Page images

"You must, of course, write at once," I say, in a matter-of-fact voice; "and tell him that you are sorry, and that you will not do it --whatever it was-again."

"Say I am sorry!" cries Lenore, starting to her feet; "eat dirt, and go, like a whipped child, with its finger in its mouth, and say, 'I'll be good!' Not if I know it!"

She no longer looks like a Magdalen, or, if she does, it is a very restive one.

"Very well," say I, coolly; "if you prefer your pride to your lover, of course it is a matter of taste which is best worth keeping. I have no more to say."

No answer.

"I see," continue I, with affected enthusiasm, "you are conscious that you were in the right, and that he was so completely in the wrong that the first advance must come from him. I understand, of course! I respect you."

"Do not," cries Lenore, gruffly. "I was not in the right-am I ever? But the knowing that one is in the wrong does not make it any the easier to say it.'

[ocr errors]

"There are so many ways of implying a thing without exactly saying it."


"My dear child," I say, stretching out my hand to take one of hers, which is twisting and turning its fellow about; "the question is, how can you live best: with your dignity and without Paul, or with Paul and without your dignity ?"

She falls on her knees beside me again; she buries her face in my lap.

[ocr errors]

'Jemima, never tell anybody, and, if you are asked, say that it is not so; and never remind me, when you get angry, that I have said it: but-but" (very indistinctly) "I would eat all the dirt that ever was in all the world to get him back again-there!" (looking up and colouring violently). "Was there ever a case on record of anybody having said anything so mean?"

I shrug my shoulders. "What does it matter about being mean, so as one is happy?" say I, with a philosophy of doubtful morality if carried out to its final consequences. "Write, write, WRITE; and, if possible" (picking up the note again and laughing), "write with a better pen than he did, Lenore" (examining it more narrowly). "I do believe he cried over it. Look! what a suspicious blot over the 'P.'!"

"Only a sputtering pen or bad blotting-paper," replies Lenore. But she is laughing too, and there is an alertness in her gait as she walks across the room in strong contrast to the heavy droop of her attitude five minutes ago. "Jemima" (her poor red eyes sparkling


again, and a tender tremor about the quivering corners of her mouth), "I will write. God knows what will come of it, or how I shall bear the waiting for the answer; but I will write."

"Do," say I; and then I draw an armchair to the fire, and Lenore sits down to the writing-table. The opening sentences seem to be hatched with difficulty, but after them her pen runs glibly enough: it is going to be a longer letter than his. "Lenore," say I, presently, turning my head round, and speaking diffidently, "I think that, on the supposition that this may not bring him back- -a most improbable one, but still possible—I—I (do not be angry)—I would not make it too affectionate." She flushes scarlet, reads it hastily over, then tears it into a thousand bits, and, running over to the fire, tosses the fragments in. "Nor too cold," I subjoin, rather startled at the effect of my caution. "Do not you understand?" I continue, eagerly. "The kind of letter you should write is one that, if he is so disposed, will bring him back again; and that, if he is not so disposed, will not make you hot to think of having sent it."

To compose such a letter as I have thus described seems a hard task. The hearth is strewn with little shreds of paper before one, that hits the golden mean between the fond and the frigid, is written fairly out without blots or erasures.

"Will you read it ?" asks my sister, holding it out rather reluctantly to me, when it is at length finished. "I think I had rather you did not, but you may, if you wish."

I shake my head, and swallow down my curiosity: "Why should I? It is between you and him; what has a third person to do with it ?"

She turns away relieved, folds it up, directs it, and fastens the envelope. "Jemima," she says, clasping my arms with her two hot slender hands, while her great solemn eyes fix themselves, feverish and miserably excited, on mine, "the responsibility of this lies with you. I do not know whether it is affectionate or not; I cannot judge -I hardly know what is in it; but if it fail, the shame of it will kill me."



Ar the lowest calculation there must be forty-eight hours between the sending of any letter by post and the receiving of the answer. In most cases sixteen or eighteen of these hours are slidden over in sleep; but in a great anxiety who can sleep? In heavy grief one may sleepprobably one will; when hope has stolen out of sight, and despair sits by us with veiled head, then one sleeps most deeply. Sometimes, in slumber, God gives us back our dead: him that but yesterday we

coldly kissed in his strait shroud, we see coming towards us with lifecoloured lips and open eyes: the dead never come back to us dead: always they are alive-talking, smiling, occupied in some commonplace employment, making some foolish tender jest. But sleep refuses to come to the troubled, who have yet an uneasy hope: she will not be made use of merely as a bridge over obnoxious hours: she will be loved and wooed for herself, or else she will stand relentlessly apart. I think that there are very few of the thousands of minutes that constitute those forty-eight hours that do not find Lenore consciously, broadly wakeful. She refuses all proposals that tend to divert her thoughts by exercise or employment: she will not walk-she will not drive; she will not even come downstairs. All day long she sits in the window-seat in her room-sits there, with drooped figure and carelessly dressed hair: her eyes fixed alternately on the brown winter outside, or the avenue by which all carriages and all foot-passengers must approach the house, and on the watch which lies on the table before her; as if by looking, looking, she could make the slow hands pass more swiftly over the dial-plate. Oh, unwise Lenore! to wish to hurry the feet of the swift minutes! They may seen unsweet, nay most bitter, according to our present gauge of sweet and sour; but oh! are they worse-are they worse than the deep timeless grave, and the leaden-coloured shores of Eternity, towards which, in their flitting, they carry us? Once, coming in suddenly, I find her with all Paul's letters strewn round her: she is reading them all through in orderfrom the first seasick note he wrote her from Jersey on his homeward journey, to the three scrawling, galloping lines which, less than a week ago, announced the train and the hour which were to bring him back to her. I think, poor soul! she is trying to extract more love than is in them, from the loving phrases that fill them. The short winter day treads heavily past to his rest, and the night comes-the winter night in its dull endlessness-then the dim, late morning light. Lenore makes no complaint, and cuts me short when I begin inquiries; but I know she has not slept. The postman comes and goes without any special interest attaching to him: it is impossible that he can bring anything yet.

Another day walks past with lagging feet. Lenore will not move, will not eat all her life seems to have passed into the eyes which grow to the face of the watch that ticks ever before her. She has turned Paul's picture, which hangs opposite her bed, to the wall; when I ask her why she has done it, she answers that, unless he is hers, she has no business to look at him.

The second slow day dies: its life is so faint and dark that there is but little difference between it and its death. Sylvia and I dine têteà-tête, and get over our dinner with a surprising and feminine celerity. It is astonishing how the presence of even one man prolongs the dura

tion of dinner: is it from the comparative immensity of man's appetite, or from the stimulus and gentle fillip that his company gives to conversation? We yawn through the evening, and at ten retire to such warm depths of silky sleep as one experiences only in frosty weather.

It is rarely indeed that others' griefs keep one awake. Our letters arrive mostly at half-past seven: it is some time before that hour, and in my curtained and sheltered room absolute darkness still reigns, when I drowsily hear a footstep passing along the corridor outside my door. From some half-conscious, half-dreamful impulse, I jump up and run to the door, open it, and look out into the black chillness outside.

[blocks in formation]

"Where are you going?" (my teeth chattering so as to make me almost entirely unintelligible).

"What is that to you?" Tired of her incivilities, sleepy and shivering, I prepare to shut the door in a huff. "I am going to see whether the postman is dead, that he is so long in coming," she says, in a quick excited voice.

"It is not nearly time for him!—it is the middle of the night!" "It must be time for him," she says, petulantly; "it must be three years since he was here last!"

"You will be frozen," I say, laying my hand, in the dark, on the thin shawl that covers her shoulders; "have my sealskin!" She does not heed me. "Jemima!" (I cannot see her face, but I hear the quick sobbing breaths with which she speaks)—"if it does not come to-day, my reason will tell me that it is because he is not at home, and that it has had to be forwarded to him; but all the same reason, or no reason-if it does not come, I shall go mad!"

Before I can reply, she is gone. I shiver back into bed: I find it as deeply, downily warm as I left it; but the delicious languor, the semi-unconsciousness, fast melting into total unconsciousness, that such warmth and softness woo, declines to come again. I find myself, with my head raised every minute from the pillow, listening for that back-coming footfall. It seems a long time coming; perhaps it is only half an hour really: at last I hear it-I spring to the door. "Well ?"

A grey figure runs past me, with its head bent, but answers nothing. I snatch up a dressing-gown, and run, ventre à terre, after it, half-afraid of finding the door locked, when I reach my sister's room. It is not—it is ajar; I enter. The sick dwarf light creeps in by the latticed window panes; the dead fire's ashes lie whitely grey upon the hearth; the table is grey, the chairs are grey, and on one of them a grey figure lies still and stiff, with grey hands covering its face. "What is it? what is it?" I cry, horribly excited, running up

to her. She drops her hands into her lap; in the dim light I see her great shining eyes, brimming over with anger and despair, flame into mine.

"It is all your fault!" she says, hoarsely; "you did it! I have lain down in the gutter, and he has walked over me, and it is your doing!"


"If you had left me alone, if you had not meddled-you were always a meddler, always-I might have gone through my life, hating myself, knowing that I had been my own death, finding no taste in anything; but at least I should not have had to get red whenever I thought of myself at least I should not have made overtures that have been declined. I should not have asked a man to marry me, and been politely, but firmly, rejected—Good God!" (breaking off suddenly, and clenching her hands above her head)" it cannot be me that this has happened to-it must be somebody else. I that always held my head so high!"

"What are you talking about ?" I stammer; "he cannot-he has not

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"Has not he ?" she answers, bitterly. "There!-read! Can you see?" (walking over to the curtain and pulling it back), "My dear Miss Herrick! When I got as far as that I knew it was all over with me! His dear Miss Herrick!''My dear Miss Herrick ! my dear Mr. Le Mesurier! Oh, my God!" She throws herself on the floor, and buries her face in the carpet, while her hands dig themselves into it, like those of a man in the death-agony. After all, why should the soul's death be accompanied with throes less bitter than the body's?

"How can I read it ?" I cry, impatiently, "you are holding it!" and, indeed, as she lies prostrate on the floor, it is crumpled up in one of her clenched hands. She raises herself, and straightens out the creased paper.

"Look!" she says, striking it with her forefinger. "See how straight the lines run-how firmly the letters are formed-it might be a thesis instead of a death-warrant! Do you see any blots here? do you think he cried over this?"

"Give it me!" I say, eagerly stretching out my hand; "let me see it!"

"Never!" she answers, tearing it sharply across, and then again across, and then again; "it is between him and me-the last thing that ever will be!"

I kneel down beside her in silence in the cold grey dawn, and put my arm round her.

"Be satisfied with knowing the upshot!" she says, with a dreary smile. "He says it very kindly, very prettily, in a very good bold hand,

« PreviousContinue »