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SIR EDWARD ROLLESTON could not but feel his obligations to the Wardlaws, and, when his daughter got better, he spoke warmly on the subject, and asked her to consider seriously whether she had not tried Arthur's affection sufficiently.
"He does not complain to you, I know," said he; "but he feels it very hard that you should punish him for an act of injustice that has already so deeply afflicted him. He says he believes some fool or villain heard him say that two thousand pounds was to be borrowed between them, and went and imposed on Robert Penfold's credulity; meaning, perhaps, to call again after the note had been cashed, and get Arthur's share of the money."
"But why did he not come forward?"
"He declares he did not know when the trial was till a month after. And his father bears him out; says he was actually delirious, and his life in danger. I myself can testify that he was cut down just in this way when he heard the Proserpine was lost, and you on board her. Why not give him credit for the same genuine distress at young Penfold's misfortune? Come, Helen, is it fair to afflict and punish this gentleman for the misfortune of another, whom he never speaks of but with affection and pity? He says that if you would marry him at once, he thinks he should feel strong enough to throw himself into the case with you, and would spare neither money nor labor to clear Robert Penfold; but, as it is, he says he feels so wretched, and so tortured with jealousy, that he can't co-operate warmly with you, though his conscience reproaches him every day. Poor young man! His is really a very hard case. For you promised him your hand before you ever saw Robert Penfold."
"I did," said Helen; "but I did not say when. Let me have one year to my good work, before I devote my whole life to Arthur."
"Well, it will be a year wasted. Why postpone your marriage for that?"
"Yes, but he chose to fancy young Wardlaw is his enemy. You might relax that, now he tells you he will co-operate with you as your husband. Now, Helen, tell the truth--is it a woman's work? Have you found it so? Will not Arthur do it better than you?"
Helen, weakened already by days of suffering, began to cry, and say, "What shall I do? what shall I do?"
"If you have any doubt, my dear," said Sir Edward, "then think of what I owe to these Wardlaws."
And with that he kissed her, and left her in tears; and, soon after, sent Arthur himself up to plead his own cause.
It was a fine summer afternoon; the long French casements, looking on the garden of the Square, were open, and the balmy air came in and wooed the beautiful girl's cheek, and just stirred her hair at times.
Arthur Wardlaw came softly in, and gazed at her as she lay; her loveliness filled his heart and soul; he came and knelt by her sofa, and took her hand, and kissed it, and his own eyes glistened with tenderness.
He had one thing in his favor. He loved her.
Her knowledge of this had more than once befriended him, and made her refuse to suspect him of any great ill; it befriended him now. She turned a look of angelic pity on him.
"Poor Arthur," she said. "You and I are both unhappy."
"But we shall be happy, ere long, I hope," said Arthur.
Helen shook her head.
Then he patted her, and coaxed her, and said he would be her servant, as well as a husband, and no wish of her heart should go ungratified.
"None?" said she, fixing her eyes on him.
"Not one," said he; "upon my honor." Then he was so soft and persuasive, and alluded so delicately to her plighted faith, that she felt like a poor bird caught in a silken net.
"Sir Edward is very good," said he; "he feels for me."
At that moment, a note was sent up.
"Mr. Wardlaw is here, and has asked me when the marriage is to be. I can't tell him; I look like a fool."
Helen sighed deeply and had begun to gather those tears that weaken a woman. She glanced despairingly to and fro, and saw no escape. Then, Heaven knows why or wherefore--probably with no clear design at all but a woman's weak desire to cause a momentary diversion, to put off the inevitable for five minutes--she said to Arthur: "Please give me that prayer-book. Thank you. It is right you should know this." And she put Cooper's deposition, and Welch's, into his hands.
He devoured them, and started up in great indignation. "It is an abominable slander," said he. "We have lost ten thousand pounds by the wreck of that ship, and Wylie's life was saved by a miracle as well as your own. It is a foul slander. I hurl it from me."
And he made his words good by whirling the prayer-book out of window.
Helen uttered a scream. "My mother's prayer-book!" she cried.
"Oh! I beg pardon," said he.
"As well you may," said she. "Run and send George after it."
"No, I'll go myself," said he. "Pray forgive me. You don't know what a terrible slander they have desecrated your prayerbook with."
He ran out and was a long time gone. He came back at last, looking terrified.
"I can't find it," said he. "Somebody has carried it off. Oh, how unfortunate I am!"
"Not find it!" said Helen. "But it must be found."
"Of course it must be found," said Arthur. "A pretty scandal to go into the hands of Heaven knows who. I shall offer twenty guineas reward for it at once. I'll go down to the Times this moment. Was ever anything so unlucky?"
"Yes, go at once," said Helen; "and I'll send the servants into the Square. I don't want to say anything unkind, Arthur, but you ought not to have thrown my prayer-book into the public street."
"I know I ought not. I am ashamed of it myself."
"Well, let me see the advertisement."
"You shall. I have no doubt we shall recover it."
Next morning the Times contained an advertisement offering twenty guineas for a prayer-book lost in Hanover Square, and valuable, not in itself, but as a relic of a deceased parent.
In the afternoon Arthur called to know if anybody had brought the prayer-book back.
Helen shook her head sadly, and said, "No."
He seemed very sorry and so penitent, that Helen said:
"Do not despair. And if it is gone, why, I must remember you have forgiven me something, and I must forgive you."
The footman came in.
"If you please, miss, here is a woman wishes to speak to you; says she has brought a prayer-book."
"Oh, show her up at once," cried Helen.
Arthur turned away his head to hide a cynical smile. He had good reasons for thinking it was not the one he had flung out of the window yesterday.
A tall woman came in, wearing a thick veil, that concealed her features.
She entered on her business at once.
"You lost a prayer-book in this Square yesterday, madam."
"You offer twenty guineas reward for it."
"Please to look at this one."
Helen examined it, and said with joy it was hers.
Arthur was thunderstruck. He could not believe his senses.
"Let me look at it," said he.
His eyes went at once to the writing.
He turned as pale as death and stood petrified.
The woman took the prayer-book out of his unresisting hand, and said:
"You'll excuse me, sir; but it is a large reward, and gentlefolks sometimes go from their word when the article is found."
Helen, who was delighted at getting back her book, and rather tickled at Arthur having to pay twenty guineas for losing it, burst out laughing, and said:
"Give her the reward, Arthur; I am not going to pay for your misdeeds."
"With all my heart," said Arthur, struggling for composure.
He sat down to draw a check.
"What name shall I put?"
"Hum! Edith Hesket."
"No, only one."
"Thank you, sir."
She put the check into her purse, and brought the prayer-book to Helen.
"Lock it up at once," said she, in a voice so low that Arthur heard her murmur, but not the words. And she retired, leaving Helen staring with amazement, and Arthur in a cold perspiration.
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