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• “You must be astonished to see me here,” said she, “and think me sadly rebellious, but I am come on an errand which brooks neither denial nor delay.”
“Indeed! Is that poor girl worse ?”
“ The end is even now at hand, and he who alone can impart courage and consolation is not come. This is truly awful.”
“Miss Basinstoke," resumed St. Edmunds earnestly, “I trust that you will command my services, and believe that I should be too happy could they be of any avail.”
“I am most grateful indeed, Lord St. Edmunds, but I have already dispatched a safe and speedy messenger.”
“At all events, I hope that you will allow me to remain with you here, until I can see you safe home. I hear that there are many persons about, whom it would not be well that you should meet alone at so late an hour.”
“ Indeed,” answered Cécile somewhat embarrassed, “ I really cannot think that any one would molest me, and you had better, much better, leave me and return at once to the hall.”
Ere our hero had had time to urge anew his request, Miss Basinstoke's eyes had strayed in
another direction, and she exclaimed, in a tone of the deepest regret :
“Gracious Heaven ! how unfortunate! there is Mr. Lewis! It is what I most feared.”
The person thus alluded to was a young man of grave and prepossessing appearance, whose look and dress clearly bespoke his holy vocation, and who was approaching the humble cottage with hasty steps.
“Did you send for Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Hawthorne ?” anxiously inquired Cécile of the tall, ungainly matron, in whom our hero had already detected, on a former occasion, the very personification of a step-mother.
“I did, Miss Cécile, as well I might, I should say," was the ready reply.
"I am very sorry to hear it: she will not see him, you know.”
“She will see him, Miss Cécile, if she's let alone.”
“I understand what you mean, Mrs. Hawthorne. Perhaps you had better speak to her yourself, and ascertain what her feelings are, for it would be most unfortunate that anything should occur which could grieve or offend Mr. Lewis.”
Thus urged, Mrs. Hawthorne proceeded, as gently as was consistent with her nature, into the neighbouring room ; but within a few seconds, the plaintive and agitated voice of the sufferer was heard calling for Miss Basinstoke. Cécile did not respond to the anxious summons until it had been several times renewed; she then followed upon Mrs. Hawthorne's footsteps, and inquired of the ill-fated girl what she desired.
“Oh, Miss Basinstoke, Miss Basinstoke !" muttered the latter, “Mr. Lewis is here, and you know that I cannot—that I will not see him! Pray tell him so, and also tell him whybut don't let him come in; I have not strength, I really have not !" and, with an hysterical sob, poor Mabel's head fell back upon her pillow.
Cécile whispered a few words of acquiescence and of consolation in her ear, and then hastened to the door of the room, just in time to arrest the entrance of the young clergyman.
“ Miss Basinstoke !” cried he, partly divining her purpose, “ you are here on a fearful errand.”
“Say, rather, on a very painful duty, Mr. Lewis, but one that must be performed. I have a word for your private ear.”
He followed her into a lonely corner of the small room, and she then resumed :
“Read this letter, which I received this morning, painfully traced in secret, by the dying hand of that poor girl. It is my excuse for being here contrary to Lady Helen's positive injunctions: it will be yours, if you require one, for not adding fresh bitterness, in this hour, to a cup which is already overflowing.”
Mr. Lewis took the letter, and having attentively perused it, gravely replied:
"I see strong evidence here, Miss Basinstoke, that, as I much apprehended, this truly unfortunate young woman's mind is lamentably unsettled upon the all-important subject of her religious creed; and this can but be an additional incentive for me to persevere in my mission." :
“Her mind is not unsettled, Mr. Lewis,” firmly answered Cécile ; " it is resolutely, irrevocably fixed, as you will see, if you read again. You would but perplex and harass her last hour. In the name of the all-merciful Being whom we both worship, proceed no further !"
“My dear Miss Basinstoke,” replied he, “ while giving you credit for the very best intentions, I must tell you that such objections as you have just raised are very frequently urged upon us in similar cases, and must be as often overruled.”
“You misunderstand me, Mr. Lewis. This is no ordinary case of human infirmity on the verge of dissolution. He whose presence alone is expected and desired has been sent for, and is, I trust, even now at hand ; while you, Mr. Lewis, with all respect for your character and truly christian virtues, she dreads above al things upon earth to encounter.”
“How can that be ?” muttered he, much perplexed at the earnest tone of the speaker.
“I will tell you,” resumed Cécile, in a low voice, “ for this is no time for vain compliments. Poor Mabel holds you to be responsible in part, though God knows most unconsciously, for her misfortunes and her her fall.”
“Gracious Heaven, Miss Basinstoke ! what can you mean ?”