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The Guilty River

12. Warned For The Last Time
My loyalty towards the afflicted man, whose friendly advances I had seen good reason to
return, was in no sense shaken. His undeserved misfortunes, his manly appeal to me at
the spring, his hopeless attachment to the beautiful girl whose aversion towards him I had
unhappily encouraged, all pleaded with me in his favour. I had accepted his invitation;
and I had no other engagement to claim me: it would have been an act of meanness
amounting to a confession of fear, if I had sent an excuse. Still, while Cristel's entreaties
and Cristel's influence had failed to shake me, Gloody's strange language and Gloody's
incomprehensible conduct had troubled my mind. I felt vaguely uneasy; irritated by my
own depression of spirits. If I had been a philosopher, I should have recognized the
symptoms of a very common attack of a very widely-spread moral malady. The meanest
of all human infirmities is also the most universal; and the name of it is Self-esteem.
It is perhaps only right to add that my patience had been tried by the progress of domestic
events, which affected Lady Lena and myself--viewed as victims.
Calling, with my stepmother, at Lord Uppercliff's house later in the day, I perceived that
Lady Rachel and Mrs. Roylake found (or made) an opportunity of talking together
confidentially in a corner; and, once or twice, I caught them looking at Lady Lena and at
me. Even Lord Uppercliff (perhaps not yet taken into their confidence) noticed the
proceedings of the two ladies, and seemed to be at a loss to understand them.
When Mrs. Roylake and I were together again, on our way home, I was prepared to hear
the praise of Lady Lena, followed by a delicate examination into the state of my heart.
Neither of these anticipations was realized. Once more, my clever stepmother had
puzzled me.
Mrs. Roylake talked as fluently as ever; exhausting one common-place subject after
another, without the slightest allusion to my lord's daughter, to my matrimonial prospects,
or to my visits at the mill. I was secretly annoyed, feeling that my stepmother's singular
indifference to domestic interests of paramount importance, at other times, must have
some object in view, entirely beyond the reach of my penetration. If I had dared to
commit such an act of rudeness, I should have jumped out of the carriage, and have told
Mrs. Roylake that I meant to walk home.
The day was Sunday. I loitered about the garden, listening to the distant church-bell
ringing for the afternoon service. Without any cause that I knew of to account for it, I was
so restless that nothing I could do attracted me or quieted me.
Returning to the house, I tried to occupy myself with my collection of insects, sadly
neglected of late. Useless! My own moths failed to interest me.
I went back to the garden. Passing the open window of one of the lower rooms which
looked out on the terrace, I saw Mrs. Roylake reading a book in sad-colored binding. She
 
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