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[-235-] 

CHAPTER LXXVII.

A WOMAN'S SECRET.

IT was now seven months since Ellen Monroe became the victim of George Greenwood.
    She bore in her bosom the fruit of that amour; and until the present time she had managed to conceal her situation from those around her.
    She now began to perceive the utter impossibility of veiling her disgrace much longer. Her health was failing, and her father and Markham were constantly urging upon her the necessity of receiving medical advice. This recommendation she invariably combated to the utmost of her power; and in order to give a colour to her assurance that she suffered only from some trivial physical ailment, she was compelled to affect a flow of good spirits which she was far - very far from experiencing.
    Markham had frequently questioned her with the most earnest and friendly solicitude relative to the causes of those intervals of deep depression which it was impossible for her to conceal ;- he had implored her to open her mind to him, as a sister might to a brother ;- he had suggested to her change of scene, diversion, and other means of restoring her lost spirits ; - but to all he advanced she returned evasive replies.
    Richard and the aged father of the young lady frequently conversed together upon the subject, and lost themselves in conjectures relative to the cause of that decaying health and increasing unhappiness for which the sufferer herself would assign no feasible motive. At times Mr. Monroe was inclined to believe that the privations and vicissitudes which his daughter had experienced during the two years previous to their reception at the hospitable dwelling of Richard Markham, had engendered a profound melancholy in a mind that had been so painfully harassed, and had implanted the germs of a subtle malady in a system never constitutionally strong. This belief appeared the more reasonable when the old man called to mind the hours of toil - the wearisome vigils - and the exposure to want, cold, and inclement weather, which had been endured by the poor girl in the court in Golden Lane; and Markham sometimes yielded to the same impression relative to the causes of a mental and physical decline which every day became more apparent.
    Then, again, Richard thought that the fresh air of the healthy locality where she now dwelt, and the absence of all care in respect to the wherewithal to sustain life, would have produced a beneficial effect. He enjoined her father to question her whether she cherished some secret affection - some love that had experienced disappointment; but to this demand she returned a positive negative: and her father assured his young friend that Ellen had had no opportunity of obtaining the affection of another, or of bestowing her own upon any being who now slighted it. Of course her true position was never suspected for a moment; and thus the cause of Ellen's unhappiness remained an object of varied and conflicting conjectures.
    Seven months had now passed since that fatal day when the accursed old hag, whose name we have not allowed to defile these pages, handed her over to the arms of a ruthless libertine ; - seven months of mental anguish and physical suffering had nearly flown ;- the close of July was at hand; - and as yet Ellen had decided upon no plan to direct her future proceedings. She sometimes thought of returning to Greenwood, and endeavouring to touch his heart ;- but then she remembered the way in which they had parted on the occasion of her visit to his house in Spring-Gardens ;- she recalled to mind all she knew of the character of the man ;- and she was compelled to abandon this idea. She felt that she would sooner die than accept his succour in the capacity of a mistress ;- and there were, moreover, moments when she entertained sentiments of profound hatred, and experienced a longing for revenge, against the man who refused to do her justice. Then, again, she recollected that he was the father of the child which she bore in her bosom; and all her rancorous feelings dissolved in tears.
    At other times she thought of throwing herself at her father's feet, and confessing all. But what woman does not shudder at such a step? Moreover, frail mortals invariably place reliance in the chapter of accidents, and entertain hopes, even in situations where it is impossible for those hopes to be realized.
    To Richard Markham she would not - dared not breathe a syllable that might lead him to infer her shame ;- and yet where was she to find a friend save in the person of her father and her benefactor?
    Most pitiable was the situation of this poor girl. And yet she already felt a mother's feeling of love and solicitude for her unborn babe. Often - often in the still hour of night, when others slept, did she sit up and weep in her chamber;- often - often, [-236-] while others forgot their cares in the arms of slumber, was she a prey to an agony of mind which seemed to admit of no solace. And then, in those hours of intense wretchedness, would the idea of suicide steal into her mind - that idea which suggests a last resource and a sure relief as a term for misery grown too heavy for mortal endurance. But, oh! she trembled - she trembled in the presence of that dread thought, which each night assumed a shape more awfully palpable, more fearfully defined to her imagination. She struggled against the idea: she exclaimed, in the bitterness of her agony, "Get thee behind me, tempter;"- and yet there the tempter stood, more plainly seen, more positive in its allurement than ever! That poor, helpless girl balanced in her mind whether she should dare human scorn, or in one mad moment resign her soul to Satan!
    There was a piece of water at the back of the house close by the main road; and thither would her footsteps lead her - almost unvoluntarily, for the tempter pushed her on from behind ;- thither would she repair at noon, to contemplate the sleeping waters of the lake within whose depths lurked one pearl more precious in the eyes of the unhappy than the brightest ornaments set in regal diadem., - the pearl of Olivion! Thither did the lost one stray: upon the margin of that water did she hover like the ghost of one who had sought repose beneath that silver surface ;- and, oh! how she longed to plunge into the shining water - and dared not.
    At eve, too, when the sun had set, and every star on the dark vault above was reflected on the bosom of the lake, and the pure argent rays of the lovely moon seemed to fathom its mysterious depths,- then again did she seek the bank; and as she stood gazing upon the motionless pool, she prepared herself to take the one fatal leap that should terminate her sorrows - and dared not.
    No - she shrank from suicide; and yet the time had now come when she must nerve herself to adopt some decided plan; for a prolonged concealment of her condition was impossible.
    Markham's household consisted of Whittingham, Holford, and a female domestic of the name of Marian. This woman was a widow, and had been in the service of our hero only since his release from incarceration. She was between forty and fifty; and her disposition was kind, easy, and compassionate.
    One night - about an hour after the inmates of the place had retired to their chambers - Ellen was sitting, as usual, mournfully in her room, pondering upon her unhappy condition, and dreading to seek a couch where her ideas assumed an aspect which made her brain reel as if with Incipient madness, - when she heard a low knock at her door. She hastened to open it; and Marian instantly entered the room.
    "Hush:, my dear young lady," she said in a whisper: "do not be alarmed;"- and she carefully closed the door behind her.
    "What is the matter, Marian?" exclaimed Ellen: "has anything happened? is my father ill?"
    "No, Miss - do not frighten yourself, I say," replied he servant. "I have come to console you; for I can't bear to see you pining away like this - dying by inches."
    "What do you mean, Marian?" said Ellen, much confused.
    "I mean, my dear Miss," continued the servant, "that if you won't think me impertinent, I might befriend you. The eyes of a woman are sharp and penetrating, Miss; and while every body else in the house is wondering what can make you so pale, and ill, and low-spirited, I do not want to conjecture to discover the cause."
    "My God, Marian!" ejaculated the young lady, sinking into a chair "you - you really frighten me : you mistake - you —"
    And Ellen burst into tears.
    The servant took her hand kindly, and said, "Miss, forgive my boldness but I am a woman - and I cannot bear to see one of my own sex suffer as you do. Besides, you are so good and gentle - and when I was ill a few weeks ago, you behaved with so much kindness to me, that my heart bleeds for you - it does indeed. I was coming down to you last night - and the night before - and the night before that too; but I didn't like to intrude upon you. And to-day I saw how very much you was altered; and I could restrain myself no longer. So, Miss, if I have done wrong, forgive me; for I have come with a good intention - and would go a hundred miles to serve you. In a word, Miss, you require a friend - a faithful friend; end it you will confide in me, Miss, I will give you the best advice, and help you in the best way I can."
    "Marian, this is very kind of you - very kind," answered Ellen, to whose ear these words of female sympathy came ineffably sweet; "but I shall be better soon - I shall get well —"
    "Ah! Miss," interrupted Marian, soothingly, "don't hesitate to confide in me. I know what ails you - I understand your situation; and I feel for you deeply - indeed, indeed I do."
    "Marian —"
    "Yes, Miss: you cannot conceal it from others much longer. For God's sake take some step before you kill yourself any your child at the same time."
    "Marian - Marian, what do you say?" exclaimed Ellen, sobbing violently, as if her heart would break.
    "Miss Monroe, you will shortly become a mother!"
    "Ah! my God - kill me, kill me! Save me from this deep degradation - this last disgrace!"
    "Calm yourself, Miss - calm yourself; and I will be your friend," said Marian. "I have been thinking of your condition for some time past - and I have already settled in my mind a plan to save you!"
    "To save me - to save me!" exclaimed Ellen. "Oh, how can I ever repay you for this kindness?"
    "I am but a poor ignorant woman, Miss," answered Marian; "but I hope that I do not possess a bad heart. At all events I can feel for you."
    "A bad heart, Marian!" repeated Ellen. "Oh! no - you are goodness itself. But you said you had some plan to save me, Marian?"
    "Yes, Miss. I have a sister, who is married and lives with her husband a few miles off. He is a market-gardener; and they have a nice little cottage. They will be delighted to do all they can for you."
    "But how can I leave this house and remain absent for weeks without acquainting my benefactor Mr. Markham, and my poor old father? You forget, Marian - you forget that were I to steal away, and leave no trace behind me, it would break my father's heart."
    "Then, Miss, you had better throw yourself at your father's feet, and tell him all."
    "Never - never, Marian!" ejaculated Ellen, clasping her bands together, while her bosom heaved convulsively.
    "Trust in Mr. Markham, Miss - let me break the truth to him?"
    "Impossible, Marian! I should never dare to look him in the face again."
    [-237-] "And the person - the individual - the father of your child, Miss -" said the servant, hesitatingly.
    "Mention not him - allude not to him," cried Ellen; then, after a pause, she added in a low and almost despairing tone, "No! - hope exists not there!"
    "And yet, Miss," continued Marian, "you must make up your mind to something - and that soon. You cannot conceal your situation another fortnight without danger to yourself and the little unborn innocent. Besides, you have made no preparations, Miss; and if any sudden accident —"
    "Ah! Marian, you remind me of my duty," interrupted Ellen. "I must not sacrifice the life of that being who has not asked me to give it existence - who is the innocent fruit of my shame, - I must not sacrifice its life to any selfish scruples of mine! Thank you, Marian - thank you! You have reminded me of my duty! come to me again to-morrow night, and I will tell you what step I have determined to take without delay!"
    The servant then retired; and Ellen remained alone - alone with the most desolating heart-breaking reflections.
    At length her ideas produced a mental agony which was beyond endurance. She rose from her chair, and advanced towards the window, against the cold glass of which she leant her brow - her burning brow, to cool it. The moon shone brightly, and edged the clouds of night with silver. The eyes of the wretched girl wandered over the landscape, the outlines of which were strongly marked beneath the lustre of the moon; and amongst other objects, she caught sight of the small lake at a little distance. It shone like a pool of quicksilver, and seemed to woo her to its bosom.
    Upon that lake her eye rested long and wistfully; and again the tempter stood behind her, and urged her to seek repose beneath that shining surface.
    She asked herself for what she had to live? She did not seek to combat the arguments of the secret tempter; but she collected into one focus all her sorrows; and at length the contemplation of that mass of misery strengthened the deep anxiety which she felt to escape from this world for ever.
    And all the while she kept her eyes fixed upon the lake that seemed sleeping beneath the moonlight which kissed its bosom.
    But her poor father! and the babe that she bore a in her breast! oh! no - she dared not die! Her suicide would not comprise one death: only ;- but it would be the death of a second, and the death of a third, - the death of her father, and the death of her still unborn child!
    She turned away from the window, and hastened to seek her couch. But slumber did not visit her eyes. She lay pondering on the best course for her to pursue; but the more she reflected upon her condition, the farther off did she seem to wander from any settled point. At length she sank into an uneaay sleep; and her grief pursued her in her dreams. 
    She rose late; and when she descended to the breakfast-room she learnt that Richard Markham was about to depart immediately for the Continent. Whittingham was busily occupied in packing his masters baggage in the hall; and Holford bad been despatched into town to order a post-chaise.
    Markham explained this sudden movement on his part by placing a letter in Ellen's hand, saying at the same time, "This is from a man who has been a friend to me: I cannot hesitate a moment to obey his summons."
    Ellen cast her eyes over he letter and read as follows:-

"Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, 
"July 24, 1839.

"My DEAR YOUNG FRIEND,

"If you can possibly dispose of your time for a few days, come to me at once. A severe accident - which may prove fatal - renders it prudent that I should attend to my worldly affairs; and to this end I require the assistance of a friend. Such I know you to be 
            THOMAS ARMSTRONG."

    "The accident which my friend has met with must have been a serious one," said Markham, "or his letter would be more explicit. I feel deeply anxious to know the whole truth; for it was he who gave me courage to face the world, and taught me how to raise my head again, after my release from imprisonment ;- he also introduced me to one —"
    Markham ceased: and for some moments his thoughts were bent wholly on Isabella.
    At length the post-chaise arrived, and Richard departed on his journey, after bidding adieu to Mr. Monroe and Ellen, and having received a special request from the faithful Whittingham "to mind and not to be conglomerated by any such fellers as Kidderminster and them wulgar chaps which called butlers tulips."

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