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from the others was preserved been unknowingly brought into if wished, there was no reason such immediate contact with her. for Laura to fear any awkward But, as she remembered how meeting Ernestine gave
her Mrs. Aylmer's home troubles and full credit for taking every pre
privations had been delicately caution: and as one of the first pictured to her in the course of precautions would be to ascertain her intimate attendance upon her whether the names of all the patient, she felt that no statement doctors on the prospectus of the of Laura's was to be trusted. hospital were unknown to her, Were Dr. Doldy's happiness Ernestine concluded that either and prosperity in Laura's hands, Laura, before her entrance, had and dependent upon the retaining never heard her name, or—as was of her disgraceful secret ? No, the case—that Dr. Doldy had sup- she said boldly to herself, she did pressed the fact that she was not believe it. Laura had but doctor. On that occasion when created a nightmare to terrify and he let fall upon Laura the thunder- silence her; she would not be bolt of his impending marriage, if silenced by it. She would not be he had let slip, as he very nearly rash in action, but she resolved to did, the “Dr.” Vavasour, Laura extract the real truth from Laura, would have been forewarned. by dint of threatening her with But, as it happened, she had
immediate exposure. never dreamed of connecting the Should she go to her that very Dr. Vavasour of the hospital with night? She paused in her walk the Miss Vavasour of her uncle's up and down her little room and choice. Laura had always re- looked at her watch,
It was garded the lady doctor as a already late. Laura was staying working oman-an unfortunate with her aunt; would it be posperson compelled to earn her own sible to see her alone without living And to a mind of such exciting suspicions ? She calibre as hers, so impassable a fearful of taking any unusual steps gulf is fixed between the lady of in the darkness; Laura's warnings social position and the woman-of might not have been wholly basewhatever sort—who works for her less. Besides, said she to herself, bread, that the name Vavasour, un- proudly—“Why to-night? No common though it may be, did not secret of that woman's can make seem to her as the same name, in
any difference in
my relations with the two connections. The Miss Dr. Doldy. I am pledged to him, Vavasour of Dr. Doldy's choice not to his connections." She felt had a certain interest for her, the that it would be like an insult to Dr. Vavasour of the hospital pro- him to act as though any deed of spectus, none whatever. When Laura's could make a difference first Mrs. Marland brought Er- in the fulfilment of her marriage; nestine to her, to see an unmis- and this idea did much to quiet her. takable lady had given her a She pacified herself by a resolusort of nervous shock-which she tion that as on the morrow, at the attributed to her sensitive state; wedding, they must meet, on the and subsequent happenings were morrow she would prevent Laura's not of a nature to lead her to again evading her; she would speculate upon names. Ernestine make an opportunity to obtain did not know her well enough to from her the truth of her asunderstand all this, but she could sertions. guess scmething of how she had Having come to this resolve she
was able to sleep; but she awoke “ There," said Mrs. Vavasour. in the gray early morning, cold triumphantly, as they all stood and trembling. Wonderingly her ready to enter the carriages, “my spirit became conscious of a weight party is in time, and I know Dr. upon it, and in the first instant Doldy will be in time, but someof recall seemed to take up the body always must be late, and I burden with difficulty, unable all expect it will be Mr. Silburn." at once to realise what it was. Mrs. Vavasour not only used But, that instant over, all the italics freely in her letters but in memory of the events of the her speech. Ernestine smiled as previous day returned to her. she entered the carriage with her
She lay, still, pale, and thought- bridesmaids. She wondered much ful, until the dawn had merged what unusual thing Coventry Silinto broad light and the house burn would do before the morning was astir. Then she arose, with a
She feared that he look upon her face that would could scarcely remain so long in rather have been suitable to an Mrs. Vavasour's presence without Amazon called to battle than to the shocking her. For he filled an heroine of a wedding day.
important post-he was to give The consequence was that she
away the bride. was told at breakfast that she She glanced round the church “positively must not look as if she as they entered, to see who was were going to be executed.” Her there ; Dr. Doldy she saw at once, cousins had long ago arrogated without seeing him, so to speak, the right to tease her; they or seeming to use her eyes, and belonged to that gay, good. immediately discovered also that humoured, generous type of girl- positively Coventry Silburn was hood with which it is as difficult before them: dressed with the to be angry as it is to resent the utmost propriety and looking frolics of a kitten.
He was They succeeded in making Er- dently conscious that Dorothy, nestine laugh at herself and her though she was very quiet in a stern looks, but they could not secluded corner, had her eye upon wholly chase away the mood. It him. is common talk that a wedding is Common-place people can genemore tearful than a funeral. She rally carry through a ceremony relapsed whenever she was left successfully, but the unhappy folk alone. Certainly she would never who are gifted with genius, or have been dressed in time for even but tinged with it, seem church had not all the other overpowered by the responsibilities women in the house taken of such an occasion, and as a rule greater interest in her wedding- make themselves conspicuous by robe than she did herself. As
unintentional absurdity. might be expected, however, their Dorothy was well aware of this, interest in it was absorbing. Not and had lectured her husband so one of them besides herself had thoroughly on the need of keeping discovered anything much more himself awake to the small proimportant in life than successful prieties that he was quite crushed dressing
by the sense of his position. Ernestine thus gained time for Ernestine, after her first glance, her thoughts, for she had only to which had only assured her of be patient under the ministrations Coventry's presence, had done her of many willing hands.
best to abstract her mind from
everything but the matter in hand.
Not far off was Laura, She would not look round again who looked as bright and happy lest she should see Laura: as in- as a pretty woman ought to look. deed she would have done, for But a pause came at last in her Laura and Mrs. Honiton were gay gossip and laughter. She very near her. She resolutely stood for a moment alone, lanput away the thought of Laura guidly fanning herself. for the moment, and held herself Ernestine
once and in her own dreamland. It was joined her. not difficult to do so, with Coventry
into the Silburn on one side of her and Dr. fernery,” she said, “it is quiet Doldy on the other—the two men there, and cool." who had done the most, in such Laura followed her without a different ways, to shew her the word. She drew back a curtain realities of dreamland. Coventry
Coventry which half hid an alcove at the succeeded, by dint of keeping his side of the room and led the way mind fixed upon it, in giving the into a very pleasant little fernery, bride away correctly, and the more where ever-cropping water made strictly official persons, being ac- the air seem cool. The curtain custoined to their work,
fell behind them and again conplished it with less difficulty. cealed the alcove. Ernestine
“ You good boy,” said Dorothy, moved to the farther side, and when they were finding their way drew a couple of chairs into out to the carriages, “it did my quiet corner. heart good to see you behaving so They sat down. Laura went on well."
fanning herself, and for a moment “ Thank the Gods it is over- there was silence. not for myself only, but for their Laura was quite collected and sakes. My spirits are rising now prepared for the encounter; and -I am beginning to feel exu- while Ernestine paused, she leaned berant! I shall scarcely require back in her chair and said to herchampagne."
self that the scene very « Well, don't horrify
effective. hostess, that's all,” whispered “Her style is good," she thought, Dorothy, sagely.
looking at Ernestine. “She has brought us face to face very
neatly and without any fuss. She CHAPTER XX.
understands generalship so well
that I shall certainly try to win PEACE?
her over rather than make an open It was all over-the wedding, and
enemy of her.
She will be my the breakfast. A man is never more ally in any case; but I would nearly extinguished than on his rather she were a friendly one. wedding day, but Dr. Doldy had She is abominably handsome, esrisen to a dainty speech tinged pecially in that white drapery. with some of the finer humour of And she has some charm about his favourites the old dramatists; her which makes her beauty so and now Mrs. Vavasour, her re- royal. I wonder what that charın sponsibilities nearly at an end, is?-Surely I can find out ?" smiled amiably upon the groups Laura set herself so intently to scattered about her drawing
room. observing Ernestine's face, and Ernestine sat in a low chair, the was so absorbed in her particular silent centre of
a very merry interest in it, that she seemed not
to hear when Ernestine suddenly I am not fighting it for myself looked up and addressed her. only. I want to prevent the dis
“I cannot undertake to keep tress which would come upon your secret from Dr. Doldy; at others as well as upon myself. the same time, I do not wish to And why,” she went on, with a prevent your telling the story in suddenly impassioned gesture, your own fashion.
Will you do it “ why should you betray me? now, or will you write to him?" Look at my position-look at the
The words took a long time in society I am surrounded by and, penetrating to Laura's intelligence; think of the intolerableness of an indeed, they seemed at first to have exposure. You know, as well as I, fallen on a deaf ear. For, as Er- how bitterly a woman is punished nestine looked up and spoke, for her sins-you know, as well as Laura, whose shrewd eyes were I, what your betrayal must subject still intently bent upon her, thought me to. No; look into your own she saw in the expression of the heart, think what must be suffered face as it was uplifted to hers some- by a woman in my position even thing of the mystery of that if she is allowed to keep her charm which had perplexed her. misery in the silence of her own She had some glimmer of an under- soul. You are entering upon a standing that the especial mo- union of love and happiness; you mentary beauty of the moving
a being stranded alone, face was its unconsciousness. after enduring the torture of love
*. It is not to be supposed," and of loss. Have some pity for thought Laura, “that she doesn't me-do not, strong in your own know she is handsome, but she is promise of a happy future, connot thinking of it at this moment demn unpityingly one who has evidently. Dear me, how singular left happiness behind. Have -it would be a difficult art to some pity—and give me but a attain, I'm afraid.”
little of that sympathy which has All this, and more, passed as yet been utterly denied me through Laura's versatile brain let me tell you all my history. before Ernestine's words reached You can scarcely refuse me a little it. Ernestine's eyes were fixed sympathy if you hear all.” upon her now, and she
Ernestine had put her hand over Laura's change of expression when her eyes while Laura spoke ; her the words made themselves heard mind was confused by such an to her internal ear. It was but a appeal as this. She knew well slight change-yet it helped to that justice must hear all : and make Ernestine's disbelief in her for a moment she fancied she deeper.
might have before her one of those You will not betray me?” women who are driven against said Laura, very low, with flutter- their better nature into deceit by ing, down-drooping eyelids.
the demand made on them by Ernestine made no reply, but society for the preservation of aponly drew back a little-a very pearances—and appearances only. little.
Laura touched her dress slightly, “Surely you will not use this leaning forward as she spoke : accidental knowledge against me? and Ernestine looked towards her. I have a hard battle to fight, and She looked in Laura's face: and I am quite alone in it-quite suddenly there rose before her alone”—Laura’slip trembled a little vision innocent little Mrs. Aylmer as she repeated these words,—"but and she remembered the dexterous
art with which the doctor's sympa- Ernestine, who was standing with thies were evoked. She rose to knit brow, in deep thought. It her feet and moved away a little. had some real effect, however.
“No," she said, “I have al- She knew well enough that she ready heard one history of yours. had no right over Laura's secret. You cannot expect me to listen to Her only present power over Laura another."
lay in the fact that she had made " You do not know—you can no promise to keep it.
And now never guess—how hardly I was Laura presented to her something driven into all that,” said Laura, which in a sense corresponded to a a little below her breath.
bond. “ Perhaps not,” said Ernestine, She said nothing for a few with a sigh, “but you cannot ex- moments, while her mind reviewed pect me to trust you after the the whole affair, or at least, as much experience. And you forget that as she knew of it. At last she raised I have no wish to expose you to her head with a sudden action the society you move in. I only which made Laura think of a ask you to tell the whole matter to high-spirited horse fretting under Dr. Doldy."
the curb. "Last of all," cried Laura, “I cannot breathe in this net" to him."
work of deceit,” she exclaimed. "And why?” asked Ernestine, “I am sorry for that,” said turning on her.
Laura, “ for I am afraid you will “I could not bear it," said have to try. I think you cannot Laura, with downcast eyes and but see the inexpediency of rethat peculiar change of expression vealing any of my affairs to my when she spoke which convinced uncle. It will, as I said before, Ernestine that her speech was only only bring a great and unnecessary a blind to hide her thought.
upon him. He would only Well," she said, “I will not have the burden of a secret which undertake to hide it from him." he need not have, if you are wise." “ But you must,” said Laura, “I
said Ernestine, with a resumption of her more moving
moving to her chair and sitting cool and collected manner, and as down wearily, "you could be more she spoke, again commencing to open. Why cannot you tell me fan herself—" you must,—you will all the truth?" never betray a medical confidence! Laura shrugged her shoulders. Why, I suppose my uncle has “ You would not listen to my tale dozens of such matters in his just now." knowledge. What would be the "No," said Ernestine, a little use of a doctor who did not un- sternly, “but I will listen if you derstand that silence about his will explain the vague hints which patients' affairs is a matter of you let fall yesterday. You in professional etiquette and sinuated that the preservation of most important one! But, of this secret would affect Dr. Doldy course, this is just the kind of otherwise than by causing him thing which will make it difficult distress. for women to keep a footing in the "And so it would,” replied professions."
Laura, “and if you could take Now this was insolent: and
would ask no quesLaura clenched her little teeth tions and keep your own counsel.' with delight as she said it. But it “That I cannot do," answered had apparent effect upon Ernestine, “I will venture upon