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The breakfast hour at Fosdyke Lodge was a liberal nine, and Anna the next morning resolved to go to church, without fearing that her doing so would be discovered. As she knew that the distance to church was too short to occasion any risk of this, she was not called upon to determine in what manner she would have acted had the case been different. We must not presume, therefore, to look more closely into her heart than she did herself; but we may safely affirm that she rejoiced much at finding herself able to resume an old habit, which had been a source of great comfort to her at a time when she much needed some solace.
She raised her eyes to the clock in the tower as she entered the door of the church, and perceived she was only just in time to reach her seat in the family pew before the service would begin. With a self-condemning feeling at having so nearly been too late, she hastened up the nave, and reached the pew without raising her eyes to see if Mr. Fosdyke was right in supposing there would be no congregation; nor was it till she had risen from her knees and opened her prayer-book, that she discovered that she was not the only occupant of the cushioned, curtained penfold. Arthur Fosdyke was there before her. Exclusive of Mr. Dampierre's family, there were about a dozen persons, all of the poorer classes, except one old half-pay officer of the navy.
In little more than half an hour Arthur and Anna found themselves silently walking side by side through the churchyard. It was their first tête à tête; and Anna, though not usually shy, felt, she scarcely knew why, rather unwilling to break the silence. The effort was not needed. Her companion waited till they had left the consecrated ground, and then said;
“Good morning, Miss Marsden. I had not expected to have met you so early this morning. You took no part in our little discussion at the luncheon-table yesterday which could lead me to hope that your opinion on the subject coincided with mine."
“ I am sure, Mr. Fosdyke,” replied she, “ I said nothing which could induce you to believe that I differed from you. In fact, I spoke not a word. Surely I should have been to blame to have entered the lists uncalled for against your father and mother, even in support of the best and highest of causes. Do not you think so ?” added she, after vainly waiting a moment for a reply.
" I don't quite know," answered he. “It is a question I am not prepared to answer absolutely. You may have been right yesterday; and you are probably a better judge than I am on the subject. I think, however, we should all consider the many things
which may tempt us to be silent when it is a duty to speak, and ascertain to our own satisfaction that we are really not actuated by an unworthy motive." You understand," added he hastily, “that now I am speaking generally, and not in particular reference to your silence yesterday, which may have been judicious, nay right. I do not pronounce on it; and you will forgive me if, on the other hand, I confess that my present observations are intended in some measure to apply to you. The single circumstance of meeting you in church this morning, convinces me that on some points you think differently from my dear father and mother and from Charlotte. How great, then, must be your inducement, now you are a member of our family, dear Miss Marsden, to be silent where you must be in so great a minority. Will not that, if yielded to, lead to a concealment of principles which it is a primary duty to confess and uphold? Will not such a concealment of principle tend to a laxity of practice ? But you think me unwarranted in thus addressing you,-impertinent, perhaps."
“Oh, no," replied Anna gently; “I am not so rich in friends as to afford to call anything kindly meant, impertinent; indeed, none of us, I believe, can number many willing to speak disagreeable truths to us. That you should so venture to speak to me I am aware is from your zeal for the truth. Do not think me unworthy of your advice—your admonitions in future—if I still feel that my conduct yesterday, my general conduct in that respect, admits of a defence opposed to your arguments.”
“Then I shall believe till you tell me to the contrary," returned her companion, “ that you will allow me to speak as candidly to you as I do to my sister. I wish you had now time to tell me how you differ from me; but I must not let you go without saying, it was not zeal for the truth alone which induced me to speak. I feared a habit of withholding your opinions would be injurious to yourself, and I hoped an expression of them would be beneficial to my sister.”
They reached the hall door as he uttered these words; she entered the house, and he passed towards the garden, without either speaking again.
Anna bad left her room unconsciously rejoicing in being able to do what she thought right, without any risk of incurring censure or exciting ridicule. She returned to it, doubtful whether she ought not voluntarily to expose herself to both. She had not much time to spare for thought after laying aside her bonnet, and preparing to appear in the breakfast-room; and this she
endeavoured to employ in recalling to her mind all she would have said to convince Arthur she was right, if their walk had been longer; but instead of so doing she perversely repeated to herself the arguments he had brought forward to prove she was wrong; and before she had discovered her mistake the breakfast bell disturbed her cogitations, and summoned her down stairs. She met Arthur as she crossed the hall, and entering the room together it was not observed that their usual morning greeting was omitted.
“ There were nearly twenty persons in the church this morning,” said Arthur, addressing his father as he seated himself at the table; “ and considering that the people have had only a few hours to reflect on Mr. Dampierre's appeal to them on the subject of daily prayer, that was as many perhaps as could be anticipated."
“Ah, indeed !" replied Mr. Fosdyke, “I should not have thought you would have mustered so strong. And who were your feilow devotees ?"
Arthur's eye rested for an almost imperceptible moment upon Anna, as he answered, “I fancy the whole of Mr. Dampierre's family and household were there ; but the congregation chiefly consisted of the poorer classes."
Anna, meanwhile, had been removing the shell from her egg with more than ordinary care and diligence; but she felt, nevertheless, that he had looked at her, and her ear caught something that sounded like constraint in his tone, some slight hesitation in bis manner. This caused her colour to rise at a moment when she was most desirous of appearing unconcerned. She felt he thought she ought to confess that she too had been there ; she half wished he would say it for her: she looked up, intending to say, “I think I saw Captain Allen there,” but the expression, almost stern, of Arthur's countenance struck her as so unlike his usual mildness, that she paused for a moment. Charlotte made some lively remark which turned the current of the conversation, and the opportunity was gone.
No further allusion to this subject was made in the course of the day, and Anna found herself on the following morning again walking through the churchyard with Arthur by her side, with her mind still undecided upon the propriety of avowing what she meant to make her daily practice, or of letting it pass in silence till it discovered itself. Sbe distinctly assured herself that neither by word or deed would she attempt to conceal it. She and her companion exchanged their morning salutation, and then proceeded in silence, which to-day it was Anna's turn to break.
“You condemn me, Mr Fosdyke," said she, turning to him with something of a desperate resolution to speak on a subject that was painful, “you condemn me for not mentioning yesterday that I had made one of Mr. Dampierre's morning congregation ?”
“I had no right to condemn you, Miss Marsden,” returned he, “ without knowing the motives that actuated you. Your silence may have been produced by a feeling of deference, right in itself, though in my opinion unnecessary, nay, wrong in the present instance; or,” added he, with some slight hesitation, “ or it may have been produced by cowardice."
“ Thank you,” replied she, half smiling, "for giving me the benefit of the doubt now; at the moment you felt sure it was unmitigated cowardice—did you not ?"
“ Yes, I did,” returned he, frankly; " but upon reconsidering the subject, it occured to me that it might not be so."
“Shall I confess, nevertheless, that your first interpretation was the right one? I believe the truth is, I was afraid to say where I had been. You think me wholly inexcusable ?” added she, as he walked on without making any reply.
“Of course I think you wholly inexcusable if you encourage or give way to such a weakness; but I hope you will, on the contrary, struggle against it. Will not you ?" continued he, earnestly, " and in this very instance overcome it ?”
“I will tell Charlotte," replied Anna. “ I shall not so much mind speaking to her about it.”
“ No, no !” cried her uncompromising friend, “ that will be encouraging a weakness that I am sure you now feel to be wrong. Tell them simply at breakfast that you went yesterday and to-day to church ; that you mean to go regularly. Put it how you will. If you find it more difficult this morning than you would have done yesterday, take that added difficulty as a penance for having been silent when you ought to have summoned courage to speak. Do not be angry with me for speaking so plainly to you : you have given me leave, you know, to talk to you as I would to my sister, and she will tell you I always scold her when I think she is wrong."
“ Indeed I am not angry,” replied Anna, “ though you do give advice so very distasteful to me. I believe you are right; but you as a man cannot guess perhaps how painful it is to a woman to come forward in any way, and express opinions in opposition to people to whom she ought to submit. Your father, for instance, stands now in the light of a parent to me, and I feel that I owe him the deference due to one.”
“ You are quite right in so feeling; and therefore if my father were to forbid you to attend the daily service in the church, I would have you submit without a word ; but if such a practice is only likely to meet with a little ridicule, you are bound, in my opinion, to encounter that rather than shrink from an avowal that you believe such and such things to be your duty Remember, too, that as long as you attempt simply to obey the commands of the Church, you cannot feel that anything of presumption attaches to you, even if others find that the strictness of your conduct practically condemns the laxity of theirs. I conceive that obedient members of the Church have in this respect a great advantage over those who, striving to live a more holy life than those around them, yet carve out their own mode of doing so, which is of necessity too apt to engender the feeling which says, *I am holier than thou.'”
This observation brought them to the door of the house, and terminated their conversation.
The family party had not been long seated at the breakfast table when Anna said, with something of a heightened colour on her cheek.
“Our numbers at church were increased this morning, Charlotte, by your friend Miss Riley.”
“Have yon been to church this morning, Anna ?” asked Charlotte, in a tone of surprise.
“ Yes," answered Anna.
“How odd,” returned Charlotte. “ Why did you not tell me you were going ?-perhaps I might have gone with you."
“ I did not think that likely, Lotte, from what you said when the subject was mentioned on Sunday, and I wished to resume an old habit without making a fuss about it.”
“Is going to church every morning an old habit of yours, my dear ?" inquired Mrs. Fosdyke, with a look of astonishment.
“For the last year or two," returned Anna, “we always had morning prayers at Langley, and my mother never objected to my going."
“I want to have a talk with you about this newly-discovered eccentricity of yours, Anna,” pursued Charlotte, as they crossed the ball and ascended the stairs.; " but, upon second thoughts, it will be better to put it off till after my visit, and then if our discussion should tirer en longueur, we shall have nothing to interrupt us."