me to clear your name from every imputation: give me the right to identify your honour with my own, and to defend your reputation as more precious than my life!'
`Are you hero enough to unite yourself to one whom you know to be suspected and despised by all around you, and identify your interests and your honour with hers? Think! it is a serious thing.'
`I should be proud to do it, Helen!--most happy--delighted beyond expression!--and if that be all the obstacle to our union, it is demolished, and you must--you shall be mine!'
And starting from my seat in a frenzy of ardour, I seized her hand and would have pressed it to my lips, but she as suddenly caught it away, exclaiming in the bitterness of intense affliction:--
`No, no, it is not all!'
`What is it then? You promised I should know sometime, and--
`You shall know sometime--but not now--my head aches terribly,' she said, pressing her hand to her forehead, `and I must have some repose--and surely, I have had misery enough to day!' she added, almost wildly.
`But it could not harm you to tell it,' I persisted: `it would ease your mind; and I should then know how to comfort you.'
She shook her head despondingly. `If you knew all, you, too, would blame me--perhaps even more than I deserve--though I have cruelly wronged you,' she added in a low murmur, as if she mused aloud.
`You, Helen? Impossible!'
`Yes, not willingly; for I did not know the strength and depth of your attachment--I thought--at least I endeavoured to think your regard for me was as cold and fraternal as you professed it to be.'
`Or as yours?'
`Or as mine--ought to have been--of such a light and selfish, superficial nature that--`'
`There, indeed, you wronged me.'
`I know I did; and sometimes, I suspected it then; but I thought, upon the whole, there could be no great harm in leaving your fancies and your hopes to dream themselves to nothing--or flutter away to some more fitting object, while your friendly sympathies remained with me; but if I had known the depth of your regard, the generous disinterested affection you seem to feel--`'
`That you do feel, then, I would have acted differently.'
`How? You could not have given me less encouragement, or treated me with greater severity than you did! And if you think you have wronged me by giving me your friendship, and occasionally admitting me to the enjoyment of your company and conversation, when all hopes of closer intimacy were vain--as indeed you always gave me to understand--if you think you have wronged me by this, you are mistaken; for such favours, in themselves alone, are not only delightful to my heart, but purifying, exalting, ennobling to my soul; and I would rather have your friendship than the love of any other woman in the world!'
Little comforted by this, she clasped her hands upon her knee, and glancing upward, seemed, in silent anguish, to implore divine assistance; then turning to me, she calmly said--
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