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VOLUME II




CHAPTER XX


Ellis hastened to the house; but her weeping eyes, and disordered state
of mind, unfitted her for an immediate encounter with Elinor, and she
went straight to her own chamber; where, in severe meditation upon her
position, her duties, and her calls for exertion, she 'communed with her
own heart.' Although unable, while involved in uncertainties, to arrange
any regular plan of general conduct, conscience, that unerring guide,
where consulted with sincerity, pointed out to her, that, after what had
passed, the first step demanded by honour, was to quit the house, the
spot, and the connexions, in which she was liable to keep alive any
intercourse with Harleigh. What strikes me to be right, she internally
cried, I must do; I may then have some chance for peace, ... however
little for happiness!

Her troubled spirits thus appeased, she descended to inform Elinor of
the result of her commission. She had received, indeed, no direct
message; but Harleigh meant to desire a conference, and that desire
would quiet, she hoped, and occupy the ideas of Elinor, so as to divert
her from any minute investigation into the circumstances by which it had
been preceded.

The door of the dressing room was locked, and she tapped at it for
admission in vain; she concluded that Elinor was in her bed-chamber, to
which there was no separate entrance, and tapped louder, that she might
be heard; but without any better success. She remained, most uneasily,
in the landing-place, till the approaching footstep of Harleigh forced
her away.

Upon re-entering her own chamber, and taking up her needle-work, she
found a letter in its folds.

The direction was merely To Ellis. This assured her that it was from
Elinor, and she broke the seal, and read the following lines.

'All that now remains for the ill-starred Elinor, is to fly the
whole odious human race. What can it offer to me but disgust and
aversion? Despoiled of the only scheme in which I ever gloried,
that of sacrificing in death, to the man whom I adore, the
existence I vainly wished to devote to him in life; - despoiled of
this - By whom despoiled? - by you! Ellis, - by you! - Yet - Oh
incomprehensible! - You, refuse Albert Harleigh! - Never, never could
I have believed in so senseless an apathy, but for the changed
countenance which shewed the belief in it of Harleigh.

'If your rejection, Ellis, is that you may marry Lord Melbury,
which alone makes its truth probable - you have done what is natural
and pardonable, though heartless and mercenary; and you will offer
me an opportunity to see how Harleigh - Albert Harleigh, will
conduct himself when - like me! - he lives without hope.

'If, on the contrary, you have uttered that rejection, from the
weak folly of dreading to witness a sudden and a noble end, to a
fragile being, sighing for extinction, - on your own head fall your
perjury and its consequences!

'I go hence immediately. No matter whither.

'Should I be pursued, I am aware I may soon be traced: but to what
purpose? I am independent alike in person, fortune, and mind; I
cannot be brought back by force, and I will not be moved by idle
persuasion, or hacknied remonstrance. No! blasted in all my worldly
views, I will submit to worldly slavery no longer. My aunt,
therefore, will do well not to demand one whom she cannot claim.

'Tell her this.

'Harleigh -

'But no, - Harleigh will not follow me! He would deem himself bound
to me ever after, by all that men hold honourable amongst one
another, if, through any voluntary measure of his own, the shadow
of a censure could be cast upon Elinor.

'Oh, perfect Harleigh! I will not involve your generous
delicacy - for not yours, not even yours would I be, by the foul
constraint of worldly etiquette! I should disdain to owe your
smallest care for me to any menace, or to any meanness.

'Let him, not, therefore, Ellis, follow me; and I here pledge
myself to preserve my miserable existence, till I see him again,
in defiance of every temptation to disburthen myself of its
loathsome weight. By the love I bear to him, I pledge myself!

'Tell him this.

'ELINOR JODDREL.'

Ellis read this letter in speechless consternation. To be the confident
of so extraordinary a flight, seemed danger to her safety, while it was
horrour to her mind.

The two commissions with which, so inconsiderately, she was charged, how
could she execute? To seek Harleigh again, she thought utterly wrong:
and how deliver any message to Mrs Maple, without appearing to be an
accomplice in the elopement? She could only prove her innocence by
shewing the letter itself, which, in clearing her from that charge, left
one equally heavy to fall upon her, of an apparently premeditated design
to engage, or, as the world might deem it, inveigle, the young Lord
Melbury into marriage. It was evident that upon that idea alone, rested
the belief of Elinor in a faithful adherence to the promised rejection;
and that the letter which she had addressed to Ellis, was but meant as a
memorandum of terrour for its observance.

Not long afterwards, Selina came eagerly to relate, that the dinner-bell
having been rung, and the family being assembled, and the butler having
repeatedly tapt at the door of sister Elinor, to hurry her; Mrs Maple,
not alarmed, because accustomed to her inexactitude, had made every body
dine: after which, Tomlinson was sent to ask whether sister Elinor chose
to come down to the dessert; but he brought word that he could not make
either her or Mrs Golding speak. Selina was then desired to enquire the
reason of such strange taciturnity; but could not obtain any answer.

Mrs Maple, saying that there was no end to her vagaries, then returned
to the drawing-room; concluding, from former similar instances, that,
dark, late, and cold as it was, Elinor had walked out with her maid, at
the very hour of dinner. But Mr Harleigh, who looked extremely uneasy,
requested Selina to see if her sister were not with Miss Ellis.

To this Ellis, by being found alone, was spared any reply; and Selina
skipt down stairs to coffee.

How to avoid, or how to sustain the examination which she expected to
ensue, occupied the disturbed mind of Ellis, till Selina, in about two
hours, returned, exclaiming, 'Sister Elinor grows odder and odder! do
you know she is gone out in the chariot? She ordered it herself,
without saying a word to aunt, and got in, with Golding, close to the
stables! Tomlinson has just owned it to Mr Harleigh, who was grown quite
frightened at her not coming home, now it's so pitch dark. Tomlinson
says she went into the hall herself, and made him contrive it all. But
we are no wiser still as to where she is gone.'

The distress of Ellis what course to take, increased every moment as it
grew later, and as the family became more seriously alarmed. Her
consciousness that there was no chance of the return of Elinor, made her
feel as if culpable in not putting an end to fruitless expectation; yet
how produce a letter of which every word demanded secresy, when all
avowal would be useless, since Elinor could not be forced back?

No one ascended again to her chamber till ten o'clock at night: the
confusion in the house was then redoubled, and a footman came hastily up
stairs to summon her to Mrs Maple.

She descended with terrour, and found Mrs Maple in the parlour, with
Harleigh, Ireton, and Mrs Fenn.

In a voice of the sharpest reprimand, Mrs Maple began to interrogate
her: while Harleigh, who could not endure to witness a haughty rudeness
which he did not dare combat, taking the arm of Ireton, whom he could
still less bear to leave a spectator to a scene of humiliation to Ellis,
quitted the room.

Vain, however, was either enquiry or menace; and Mrs Maple, when she
found that she could not obtain any information, though she had heard,
from Mrs Fenn, that Ellis had passed the morning with her niece,
declared that she would no longer keep so dangerous a pauper in the
house; and ordered her to be gone with the first appearance of light.

Ellis, courtseying in silence, retired.

In re-passing through the hall, she met Harleigh and Ireton; the former
only bowed to her, impeded by his companion from speaking; but Ireton,
stopping her, said, 'O! I have caught you at last! I thought, on my
faith, I was always to seek you where you were never to be found. If I
had not wanted to do what was right, and proper, and all that, I should
have met with you a hundred times; for I never desired to do something
that I might just as well let alone, but opportunity offered itself
directly.'

Ellis tried to pass him, and he became more serious. 'It's an age that I
have wanted to see you, and to tell you how prodigiously ashamed I am of
all that business. I don't know how the devil it was, but I went on,
tumbling from blunder to blunder, till I got into such a bog, that I
could neither stand still, nor make my way out: - '

Ellis, gratified that he would offer any sort of apology, and by no
means wishing that he would make it more explicit, readily assured him,
that she would think no more upon the subject; and hurried to her
chamber: while Harleigh, who stood aloof, thought he observed as much of
dignity as of good humour, in her flying any further explanation.

But Mrs Maple, who only meant, by her threat, to intimidate Ellis into a
confession of what she knew of the absence, and of the purposes, of
Elinor, was so much enraged by her calmness, that she told Mrs Fenn to
follow her, with positive orders, that, unless she would own the truth,
she should quit the house immediately, though it were in the dead of the
night.

Violence so inhuman rather inspired than destroyed fortitude in Ellis,
who quietly answered, that she would seek an asylum, till day-light, at
the neighbouring farmer's.

Selina followed, and, embracing her, with many tears, vowed eternal
friendship to her; and asked whether she did not think that Lady Aurora
would be equally constant.

'I must hope so!' she answered, sighing, 'for what else have I to hope?'

She now made her preparations; yet decided not to depart, unless again
commanded; hoping that this gust of passion would pass away, and that
she might remain till the morning.

While awaiting, with much inquietude, some new order, Selina, to her
great surprise, came jumping into the room, to assure her that all was
well, and more than well; for that her aunt not only ceased to desire to
send her away directly, but had changed her whole plan, and was foremost
now in wishing her to stay.

Ellis, begging for an explanation, then heard, that Ireton had told Mrs
Maple, that there was just arrived at Brighton M. Vinstreigle, a
celebrated professor, who taught the harp; and of whom he should be
charmed that Selina should take some lessons.

Mrs Maple answered, that it would be the height of extravagance, to send
for a man of whom they knew nothing, when they had so fine a performer
under their own roof. Ireton replied, that he should have mentioned that
from the first, but for the objections which then seemed to be in the
way of trusting Miss Ellis with such a charge: but when he again named
the professor, Mrs Maple hastily commissioned Selina to acquaint Ellis,
that, to-morrow morning they were to begin a regular course of lessons
together upon the harp.

Though relieved, by being spared the danger and disgrace of a nocturnal
expulsion, Ellis shrunk from the project of remaining longer in a house
in which Harleigh was admitted at pleasure; and over which Elinor might
keep a constant watch. It was consolatory, nevertheless, to her
feelings, that Ireton, hitherto her defamer, should acquiesce in this
offer, which, at least, not to disoblige Mrs Maple, she would accept for
the moment. To give lessons, also, to a young lady of fashion, might
make her own chosen scheme, of becoming a governess in some respectable
family, more practicable.

About midnight, a horseman, whom Mrs Maple had sent with enquiries to
Brighthelmstone, returned, and informed her, that he could there gather
no tidings; but that he had met with a friend of his own, who had told
him that he had seen Miss Joddrel, in Mrs Maple's carriage, upon the
Portsmouth road.

Mrs Maple, now, seeing all chance of her return, for the night, at an
end, said, that if her niece had freaks of this inconsiderate and
indecorous sort, she would not have the family disordered, by waiting
for her any longer; and, wishing the two gentlemen good night, gave
directions that all the servants should go to bed.

The next morning, during breakfast, the groom returned with the empty
carriage. Miss Joddrel, he said, had made him drive her and Mrs Golding
to an inn, about ten miles from Lewes, where she suddenly told him that
she should pass the night; and bid him be ready for returning at eight
o'clock the next morning. He obeyed her orders; but, the next morning,
heard, that she had gone on, over night, in a hired chaise, towards
Portsmouth; charging no one to let him know it. This was all the account
that he was able to give; except that, when he had asked whether his
mistress would not be angry at his staying out all night, Miss Joddrel
had answered, 'O, Ellis will let her know that she must not expect me
back.'

Selina, who related this, was told to fetch Ellis instantly.

Ellis descended with the severest pain, from the cruel want of
reflection in Elinor, which exposed her to an examination that, though
she felt herself bound to evade, it must seem inexcuseable not to
satisfy.

Mrs Maple and the two gentlemen were at the breakfast-table. Harleigh
would not even try to command himself to sit still, when he found that
Ellis was forced to stand: and even Ireton, though he did not move,
kept not his place from any intentional disrespect; for he would have
thought himself completely old-fashioned, had he put himself out of his
way, though for a person of the highest distinction.

'How comes it, Mistress Ellis,' said Mrs Maple, 'that you had a message
for me last night, from my niece, and that you never delivered it?'

Ellis, confounded, tried vainly to offer some apology.

Mrs Maple rose still more peremptorily in her demands, mingling the
haughtiest menaces with the most imperious interrogations; attacking her
as an accomplice in the clandestine scheme of Elinor; and accusing her
of favouring disobedience and disorder, for some sinister purposes of
her own.

Ireton scrupled not to speak in her favour; and Selina eagerly echoed
all that he advanced: but, Harleigh, though trembling with indignant
impatience to defend her, feared, in the present state of things, that
to become her advocate might rather injure than support her; and
constrained himself to be silent.

A succession of categorical enquiries, forced, at length, an avowal from
Ellis, that her commission had been given to her in a letter. Mrs Maple,
then, in the most authoritative manner, insisted upon reading it
immediately.

Against the justice of this desire there was no appeal; yet how comply
with it? The secret of Harleigh, with regard to herself, was included in
that of Elinor; and honour and delicacy exacted the most rigid silence
from her for both. Yet the difficulty of the refusal increased, from the
increased urgency, even to fury, of Mrs Maple; till, shamed and
persecuted beyond all power of resistance, she resolved upon committing
the letter to the hands of Harleigh himself; who, to an interest like
her own in its concealment, superadded courage and consequence for
sustaining the refusal.

This, inevitably, must break into her design of avoiding him; but,
hurried and harassed, she could devise no other expedient, to escape
from an appearance of utter culpability to the whole house. When again,
therefore, Mrs Maple, repeated, 'Will you please to let me see my
niece's letter, or not?' She answered that there was a passage in it
upon which Miss Joddrel had desired that Mr Harleigh might be consulted.

It would be difficult to say, whether this reference caused greater
surprise to Mrs Maple or to Harleigh; but the feelings which accompanied
it were as dissimilar as their characters: Mrs Maple was highly
offended, that there should be any competition, between herself and any
other, relative to a communication that came from her niece; while
Harleigh felt an enchantment that glowed through every vein, in the
prospect of some confidence. But when Mrs Maple found that all
resistance was vain, and that through this channel only she could
procure any information, her resentment gave way to her eagerness for
hearing it, and she told Mr Harleigh to take the letter.

This was as little what he wished, as what Ellis meant: his desire was
to speak with her upon the important subject open between them; and
her's, was to make an apology for shewing him the letter, and to offer
some explanation of a part of its contents. He approached her, however,
to receive it, and she could not hold it back.

'If you will allow me,' said he, in taking it, 'to give you my plain
opinion, when I have read it.... Where may I have the pleasure of seeing
you?'

Revived by this question, she eagerly answered, 'Wherever Mrs Maple will
permit.'

Harleigh, who, in the scowl upon Mrs Maple's face, read a direction that
they should remain where they were, would not wait for her to give it
utterance; but, taking the hand of Ellis, with a precipitation to which
she yielded from surprise, though with blushing shame, said, 'In this
next room we shall be nearest to give the answer to Mrs Maple;' and led
her to the adjoining apartment.

He did not dare shut the door, but he conducted her to the most distant
window; and, having expressed, by his eyes, far stronger thanks for her
trust than he ventured to pronounce with his voice, was beginning to
read the letter; but Ellis, gently stopping him, said, 'Before you look
at this, let me beg you, Sir, to believe, that the hard necessity of my
strange situation, could alone have induced me to suffer you to see what
is so every way unfit for your perusal. But Miss Joddrel has herself
made known that she left a message with me for Mrs Maple; what right,
then, have I to withhold it? Yet how - advise me, I entreat, - how can I
deliver it? And - with respect to what you will find relative to Lord
Melbury - I need not, I trust, mortify myself by disclaiming, or
vindicating - '

He interrupted her with warmth: 'No!' he cried, 'with me you can have
nothing to vindicate! Of whatever would not be perfectly right, I
believe you incapable.'

Ellis thanked him expressively, and begged that he would now read the
letter, and favour her with his counsel.

He complied, meaning to hurry it rapidly over, to gain time for a yet
more interesting subject; but, struck, moved, and shocked by its
contents, he was drawn from himself, drawn even from Ellis, to its
writer. 'Unhappy Elinor!' he cried, 'this is yet more wild than I had
believed you! this flight, where you can expect no pursuit! this
concealment, where you can fear no persecution! But her intellects are
under the controul of her feelings, - and judgment has no guide so
dangerous.'

Ellis gently enquired what she must say to Mrs Maple.

He hastily put by the letter. 'Let me rather ask,' he cried, half
smiling, 'what you will say to Me? - Will you not let me know something
of your history, - your situation, - your family, - your name? The deepest
interest occasions my demand, my inquietude. - Can it offend you?'

Ellis, trembling, looking down, and involuntarily sighing, in a
faltering voice, answered, 'Have I not besought you, Sir, to spare me
upon this subject? Have I not conjured you, if you value my peace, - nay,
my honour! - what can I say more solemn? - to drop it for ever more?'

'Why this dreadful language?' cried Harleigh, with mingled impatience
and grief: 'Can the impression of a cumpulsatory engagement - or what
other may be the mystery that it envelopes? Will you not be generous
enough to relieve a perplexity that now tortures me? Is it too much for
a man lost to himself for your sake, - lost he knows not how, - knows not
to whom, - to be indulged with some little explanation, where, and how,
he has placed all his hopes? - Is this too much to ask?'

'Too much?' repeated Ellis, with quickness: 'O no! no! Were my
confidence to depend upon my sense of what I owe to your generous
esteem, your noble trust in a helpless Wanderer, - known to you solely
through your benevolence, - were my opinion - and my gratitude my
guides, - it would be difficult, indeed, to say what enquiries you could
make, that I could refuse to satisfy; - what you could ask, that I ought
not to answer! but alas! - '

She hesitated: heightened blushes dyed her cheeks; and she visibly
struggled to restrain herself from bursting into tears.

Touched, delighted, yet affrighted, Harleigh tenderly demanded, 'O, why
resist the generous impulse, that would plead for some little frankness,
in favour of one who unreservedly devotes to you his whole existence?'

Suddenly now, as if self-alarmed, checking her sensibility, she gravely
cried, 'What would it avail that I should enter into any particulars of
my situation, when what has so recently passed, makes all that has
preceded immaterial? You have heard my promise to Miss Joddrel, - you see
by this letter how direfully she meditates to watch its performance; - '

'And can you suffer the wild flights of a revolutionary enthusiast,
impelled by every extravagant new system of the moment; - however you may
pity her feelings, respect her purity, and make allowance for her youth,
to blight every fair prospect of a rational attachment? to supersede
every right? and to annihilate all consideration, all humanity, but for
herself?'

'Ah no! - if you believe me ungrateful for a partiality that contends
with all that appearances can offer against me, and all that
circumstance can do to injure me; if you think me insensible to the
honour I receive from it, you do yet less justice to yourself than to
me! But here, Sir, all ends! - We must utterly separate; - you must not
any where seek me; - I must avoid you every where! - '

She stopt. - The sudden shock which every feature of Harleigh exhibited
at these last words, evidently and forcibly affected her; and the big
tears, till now forced back, rolled unrestrained, and almost
unconsciously, down her cheeks, as she suffered herself, for a moment,
in silence to look at him: she was then hastily retiring; but Harleigh,
surprised and revived by the sight of her emotion, exclaimed, 'O why
this fatal sensibility, that captivates while it destroys? that gives
fascination even to repulse?' He would have taken her hand; but, drawing
back, and even shrinking from his touch, she emphatically cried,
'Remember my engagement! - my solemn promise!'

'Was it extorted?' cried he, detaining her, 'or had it your heart's
approbation?'

'From whatever motive it was uttered,' answered she, looking away from
him, 'it has been pronounced, and must be adhered to religiously!' She
then broke from him, and escaping by a door that led to the hall, sought
refuge from any further conflict by hastening to her chamber: not once,
till she arrived there, recollecting that her letter was left in his
hands; while the hundred pounds, which she meant to return to him, were
still in her own.




CHAPTER XXI


Painfully revolving a scene which had deeply affected her, Ellis, for
some time, had remained uninterrupted, when, opening her door to a
gentle tap, she was startled by the sight of Harleigh. The letter of
Elinor was in his hand, which he immediately presented to her, and
bowing without speaking, without looking at her, instantly disappeared.

Ellis was so confounded, first by his unexpected sight, and next by his
so speedily vanishing, that she lost the opportunity of returning the
bank notes. For some minutes she gazed pensively down the staircase;
slowly, then, she shut her door, internally uttering 'all is over: - he
is gone, and will pursue me no more.' Then casting up her eyes, which
filled with tears, 'may he,' she added, 'be happy!'

From this sadness she was roused, by feeling, from the thickness of the
packet, that it must contain some additional paper; eagerly opening it,
she found the following letter:


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