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THE REFUGE DISCOVERED. But the dark time passed over; the patient's youth and fine constitution brought her safely through all the dangers by which she had been so fiercely beset. The straw was gathered away, the wagons rumbled by as heavily as before, the servants knocked with their brooms, and sang, and gossiped, and slammed doors. Mrs. Chamberlayne's faint colour returned to her cheek, her charge was still safe in her keeping.
One June morning this young kinswoman of Mrs. Chamberlayne's woke from a refreshing sleep, and looked with an affectionate and grateful gaze about her room. It was the look of a person whose life for many weeks had been as one dark night. She had a sweet and bright morning for her awakening. Its light came through the striped dimity curtain that met across the open window, which admitted the scents of hay and lilac-time.
Thy servant liveth—thy sun is sweet,' she said, and the tears stole softly and peacefully down the wasted cheeks.
The maid came in with her trim breakfast-tray; the arrangement of which Mrs. Chamberlayne had superintended, looking at it, before she let it go, with her head on one side, as lovingly as any would-be R.A. parting with his first picture.
A picture Hirell found it, with its old silver service, pretty pale pink china, delicate white loaf, so different from the coarse, almost black bread of Bod Elian, its pat of butter impressed with the prettiest of all the little wooden stamps kept for the purpose in the Brockhurst dairy, the freshly-gathered flowers on its snowy cloth, the magazine just come by post, the little pearl paper-knife beside it-all these Hirell's soft, grateful eye took note of as the servant placed the tray upon her bed, and covered her shoulders, and told her she looked so much better and more nat'ral,' and didn't she smell the hay ? They were making it in the crosspath field, and were going to mow the Star meadow to-morrow, and cook's hands ached with drawing the ale, and she, Susan herself, must go and help, but wonld be back soon, to see how she got on with her breakfast.
Then Hirell—when she was gone-felt her heart beginning to stir a little, like something that had been numbed and is quickening. The sick bird began to lift up its head and warm itself in the sunshine from which it had shrank before ; but even as it did so it again cowered and shivered, as if it had suddenly seen rising once moro the head of the serpent that had wounded it. .
Hirell drew back a little from the tray, pale and faint, and looking down on the flowers in fear and anguish.
To make the tray still more inviting to the invalid, Mrs. Chamberlayne had laid a letter that had come for her charge among the flowers she had gathered for her.
What,' said Hirell to herself, ‘not over yet—not over yet! Oh, I cannot bear much! What can be be cruel enough to say to me now?'.
She drew the letter from where it lay, under a long green leaf holding a lily of the valley, and tore it open with fingers that trembled so she could scarcely keep the paper still enough to see to read it.
And this was her letter:
MY DEAR HIRELL,- It was but at eight o'clock last night, while I was dining with some friends at my new town-house in Eaton Square, that I heard for the first time of your place of abode and illness. I now write this from a village alehouse only a couple of miles from you; where I mean to stay till I see you, and renew the conversation so abruptly broken at Werge Castle, by causes that originated at least in my over-prudent anxiety for you as well as for myself.
Before daybreak I was beneath your window, which I soon discovered by signs that I thought could not mislead me; and while I listened, I heard your window opened, saw your nurse look out, and report to you on the beauty of the morning-heard you answer her. How I refrained from then speaking to you, from then demanding instant admittance to you, surely the recording angel will note to my credit, know. irg I did it only as fearing to startle and injure you. You know not how I have sought you. Since our ill-omened parting at Bod Elian, I have had neither rest of body nor peace of mind. This is a third attempt in search of you here. I came before your arrival, and—I went away deceived. Then I sent our friend, Mr. Jarman, and he went to the other farm. Now again I come, and find you, never again to lose sight of you. Be sure of that.
Hirell, I cannot live without you. I have tried—yes, I have tried—and failed. Will you now punish me for this honest confession, or forgive me because of its honesty ? Ah, yes. Love, true love, rich as life and profound as deaththis is your need and mine. We have gone too far to retreat : so, darling, trust me henceforward as you would trust your own soul. I see clearly at last my wants and my duty: both bring me here. :
•Hirell, dearest, I cannot bear to say to you in this coldblooded fashion things that ought to be said, and must be said, when we are face to face. Then, when the old worldthat is to say, whatever of sweet savour the world contains, is concentrated, essenced in you, and I need only to look at you, listen to you, then, indeed, may I speak to you out of the fulness of my own yearning, passionate belief and worship that which shall not be unworthy for you to hear.
'I have wronged you in many things that you know of, but there is one wrong of which you do not know—you are too unselfish to have discovered it, too deeply engrossed for others when you care for them to have found me out in this. Enougb, I have found myself out, and now play the informer, not without secret bope of reward, I have defrauded you ! Do not look startled-do not disbelieve. I have not taken of your worldly goods; no, but I have, in my delectable egotism, in my calm consciousness of superiority of sex, social position, age, experience, and what not, defrauded you of love's sweetest and most precious offerings, the outpourings of a worshipping heart. Can you help turning away in disgust if I tell you that I have discovered, since your absence has compelled me to look more sharply into things, and above all, into myself, that it is you who have played the lover, and I who have condescended to be so loved ! Am I not judged nowjudged, sentenced, and given over to swift execution ?
'Laugh at me—that is my true punishment. I laugh at myself, but with a bitterness of scorn that heaven forefend you should ever feel towards the humblest thing that breathes, much less towards me. Laugh at me-if you can —but when you have done so, remember God loves mercy as
well as justice. Above all, forget not I am now a suppliant at your feet. I descend from the throne, place my beautiful one there instead, and henceforth take my seat on the steps, and on the level of her footstool.
'Hirell, I begin to understand myself and you better, much better. Is it fortunate or unfortunate, that you in the process improve on acquaintance while I horribly deteriorate? But then do you not see that goodness like yours, so pure, sweet, exalted, boundless, could not possibly have been given by God for your own personal gratification alone ? And therefore, sinner that I am, unregenerate even in my regeneration, I cannot but conclude that the excess on your side is meant to balance the defect in mine; and that the two have but to coalesce to become both perfect for this life-which is earth, remember, not heaven.
In deep sincerity of heart, Hirell, I ask you to pardonthat which I can never again speak of while I live, never again think of without shame, and which I will not deny, even though I might with some show of truth do so. It would not be true truth-I own that; you saw to the depth of my guilty soul; and then I saw too; and now bend before you humbly, and in a contrite spirit, as the prayer-books say, to ask your full forgiveness.
To assure me of that, I need only one little line from those dear gentle fingers, that even hard work could not spoil, and that I have so often kissed in wonder and reverence of soulone little line only, saying to me—“ Sinner, come.”
*All else (and how much that includes you cannot, I am sure, conceive) I will then tell you ; and if I do not satisfy you, I will ask no more, but go my way and demand of myself, if enough sense remains to me to answer the question _“ Can it be that thou hast won this priceless treasure and lost her?"
• But I will not lose her. No, thank God, she is not lost. She will get better, and there is a vain belief in my heart that I can help her, not only to get better still, but well, quite well, and with rapid steps, when she once more admits me to her society, the only society that John Cunliff, baronet as he is, M.P. as he is, and worldly to the heart's core as he begins to fear he has long been, now finds he cares for.
Hirell, only one little line to bid the truant " come !" • If you are unfit to talk, let me only look on you, rest with
you but a few minutes, and I will leave you in boundless content and gratitude. Ever yours, and yours only,
This letter did Hirell some good as well as harm. It had re-opened her heart's wound, but it had poured balm into it. When Susan came to take away her breakfast she begged for a pencil and paper, and wrote her answer.
*DEAR SIR, I pray you not to think too much about my illness. I am getting better. God has raised up for me in my need friends whom only He can thank. They have saved me not only from death, but from something much worse than death-my own heart's despair and base ingratitude. I shudder as I look back upon the way I have come, but there is light near me and above me, and I am trusting that in time peace may come again. .
'I am grieved that you have written to me, yet inexpressibly thankful for much you say in your good and kind letter. I wish I knew how to make you understand what I feel. I do so want-and now more than ever that you have given me so great a relief that you shall think of me as kindly as I must think of you. Dear sir, all else is at an end between us -do believe that, for it is so!
'You ask my forgiveness. I do give it to you, I do indeed, with all my heart, and soul, and strength, and humbly as becomes one so much beneath you.
'I find I can write no more. Dear Mrs. Chamberlayne will be angry with me for sitting up so long to do this, for I write very slow and painfully, and I hope you will excuse any mistake, for there is a sort of mist that comes over my eyes at times that frightens me.
So now, dear sir, with many wishes and prayers for your happiness, in this world and in the next, I am your humble servant,
‘HIRELL MORGAN. P.S.-I can now say, without one pang at my heart, that I believe you were right in thinking the position of your wife unfit for me. If at times thoughts of me make you impatient with yourself, think of that too—and that my last words to you were to ask you to do so.'
When her letter was finished and given to Susan to post,