Old Copy-books

By the time the Fieldhead party returned to Briarfield, Caroline was nearly well. Miss Keeldar, who had received news by post of her friend’s convalescence, hardly suffered an hour to elapse between her arrival at home and her first call at the Rectory.

A shower of rain was falling gently, yet fast, on the late flowers and russet autumn shrubs, when the garden-wicket was heard to swing open, and Shirley’s well-known form passed the window. On her entrance, her feelings were evinced in her own peculiar fashion. When deeply moved by serious fears or joys, she was not garrulous. The strong emotion was rarely suffered to influence her tongue, and even her eye refused it more than a furtive and fitful conquest. She took Caroline in her arms, gave her one look, one kiss, then said:

‘You are better.’ And a minute after: ‘I see you are safe now, but take care. God grant your health may be called on to sustain no more shocks!’

She proceeded to talk fluently about the journey. In the midst of vivacious discourse, her eye still wandered to Caroline; there spoke in its light a deep solicitude, some trouble, and some amaze.

‘She may be better,’ it said; ‘but how weak she still is! What peril she has come through!’

Suddenly her glance reverted to Mrs. Pryor; it pierced her through.

‘When will my governess return to me?’ she asked.

‘May I tell her all?’ demanded Caroline of her mother.

Leave being signified by a gesture, Shirley was presently enlightened on what had happened in her absence.

‘Very good!’ was the cool comment—‘very good! But it is no news to me.’

‘What! Did you know?’

‘I guessed long since the whole business. I have heard somewhat of Mrs. Pryor’s history—not from herself, but from others. With every detail of Mr. James Helstone’s career and character I was acquainted: an afternoon’s sitting and conversation with Miss Mann had rendered me familiar therewith; also he is one of Mrs. Yorke’s warning examples—one of the blood-red lights she hangs out to scare young ladies from matrimony. I believe I should have been sceptical about the truth of the portrait traced by such fingers—both these ladies take a dark pleasure in offering to view the dark side of life—but I questioned Mr. Yorke on the subject, and he said: “Shirley, my woman, if you want to know aught about yond’ James Helstone, I can only say he was a man-tiger. He was handsome, dissolute, soft, treacherous, courteous, cruel—” Don’t cry, Cary; we’ll say no more about it.’

‘I am not crying, Shirley, or if I am, it is nothing. Go on; you are no friend if you withhold from me the truth. I hate that false plan of disguising, mutilating the truth.’

‘Fortunately, I have said pretty nearly all that I have to say, except that your uncle himself confirmed Mr. Yorke’s words; for he, too, scorns a lie, and deals in none of those conventional subterfuges that are shabbier than lies.’

‘But papa is dead; they should let him alone now.’

‘They should—and we will let him alone. Cry away, Cary; it will do you good. It is wrong to check natural tears; besides, I choose to please myself by sharing an idea that at this moment beams in your mother’s eye while she looks at you; every drop blots out a sin. Weep; your tears have the virtue which the rivers of Damascus lacked: like Jordan, they can cleanse a leprous memory.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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