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last she reached the cottage and was asking for Mrs. Vernor.
The servant was new and did not, therefore, recognize her, so she was asked to wait in the hall while she went to inform her mistress; but Agatha did not heed her-the door of Mrs. Vernor's room opened, and, unannounced, Agatha went in. Mrs. Vernor started up-Agatha took off her veil.
'You need not be afraid, it is my living self,' she said. 'I have come to you, for I had nowhere else to go, and you asked me, and, oh! I have been so miserable.' But even whilst she was speaking, her voice failed, and she sank insensible at Mrs. Vernor's feet.
When Mr. Lynn returned to Denborough from London, he had made up his mind to banish every remembrance of Agatha Burton; but however willing we may be, the schooling may be difficult; to him it was impossible.
When women suffer, they seek rest-men action. Mr. Lynn devoted himself to his profession: he tried to live his misery down-to crush every thought of his past hopes out of his mind; he tried to think hardly of Agatha, but down in the depths of his heart he loved her still so dearly, that the thought of her as the wife of another was gall and wormwood to him.
Sometimes he upbraided himself with having been harsh to her, at others he reproached her as a heartless coquette who had trifled with, and humiliated him; and yet she was the only woman he had ever loved. He could not help thinking of her; he could not help dreading to see her marriage announced in the papers.
'Agatha's wedding-day,' he said, as he went to his office. The sun was shining so brightly, the crisp snow glistened on the housetops, the holly decorated the windows, and the little boys shouted in the streets. He almost expected to hear the bells ring out a bridal peal from the tower of the old Denborough church.
Even in his office he could not banish the thought. He sat down determinedly, he gave out the work to his clerk, and occupied himself in writing, and in whatever business was most irksome, and which he felt least inclined to undertake. But Agatha's name seemed written on every page, it floated before him in the air, and he almost fancied he heard the 'I will,' that was to make her the bride of Lord Dunmore.
He started up; he could bear it no longer; he wrote a line which he sent up to the Red House, saying to his mother that he was going out into the country, and would not be home until late, so that she need not sit up for him. After despatching the letter, he put away all his books and papers, and went out of the town, down to the sea, over the hills. walked quickly for hours, walked until he was so tired that he was obliged to sit down, and regardless of the cold, regardless of everything, he whiled away the daylight.
It was nearly midnight when he got back into the High Street, and he was surprised at seeing his mother stand before him in answer to his knock at the door of the Red House. He stooped to kiss her, and tried to say something cheerful, remonstrating with her for sitting up for him. Mr. Lynn had a chivalrous regard for, and belief in all women, and a peculiar reverence for his mother.
She looked at him with a soft loving radiance in her face, and pointed to the flakes of snow that almost whitened his coat. His smile in answer to the mute appeal was almost as wintry as the night outside, but he took off his outer wraps and followed her into his father's study, where a cheerful fire was blazing.
By the strong light Mr. Lynn looked even more tired and weary than he had done on first entering the house, if such a thing were possible. It seemed that years had been added to his looks in that one day, years of suffering such as only few are called to suffer, suffering that nothing can efface.
He had never told his mother that he loved Agatha Burton; he never dreamt that she had known it long
'No, mother, not to-night, I cannot bear it, not even her name. I have spent all the day burying my dead; let me forget her or mourn for her as for one who henceforth is nothing to me.'
The tears started into Mrs. Lynn's eyes.
'May God forgive her for the suffering she has caused you, but I must tell you something about her. Let me say it, John, and after that, if you wish it, I will never mention her name again. Agatha is at St. Helens.'
Mr. Lynn looked bewildered. 'Agatha at St. Helens,' he repeated, slowly; 'this is Agatha's wedding day, and she is
'She is not married to Lord Dunmore.'
'Mother,' said Mr. Lynn, 'don't deceive me. Am I dreaming? Is this real, or some wild phantasy of my brain? Tell me why it is-something to make it sound like truth.'
'I have not seen Agatha,' said Mrs. Lynn, 'but your father was sent for to-night by Mrs. Vernor to see Agatha Burton, who had come to her in order to escape her marriage, and Agatha was ill. I know nothing more at present, but I believe it is only over-excitement and fatigue that have knocked her up.'
A wild hope rushed to Mr. Lynn's mind. Agatha might yet be his. After the long hours of darkness, the sudden light bursting from the cloud overwhelmed him. He sat down and buried his face in both his hands, and his mother saw by the deep heavings of his breast how much he suffered. She once more laid her hand upon his head, something like a whispered blessing came from her
lips, and then gently kissing him, she left the room and closed the door behind her. Better, she thought, that the deep emotions of a man's heart should be sacred even from his mother's eye.
Mr. Lynn remained in the same attitude nearly an hour; then he got up, and left the room. A sudden impulse had seized him; it was to go to St. Helens just to see the light burning in Agatha's room. He could not realize it without doing so.
He took the key with him this time, and walked rapidly down the hill in the direction of the bay. It was not snowing now, myriads of stars had come out, and the clear sharp frost had covered every blade of grass with shining crystals. The sea seemed almost like a summer sea, it was so calm, save for the white ridges on the sand-banks that stretched away far as the eye could reach. Mr. Lynn stood before the cottage, leaning on the palings. Yes, there was the lamp in Agatha's window, burning brightly and steadily: it shone out like a beacon of hope. Agatha was really thereAgatha whom, a few hours ago, he had looked upon as lost to him for ever. Agatha, who might yet be his. What was the cold December air to him? Giant despair no longer held him down; he could defy the world, and with renewed energy fight the battle of life.
Mrs. Lynn lay awake for hours that night, listening for her son's footstep on the stair, and at last it Not a worn, tired step, but a firm, hopeful tread, and with a sigh of thankfulness she abandoned her night watch and went to sleep.
When Agatha partially recovered consciousness, Dr. Lynn was bending over her, and anxiously watching the effect of the restoratives he was employing. She, however, did not appear to recognize her old friend, but sank into a long deep sleep. Mrs. Vernor remained by her bedside during the night, and only left her when the bright sunlight had ushered in another day, obliging her to draw the window curtains more closely, for fear that Agatha's rest might be disturbed. When Agatha did wake she was almost frightened
to find herself lying on the little bed in the little room that she knew so well, looking out on the sea, no longer blue and sparkling, but with angry leaden waves foaming on the sandy ridges, white with the driven
Mrs. Vernor was standing by her, and gazing at her with such a look of anxious inquiry that Agatha was recalled from a momentary forgetfulness to a realization of all her unhappiness; and then she started
I do not remember,' she said. 'Tell me why I am here. Is this my wedding day? Oh! if you love me, do not let me marry Lord Dunmore.'
Mrs. Vernor soothed her as a mother, but as Agatha's mother had never done in all her remembrance.
'You are not going to be married, Agatha, and you are safe with me at your old home.'
Ah! is it really St. Helens? I thought I was only dreaming.'
'You are weak and ill, Agatha. Don't talk of anything now, but try to get stronger, and then we will see all about making you quite happy.'
'Dear Mrs. Vernor, you will not tell any one that I am here, you will not let me see any one. I could not bear it, at least not yet.'
Mrs. Vernor promised, and then Agatha fell asleep again. Dr. Lynn looked in to see her very often, but Agatha did not know it. All that
she wants,' he said, 'is rest; she is worn out both in mind and body.' And so she was, and the consequent prostration was so great that Mrs. Vernor felt tempted to break her promise and to write to Mrs. Burton. But after a week's careful nursing Agatha rallied.
to prize them more than anything else.
One day, after Agatha had been consulting Mrs. Vernor as to whether she ought to return home, and wondering why her mother had not even written, Mrs. Vernor decided on giving her a letter which had really reached St. Helens some days before, but which she did not think it prudent for her to read whilst her cheeks were so pale, her eyes so heavy, and her prostration so great. Agatha opened it with trembling hands, and read the following words:
That any daughter of mine could disgrace herself in the shameless manner you have done, Agatha, I can even now hardly realize. You have not only disgraced yourself, but you have broken a mother's heart, ruined your brother's prospects for life, and are no longer a child of mine. What inducements you may have had to outrage all propriety in the way you have done, I cannot know, but can only imagine that some low connection has been the secret mainspring of your unladylike conduct. I weep as I write to think what your romance and folly has caused us all to suffer. Lord Dunmore is, I hear, distracted, and has sent for his mother, who will no doubt congratulate herself on the escape her son has had. I am too ill to write more, and my doctor imperatively forbids my exciting myself, so I can only add that you will regret the step you have taken but once, and that will be for the rest of your life.'
The effect of this letter on Agatha was anything but cheering; still she struggled against any display of her feelings before Mrs. Vernor, and it was only when alone that she allowed her mind to dwell on the past. The future she dared not trust, as everything hitherto seemed to have turned to ashes in her grasp, or, more strictly speaking, she had thrown away what really could have made her happy, or, like so many others, discovered her mistake too late.
Still Agatha got better. She had not, as yet, left her room, or seen any one; but the day before Christ
mas-eve, Mrs. Vernor persuaded her to come down stairs, if only for an hour. Agatha was looking more like her natural self, except that she was thinner, and the colour had faded from her cheeks, leaving them of a marble paleness.
Mrs. Vernor drew an arm-chair to the fire, and wrapped a red cloak round the shoulders of her patient.
Agatha smiled. 'You are taking such care of me,' she said.
'I want you to be quite well and happy,' replied Mrs. Vernor, smiling.
Agatha sighed. 'I dare say I may get well; but I don't suppose I shall ever be very happy.'
'Time works wonders, that nothing else can; we shall see what you say about that a few years hence.'
'At all events,' said Agatha, smiling, with something of her old brightness, 'I am not destined to be a blessing to others: think what a slave I have made even of you since I came to St. Helens.'
'But I don't mean to be kept in quarantine any longer. I want to go out this afternoon: do you mind being alone for an hour?'
'I like being alone,' said Agatha; 'it suits me.'
Mrs. Vernor shook her head, placed some books on a table beside her chair, and went away. Agatha took up one of the books and began to read. How long she had been so engaged she did not know, for her mind had wandered away from the pages, and she was wondering when her mother would write again, in answer to several letters she had sent to her and her brother, entreating their forgiveness, when the door opened, and some one came in. The afternoon had grown dark so rapidly, that now she could only see by the fitful firelight; but she looked up, expecting that it was Mrs. Vernor, when, for the second time in her life, she encountered instead Mr. Lynn. She started up and would have made her escape; but it was impossible-Mr. Lynn was between her and the door; she remained standing, the scarlet cloak draped about her shoulders, her dark hair hanging in negligent
masses from the comb that had partly fallen out, a flushing colour in her cheeks, and the wild hunted look in her eyes.
Mr. Lynn had always thought her beautiful, but never so beautiful as she looked at that moment. He was almost afraid to speak, lest he should break the charm, and find it was but a dream; but, outwardly at least, he was the calmer of the two, as he advanced, held out his hand, and making some commonplace inquiry about her health, insisted on her resuming her place in the arm-chair. For a moment she remained standing, and then she yielded; for there was something about Mr. Lynn that enforced obedience; and it was this power of will that had so much charm for Agatha, for she was a true woman in her heart of hearts.
The first few minutes passed almost in silence. Mr. Lynn leaned against the mantelpiece, looking intently at Agatha, as if trying to read the expression of her face as it was seen by the half-light; but presently he came and stood in front of her. She looked up, and met his downward glance, beneath which her eyes fell.
'Miss Burton,' he said, 'I have no right perhaps to ask the question, but I leave it to your generosity to answer it; why did you not marry Lord Dunmore?'
Agatha did not look up this time, but she answered firmly, although her voice was so low that none but those who were standing close by could have heard it
'Because I did not love him.' Mr. Lynn walked to the window, and then he came back.
'Miss Burton-Agatha!' he said, desperately, 'one more question and I have done. Did you-do you love any one else?'
No answer came: a stillness like death reigned in the room. Agatha's face was turned away, but her clasped hands were trembling. Mr. Lynn took them in his own.
'Agatha,' he said, 'you can never know what you have been to me. God grant you never may. I have tried, so long as you were not near me, to forget you in a life of duties;
and I might have succeeded; but I cannot live near you, breathe the same air as you breathe, and be nothing to you.'
Still Agatha did not speak. Mr. Lynn let go her hand, and leant his arm upon the mantelpiece. His voice was tremulous as he continued
'I have never dared to hope that you could love me; I knew that it was the wildest dream to think so. I shall throw it from me after tonight, and make arrangements to go to some part of the world where we can never meet again; but I am still selfish; I could not bear that you should hate me.'
Agatha got up and stood by him. 'Have I done you so much harm,' she said,' that I should add to it by sending you from your home-from all you ever cared for? Do you think it possible I could hate you
'Agatha! is it possible? Do you love me?'
'I have never loved any one else,' she said; and the words fell faint and soft on his eager listening ears.
When Mrs. Vernor looked in an hour after, Mr. Lynn and Agatha were still sitting over the darkening embers of the forgotten fire-forgotten, like everything else, in the first dawn of their earthly paradise. She closed the door softly, knowing that she had not been heard, and went upstairs with something like a sigh, mingled with feelings of genuine satisfaction.
It is hardly possible to define happiness. It is not so much the existence of the light which is without, as the light which is reflected from within-the light which gilds and glorifies even the commonest objects, the dreariest places, with a fancied beauty which is not their own, but coloured by the mind.
Everything seemed bright to Agatha-the present, the future, all-everything. It was nothing uncertain or wavering now; but something actual and positive. Mr. Lynn loved her; and all that was
good and beautiful came to her through him.
When Agatha went down-stairs the next morning, Mrs. Vernor smiled and told her that she was looking so well that she hardly knew her, and that she should certainly put her off the invalid list; and Agatha said, if she were not emancipated, she would emancipate herself; and as a proof of it she had promised to spend the Christmaseve at the Lynns.
'But you must not,' said Agatha, blushing,' tell Mrs. Lynn before tonight of our engagement: Mr. Lynn wishes it to be a surprise.' Of course Mrs. Vernor promised the utmost discretion.
Mr. Lynn came during the day; but he refused Mrs. Vernor's invitation to remain and go back with them to Denborough in the evening. Agatha looked disappointed; and in answer to the look he went and sat down by her.
Agatha,' he said, 'I must not forget, and you must not try to make me forget, that I must work. I have an incentive now that I never had before, and I shall glory in the drudgery even of my profession; will no longer be a self-imposed duty to escape if possible from myself, but a labour of love.'
"You will not think me a burden?' she said, softly.
For a moment Mr. Lynn looked vexed, then he replied,
'Yes, Agatha, till you are mine -till we are married. Unity is strength,' he continued; I am a mere crumbling wall now; I want to transplant my ivy, and take it home.'
'Will you not wait till the spring?' she said.
Mr. Lynn shook his head. 'Agatha, think how I have waited and suffered.'
Agatha smiled. 'May I not claim any of the suffering?'
Then, Agatha, you will consent?' 'I am yours,' she said; 'you may do with me what you will.'
When Agatha went upstairs to dress for the evening, she wavered in her selection of a toilette. Fortunately Cameron had forwarded a box of clothes to her; but she turned