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anybody you please. That's my last word. If it proves to be any secret of my own, it will be worth my while, I suppose, to pay you to hold your tongue.”
“Ay, Squire-that's true. 'Twill be worth your while, forwell, since you put it that way, here it be."
Old Grimes, very slowly, put on his spectacles, felt in the pocket of his jacket about a dozen times, and at last produced a document which he continued to hold with both his hands. “Now you look here, Squire Waldron,” said he. "If you'd heard me out, you'd have know'd by this time 'twas not you but my Parson put that thing here in that chest there. And I tell you that, so you may know if you go to play me false there'll be Parson Skull to swear to knowing of this here thing as well as me."
At last Waldron held the document of which the sexton had made such a mystery in his hands and before his eyes. He started for a moment, but read it caresully through, and then said, without the least change of tone,
“Mr. Grimes, if you had brought me this without any attempt at a sale, I would have given you more than you asked, as a reward for your honesty. As things are, I buy it of you on your own terms If I fail, talk as much as you please. Here is your document-keep it, for security, till everything is arranged and you are satisfied. I see you are quite sharp enough to understand. To-morrow morning you will hear from me. .... The estate will bear this charge any how," thought he, as he watched old Grimes down the road. The sexton had been so taken aback at having gained all he had asked for instead of the half which was all he had ventured to expect, that, for once, he had become not only deaf but dumb. Why had he not asked for a thousand pounds, two hundred a year, two cottages, and a whole gallon of beer
Love her? I love her so that if she look
Gideon had bidden Helen prepare for a journey to Hillswick the very next day after his interception of Waldron's letter. But, before next morning, business, or whatever he called such, had made him change his mind, and the same reason continued so long that Helen almost thought the matter had passed by. Almost, but not quite, for she had begun to know Gideon Skull better than to think that he acted without purpose or reason.
Whatever she almost thought, her instinct made her feel that clouds were gathering, and she was afraid.
Long silence had told her that she would never see or hear from, in all likelihood never hear of, Walter Gray again. He might have chosen the right path-she must needs suppose so but he had left her to unbearable solitude. The moment she found that she needed support, and had thought to find the support she needed, it had been wrenched away from her. She thought she could understand what tempts people to kill themselves. And yet she knew all the while that if Walter Gray came back again, and offered her his whole life once more, she would refuse at once and without an instant's doubt all he could offer her. He had done right to leave her; she could not wish him to return. It was good to think that somebody was left in the world to do right, however cruel right might be.
She had ample time for thought, and was by nature incapable of mere reverie. Like Waldron, she had to face life as it was, and as it must be, and what it might be made—he himself had woke her, effectually if rudely, from dreaming of what might have been. She was bound to think of the worst that could happen-that Copleston should come into the hands of Gideon Skull, and that he should call
upon her to live with him there, in the home that had once been her father's and her mother's and Alan's, until he or she died. That was what lay before her now; and she could imagine nothing worse, however she might try. Of course she might obtain a separation from Gideon as soon as she was called upon to share his wealth instead of his ruin. If honour compelled her to share his ruin, his wealth would set her free. She might leave him, and leave Copleston, and the million things it meant, entirely to him. It was her own hand, given in marriage, that had betrayed Copleston to Gideon. Ought she to leave it to him wholly, while there was a chance of tempering his rule by her tenderness, and while there lived a single neighbour who had a trouble that she might relieve? She seemed to have no right even to liberty, since that would deprive her of the power of helping those who needed help less than she.
But it is only when duty takes the form of sacrificing the good things of this world that, in the guise of self-sacrifice, it tempts by its grandeur : nobody can feel much exaltation or enthusiasm about duty when it implies the acceptance of a great estate, high position, and all the things that are held to make life worth having, and duty only a vague sort of hanger-on. Not the less cold and hard did duty look to her in so far as it must consist in making the best of Gideon's life for the sake of others as well as for her own. If she could but once more see Walter Gray, in order that she might get from him a clearer idea of wisely duty than his last words had conveyed to her !--that she might really understand all he meant by urging that the worse a husband is, the more he needs the devotion and fellowship of a redeeming soul: that there must needs be more in marriage even than love itself, which is not the final fruit, but only the blossoms and the leaves. The image was her own; but it had come into her mind from his parting words. But-her duty to Gideon! Yes: if Walter Gray was right, there was even such a thing as her duty to Gideon. Nor could it be wiped out because she had done nearly as much wrong in marrying him for his wealth as he had in marrying her for hers. The need of making the best of the life she had brought upon herself seemed to be staring her in the face at every turn.
If she could only guess why Gideon needed her! But that, only love could have made her understand ; and then there would not have been anything to need understanding.
At last, however, the day came when she was bidden prepare for her journey to Copleston, and when Gideon did not change in his
mind. The summons fell, as it happened, upon a mood when selfsurrender, in every form, appeared to be the only form of life left her to obey. From London to Deepweald was a long journey by rail, and thence to Hillswick a long journey by road. It was long in fact, an age in seeming, since she had dreamed of her old home as of a place she would ever see again ; and the first breath of its air that she consciously drew tasted of pain. It seemed to her as if it were literally charged with a flavour of its own, unlike that of any other air in the world.
It was late in the afternoon when she first, through the carriage window, caught sight of the church tower. Think of all that had happened to her, all that she had done since leaving Copleston-of all her life before her father died—if you care to know how she felt then, as the carriage drove nearer and nearer to what had once been her home. She was not the Helen who had lived at Copleston ; but that Helen was still the flesh of her flesh, and the soul of her soul. She felt like going back into a dead self, and at the same time like a dead self coming to life, during this homeward journey to what was no longer her home, and, though it would once more become her dwelling-place, could never be her home again. As she drew nearer and nearer, and the cottages and the gaps in the hedges and the branchings of by-lanes and all the landmarks of the road became more and more familiar to her eyes, the immediate past seemed to turn into mist, and the clearest picture before her was the inside of Hillswick church on a certain Easter Eve, when she was a mere girl without a thought beyond the spring sunshine, and when Alan was her brother and Bertha her friend.
Gideon had in one way done his best to make her journey as little painful as might be: that is to say, he had scarcely spoken a word. He acted towards her less like a husband than like an angry father with a rebellious daughter in his custody, and left her to her own thoughts and memories : her views of the future were as yet far too undefined to be called fears. He did not even appear to notice whether her eyes were moist or dry; and perhaps he was afraid to look, lest he might read in them what he would not wish to read.
At last the carriage wheels rattled over the rough pavement of the street of Hillswick; then it turned sharply round by the churchyard, drove along a short and narrow lane, and drew up at last before the door of the Vicarage. That day's journey was at an end ; and she was as ignorant as when she started why Gideon had not chosen to make it alone.
She had not found room in her thoughts for speculations as to how she would be received by her old acquaintances the Misses Skull, or how she would feel at her first sight of Hillswick faces. She certainly had not looked forward to what really happened. As soon as the two old ladies, of whom she had never been over-fond, met her in the entrance-hall, she burst into tears. The tears must have come at last; but they had chosen a sadly inconvenient time for coming.
“She is over-tired, I suppose," said Gideon. “You're all well, of course? Is Uncle Christopher at home ?"
Uncle Christopher was at home; and he came out of his study at the sound of his nephew's voice with a feeble and shadowy air of welcome in outline. Miss Sarah Skull, who was a grim and angular old lady, as sharply defined as her brother was the reverse, opened her arms to Helen, who went to them as if they had been an elder sister's. Even Uncle Christopher looked surprised.
The atmosphere of the Vicarage was one of chronic frost, but Helen could not complain of any want of welcome. She had evidently been expected in the light of an honoured guest, and was taken upstairs into that famous spare room which, for the first time within the memory of man, was not, at the present moment, undergoing a thorough cleaning. How you
have changed, to be sure !” said Miss Sarah Skull. “But I suppose changes do make people change. You'll find us the
We were all so surprised to hear that you had married Gideon ; but, indeed, there's no foreseeing anything, and it made us all very pleased and proud. He wanted a good wife, and that you are, I'm sure. And everything is to be all right now.
and Gideon are to come and live at Copleston. It seems all like a dream. I wonder what Mr. Waldron will say. I never did like that
The first minute I set eyes on him I said, “That's no proper companion for Gideon.' And I was right, you see. 'The first time he was ever in the house he broke a lamp of your uncle's that cost shillings and shillings when it was new. And he's been making a regular revolution in the place with all sorts of new-fangled ideas. Dr. Bolt says he's convinced he's a homeopathist; and he must be either an atheist or a Jesuit, for he hasn't been to hear your uncie preach once all the time he's been here. I hope you've got everything you want? We dine in half an hour.”
But even her welcome as the future queen of Hillswick, though it accounted for the spare room and a late dinner at which there was really something to eat, did not make Helen feel any the less