not go and see him There would be a train to Richmond in about an hour, and one to bring her back in the evening. Yes; anything would be better than sitting here, and she was rising from her chair, when a sound suddenly arrested her movement, and she sank down helpless. It was the sound of a footstep, heard plainly in the still summer afternoon—a step she would have recognised anywhere. Now it stops at the gate, and as Clifford entering the garden, walked up the path, Hilda, so firm yesterday, sits as if paralysed, unable to stir.
Clifford saw her as he advanced, and that she was alone. It was merely a step from the garden into the room by the open window. Another, and he was standing before her.
She could not refuse the hand of he replied. “I want you to congreeting which he held out, and sider the thing from a business something in his manner reassured point of view, although I should her. He had recovered his com- never forgive myself if I drove you posure, and it was plain that he to lose or give up your situation. was desirous of effacing the im- You are clever enough for anypression created by his conduct of thing, of course; but you know how the previous day. Clifford, indeed, difficult it is to find suitable emhad come resolved to place a strong ployment, and you have not only control over himself, and strove yourself to consider, there is your hard to efface all appearance of the father.” lover. He hardly touched the “My father is provided for," she fingers which she gave him, and said, sorrowfully; "he was married did not even confront her eyes this morning." She had the letter with his, as he seated himself in her hand, and held it up as she opposite to her, and striving to spoke by an involuntary movement, appear unembarrassed in manner, of which she at one repented, as asked if her father were at home. well as of her speech, when she saw Hilda replied that he was away, the eager and triumphant expression hardly-she scarcely knew why- of his face. It was momentary, liking to make the avowal." I however. Clifford recovered his am come,” he said presently, “to composure at once. find out something about which I “This is surely unexpected ?” am uneasy. I have been a little he asked. “Come, Hilda, tell me anxious lest you should not return something about it; I can see that to your duties to - morrow, but I the news has been a surprise." would not wait till to - morrow to And Hilda in a few words made learn your intention. How is it? him acquainted with the facts. She You did •mean that, I see. Well, could not help this, although she then, it is best to have the matter felt instinctively that she ought not out with you. You know, of course, to make a confidant of him, he was that you are not at liberty to break so full of interest and sympathy: off without due notice, and equally, and her manner of telling the brief of course, that I should not place tale, betrayed the pain caused by the matter on that ground. But I her father's conduct. want you to consider what is right “He has not treated you well, and proper, apart from considera- certainly,” Clifford observed; “but tions of my convenience, although, I cannot see that it is a bad thing of course, it would be extremely on the whole;" — to him, indeed. inconvenient to be without the ser- the news was delightful—_“ one vices of my secretary.”
heavy burden is removed from you; He said this in something like his but you have still to support yourold playful tone, which reassured self, if you are quite resolved about her still more. “I shall be very leaving your present employment. sorry indeed to put you to in- Have you thought how this is to be convenience,” she replied; “I would done ? do anything rather than that—that “I suppose I shall go out as a is, anything possible.” Here she governess. I ought not to have stopped, in confusion. This was much difficulty in finding a situanot at all how she ought to have re- tion.” ceived him.
“True," replied Clifford ; and “Never mind my convenience," his heart sank as he recognised the
feasibility of this. “But what will you do with Arthur ! You have him still on your hands f" Both of them by tacit agreement seemed to put on one side the supposition that Captain Reid would for the present provide for any one but himself. “No, you have not,” he continued. “I am only joking, of course; you know me well enough to be sure that I am not likely to want to forego the responsibility I have undertaken for him. You can't want your little brother to suffer on your account; you must be satisfied to let him continue to be my charge. Nor can you help my continuing to pay you your salary until you are able to support yourself. Now, surely, you will not be satisfied to hold this position ? If our old relations are to be broken off, let us at least consider how we stand as a matter of business. Remember that you are still my secretary till the engage
ment is formally concluded. Come, Hilda,” he continued, noticing the effect of his words, “you see that I am my sober self again, and you are a woman of sense if ever there was one; come and take a walk, and let us discuss the thing in a business-like way. You have not been out to-day, I see; a walk will do you good.” Hilda caught gladly at this; she would feel freer and safer in the open air; and rising from her chair, she went up-stairs to get her hat. No other preparation was required on this sultry day, and she came down directly. “But you had better bring an umbrella,” he said, as they were passing out of the little hall, “for it looks like rain; let me carry this one for you. This is the Captain's, I suppose; he has had so much to think of he has forgotten to take it with him.” Hilda smiled; it was the first smile she had given him, reminding him of her old self.
They passed down the lane to the river, and then took the towpath by the bank. There were a good many people strolling along it, dressed in their Sunday clothes, and several boats on the water. The bells of Rainham church began to ring for afternoon service. “Hilda,” observed Clifford, “you never go to church; you are like me in that respect. You have been baptised, no doubt, but you are not practically a Christian. Only there is this difference between us; I am an unbeliever because I can't help myself; you are one, just as so many others are, because you have never thought about the matter one way or the other.” Hilda looked up at him to see
what he meant, without replying, and he went on— “I don't scoff at Christianity, be it observed ; I wish I could believe in it, I should be happier and better. And I am not in the least proud of my unbelief; I simply feel an incapacity for belief—that is, for dogmatic Christianity as generally accepted. And very sorry I should be to see the rest of my countrymen sharing my opinions. It would be an evil day for England if ever that came to pass; for whether Christianity be true or not, I am sure it makes the world better and happier. The working classes, it is true, have most of them no religion to speak of, but they get the benefit of the reflected Christianity of other people; and that, and the arm of the law, keep them in order, otherwise we should be in bad case. My friends the Bryants are just like you, except that they go to church on Sunday mornings, when it is fine, as a sort of fetich, and to avoid scandalising their neighbours; otherwise they are perfect heathens, and never give religion a thought from one week's end to the other. But they, too, get the benefit of other people's Christianity: the rector dines with them frequently, and the curate comes to lawn-tennis almost every afternoon. The girls are very nice, but they would be nicer still if their conduct was guided by something higher than mere custom and convention. So that, you see, Hilda, feeling for you as you know I do—I shall not frighten you by saying so much—I should admire you still more if you were a religious woman, and I should be glad to see you different in this
respect, under ordinary circumstances. Just now I am selfish enough **
He stopped speaking here, as they were just passing a man and his wife sauntering along with a family of children, the man carrying a baby. After they had passed this party, their attention was diverted by a steam-launch coming up the river at a great pace, and making a great wash. It was just passing a man in a skiff. Somebody called out that the skiff would be swamped, and they stop#. involuntarily to see the oft
he skiff escaped, and they continued their walk. Then he began
“Have you ever thought how curiously the marriage ceremony varies in different countries and among different peoples?”
“Robert,” said Hilda, with downcast eyes, speaking for the first time, and hurrying her steps in
stinctively, “to what purpose is all this 2'" “Why, surely, my meaning must be plain. In all and each of these cases the ceremony is nothing in itself. It is of importance only as it gives the wife and husband certain rights, and prevents the husband from ill-using or deserting the wife. In many countries there is nothing solemn, still less sacred, about the institution in itself. The religious part of the ceremony is a mere tag to the legal contract, and doesn't render it at all more binding. The religious sanction has value only for the religious. The marriages best observed, as those of the patriarchs, were not celebrated by any formalities at all. The tie in that case was one of simple confidence. And nothing can be more matter-of-fact than an English marriage before a registrar. If all men were good and kind and honest, there would be no need to bind them by legal ties—the bond of love and honesty would be sufficient. Such a man would not need a legal bond to make him true and faithful to the woman who had given him her confidence.” “There is a storm coming,” interrupted Hilda, looking up; “I think we had better be turning.” Clifford, too, looked round him. The sky had grown blacker, and just then a flash of lightning and the roll of thunder proclaimed the approach of the storm. Hilda turned, and he was fain to turn too, and they began to walk homewards. “Because you make me cut short what I have to say, Hilda,” he said presently, “it is, I hope, that you understand my meaning, and will listen to my prayer?” “Oh, Robert,” she replied, in a tone of distress, and again hastening her steps, “why speak any more of what can never be?”
. Clifford did not answer her at once. They were again overtaking the family they had passed before, and were themselves overtaken by others hurrying home: they were not sufficiently alone for him to pour out the fulness of his heart. Now they came to the lane which led up from the river to Hilda's cottage, unoccupied, as they turned into it, by any save themselves. He stopped, and taking her hand, made her stop too. “Hear me out, Hilda dear,” he said, in a low yet earnest voice. “My happiness is so bound up in you that I cannot let you go till you have heard my whole case.” “Dear Robert,” said Hilda, pleadingly, “why go on this way? Why set your heart on what you ought to know is impossible?” “But why is it impossible If you were surrounded with friends and relations, who would take the conventional view, and deem you disgraced by coming to share my fortunes, do you think I do not love you too well to ask you to do what would lower you in their eyes? It is because you are alone in the world, like myself, and worse than alone, with worthless relatives from whom you should be glad to escape, and having only yourself to think of, that I ask you to make me happy, and yourself happy too. For I believe you love me a little, though not as I love you. Come, Hilda, it is not such a dreadful fate.” Hilda, with averted eyes, shook her head sadly. “Then perhaps it is that you do not love me after all? And I have befooled myself and persecuted you for nothing?” Hilda looked at him gently and sorrowfully. “You know it is not that, Robert: you have my whole heart; why not be satisfied with that, and let me go, thinking the best of me?”
“There it is. I want to think the best of you; to think of you as gentle, and loving, and trustful.” “But you would despise me, nevertheless; not just now perhaps, but by-and-by, when your fanc » “Fancy! Hilda, is this the way you jest with my love? You cannot be in earnest to speak like that. You know that I am not light and fickle. If I thought it possible that the time should ever come when I should love and cherish and respect you a whit less than if you were my wedded wife, why then, dearly as I love you, I would not ask for you. But you know there is no fear of this; you know that you can trust me. You know in your heart that I should show my sense of your sacrifice by greater and fuller respect.” “But I could not respect myself. Please let me go, Robert,” she added, trying to withdraw her hands. “There you are again,” he cried eagerly, and still holding her, “with your conventional notions. A woman sells herself to a man she is indifferent to, or even despises, and because the sale of her person is legalised, and made the subject of a religious ceremony, forsooth, performed over the contract, it is honourable and respectable. This, if you like, is a mere concession to the requirements of society—something to be ashamed of—legalised dishonour, which goes on every day. If my cousin had sold herself to me, as she was minded to, and I had bought her, there would indeed have been real loss of self-respect. Marriage without love must always be immodest and disgraceful, if you look at the thing rightly; but there will be nothing to feel shame for in such a union as ours, based on mutual love and confidence.”
The lightning flashed round them,