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IT wanted little more than a fortnight to
Christmas; but the weather showed no signs
yet of the frost and snow, conventionally
associated with the coming season. The
atmosphere was unnaturally warm; and the old year
was dying feebly in sapping rain and enervating

Towards the close of the December afternoon,
Magdalen sat alone in the lodging which she had
occupied since her arrival in London. The fire
burnt sluggishly in the narrow little grate; the
view of the wet houses and soaking gardens
opposite was darkening fast; and the bell of the
suburban muffin-boy tinkled in the distance
drearily. Sitting close over the fire, with a little
money lying loose in her lap, Magdalen absently
shifted the coins to and fro on the smooth surface
of her dress; incessantly altering their positions
towards each other, as if they were pieces of a
child's "puzzle" which she was trying to put
together. The dim firelight flaming up on her
faintly from time to time, showed changes which
would have told their own tale sadly to friends
of former days. Her dress had become loose
through the wasting of her figure: but she had
not cared to alter it. The old restlessness in her
movements, the old mobility in her expression,
appeared no more. Her face passively
maintained its haggard composure, its changeless
unnatural calm. Mr. Pendril might have softened
his hard sentence on her, if he had seen
her now; and Mrs. Lecount, in the plenitude of
her triumph, might have pitied her fallen enemy
at last.

Hardly four months had passed, since the
wedding-day at Aldborough; and the penalty
for that day was paid alreadypaid in unavailing
remorse, in hopeless isolation, in irremediable
defeat! Let this be said for her; let
the truth which has been told of the fault, be
told of the expiation as well. Let it be recorded
of her that she enjoyed no secret triumph on the
day of her success. The horror of herself with
which her own act had inspired her, had risen to
its climax when the design of her marriage was
achieved. She had never suffered in secret, as
she suffered when the Combe-Raven money was
left to her in her husband's will. She had never
felt the means taken to accomplish her end so
unutterably degrading to herself, as she felt them
on the day when the end was reached. Out of
that feeling had grown the remorse, which had
hurried her to seek pardon and consolation in
her sister's love. Never since it had first entered
her heart, never since she had first felt it sacred
to her at her father's grave, had the Purpose to
which she had vowed herself, so nearly lost its
hold on her as at this time. Never might Norah's
influence have achieved such good, as on the day
when that influence was lostthe day when the
fatal words were overheard at Miss Garth'sthe
day when the fatal letter from Scotland told of
Mrs. Lecount's revenge.

The harm was done; the chance was gone.
Time and Hope alike, had both passed her by.

Faintly and more faintly, the inner voices now
pleaded with her to pause on the downward way.
The discovery which had poisoned her heart with
its first distrust of her sister; the tidings which
had followed it of her husband's death; the sting
of Mrs. Lecount's triumph, felt through allhad
done their work. The remorse which had
embittered her married life was deadened now to a
dull despair. It was too late to make the atonement
of confessiontoo late to lay bare to the
miserable husband, the deeper secrets that had
once lurked in the heart of the miserable wife.
Innocent of all thought of the hideous treachery
which Mrs. Lecount had imputed to hershe
was guilty of knowing how his health was broken
when she married him; guilty of knowing, when
he left her the Combe-Raven money, that
the accident of a moment, harmless to other
men, might place his life in jeopardy, and effect
her release. His death had told her thishad
told her plainly, what she had shrunk, in his
lifetime, from openly acknowledging to herself.
From the dull torment of that reproach; from
the dreary wretchedness of doubting everybody,
even to Norah herself; from the bitter sense of
her defeated schemes, from the blank solitude of
her friendless lifewhat refuge was left? But
one refuge now. She turned to the relentless
Purpose which was hurrying her to her ruin, and