ProvocationsNineteenth.--In proportion as Lady Lowborough finds she has nothing to fear from me, and as the time of departure draws nigh, the more audacious and insolent she becomes. She does not scruple to speak to my husband with affectionate familiarity in my presence, when no one else is by, and is particularly fond of displaying her interest in his health and welfare, or in anything that concerns him, as if for the purpose of contrasting her kind solicitude with my cold indifference. And he rewards her by such smiles and glances, such whispered words, or boldly spoken insinuations, indicative of his sense of her goodness and my neglect, as makes the blood rush into my face, in spite of myself--for I would be utterly regardless of it all deaf and blind to everything that passes between them, since the more I show myself sensible of their wickedness, the more she triumphs in her victory, and the more he flatters himself that I love him devotedly still, in spite of my pretended indifference. On such occasions I have sometimes been startled by a subtle, fiendish suggestion inciting me to show him the contrary by a seeming encouragement of Hargrave's advances; but such ideas are banished in a moment with horror and self-abasement; and then I hate him tenfold more than ever, for having brought me to this!--God pardon me for it--and all my sinful thoughts! Instead of being humbled and purified by my afflictions, I feel that they are turning my nature into gall. This must be my fault as much as theirs that wrong me. No true Christian could cherish such bitter feelings as I do against him and her--especially the latter: him, I still feel that I could pardon--freely, gladly--on the slightest token of repentance; but she--words cannot utter my abhorrence. Reason forbids, but passion urges strongly; and I must pray and struggle long ere I subdue it.
It is well that she is leaving to-morrow, for I could not well endure her presence for another day. This morning, she rose earlier than usual. I found her in the room alone, when I went down to breakfast.
`Oh Helen! is it you?' said she, turning as I entered.
I gave an involuntary start back on seeing her, at which she uttered a short laugh, observing,--
`I think we are both disappointed.'
I came forward and busied myself with the breakfast-things.
`This is the last day I shall burden your hospitality,' said she, as she seated herself at the table. `Ah, here comes one that will not rejoice at it!' she murmured, half to herself, as Arthur entered the room.
He shook hands with her and wished her good morning: then, looking lovingly in her face, and still retaining her hand in his, murmured pathetically,--
`The last--last day!'
`Yes,' said she with some asperity; `and I rose early to make the best of it--I have been here alone this half hour, and you, you lazy creature'
`Well, I thought I was early too,' said he-- `but,' dropping his voice almost to a whisper, `you see we are not alone.'
`We never are,' returned she. But they were almost as good as alone, for I was now standing at the window, watching the clouds, and struggling to suppress my wrath.
Some more words passed between them, which, happily, I did not overhear; but Annabella had the audacity to come and place herself beside me, and even to put her hand upon my shoulder and say softly,--
`You need not grudge him to me, Helen, for I love him more than ever you could do.'
This put me beside myself. I took her hand and violently dashed it from me, with an expression of abhorrence and indignation that could not be suppressed. Startled, almost appalled, by this sudden outbreak, she recoiled in silence. I would have given way to my fury and said more, but Arthur's low laugh recalled me to myself. I checked the half-uttered invective, and scornfully turned away, regretting that I had given
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