There was a moment or two of silence between them. Maurice bent forward in his chair, leaning his arms upon his knees, and staring moodily into the fire. He was weighing her proposition. It was something; but it was not enough. It virtually bound him to her for five years, for, of course, an engagement that is to be tacitly consented to between the principal contractors is an engagement still, though the whole world be in ignorance of it. But then it gave him a chance, and a very good chance too, of perfect liberty in five years’ time. It was something, certainly; though, as he had wanted his freedom at once, it could hardly be said to be altogether satisfactory.
Helen knelt bolt upright in front of him, watching his face. How passionately she desired to hear him indignantly repudiate the half-liberty she offered him! How ardently she desired that he should take her in his arms, and swear to her that he would never consent to her terms, no one but herself could know. It had been her last expedient to revive the old love, to rekindle the dead ashes of the smouldering fire. Surely, if there was but a spark of it left, it must leap up into life and vitality again at her words. But, as she watched him, her heart, that had beat so wildly, sank cold and colder within her. She felt that his heart was gone from her; she had cast her last die and lost. But, for all that, she was not minded to let him go free—her wild, ungoverned passion for him was too deeply rooted within her; since he would not be hers willingly, he should be hers by force.
“Surely,” she said, wistfully, “you cannot find my terms too hard to consent to—you who—who love me?”
He turned to her quickly and took her hands, every feeling of gentleman-like honour, every spark of manly courtesy towards her, aroused by her gentle words.
“Say no more, Helen—you are too good—too generous to me. It shall be as you say.”
And then he left, thankful to escape from her presence and to be alone again with his thoughts in the raw darkness of the November evening.
THE LAY RECTOR.
Or art thou complaining
Of thy lowly lot,
And, thine own disdaining,
Dost ask what thou hast not?
Of the future dreaming,
Weary of the past,
For the present scheming
All but what thou hast.
L. E. Landon.
In the churchyard at Sutton-in-the-Wold was a monument which, for downright ugliness and bad taste, could hardly find its fellow in the whole county. It was a wonderful and marvellous structure of gray granite, raised upon a flight of steps, and consisted of an object like unto Cleopatra’s Needle surmounting a family tea-urn. It had been erected by one Nathaniel Crupps, a well-to-do farmer in the parish, upon the death of his second wife. The first partner of his affections had been previously interred also in the same spot, but it was not until the death of the second Mrs. Crupps, who was undoubtedly his favourite, that Nathaniel bethought him of immortalizing the memory of both ladies by one bold stroke of fancy, as exemplified by this portentous granite monstrosity. On it the virtues of both wives were recorded, as it was touchingly and naively stated, by their “sorrowing husband with strict impartiality.”