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and has had to complain of the unfair treatment of another innocent person, towards whom he and you all are under much obligation."'
The widow was going to get up here, and Warrington, seeing her attempt to rise, said, "Do I tire you, ma'am?"
"Oh no—go on—go on," said Helen, delighted, and he continued.
"I liked him, you see, because of that early history of his, which had come to my ears in college gossip, and because I like a man, if you will pardon me for saying so, Miss Laura, who shows that he can have a great unreasonable attachment for a woman. That was why we became friends—and are all friends here—for always, aren't we?" he added, in a lower voice, leaning over to her, "and Pen has been a great comfort and companion to a lonely and unfortunate man.
"I am not complaining of my lot, you see; for no man's is what he would have it; and up in my garret, where you left the flowers, and with my old books and my pipe for a wife, I am pretty contented, and only occasionally envy other men, whose careers in life are more brilliant, or who can solace their ill fortune by what Fate and my own fault have deprived me of—the affection of a woman or a child." Here there came a sigh from somewhere near Warrington in the dark, and a hand was held out in his direction, which, however, was instantly withdrawn, for the prudery of our females is such, that before all expression of feeling, or natural kindness and regard, a woman is taught to think of herself and the proprieties, and to be ready to blush at the very slightest notice; and checking, as, of course, it ought, this spontaneous motion, modesty drew up again, kindly friendship shrank back ashamed of itself, and Warrington resumed his history. "My fate is such as I made it, and not lucky for me or for others involved in it.
"I, too, had an adventure before I went to college; and there was no one to save me as Major Pendennis saved Pen. Pardon me, Miss Laura, if I tell this story before you. It is as well that you all of you should hear my confession. Before I went to college, as a boy of eighteen, I was at a private tutor's, and there, like Arthur, I became attached, or fancied I was attached, to a woman of a much lower degree and a greater age than my own. You shrink from me"
"No, I don't," Laura said, and here the hand went out resolutely, and laid itself in Warrington's. She had divined his story from some previous hints let fall by him, and his first words at its commencement.
"She was a yeoman's daughter in the neighbourhood," Warrington said, with rather a faltering voice, "and I fancied —what all young men fancy. Her parents knew who my father was, and encouraged me, with all sorts of coarse artifices and scoundrel flatteries, which I see now, about their house. To do her justice, I own she never cared for me, but was forced into what happened by the threats and compulsion of her family. Would to God that I had not been deceived: but in these matters we are deceived because we wish to be so, and I thought I loved that poor woman.
"What could come of such a marriage? I found, before long, that I was married to a boor. She could not comprehend one subject that interested me. Her dulness palled upon me till I grew to loathe it. And after some time of a wretched, furtive union—I must tell you all—I found letters somewhere (and such letters they were!) which showed me that her heart, such as it was, had never been mine, but had always belonged to a person of her own degree.
"At my father's death, I paid what debts I had contracted at college, and settled every shilling which remained to me in an annuity upon—upon those who bore my name, on condition that they should hide themselves away, and not assume it. They have kept that condition, as they would break it, for more money. If I had earned fame or reputation, that woman would have come to claim it: if I had made a name for myself, those who had no right to it would have borne it; and I entered life at twenty, God help me—hopeless and ruined beyond remission. I was the boyish victim of vulgar cheats, and, perhaps, it is only of late I have found out how hard—ah, how hard—it is to forgive them. I told you the moral before, Pen; and now I have told you the fable. Beware how you marry out of your degree. I was made for a better lot than this, I think: but God has awarded me this one—and so, you see, it is for me to look on, and see others successful and others happy, with a heart that shall be as little bitter as possible."
"By Gad, sir," cried the Major, in high good-humour, "I intended you to marry Miss Laura here."
"And, by Gad, Master Shallow, I owe you a thousand pound," Warrington said.
"How d'ye mean a thousand? it was only a pony, sir," replied the Major simply, at which the other laughed.
As for Helen, she was so delighted, that she started up, and said, "God bless you—God for ever bless you, Mr. Warrington !" and kissed both his hands, and ran up to Pen, and fell into his arms.
"Yes, dearest Mother," he said as he held her to him, and with a noble tenderness and emotion, embraced and forgave her. "I am innocent, and my dear, dear mother has done me a wrong."
"Oh, yes, my child, I have wronged you, thank God, I have wronged you!" Helen whispered. "Come away, Arthur —not here—I want to ask my child to forgive me—and—and my God to forgive me; and to bless you, and love you, my son."
He led her, tottering, into her room, and closed the door, as the three touched spectators of the reconciliation looked on in-pleased silence. Ever after, ever after, the tender accents of that voice faltering sweetly at his ear—the look of the sacred eyes beaming with an affection unutterable—the quiver of the fond lips smiling mournfully—were remembered by the young man. And at his best moments, and at his hours of trial and grief, and at his times of success or well-doing, the mother's face looked down upon him, and blessed him with its gaze of pity and purity, as he saw it in that night when she yet lingered with him; and when she seemed, ere she quite left him, an angel, transfigured and glorified with love—for which love, as for the greatest of the bounties and wonders of God's provision for us, let us kneel and thank Our Father.
The moon had risen by this time; Arthur recollected well afterwards how it lighted up his mother's sweet pale face. Their talk, or his rather, for she scarcely could speak, was more tender and confidential than it had been for years before. He was the frank and generous boy of her early days and love. He told her the story, the mistake regarding which had caused her so much pain—his struggles to fly from temptation, and his thankfulness that he had been able to overcome it. He never would do the girl wrong, never; or wound his own honour or his mother's pure heart. The threat that he would return was uttered in a moment of exasperation, of which he repented. He never would see her again. But his mother said, Yes, he should; and it was she who had been proud and culpable—and she would like to give Fanny Bolton something—and she begged her dear boy's pardon for opening the letter—and she would write to the young girl, if,—if she had time. Poor thing! was it not natural that she should love her Arthur? And again she kissed him, and she blessed him.
As they were talking the clock struck nine, and Helen reminded him how, when he was a little boy, she used to go up to his bedroom at that hour, and hear him say Our Father. And once more, oh, once more, the young man fell down at his mother's sacred knees, and sobbed out the prayer which the Divine Tenderness uttered for us, and which has been echoed for twenty ages since by millions of sinful and humbled men. And as he spoke the last words of the supplication, the mother's head fell down on her boy's, and her arms closed round him, and together they repeated the words "-for ever and ever." and " Amen."
A little time after, it might have been a quarter of an hour, Laura heard Arthur's voice calling from within, "Laura! Laura!" She rushed into the room instantly, and found the young man still on his knees, and holding his mother's hand. Helen's head had sunk back and was quite pale in the moon. Pen looked round, scared with a ghastly terror. "Help, Laura, help!" he said—" she's fainted—she's"
Laura screamed, and fell by the side of Helen. The shriek brought Warrington and Major Pendennis and the servants to the room. The sainted woman was dead. The last emotion of her soul here was joy, to be henceforth unchequered and eternal. The tender heart beat no more; it was to have no more pangs, no more doubts, no more griefs and trials. Its last throb was love; and Helen's last breath was a benediction.
The melancholy party bent their way speedily homewards, and Helen was laid by her husband's side at Clavering, in the old church where she had prayed so often. For a while Laura went to stay with Doctor Portman, who read the service over his dear sister departed, amidst his own sobs and those of the little congregation which assembled round Helen's tomb. There were not many who cared for her, or who spoke of her when gone. Scarcely more than of a nun in a cloister did people know of that pious and gentle lady. A few words among the cottagers whom her bounty was accustomed to relieve, a little talk from house to house at Clavering, where this lady told how their neighbour died of a complaint of the heart; whilst that speculated upon the amount of property which the widow had left; and a third wondered whether Arthur would let Fairoaks or live in it, and expected that he would not be long getting through his property,—this was all, and except with one or two who cherished her, the kind soul was forgotten by the next market-day. Would you desire that grief for you should last for a few more weeks? and does afterlife seem less solitary, provided that our names, when we "go down into silence," are echoing on this side of the grave yet for a little while, and human voices are still talking about us? She was gone, the pure soul, whom only two or three loved and knew. The great blank she left was in Laura's heart, to whom her love had been everything, and who had now but to worship her memory. "I am glad that she gave me her blessing before she went away," Warrington said to Pen; and as for Arthur, with a humble acknowledgment and wonder at so much affection, he hardly dared to ask of Heaven to make him worthy of it, though he felt that a saint there was interceding for him.
All the lady's affairs were found in perfect order, and her little property ready for transmission to her son, in trust for whom she held it. Papers in her desk showed that she had long been aware of the complaint, one of the heart, under