‘Are all marriages unhappy?’

‘Millions of marriages are unhappy. If everybody confessed the truth, perhaps all are more or less so.’

‘You are always vexed when you are asked to come and marry a couple. Why?’

‘Because one does not like to act as accessory to the commission of a piece of pure folly.’

Mr. Helstone spoke so readily, he seemed rather glad of the opportunity to give his niece a piece of his mind on this point. Emboldened by the impunity which had hitherto attended her questions, she went a little further.

‘But why,’ said she, ‘should it be pure folly? If two people like each other, why shouldn’t they consent to live together?’

‘They tire of each other—they tire of each other in a month. A yokefellow is not a companion: he or she is a fellow-sufferer.’

It was by no means na\du\ive simplicity which inspired Caroline’s next remark; it was a sense of antipathy to such opinions, and of displeasure at him who held them.

‘One would think you had never been married, uncle—one would think you were an old bachelor.’

‘Practically, I am so.’

‘But you have been married. Why were you so inconsistent as to marry?’

‘Every man is mad once or twice in his life.’

‘So you tired of my aunt, and my aunt of you, and you were miserable together?’

Mr. Helstone pushed out his cynical lip, wrinkled his brown forehead, and gave an inarticulate grunt.

‘Did she not suit you? Was she not good-tempered? Did you not get used to her? Were you not sorry when she died?’

‘Caroline,’ said Mr. Helstone, bringing his hand slowly down to within an inch or two of the table, and then smiting it suddenly on the mahogany, ‘understand this: it is vulgar and puerile to confound generals with particulars. In every case there is the rule, and there are the exceptions. Your questions are stupid and babyish. Ring the bell, if you have done breakfast.’

The breakfast was taken away, and, that meal over, it was the general custom of uncle and niece to separate, and not to meet again till dinner; but to-day the niece, instead of quitting the room, went to the window-seat, and sat down there. Mr. Helstone looked round uneasily once or twice, as if he wished her away; but she was gazing from the window, and did not seem to mind him, so he continued the perusal of his morning paper—a particularly interesting one it chanced to be, as new movements had just taken place in the Peninsula, and certain columns of the journal were rich in long despatches from General Lord Wellington. He little knew, meantime, what thoughts were busy in his niece’s mind—thoughts the conversation of the past half-hour had revived, but not generated. Tumultuous were they now as disturbed bees in a hive; but it was years since they had first made their cells in her brain.

She was reviewing his character, his disposition, repeating his sentiments on marriage. Many a time had she reviewed them before, and sounded the gulf between her own mind and his; and then, on the other side of the wide and deep chasm, she had seen, and she now saw, another figure standing beside her uncle’s—a strange shape; dim, sinister, scarcely earthly: the half-remembered image of her own father, James Helstone, Matthewson Helstone’s brother.

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