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Page 135

23. XXIII.

Again the two crumbly old women sat and
talked together in the little parlour of the gloomy
house under the poplars, and the two girls sat
above, holding each other by the hand, thoughtful,
and speaking only at intervals.

Alice was unusually sad and silent. The
mists were already gathering over her vision,—
those mists that were to deepen and darken as the
season advanced, until the external world should
be shrouded and finally shut from her view. Already
the landscape began to wear a pale and
sickly hue, as if the sun were withdrawing
farther and farther, and were soon wholly to
disappear, as in a northern winter. But to
brighten this northern winter there now arose
within her a soft, auroral light. Yes, the auroral
light of love, blushing through the whole heaven


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of her thoughts. She had not breathed that
word to herself, nor did she recognize any thrill
of passion in the new emotion she experienced.
But love it was; and it lifted her soul into a
region, which she at once felt was native to it,—
into a subtler ether, which seemed its natural

This feeling, however, was not all exhilaration.
It brought with it its own peculiar languor and
sadness, its fluctuations and swift vicissitudes of
excitement and depression. To this the trivial
circumstances of life contributed. Kavanagh had
met her in the street, and had passed her without
recognition; and, in the bitterness of the
moment, she forgot that she wore a thick veil,
which entirely concealed her face. At an evening
party at Mr. Churchill's, by a kind of fatality,
Kavanagh had stood very near her for a long
time, but with his back turned, conversing with
Miss Hawkins, from whose toils he was, in fact,
though vainly, struggling to extricate himself;
and, in the irritation of supposed neglect, Alice
had said to herself,—

“This is the kind of woman which most
fascinates men!”

But these cruel moments of pain were few


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and short, while those of delight were many and
lasting. In a life so lonely, and with so little
to enliven and embellish it as hers, the guest in
disguise was welcomed with ardor, and entertained
without fear or suspicion. Had he been
feared or suspected, he would have been no
longer dangerous. He came as friendship, where
friendship was most needed; he came as devotion,
where her holy ministrations were always

Somewhat differently had the same passion
come to the heart of Cecilia; for as the heart is,
so is love to the heart. It partakes of its strength
or weakness, its health or disease. In Cecilia,
it but heightened the keen sensation of life.
To all eyes, she became more beautiful, more
radiant, more lovely, though they knew not why.
When she and Kavanagh first met, it was hardly
as strangers meet, but rather as friends long
separated. When they first spoke to each other,
it seemed but as the renewal of some previous
interrupted conversation. Their souls flowed
together at once, without turbulence or agitation,
like waters on the same level. As they found
each other without seeking, so their intercourse
was without affectation and without embarrassment.


Page 138

Thus, while Alice, unconsciously to herself,
desired the love of Kavanagh, Cecilia, as unconsciously,
assumed it as already her own.
Alice keenly felt her own unworthiness; Cecilia
made no comparison of merit. When Kavanagh
was present, Alice was happy, but embarrassed;
Cecilia, joyous and natural. The
former feared she might displease; the latter
divined from the first that she already pleased.
In both, this was the intuition of the heart.

So sat the friends together, as they had done
so many times before. But now, for the first
time, each cherished a secret, which she did not
confide to the other. Daily, for many weeks, the
feathered courier had come and gone from window
to window, but this secret had never been
intrusted to his keeping. Almost daily the
friends had met and talked together, but this
secret had not been told. That could not be
confided to another, which had not been confided
to themselves; that could not be fashioned into
words, which was not yet fashioned into thoughts,
but was still floating, vague and formless, through
the mind. Nay, had it been stated in words,
each, perhaps, would have denied it. The
distinct apparition of this fair spirit, in a visible


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form, would have startled them; though, while
it haunted all the chambers of their souls as an
invisible presence, it gave them only solace and

“How very feverish your hand is, dearest!”
said Cecilia. “What is the matter? Are you

“Those are the very words my mother said
to me this morning,” replied Alice. “I feel
rather languid and tired, that is all. I could not
sleep last night; I never can, when it rains.”

“Did it rain last night? I did not hear it.”

“Yes; about midnight, quite hard. I listened
to it for hours. I love to lie awake, and hear the
drops fall on the roof, and on the leaves. It
throws me into a delicious, dreamy state, which
I like much better than sleep.”

Cecilia looked tenderly at her pale face. Her
eyes were very bright, and on each cheek was
a crimson signal, the sight of which would have
given her mother so much anguish, that, perhaps,
it was better for her to be blind than to see.

“When you enter the land of dreams, Alice,
you come into my peculiar realm. I am the
queen of that country, you know. But, of late,
I have thought of resigning my throne. These


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endless reveries are really a great waste of time
and strength.”

“Do you think so?”

“Yes; and Mr. Kavanagh thinks so, too.
We talked about it the other evening; and afterwards,
upon reflection, I thought he was right.”

And the friends resolved, half in jest and half
in earnest, that, from that day forth, the gate of
their day-dreams should be closed. And closed
it was, ere long;—for one, by the Angel of
Life; for the other, by the Angel of Death!