‘Partly,’ replied Miss Keeldar, smiling rather incredulously; ‘but you are a peculiar personage. Quiet as you look, there is both a force and a depth somewhere within, not easily reached or appreciated. Then you certainly are not happy.’

‘And unhappy people are rarely good—is that what you mean?’

‘Not at all. I mean, rather, that unhappy people are often preoccupied, and not in the mood for discoursing with companions of my nature. Moreover, there is a sort of unhappiness which not only depresses, but corrodes, and that, I fear, is your portion. Will pity do you any good, Lina? If it will, take some from Shirley: she offers largely, and warrants the article genuine.’

‘Shirley, I never had a sister—you never had a sister; but it flashes on me at this moment how sisters feel toward each other. Affection twined with their life, which no shocks of feeling can uproot, which little quarrels only trample an instant that it may spring more freshly when the pressure is removed—affection that no passion can ultimately outrival, with which even love itself cannot do more than compete in force and truth. Love hurts us so, Shirley—it is so tormenting, so racking, and it burns away our strength with its flame; in affection is no pain and no fire, only sustenance and balm. I am supported and soothed when you—that is, you only—are near, Shirley. Do you believe me now?’

‘I am always easy of belief when the creed pleases me. We really are friends, then, Lina, in spite of the black eclipse?’

‘We really are,’ returned the other, drawing Shirley towards her, and making her sit down, ‘chance what may.’

‘Come, then, we will talk of something else than the Troubler.’ But at this moment the Rector came in, and the ‘something else’ of which Miss Keeldar was about to talk was not alluded to till the moment of her departure. She then delayed a few minutes in the passage to say:

‘Caroline, I wish to tell you that I have a great weight on my mind. My conscience is quite uneasy, as if I had committed, or was going to commit, a crime. It is not my private conscience, you must understand, but my landed-proprietor and lord-of-the-manor conscience. I have got into the clutch of an eagle with iron talons. I have fallen under a stern influence, which I scarcely approve, but cannot resist. Something will be done ere long, I fear, which it by no means pleases me to think of. To ease my mind, and to prevent harm as far as I can, I mean to enter on a series of good works. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if you see me all at once turn outrageously charitable. I have no idea how to begin, but you must give me some advice. We will talk more on the subject to-morrow. And just ask that excellent person, Miss Ainley, to step up to Fieldhead: I have some notion of putting myself under her tuition. Won’t she have a precious pupil? Drop a hint to her, Lina, that, though a well-meaning, I am rather a neglected character, and then she will feel less scandalized at my ignorance about clothing societies and such things.’

On the morrow Caroline found Shirley sitting gravely at her desk with an account-book, a bundle of banknotes, and a well-filled purse before her. She was looking mighty serious, but a little puzzled. She said she had been ‘casting an eye’ over the weekly expenditure in housekeeping at the Hall, trying to find out where she could retrench; that she had also just given audience to Mrs. Gill, the cook, and had sent that person away with a notion that her (Shirley’s) brain was certainly crazed.

‘I have lectured her on the duty of being careful,’ said she, ‘in a way quite new to her. So eloquent was I on the text of economy that I surprised myself; for, you see, it is altogether a fresh idea. I never thought, much less spoke, on the subject till lately. But it is all theory; for when I came to the practical part I could retrench nothing. I had not firmness to take off a single pound of butter, or to prosecute to any clear result an inquest into the destiny of either dripping, lard, bread, cold meat, or any other kitchen perquisite whatever. I know we never get up illuminations at Fieldhead, but I could not ask the meaning of sundry quite unaccountable pounds of candles. We do not wash for the parish, yet I viewed in silence items of soap and bleaching-powder calculated to satisfy the solicitude of the most anxious inquirer after our

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