“I can very easily suppose that, with you by me,” said he, filling up her pause.
“Oh! but I don’t mean myself at all,” replied she, reddening. “I am only thinking of what might happen; and suppose that this girl knew of some one belonging to her—we will call it a brother—who had done something wrong, that would bring disgrace upon the whole family if it was known—though, indeed, it might not have been so very wrong as it seemed, and as it would look to the world—ought she to break off her engagement for fear of involving her lover in the disgrace?”
“Certainly not, without telling him her reason for doing so.”
“Ah! but suppose she could not. She might not be at liberty to do so.”
“I can’t answer supposititious cases. I must have the facts—if facts there are—more plainly before me before I can give an opinion. Who are you thinking of, Ellinor?” asked he, rather abruptly.
“Oh, of no one,” she answered in affright. “Why should I be thinking of any one? I often try to plan out what I should do, or what I ought to do, if such and such a thing happened, just as you recollect I used to wonder if I should have presence of mind in case of fire.”
“Then, after all, you yourself are the girl who is engaged, and who has the imaginary brother who gets into disgrace?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said she, a little annoyed at having betrayed any personal interest in the affair.
He was silent, meditating.
“There is nothing wrong in it,” said she, timidly, “is there?”
“I think you had better tell me fully out what is in your mind,” he replied, kindly. “Something has happened which has suggested these questions. Are you putting yourself in the place of any one about whom you have been hearing lately? I know you used to do so formerly, when you were a little girl.”
“No; it was a very foolish question of mine, and I ought not to have said anything about it. See! here is Mr. Ness overtaking us.”
The clergyman joined them on the broad walk that ran by the river-side, and the talk became general. It was a relief to Ellinor, who had not attained her end, but who had gone far towards betraying something of her own individual interest in the question she had asked. Ralph had been more struck even by her manner than her words. He was sure that something lurked behind, and had an idea of his own that it was connected with Dunster’s disappearance. But he was glad that Mr. Ness’s joining them gave him leisure to consider a little.
The end of his reflections was, that the next day, Monday, he went into the town, and artfully learnt all he could hear about Mr Dunster’s character and mode of going on; and with still more skill he extracted the popular opinion as to the embarrassed nature of Mr. Wilkins’s affairs—embarrassment which was generally attributed to Dunster’s disappearance with a good large sum belonging to the