A Tête-à-Tête and a DiscoveryIn little more than twenty minutes, the journey was accomplished. I paused at the gate to wipe my streaming forehead, and recover my breath and some degree of composure. Already the rapid walking had somewhat mitigated my excitement; and with a firm and steady tread, I paced the garden walk. In passing the inhabited wing of the building, I caught a sight of Mrs Graham through the open window, slowly pacing up and down her lonely room.
She seemed agitated, and even dismayed, at my arrival, as if she thought I too was coming to accuse her. I had entered her presence intending to condole with her upon the wickedness of the world, and help her to abuse the vicar and his vile informants, but now I felt positively ashamed to mention the subject, and determined not to refer to it, unless she led the way.
`I am come at an unseasonable hour,' said I, assuming a cheerfulness I did not feel, in order to reassure her; `but I won't stay many minutes.'
She smiled upon me, faintly it is true, but most kindly--I had almost said thankfully, as her apprehensions were removed.
`How dismal you are, Helen! Why have you no fire?' I said, looking round on the gloomy apartment.
`It is summer yet,' she replied.
`But we always have a fire in the evenings--if we can bear it;--and you, especially, require one in this cold house and dreary room.
`You should have come a little sooner, and I would have had one lighted for you; but it is not worth while now--you won't stay many minutes, you say, and Arthur is gone to bed.'
`But I have a fancy for a fire, nevertheless. Will you order one, if I ring?'
`Why Gilbert, you don't look cold!' said she, smilingly regarding my face, which no doubt seemed warm enough.
`No,' replied I, `but I want to see you comfortable before I go.'
`Me comfortable!' repeated she, with a bitter laugh, as if there were something amusingly absurd in the idea. `It suits me better as it is,' she added, in a tone of mournful resignation.
But determined to have my own way, I pulled the bell.
`There now, Helen!' I said, as the approaching steps of Rachel were heard in answer to the summons. There was nothing for it but to turn round and desire the maid to light the fire.
I owe Rachel a grudge to this day for the look she cast upon me ere she departed on her mission-- the sour, suspicious, inquisitorial look that plainly demanded, `What are you here for, I wonder?' Her mistress did not fail to notice it, and a shade of uneasiness darkened her brow.
`You must not stay long, Gilbert,' said she, when the door was closed upon us.
`I'm not going to,' said I, somewhat testily, though without a grain of anger in my heart against anyone but the meddling old woman. `But Helen, I've something to say to you before I go.'
`What is it?'
`No, not now--I don't know yet precisely what it is--or how to say it,' replied I, with more truth than wisdom; and then, fearing lest she should turn me out of the house, I began talking about indifferent matters in order
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