14. Shirley Seeks to be Saved by Works
'Of course, I know he will marry Shirley,' were her first words when she rose in
the morning. 'And he ought to marry her: she can help him,' she added firmly.
'But I shall be forgotten when they are married,' was the cruel succeeding
thought. 'Oh! I shall be wholly forgotten! And what - what shall I do when Robert
is taken quite from me? Where shall I turn? My Robert! I wish I could justly call
him mine: but I am poverty and incapacity; Shirley is wealth and power: and she
is beauty too, and love - I cannot deny it. This is no sordid suit: she loves him -
not with inferior feelings: she loves, or will love, as he must feel proud to be
loved. Not a valid objection can be made. Let them be married then: but
afterwards I shall be nothing to him. As for being his sister, and all that stuff, I
despise it. I will either be all or nothing to a man like Robert: no feeble shuffling or
false cant is endurable. Once let that pair be united, and I will certainly leave
them. As for lingering about, playing the hypocrite, and pretending to calm
sentiments of friendship, when my soul will be wrung with other feelings, I shall
not descend to such degradation. As little could I fill the place of their mutual
friend as that of their deadly foe: as little could I stand between them as trample
over them. Robert is a first-rate man - in my eyes: I have loved, do love, and
must love him. I would be his wife, if I could; as I cannot, I must go where I shall
never see him. There is but one alternative - to cleave to him as if I were a part of
him, or to be sundered from him wide as the two poles of a sphere. Sunder me
then, Providence. Part us speedily.'
Some such aspirations as these were again working in her mind late in the
afternoon, when the apparition of one of the personages haunting her thoughts
passed the parlour window. Miss Keeldar sauntered slowly by: her gait, her
countenance wearing that mixture of wistfulness and carelessness which, when
quiescent, was the wonted cast of her look, and character of her bearing. When
animated, the carelessness quite vanished, the wistfulness became blent with a
genial gaiety, seasoning the laugh, the smile, the glance, with an unique flavour
of sentiment, so that mirth from her never resembled 'the crackling of thorns
under a pot.'
'What do you mean by not coming to see me this afternoon, as you promised?'
was her address to Caroline as she entered the room.
'I was not in the humour,' replied Miss Helstone, very truly.
Shirley had already fixed on her a penetrating eye.
'No,' she said; 'I see you are not in the humour for loving me: you are in one of
your sunless, inclement moods, when one feels a fellow-creature's presence is
not welcome to you, You have such moods are you aware of it?'
'Do you mean to stay long, Shirley?'
'Yes; I am come to have my tea, and must have it before I go. I shall take the
liberty then of removing my bonnet, without being asked.'
And this she did, and then stood on the rug with her hands behind her.
'A pretty expression you have in your countenance,' she went on, still gazing
keenly, though not inimically, rather indeed pityingly at Caroline. 'Wonderfully