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A Changed Man and Other Tales by Thomas Hardy

Part 2 out of 6

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She fell into bitter repentance, and kissed him in her anguish.
'Don't say that!' she cried. 'Tell me what to do?'

'If you'll leave me for an hour or two I'll think. Drive to the
market and back--the carriage is at the door--and I'll try to collect
my senses. Dinner can be put back till you return.'

In a few minutes she was dressed, and the carriage bore her up the
hill which divided the village and manor from the market-town.

CHAPTER V

A quarter of an hour brought her into the High Street, and for want
of a more important errand she called at the harness-maker's for a
dog-collar that she required.

It happened to be market-day, and Nicholas, having postponed the
engagements which called him thither to keep the appointment with her
in the Sallows, rushed off at the end of the afternoon to attend to
them as well as he could. Arriving thus in a great hurry on account
of the lateness of the hour, he still retained the wild, amphibious
appearance which had marked him when he came up from the meadows to
her side--an exceptional condition of things which had scarcely ever
before occurred. When she crossed the pavement from the shop door,
the shopman bowing and escorting her to the carriage, Nicholas
chanced to be standing at the road-waggon office, talking to the
master of the waggons. There were a good many people about, and
those near paused and looked at her transit, in the full stroke of
the level October sun, which went under the brims of their hats, and
pierced through their button-holes. From the group she heard
murmured the words: 'Mrs. Nicholas Long.'

The unexpected remark, not without distinct satire in its tone, took
her so greatly by surprise that she was confounded. Nicholas was by
this time nearer, though coming against the sun he had not yet
perceived her. Influenced by her father's lecture, she felt angry
with him for being there and causing this awkwardness. Her notice of
him was therefore slight, supercilious perhaps, slurred over; and her
vexation at his presence showed distinctly in her face as she sat
down in her seat. Instead of catching his waiting eye, she
positively turned her head away.

A moment after she was sorry she had treated him so; but he was gone.

Reaching home she found on her dressing-table a note from her father.
The statement was brief:

I have considered and am of the same opinion. You must marry him.
He can leave home at once and travel as proposed. I have written to
him to this effect. I don't want any victuals, so don't wait dinner
for me.

Nicholas was the wrong kind of man to be blind to his Christine's
mortification, though he did not know its entire cause. He had
lately foreseen something of this sort as possible.

'It serves me right,' he thought, as he trotted homeward. 'It was
absurd--wicked of me to lead her on so. The sacrifice would have
been too great--too cruel!' And yet, though he thus took her part,
he flushed with indignation every time he said to himself, 'She is
ashamed of me!'

On the ridge which overlooked Froom-Everard he met a neighbour of
his--a stock-dealer--in his gig, and they drew rein and exchanged a
few words. A part of the dealer's conversation had much meaning for
Nicholas.

'I've had occasion to call on Squire Everard,' the former said; 'but
he couldn't see me on account of being quite knocked up at some bad
news he has heard.'

Nicholas rode on past Froom-Everard to Elsenford Farm, pondering. He
had new and startling matter for thought as soon as he got there.
The Squire's note had arrived. At first he could not credit its
import; then he saw further, took in the tone of the letter, saw the
writer's contempt behind the words, and understood that the letter
was written as by a man hemmed into a corner. Christine was
defiantly--insultingly--hurled at his head. He was accepted because
he was so despised.

And yet with what respect he had treated her and hers! Now he was
reminded of what an agricultural friend had said years ago, seeing
the eyes of Nicholas fixed on Christine as on an angel when she
passed: 'Better a little fire to warm 'ee than a great one to burn
'ee. No good can come of throwing your heart there.' He went into
the mead, sat down, and asked himself four questions:

1. How could she live near her acquaintance as his wife, even in his
absence, without suffering martyrdom from the stings of their
contempt?

2. Would not this entail total estrangement between Christine and
her family also, and her own consequent misery?

3. Must not such isolation extinguish her affection for him?

4. Supposing that her father rigged them out as colonists and sent
them off to America, was not the effect of such exile upon one of her
gentle nurture likely to be as the last?

In short, whatever they should embark in together would be cruelty to
her, and his death would be a relief. It would, indeed, in one
aspect be a relief to her now, if she were so ashamed of him as she
had appeared to be that day. Were he dead, this little episode with
him would fade away like a dream.

Mr. Everard was a good-hearted man at bottom, but to take his enraged
offer seriously was impossible. Obviously it was hotly made in his
first bitterness at what he had heard. The least thing that he could
do would be to go away and never trouble her more. To travel and
learn and come back in two years, as mapped out in their first
sanguine scheme, required a staunch heart on her side, if the
necessary expenditure of time and money were to be afterwards
justified; and it were folly to calculate on that when he had seen
to-day that her heart was failing her already. To travel and
disappear and not be heard of for many years would be a far more
independent stroke, and it would leave her entirely unfettered.
Perhaps he might rival in this kind the accomplished Mr. Bellston, of
whose journeyings he had heard so much.

He sat and sat, and the fog rose out of the river, enveloping him
like a fleece; first his feet and knees, then his arms and body, and
finally submerging his head. When he had come to a decision he went
up again into the homestead. He would be independent, if he died for
it, and he would free Christine. Exile was the only course. The
first step was to inform his uncle of his determination.

Two days later Nicholas was on the same spot in the mead, at almost
the same hour of eve. But there was no fog now; a blusterous autumn
wind had ousted the still, golden days and misty nights; and he was
going, full of purpose, in the opposite direction. When he had last
entered the mead he was an inhabitant of the Froom valley; in forty-
eight hours he had severed himself from that spot as completely as if
he had never belonged to it. All that appertained to him in the
Froom valley now was circumscribed by the portmanteau in his hand.

In making his preparations for departure he had unconsciously held a
faint, foolish hope that she would communicate with him and make up
their estrangement in some soft womanly way. But she had given no
signal, and it was too evident to him that her latest mood had grown
to be her fixed one, proving how well founded had been his impulse to
set her free.

He entered the Sallows, found his way in the dark to the garden-door
of the house, slipped under it a note to tell her of his departure,
and explaining its true reason to be a consciousness of her growing
feeling that he was an encumbrance and a humiliation. Of the
direction of his journey and of the date of his return he said
nothing.

His course now took him into the high road, which he pursued for some
miles in a north-easterly direction, still spinning the thread of sad
inferences, and asking himself why he should ever return. At
daybreak he stood on the hill above Shottsford-Forum, and awaited a
coach which passed about this time along that highway towards
Melchester and London.

CHAPTER VI

Some fifteen years after the date of the foregoing incidents, a man
who had dwelt in far countries, and viewed many cities, arrived at
Roy-Town, a roadside hamlet on the old western turnpike road, not
five miles from Froom-Everard, and put up at the Buck's Head, an
isolated inn at that spot. He was still barely of middle age, but it
could be seen that a haze of grey was settling upon the locks of his
hair, and that his face had lost colour and curve, as if by exposure
to bleaching climates and strange atmospheres, or from ailments
incidental thereto. He seemed to observe little around him, by
reason of the intrusion of his musings upon the scene. In truth
Nicholas Long was just now the creature of old hopes and fears
consequent upon his arrival--this man who once had not cared if his
name were blotted out from that district. The evening light showed
wistful lines which he could not smooth away by the worldling's gloss
of nonchalance that he had learnt to fling over his face.

The Buck's Head was a somewhat unusual place for a man of this sort
to choose as a house of sojourn in preference to some Casterbridge
inn four miles further on. Before he left home it had been a lively
old tavern at which High-flyers, and Heralds, and Tally-hoes had
changed horses on their stages up and down the country; but now the
house was rather cavernous and chilly, the stable-roofs were hollow-
backed, the landlord was asthmatic, and the traffic gone.

He arrived in the afternoon, and when he had sent back the fly and
was having a nondescript meal, he put a question to the waiting-maid
with a mien of indifference.

'Squire Everard, of Froom-Everard Manor, has been dead some years, I
believe?'

She replied in the affirmative.

'And are any of the family left there still?'

'O no, bless you, sir! They sold the place years ago--Squire
Everard's son did--and went away. I've never heard where they went
to. They came quite to nothing.'

'Never heard anything of the young lady--the Squire's daughter?'

'No. You see 'twas before I came to these parts.'

When the waitress left the room, Nicholas pushed aside his plate and
gazed out of the window. He was not going over into the Froom Valley
altogether on Christine's account, but she had greatly animated his
motive in coming that way. Anyhow he would push on there now that he
was so near, and not ask questions here where he was liable to be
wrongly informed. The fundamental inquiry he had not ventured to
make--whether Christine had married before the family went away. He
had abstained because of an absurd dread of extinguishing hopeful
surmise. That the Everards had left their old home was bad enough
intelligence for one day.

Rising from the table he put on his hat and went out, ascending
towards the upland which divided this district from his native vale.
The first familiar feature that met his eye was a little spot on the
distant sky--a clump of trees standing on a barrow which surmounted a
yet more remote upland--a point where, in his childhood, he had
believed people could stand and see America. He reached the further
verge of the plateau on which he had entered. Ah, there was the
valley--a greenish-grey stretch of colour--still looking placid and
serene, as though it had not much missed him. If Christine was no
longer there, why should he pause over it this evening? His uncle
and aunt were dead, and to-morrow would be soon enough to inquire for
remoter relatives. Thus, disinclined to go further, he turned to
retrace his way to the inn.

In the backward path he now perceived the figure of a woman, who had
been walking at a distance behind him; and as she drew nearer he
began to be startled. Surely, despite the variations introduced into
that figure by changing years, its ground-lines were those of
Christine?

Nicholas had been sentimental enough to write to Christine
immediately on landing at Southampton a day or two before this,
addressing his letter at a venture to the old house, and merely
telling her that he planned to reach the Roy-Town inn on the present
afternoon. The news of the scattering of the Everards had dissipated
his hope of hearing of her; but here she was.

So they met--there, alone, on the open down by a pond, just as if the
meeting had been carefully arranged.

She threw up her veil. She was still beautiful, though the years had
touched her; a little more matronly--much more homely. Or was it
only that he was much less homely now--a man of the world--the sense
of homeliness being relative? Her face had grown to be pre-eminently
of the sort that would be called interesting. Her habiliments were
of a demure and sober cast, though she was one who had used to dress
so airily and so gaily. Years had laid on a few shadows too in this.

'I received your letter,' she said, when the momentary embarrassment
of their first approach had passed. 'And I thought I would walk
across the hills to-day, as it was fine. I have just called at the
inn, and they told me you were out. I was now on my way homeward.'

He hardly listened to this, though he intently gazed at her.
'Christine,' he said, 'one word. Are you free?'

'I--I am in a certain sense,' she replied, colouring.

The announcement had a magical effect. The intervening time between
past and present closed up for him, and moved by an impulse which he
had combated for fifteen years, he seized her two hands and drew her
towards him.

She started back, and became almost a mere acquaintance. 'I have to
tell you,' she gasped, 'that I have--been married.'

Nicholas's rose-coloured dream was immediately toned down to a
greyish tinge.

'I did not marry till many years after you had left,' she continued
in the humble tones of one confessing to a crime. 'Oh Nic,' she
cried reproachfully, 'how could you stay away so long?'

'Whom did you marry?'

'Mr. Bellston.'

'I--ought to have expected it.' He was going to add, 'And is he
dead?' but he checked himself. Her dress unmistakably suggested
widowhood; and she had said she was free.

'I must now hasten home,' said she. 'I felt that, considering my
shortcomings at our parting so many years ago, I owed you the
initiative now.'

'There is some of your old generosity in that. I'll walk with you,
if I may. Where are you living, Christine?'

'In the same house, but not on the old conditions. I have part of it
on lease; the farmer now tenanting the premises found the whole more
than he wanted, and the owner allowed me to keep what rooms I chose.
I am poor now, you know, Nicholas, and almost friendless. My brother
sold the Froom-Everard estate when it came to him, and the person who
bought it turned our home into a farmhouse. Till my father's death
my husband and I lived in the manor-house with him, so that I have
never lived away from the spot.'

She was poor. That, and the change of name, sufficiently accounted
for the inn-servant's ignorance of her continued existence within the
walls of her old home.

It was growing dusk, and he still walked with her. A woman's head
arose from the declivity before them, and as she drew nearer,
Christine asked him to go back.

'This is the wife of the farmer who shares the house,' she said.
'She is accustomed to come out and meet me whenever I walk far and am
benighted. I am obliged to walk everywhere now.'

The farmer's wife, seeing that Christine was not alone, paused in her
advance, and Nicholas said, 'Dear Christine, if you are obliged to do
these things, I am not, and what wealth I can command you may command
likewise. They say rolling stones gather no moss; but they gather
dross sometimes. I was one of the pioneers to the gold-fields, you
know, and made a sufficient fortune there for my wants. What is
more, I kept it. When I had done this I was coming home, but hearing
of my uncle's death I changed my plan, travelled, speculated, and
increased my fortune. Now, before we part: you remember you stood
with me at the altar once, and therefore I speak with less
preparation than I should otherwise use. Before we part then I ask,
shall another again intrude between us? Or shall we complete the
union we began?'

She trembled--just as she had done at that very minute of standing
with him in the church, to which he had recalled her mind. 'I will
not enter into that now, dear Nicholas,' she replied. 'There will be
more to talk of and consider first--more to explain, which it would
have spoiled this meeting to have entered into now.'

'Yes, yes; but--'

'Further than the brief answer I first gave, Nic, don't press me to-
night. I still have the old affection for you, or I should not have
sought you. Let that suffice for the moment.'

'Very well, dear one. And when shall I call to see you?'

'I will write and fix an hour. I will tell you everything of my
history then.'

And thus they parted, Nicholas feeling that he had not come here
fruitlessly. When she and her companion were out of sight he
retraced his steps to Roy-Town, where he made himself as comfortable
as he could in the deserted old inn of his boyhood's days. He missed
her companionship this evening more than he had done at any time
during the whole fifteen years; and it was as though instead of
separation there had been constant communion with her throughout that
period. The tones of her voice had stirred his heart in a nook which
had lain stagnant ever since he last heard them. They recalled the
woman to whom he had once lifted his eyes as to a goddess. Her
announcement that she had been another's came as a little shock to
him, and he did not now lift his eyes to her in precisely the same
way as he had lifted them at first. But he forgave her for marrying
Bellston; what could he expect after fifteen years?

He slept at Roy-Town that night, and in the morning there was a short
note from her, repeating more emphatically her statement of the
previous evening--that she wished to inform him clearly of her
circumstances, and to calmly consider with him the position in which
she was placed. Would he call upon her on Sunday afternoon, when she
was sure to be alone?

'Nic,' she wrote on, 'what a cosmopolite you are! I expected to find
my old yeoman still; but I was quite awed in the presence of such a
citizen of the world. Did I seem rusty and unpractised? Ah--you
seemed so once to me!'

Tender playful words; the old Christine was in them. She said Sunday
afternoon, and it was now only Saturday morning. He wished she had
said to-day; that short revival of her image had vitalized to sudden
heat feelings that had almost been stilled. Whatever she might have
to explain as to her position--and it was awkwardly narrowed, no
doubt--he could not give her up. Miss Everard or Mrs. Bellston, what
mattered it?--she was the same Christine.

He did not go outside the inn all Saturday. He had no wish to see or
do anything but to await the coming interview. So he smoked, and
read the local newspaper of the previous week, and stowed himself in
the chimney-corner. In the evening he felt that he could remain
indoors no longer, and the moon being near the full, he started from
the inn on foot in the same direction as that of yesterday, with the
view of contemplating the old village and its precincts, and hovering
round her house under the cloak of night.

With a stout stick in his hand he climbed over the five miles of
upland in a comparatively short space of time. Nicholas had seen
many strange lands and trodden many strange ways since he last walked
that path, but as he trudged he seemed wonderfully like his old self,
and had not the slightest difficulty in finding the way. In
descending to the meads the streams perplexed him a little, some of
the old foot-bridges having been removed; but he ultimately got
across the larger water-courses, and pushed on to the village,
avoiding her residence for the moment, lest she should encounter him,
and think he had not respected the time of her appointment.

He found his way to the churchyard, and first ascertained where lay
the two relations he had left alive at his departure; then he
observed the gravestones of other inhabitants with whom he had been
well acquainted, till by degrees he seemed to be in the society of
all the elder Froom-Everard population, as he had known the place.
Side by side as they had lived in his day here were they now. They
had moved house in mass.

But no tomb of Mr. Bellston was visible, though, as he had lived at
the manor-house, it would have been natural to find it here. In
truth Nicholas was more anxious to discover that than anything, being
curious to know how long he had been dead. Seeing from the glimmer
of a light in the church that somebody was there cleaning for Sunday
he entered, and looked round upon the walls as well as he could. But
there was no monument to her husband, though one had been erected to
the Squire.

Nicholas addressed the young man who was sweeping. 'I don't see any
monument or tomb to the late Mr. Bellston?'

'O no, sir; you won't see that,' said the young man drily.

'Why, pray?'

'Because he's not buried here. He's not Christian-buried anywhere,
as far as we know. In short, perhaps he's not buried at all; and
between ourselves, perhaps he's alive.'

Nicholas sank an inch shorter. 'Ah,' he answered.

'Then you don't know the peculiar circumstances, sir?'

'I am a stranger here--as to late years.'

'Mr. Bellston was a traveller--an explorer--it was his calling; you
may have heard his name as such?'

'I remember.' Nicholas recalled the fact that this very bent of Mr.
Bellston's was the incentive to his own roaming.

'Well, when he married he came and lived here with his wife and his
wife's father, and said he would travel no more. But after a time he
got weary of biding quiet here, and weary of her--he was not a good
husband to the young lady by any means--and he betook himself again
to his old trick of roving--with her money. Away he went, quite out
of the realm of human foot, into the bowels of Asia, and never was
heard of more. He was murdered, it is said, but nobody knows; though
as that was nine years ago he's dead enough in principle, if not in
corporation. His widow lives quite humble, for between her husband
and her brother she's left in very lean pasturage.'

Nicholas went back to the Buck's Head without hovering round her
dwelling. This then was the explanation which she had wanted to
make. Not dead, but missing. How could he have expected that the
first fair promise of happiness held out to him would remain
untarnished? She had said that she was free; and legally she was
free, no doubt. Moreover, from her tone and manner he felt himself
justified in concluding that she would be willing to run the risk of
a union with him, in the improbability of her husband's existence.
Even if that husband lived, his return was not a likely event, to
judge from his character. A man who could spend her money on his own
personal adventures would not be anxious to disturb her poverty after
such a lapse of time.

Well, the prospect was not so unclouded as it had seemed. But could
he, even now, give up Christine?

CHAPTER VII

Two months more brought the year nearly to a close, and found
Nicholas Long tenant of a spacious house in the market-town nearest
to Froom-Everard. A man of means, genial character, and a bachelor,
he was an object of great interest to his neighbours, and to his
neighbours' wives and daughters. But he took little note of this,
and had made it his business to go twice a week, no matter what the
weather, to the now farmhouse at Froom-Everard, a wing of which had
been retained as the refuge of Christine. He always walked, to give
no trouble in putting up a horse to a housekeeper whose staff was
limited.

The two had put their heads together on the situation, had gone to a
solicitor, had balanced possibilities, and had resolved to make the
plunge of matrimony. 'Nothing venture, nothing have,' Christine had
said, with some of her old audacity.

With almost gratuitous honesty they had let their intentions be
widely known. Christine, it is true, had rather shrunk from
publicity at first; but Nicholas argued that their boldness in this
respect would have good results. With his friends he held that there
was not the slightest probability of her being other than a widow,
and a challenge to the missing man now, followed by no response,
would stultify any unpleasant remarks which might be thrown at her
after their union. To this end a paragraph was inserted in the
Wessex papers, announcing that their marriage was proposed to be
celebrated on such and such a day in December.

His periodic walks along the south side of the valley to visit her
were among the happiest experiences of his life. The yellow leaves
falling around him in the foreground, the well-watered meads on the
left hand, and the woman he loved awaiting him at the back of the
scene, promised a future of much serenity, as far as human judgment
could foresee. On arriving, he would sit with her in the 'parlour'
of the wing she retained, her general sitting-room, where the only
relics of her early surroundings were an old clock from the other end
of the house, and her own piano. Before it was quite dark they would
stand, hand in hand, looking out of the window across the flat turf
to the dark clump of trees which hid further view from their eyes.

'Do you wish you were still mistress here, dear?' he once said.

'Not at all,' said she cheerfully. 'I have a good enough room, and a
good enough fire, and a good enough friend. Besides, my latter days
as mistress of the house were not happy ones, and they spoilt the
place for me. It was a punishment for my faithlessness. Nic, you do
forgive me? Really you do?'

The twenty-third of December, the eve of the wedding-day, had arrived
at last in the train of such uneventful ones as these. Nicholas had
arranged to visit her that day a little later than usual, and see
that everything was ready with her for the morrow's event and her
removal to his house; for he had begun to look after her domestic
affairs, and to lighten as much as possible the duties of her
housekeeping.

He was to come to an early supper, which she had arranged to take the
place of a wedding-breakfast next day--the latter not being feasible
in her present situation. An hour or so after dark the wife of the
farmer who lived in the other part of the house entered Christine's
parlour to lay the cloth.

'What with getting the ham skinned, and the black-puddings hotted
up,' she said, 'it will take me all my time before he's here, if I
begin this minute.'

'I'll lay the table myself,' said Christine, jumping up. 'Do you
attend to the cooking.'

'Thank you, ma'am. And perhaps 'tis no matter, seeing that it is the
last night you'll have to do such work. I knew this sort of life
wouldn't last long for 'ee, being born to better things.'

'It has lasted rather long, Mrs. Wake. And if he had not found me
out it would have lasted all my days.'

'But he did find you out.'

'He did. And I'll lay the cloth immediately.'

Mrs. Wake went back to the kitchen, and Christine began to bustle
about. She greatly enjoyed preparing this table for Nicholas and
herself with her own hands. She took artistic pleasure in adjusting
each article to its position, as if half an inch error were a point
of high importance. Finally she placed the two candles where they
were to stand, and sat down by the fire.

Mrs. Wake re-entered and regarded the effect. 'Why not have another
candle or two, ma'am?' she said. ''Twould make it livelier. Say
four.'

'Very well,' said Christine, and four candles were lighted.
'Really,' she added, surveying them, 'I have been now so long
accustomed to little economies that they look quite extravagant.'

'Ah, you'll soon think nothing of forty in his grand new house!
Shall I bring in supper directly he comes, ma'am?'

'No, not for half an hour; and, Mrs. Wake, you and Betsy are busy in
the kitchen, I know; so when he knocks don't disturb yourselves; I
can let him in.'

She was again left alone, and, as it still wanted some time to
Nicholas's appointment, she stood by the fire, looking at herself in
the glass over the mantel. Reflectively raising a lock of her hair
just above her temple she uncovered a small scar. That scar had a
history. The terrible temper of her late husband--those sudden moods
of irascibility which had made even his friendly excitements look
like anger--had once caused him to set that mark upon her with the
bezel of a ring he wore. He declared that the whole thing was an
accident. She was a woman, and kept her own opinion.

Christine then turned her back to the glass and scanned the table and
the candles, shining one at each corner like types of the four
Evangelists, and thought they looked too assuming--too confident.
She glanced up at the clock, which stood also in this room, there not
being space enough for it in the passage. It was nearly seven, and
she expected Nicholas at half-past. She liked the company of this
venerable article in her lonely life: its tickings and whizzings
were a sort of conversation. It now began to strike the hour. At
the end something grated slightly. Then, without any warning, the
clock slowly inclined forward and fell at full length upon the floor.

The crash brought the farmer's wife rushing into the room. Christine
had well-nigh sprung out of her shoes. Mrs. Wake's enquiry what had
happened was answered by the evidence of her own eyes.

'How did it occur?' she said.

'I cannot say; it was not firmly fixed, I suppose. Dear me, how
sorry I am! My dear father's hall-clock! And now I suppose it is
ruined.'

Assisted by Mrs. Wake, she lifted the clock. Every inch of glass
was, of course, shattered, but very little harm besides appeared to
be done. They propped it up temporarily, though it would not go
again.

Christine had soon recovered her composure, but she saw that Mrs.
Wake was gloomy. 'What does it mean, Mrs. Wake?' she said. 'Is it
ominous?'

'It is a sign of a violent death in the family.'

'Don't talk of it. I don't believe such things; and don't mention it
to Mr. Long when he comes. HE'S not in the family yet, you know.'

'O no, it cannot refer to him,' said Mrs. Wake musingly.

'Some remote cousin, perhaps,' observed Christine, no less willing to
humour her than to get rid of a shapeless dread which the incident
had caused in her own mind. 'And--supper is almost ready, Mrs.
Wake?'

'In three-quarters of an hour.'

Mrs. Wake left the room, and Christine sat on. Though it still
wanted fifteen minutes to the hour at which Nicholas had promised to
be there, she began to grow impatient. After the accustomed ticking
the dead silence was oppressive. But she had not to wait so long as
she had expected; steps were heard approaching the door, and there
was a knock.

Christine was already there to open it. The entrance had no lamp,
but it was not particularly dark out of doors. She could see the
outline of a man, and cried cheerfully, 'You are early; it is very
good of you.'

'I beg pardon. It is not Mr. Bellston himself--only a messenger with
his bag and great-coat. But he will be here soon.'

The voice was not the voice of Nicholas, and the intelligence was
strange. 'I--I don't understand. Mr. Bellston?' she faintly
replied.

'Yes, ma'am. A gentleman--a stranger to me--gave me these things at
Casterbridge station to bring on here, and told me to say that Mr.
Bellston had arrived there, and is detained for half-an-hour, but
will be here in the course of the evening.'

She sank into a chair. The porter put a small battered portmanteau
on the floor, the coat on a chair, and looking into the room at the
spread table said, 'If you are disappointed, ma'am, that your husband
(as I s'pose he is) is not come, I can assure you he'll soon be here.
He's stopped to get a shave, to my thinking, seeing he wanted it.
What he said was that I could tell you he had heard the news in
Ireland, and would have come sooner, his hand being forced; but was
hindered crossing by the weather, having took passage in a sailing
vessel. What news he meant he didn't say.'

'Ah, yes,' she faltered. It was plain that the man knew nothing of
her intended re-marriage.

Mechanically rising and giving him a shilling, she answered to his
'good-night,' and he withdrew, the beat of his footsteps lessening in
the distance. She was alone; but in what a solitude.

Christine stood in the middle of the hall, just as the man had left
her, in the gloomy silence of the stopped clock within the adjoining
room, till she aroused herself, and turning to the portmanteau and
great-coat brought them to the light of the candles, and examined
them. The portmanteau bore painted upon it the initials 'J. B.' in
white letters--the well-known initials of her husband.

She examined the great-coat. In the breast-pocket was an empty
spirit flask, which she firmly fancied she recognized as the one she
had filled many times for him when he was living at home with her.

She turned desultorily hither and thither, until she heard another
tread without, and there came a second knocking at the door. She did
not respond to it; and Nicholas--for it was he--thinking that he was
not heard by reason of a concentration on to-morrow's proceedings,
opened the door softly, and came on to the door of her room, which
stood unclosed, just as it had been left by the Casterbridge porter.

Nicholas uttered a blithe greeting, cast his eye round the parlour,
which with its tall candles, blazing fire, snow-white cloth, and
prettily-spread table, formed a cheerful spectacle enough for a man
who had been walking in the dark for an hour.

'My bride--almost, at last!' he cried, encircling her with his arms.

Instead of responding, her figure became limp, frigid, heavy; her
head fell back, and he found that she had fainted.

It was natural, he thought. She had had many little worrying matters
to attend to, and but slight assistance. He ought to have seen more
effectually to her affairs; the closeness of the event had over-
excited her. Nicholas kissed her unconscious face--more than once,
little thinking what news it was that had changed its aspect. Loth
to call Mrs. Wake, he carried Christine to a couch and laid her down.
This had the effect of reviving her. Nicholas bent and whispered in
her ear, 'Lie quiet, dearest, no hurry; and dream, dream, dream of
happy days. It is only I. You will soon be better.' He held her by
the hand.

'No, no, no!' she said, with a stare. 'O, how can this be?'

Nicholas was alarmed and perplexed, but the disclosure was not long
delayed. When she had sat up, and by degrees made the stunning event
known to him, he stood as if transfixed.

'Ah--is it so?' said he. Then, becoming quite meek, 'And why was he
so cruel as to--delay his return till now?'

She dutifully recited the explanation her husband had given her
through the messenger; but her mechanical manner of telling it showed
how much she doubted its truth. It was too unlikely that his arrival
at such a dramatic moment should not be a contrived surprise, quite
of a piece with his previous dealings towards her.

'But perhaps it may be true--and he may have become kind now--not as
he used to be,' she faltered. 'Yes, perhaps, Nicholas, he is an
altered man--we'll hope he is. I suppose I ought not to have
listened to my legal advisers, and assumed his death so surely!
Anyhow, I am roughly received back into--the right way!'

Nicholas burst out bitterly: 'O what too, too honest fools we were!-
-to so court daylight upon our intention by putting that announcement
in the papers! Why could we not have married privately, and gone
away, so that he would never have known what had become of you, even
if he had returned? Christine, he has done it to . . . But I'll say
no more. Of course we--might fly now.'

'No, no; we might not,' said she hastily.

'Very well. But this is hard to bear! "When I looked for good then
evil came unto me, and when I waited for light there came darkness."
So once said a sorely tried man in the land of Uz, and so say I now!
. . . I wonder if he is almost here at this moment?'

She told him she supposed Bellston was approaching by the path across
the fields, having sent on his great-coat, which he would not want
walking.

'And is this meal laid for him, or for me?'

'It was laid for you.'

'And it will be eaten by him?'

'Yes.'

'Christine, are you SURE that he is come, or have you been sleeping
over the fire and dreaming it?'

She pointed anew to the portmanteau with the initials 'J. B.,' and to
the coat beside it.

'Well, good-bye--good-bye! Curse that parson for not marrying us
fifteen years ago!'

It is unnecessary to dwell further upon that parting. There are
scenes wherein the words spoken do not even approximate to the level
of the mental communion between the actors. Suffice it to say that
part they did, and quickly; and Nicholas, more dead than alive, went
out of the house homewards.

Why had he ever come back? During his absence he had not cared for
Christine as he cared now. If he had been younger he might have felt
tempted to descend into the meads instead of keeping along their
edge. The Froom was down there, and he knew of quiet pools in that
stream to which death would come easily. But he was too old to put
an end to himself for such a reason as love; and another thought,
too, kept him from seriously contemplating any desperate act. His
affection for her was strongly protective, and in the event of her
requiring a friend's support in future troubles there was none but
himself left in the world to afford it. So he walked on.

Meanwhile Christine had resigned herself to circumstances. A resolve
to continue worthy of her history and of her family lent her heroism
and dignity. She called Mrs. Wake, and explained to that worthy
woman as much of what had occurred as she deemed necessary. Mrs.
Wake was too amazed to reply; she retreated slowly, her lips parted;
till at the door she said with a dry mouth, 'And the beautiful
supper, ma'am?'

'Serve it when he comes.'

'When Mr. Bellston--yes, ma'am, I will.' She still stood gazing, as
if she could hardly take in the order.

'That will do, Mrs. Wake. I am much obliged to you for all your
kindness.' And Christine was left alone again, and then she wept.

She sat down and waited. That awful silence of the stopped clock
began anew, but she did not mind it now. She was listening for a
footfall in a state of mental tensity which almost took away from her
the power of motion. It seemed to her that the natural interval for
her husband's journey thither must have expired; but she was not
sure, and waited on.

Mrs. Wake again came in. 'You have not rung for supper--'

'He is not yet come, Mrs. Wake. If you want to go to bed, bring in
the supper and set it on the table. It will be nearly as good cold.
Leave the door unbarred.'

Mrs. Wake did as was suggested, made up the fire, and went away.
Shortly afterwards Christine heard her retire to her chamber. But
Christine still sat on, and still her husband postponed his entry.

She aroused herself once or twice to freshen the fire, but was
ignorant how the night was going. Her watch was upstairs and she did
not make the effort to go up to consult it. In her seat she
continued; and still the supper waited, and still he did not come.

At length she was so nearly persuaded that the arrival of his things
must have been a dream after all, that she again went over to them,
felt them, and examined them. His they unquestionably were; and
their forwarding by the porter had been quite natural. She sighed
and sat down again.

Presently she fell into a doze, and when she again became conscious
she found that the four candles had burnt into their sockets and gone
out. The fire still emitted a feeble shine. Christine did not take
the trouble to get more candles, but stirred the fire and sat on.

After a long period she heard a creaking of the chamber floor and
stairs at the other end of the house, and knew that the farmer's
family were getting up. By-and-by Mrs. Wake entered the room, candle
in hand, bouncing open the door in her morning manner, obviously
without any expectation of finding a person there.

'Lord-a-mercy! What, sitting here again, ma'am?'

'Yes, I am sitting here still.'

'You've been there ever since last night?'

'Yes.'

'Then--'

'He's not come.'

'Well, he won't come at this time o' morning,' said the farmer's
wife. 'Do 'ee get on to bed, ma'am. You must be shrammed to death!'

It occurred to Christine now that possibly her husband had thought
better of obtruding himself upon her company within an hour of
revealing his existence to her, and had decided to pay a more formal
visit next day. She therefore adopted Mrs. Wake's suggestion and
retired.

CHAPTER VIII

Nicholas had gone straight home, neither speaking to nor seeing a
soul. From that hour a change seemed to come over him. He had ever
possessed a full share of self-consciousness; he had been readily
piqued, had shown an unusual dread of being personally obtrusive.
But now his sense of self, as an individual provoking opinion,
appeared to leave him. When, therefore, after a day or two of
seclusion, he came forth again, and the few acquaintances he had
formed in the town condoled with him on what had happened, and pitied
his haggard looks, he did not shrink from their regard as he would
have done formerly, but took their sympathy as it would have been
accepted by a child.

It reached his ears that Bellston had not appeared on the evening of
his arrival at any hotel in the town or neighbourhood, or entered his
wife's house at all. 'That's a part of his cruelty,' thought
Nicholas. And when two or three days had passed, and still no
account came to him of Bellston having joined her, he ventured to set
out for Froom-Everard.

Christine was so shaken that she was obliged to receive him as she
lay on a sofa, beside the square table which was to have borne their
evening feast. She fixed her eyes wistfully upon him, and smiled a
sad smile.

'He has not come?' said Nicholas under his breath.

'He has not.'

Then Nicholas sat beside her, and they talked on general topics
merely like saddened old friends. But they could not keep away the
subject of Bellston, their voices dropping as it forced its way in.
Christine, no less than Nicholas, knowing her husband's character,
inferred that, having stopped her game, as he would have phrased it,
he was taking things leisurely, and, finding nothing very attractive
in her limited mode of living, was meaning to return to her only when
he had nothing better to do.

The bolt which laid low their hopes had struck so recently that they
could hardly look each other in the face when speaking that day. But
when a week or two had passed, and all the horizon still remained as
vacant of Bellston as before, Nicholas and she could talk of the
event with calm wonderment. Why had he come, to go again like this?

And then there set in a period of resigned surmise, during which

So like, so very like, was day to day,

that to tell of one of them is to tell of all. Nicholas would arrive
between three and four in the afternoon, a faint trepidation
influencing his walk as he neared her door. He would knock; she
would always reply in person, having watched for him from the window.
Then he would whisper--'He has not come?'

'He has not,' she would say.

Nicholas would enter then, and she being ready bonneted, they would
walk into the Sallows together as far as to the spot which they had
frequently made their place of appointment in their youthful days. A
plank bridge, which Bellston had caused to be thrown over the stream
during his residence with her in the manor-house, was now again
removed, and all was just the same as in Nicholas's time, when he had
been accustomed to wade across on the edge of the cascade and come up
to her like a merman from the deep. Here on the felled trunk, which
still lay rotting in its old place, they would now sit, gazing at the
descending sheet of water, with its never-ending sarcastic hiss at
their baffled attempts to make themselves one flesh. Returning to
the house they would sit down together to tea, after which, and the
confidential chat that accompanied it, he walked home by the
declining light. This proceeding became as periodic as an
astronomical recurrence. Twice a week he came--all through that
winter, all through the spring following, through the summer, through
the autumn, the next winter, the next year, and the next, till an
appreciable span of human life had passed by. Bellston still
tarried.

Years and years Nic walked that way, at this interval of three days,
from his house in the neighbouring town; and in every instance the
aforesaid order of things was customary; and still on his arrival the
form of words went on--'He has not come?'

'He has not.'

So they grew older. The dim shape of that third one stood
continually between them; they could not displace it; neither, on the
other hand, could it effectually part them. They were in close
communion, yet not indissolubly united; lovers, yet never growing
cured of love. By the time that the fifth year of Nic's visiting had
arrived, on about the five-hundredth occasion of his presence at her
tea-table, he noticed that the bleaching process which had begun upon
his own locks was also spreading to hers. He told her so, and they
laughed. Yet she was in good health: a condition of suspense, which
would have half-killed a man, had been endured by her without
complaint, and even with composure.

One day, when these years of abeyance had numbered seven, they had
strolled as usual as far as the waterfall, whose faint roar formed a
sort of calling voice sufficient in the circumstances to direct their
listlessness. Pausing there, he looked up at her face and said, 'Why
should we not try again, Christine? We are legally at liberty to do
so now. Nothing venture nothing have.'

But she would not. Perhaps a little primness of idea was by this
time ousting the native daring of Christine. 'What he has done once
he can do twice,' she said. 'He is not dead, and if we were to marry
he would say we had "forced his hand," as he said before, and duly
reappear.'

Some years after, when Christine was about fifty, and Nicholas fifty-
three, a new trouble of a minor kind arrived. He found an
inconvenience in traversing the distance between their two houses,
particularly in damp weather, the years he had spent in trying
climates abroad having sown the seeds of rheumatism, which made a
journey undesirable on inclement days, even in a carriage. He told
her of this new difficulty, as he did of everything.

'If you could live nearer,' suggested she.

Unluckily there was no house near. But Nicholas, though not a
millionaire, was a man of means; he obtained a small piece of ground
on lease at the nearest spot to her home that it could be so
obtained, which was on the opposite brink of the Froom, this river
forming the boundary of the Froom-Everard manor; and here he built a
cottage large enough for his wants. This took time, and when he got
into it he found its situation a great comfort to him. He was not
more than five hundred yards from her now, and gained a new pleasure
in feeling that all sounds which greeted his ears, in the day or in
the night, also fell upon hers--the caw of a particular rook, the
voice of a neighbouring nightingale, the whistle of a local breeze,
or the purl of the fall in the meadows, whose rush was a material
rendering of Time's ceaseless scour over themselves, wearing them
away without uniting them.

Christine's missing husband was taking shape as a myth among the
surrounding residents; but he was still believed in as corporeally
imminent by Christine herself, and also, in a milder degree, by
Nicholas. For a curious unconsciousness of the long lapse of time
since his revelation of himself seemed to affect the pair. There had
been no passing events to serve as chronological milestones, and the
evening on which she had kept supper waiting for him still loomed out
with startling nearness in their retrospects.

In the seventeenth pensive year of this their parallel march towards
the common bourne, a labourer came in a hurry one day to Nicholas's
house and brought strange tidings. The present owner of Froom-
Everard--a non-resident--had been improving his property in sundry
ways, and one of these was by dredging the stream which, in the
course of years, had become choked with mud and weeds in its passage
through the Sallows. The process necessitated a reconstruction of
the waterfall. When the river had been pumped dry for this purpose,
the skeleton of a man had been found jammed among the piles
supporting the edge of the fall. Every particle of his flesh and
clothing had been eaten by fishes or abraded to nothing by the water,
but the relics of a gold watch remained, and on the inside of the
case was engraved the name of the maker of her husband's watch, which
she well remembered.

Nicholas, deeply agitated, hastened down to the place and examined
the remains attentively, afterwards going across to Christine, and
breaking the discovery to her. She would not come to view the
skeleton, which lay extended on the grass, not a finger or toe-bone
missing, so neatly had the aquatic operators done their work.
Conjecture was directed to the question how Bellston had got there;
and conjecture alone could give an explanation.

It was supposed that, on his way to call upon her, he had taken a
short cut through the grounds, with which he was naturally very
familiar, and coming to the fall under the trees had expected to find
there the plank which, during his occupancy of the premises with
Christine and her father, he had placed there for crossing into the
meads on the other side instead of wading across as Nicholas had
done. Before discovering its removal he had probably overbalanced
himself, and was thus precipitated into the cascade, the piles
beneath the descending current wedging him between them like the
prongs of a pitchfork, and effectually preventing the rising of his
body, over which the weeds grew. Such was the reasonable supposition
concerning the discovery; but proof was never forthcoming.

'To think,' said Nicholas, when the remains had been decently
interred, and he was again sitting with Christine--though not beside
the waterfall--'to think how we visited him! How we sat over him,
hours and hours, gazing at him, bewailing our fate, when all the time
he was ironically hissing at us from the spot, in an unknown tongue,
that we could marry if we chose!'

She echoed the sentiment with a sigh.

'I have strange fancies,' she said. 'I suppose it MUST have been my
husband who came back, and not some other man.'

Nicholas felt that there was little doubt. 'Besides--the skeleton,'
he said.

'Yes . . . If it could not have been another person's--but no, of
course it was he.'

'You might have married me on the day we had fixed, and there would
have been no impediment. You would now have been seventeen years my
wife, and we might have had tall sons and daughters.'

'It might have been so,' she murmured.

'Well--is it still better late than never?'

The question was one which had become complicated by the increasing
years of each. Their wills were somewhat enfeebled now, their hearts
sickened of tender enterprise by hope too long deferred. Having
postponed the consideration of their course till a year after the
interment of Bellston, each seemed less disposed than formerly to
take it up again.

'Is it worth while, after so many years?' she said to him. 'We are
fairly happy as we are--perhaps happier than we should be in any
other relation, seeing what old people we have grown. The weight is
gone from our lives; the shadow no longer divides us: then let us be
joyful together as we are, dearest Nic, in the days of our vanity;
and

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.'

He fell in with these views of hers to some extent. But occasionally
he ventured to urge her to reconsider the case, though he spoke not
with the fervour of his earlier years.

Autumn, 1887.

ALICIA'S DIARY

CHAPTER I.--SHE MISSES HER SISTER

July 7.--I wander about the house in a mood of unutterable sadness,
for my dear sister Caroline has left home to-day with my mother, and
I shall not see them again for several weeks. They have accepted a
long-standing invitation to visit some old friends of ours, the
Marlets, who live at Versailles for cheapness--my mother thinking
that it will be for the good of Caroline to see a little of France
and Paris. But I don't quite like her going. I fear she may lose
some of that childlike simplicity and gentleness which so
characterize her, and have been nourished by the seclusion of our
life here. Her solicitude about her pony before starting was quite
touching, and she made me promise to visit it daily, and see that it
came to no harm.

Caroline gone abroad, and I left here! It is the reverse of an
ordinary situation, for good or ill-luck has mostly ordained that I
should be the absent one. Mother will be quite tired out by the
young enthusiasm of Caroline. She will demand to be taken
everywhere--to Paris continually, of course; to all the stock shrines
of history's devotees; to palaces and prisons; to kings' tombs and
queens' tombs; to cemeteries and picture-galleries, and royal hunting
forests. My poor mother, having gone over most of this ground many
times before, will perhaps not find the perambulation so exhilarating
as will Caroline herself. I wish I could have gone with them. I
would not have minded having my legs walked off to please Caroline.
But this regret is absurd: I could not, of course, leave my father
with not a soul in the house to attend to the calls of the
parishioners or to pour out his tea.

July 15.--A letter from Caroline to-day. It is very strange that she
tells me nothing which I expected her to tell--only trivial details.
She seems dazzled by the brilliancy of Paris--which no doubt appears
still more brilliant to her from the fact of her only being able to
obtain occasional glimpses of it. She would see that Paris, too, has
a seamy side if you live there. I was not aware that the Marlets
knew so many people. If, as mother has said, they went to reside at
Versailles for reasons of economy, they will not effect much in that
direction while they make a practice of entertaining all the
acquaintances who happen to be in their neighbourhood. They do not
confine their hospitalities to English people, either. I wonder who
this M. de la Feste is, in whom Caroline says my mother is so much
interested.

July 18.--Another letter from Caroline. I have learnt from this
epistle, that M. Charles de la Feste is 'only one of the many friends
of the Marlets'; that though a Frenchman by birth, and now again
temporarily at Versailles, he has lived in England many many years;
that he is a talented landscape and marine painter, and has exhibited
at the Salon, and I think in London. His style and subjects are
considered somewhat peculiar in Paris--rather English than
Continental. I have not as yet learnt his age, or his condition,
married or single. From the tone and nature of her remarks about him
he sometimes seems to be a middle-aged family man, sometimes quite
the reverse. From his nomadic habits I should say the latter is the
most likely. He has travelled and seen a great deal, she tells me,
and knows more about English literature than she knows herself.

July 21.--Letter from Caroline. Query: Is 'a friend of ours and the
Marlets,' of whom she now anonymously and mysteriously speaks, the
same personage as the 'M. de la Feste' of her former letters? He
must be the same, I think, from his pursuits. If so, whence this
sudden change of tone? . . . I have been lost in thought for at least
a quarter of an hour since writing the preceding sentence. Suppose
my dear sister is falling in love with this young man--there is no
longer any doubt about his age; what a very awkward, risky thing for
her! I do hope that my mother has an eye on these proceedings. But,
then, poor mother never sees the drift of anything: she is in truth
less of a mother to Caroline than I am. If I were there, how
jealously I would watch him, and ascertain his designs!

I am of a stronger nature than Caroline. How I have supported her in
the past through her little troubles and great griefs! Is she
agitated at the presence of this, to her, new and strange feeling?
But I am assuming her to be desperately in love, when I have no proof
of anything of the kind. He may be merely a casual friend, of whom I
shall hear no more.

July 24.--Then he IS a bachelor, as I suspected. 'If M. de la Feste
ever marries he will,' etc. So she writes. They are getting into
close quarters, obviously. Also, 'Something to keep my hair smooth,
which M. de la Feste told me he had found useful for the tips of his
moustache.' Very naively related this; and with how much
unconsciousness of the intimacy between them that the remark reveals!
But my mother--what can she be doing? Does she know of this? And if
so, why does she not allude to it in her letters to my father? . . .
I have been to look at Caroline's pony, in obedience to her
reiterated request that I would not miss a day in seeing that she was
well cared for. Anxious as Caroline was about this pony of hers
before starting, she now never mentioned the poor animal once in her
letters. The image of her pet suffers from displacement.

August 3.--Caroline's forgetfulness of her pony has naturally enough
extended to me, her sister. It is ten days since she last wrote, and
but for a note from my mother I should not know if she were dead or
alive.

CHAPTER II.--NEWS INTERESTING AND SERIOUS

August 5.--A cloud of letters. A letter from Caroline, another from
mother; also one from each to my father.

The probability to which all the intelligence from my sister has
pointed of late turns out to be a fact. There is an engagement, or
almost an engagement, announced between my dear Caroline and M. de la
Feste--to Caroline's sublime happiness, and my mother's entire
satisfaction; as well as to that of the Marlets. They and my mother
seem to know all about the young man--which is more than I do, though
a little extended information about him, considering that I am
Caroline's elder sister, would not have been amiss. I half feel with
my father, who is much surprised, and, I am sure, not altogether
satisfied, that he should not have been consulted at all before
matters reached such a definite stage, though he is too amiable to
say so openly. I don't quite say that a good thing should have been
hindered for the sake of our opinion, if it is a good thing; but the
announcement comes very suddenly. It must have been foreseen by my
mother for some time that this upshot was probable, and Caroline
might have told me more distinctly that M. de la Feste was her lover,
instead of alluding so mysteriously to him as only a friend of the
Marlets, and lately dropping his name altogether. My father, without
exactly objecting to him as a Frenchman, 'wishes he were of English
or some other reasonable nationality for one's son-in-law,' but I
tell him that the demarcations of races, kingdoms, and creeds, are
wearing down every day, that patriotism is a sort of vice, and that
the character of the individual is all we need think about in this
case. I wonder if, in the event of their marriage, he will continue
to live at Versailles, or if he will come to England.

August 7.--A supplemental letter from Caroline, answering, by
anticipation, some of the aforesaid queries. She tells me that
'Charles,' though he makes Versailles his present home, is by no
means bound by his profession to continue there; that he will live
just where she wishes, provided it be not too far from some centre of
thought, art, and civilization. My mother and herself both think
that the marriage should not take place till next year. He exhibits
landscapes and canal scenery every year, she says; so I suppose he is
popular, and that his income is sufficient to keep them in comfort.
If not, I do not see why my father could not settle something more on
them than he had intended, and diminish by a little what he had
proposed for me, whilst it was imagined that I should be the first to
stand in need of such.

'Of engaging manner, attractive appearance, and virtuous character,'
is the reply I receive from her in answer to my request for a
personal description. That is vague enough, and I would rather have
had one definite fact of complexion, voice, deed, or opinion. But of
course she has no eye now for material qualities; she cannot see him
as he is. She sees him irradiated with glories such as never
appertained and never will appertain to any man, foreign, English, or
Colonial. To think that Caroline, two years my junior, and so
childlike as to be five years my junior in nature, should be engaged
to be married before me. But that is what happens in families more
often than we are apt to remember.

August 16.--Interesting news to-day. Charles, she says, has pleaded
that their marriage may just as well be this year as next; and he
seems to have nearly converted my mother to the same way of thinking.
I do not myself see any reason for delay, beyond the standing one of
my father having as yet had no opportunity of forming an opinion upon
the man, the time, or anything. However, he takes his lot very
quietly, and they are coming home to talk the question over with us;
Caroline having decided not to make any positive arrangements for
this change of state till she has seen me. Subject to my own and my
father's approval, she says, they are inclined to settle the date of
the wedding for November, three months from the present time, that it
shall take place here in the village, that I, of course, shall be
bridesmaid, and many other particulars. She draws an artless picture
of the probable effect upon the minds of the villagers of this
romantic performance in the chancel of our old church, in which she
is to be chief actor--the foreign gentleman dropping down like a god
from the skies, picking her up, and triumphantly carrying her off.
Her only grief will be separation from me, but this is to be assuaged
by my going and staying with her for long months at a time. This
simple prattle is very sweet to me, my dear sister, but I cannot help
feeling sad at the occasion of it. In the nature of things it is
obvious that I shall never be to you again what I hitherto have been:
your guide, counsellor, and most familiar friend.

M. de la Feste does certainly seem to be all that one could desire as
protector to a sensitive fragile child like Caroline, and for that I
am thankful. Still, I must remember that I see him as yet only
through her eyes. For her sake I am intensely anxious to meet him,
and scrutinise him through and through, and learn what the man is
really made of who is to have such a treasure in his keeping. The
engagement has certainly been formed a little precipitately; I quite
agree with my father in that: still, good and happy marriages have
been made in a hurry before now, and mother seems well satisfied.

August 20.--A terrible announcement came this morning; and we are in
deep trouble. I have been quite unable to steady my thoughts on
anything to-day till now--half-past eleven at night--and I only
attempt writing these notes because I am too restless to remain idle,
and there is nothing but waiting and waiting left for me to do.
Mother has been taken dangerously ill at Versailles: they were
within a day or two of starting; but all thought of leaving must now
be postponed, for she cannot possibly be moved in her present state.
I don't like the sound of haemorrhage at all in a woman of her full
habit, and Caroline and the Marlets have not exaggerated their
accounts I am certain. On the receipt of the letter my father
instantly decided to go to her, and I have been occupied all day in
getting him off, for as he calculates on being absent several days,
there have been many matters for him to arrange before setting out--
the chief being to find some one who will do duty for him next
Sunday--a quest of no small difficulty at such short notice; but at
last poor old feeble Mr. Dugdale has agreed to attempt it, with Mr.
Highman, the Scripture reader, to assist him in the lessons.

I fain would have gone with my father to escape the irksome anxiety
of awaiting her; but somebody had to stay, and I could best be
spared. George has driven him to the station to meet the last train
by which he will catch the midnight boat, and reach Havre some time
in the morning. He hates the sea, and a night passage in particular.
I hope he will get there without mishap of any kind; but I feel
anxious for him, stay-at-home as he is, and unable to cope with any
difficulty. Such an errand, too; the journey will be sad enough at
best. I almost think I ought to have been the one to go to her.

August 21.--I nearly fell asleep of heaviness of spirit last night
over my writing. My father must have reached Paris by this time; and
now here comes a letter . . .

Later.--The letter was to express an earnest hope that my father had
set out. My poor mother is sinking, they fear. What will become of
Caroline? O, how I wish I could see mother; why could not both have
gone?

Later.--I get up from my chair, and walk from window to window, and
then come and write a line. I cannot even divine how poor Caroline's
marriage is to be carried out if mother dies. I pray that father may
have got there in time to talk to her and receive some directions
from her about Caroline and M. de la Feste--a man whom neither my
father nor I have seen. I, who might be useful in this emergency, am
doomed to stay here, waiting in suspense.

August 23.--A letter from my father containing the sad news that my
mother's spirit has flown. Poor little Caroline is heart-broken--she
was always more my mother's pet than I was. It is some comfort to
know that my father arrived in time to hear from her own lips her
strongly expressed wish that Caroline's marriage should be solemnized
as soon as possible. M. de la Feste seems to have been a great
favourite of my dear mother's; and I suppose it now becomes almost a
sacred duty of my father to accept him as a son-in-law without
criticism.

CHAPTER III.--HER GLOOM LIGHTENS A LITTLE

September 10.--I have inserted nothing in my diary for more than a
fortnight. Events have been altogether too sad for me to have the
spirit to put them on paper. And yet there comes a time when the act
of recording one's trouble is recognized as a welcome method of
dwelling upon it . . .

My dear mother has been brought home and buried here in the parish.
It was not so much her own wish that this should be done as my
father's, who particularly desired that she should lie in the family
vault beside his first wife. I saw them side by side before the
vault was closed--two women beloved by one man. As I stood, and
Caroline by my side, I fell into a sort of dream, and had an odd
fancy that Caroline and I might be also beloved of one, and lie like
these together--an impossibility, of course, being sisters. When I
awoke from my reverie Caroline took my hand and said it was time to
leave.

September 14.--The wedding is indefinitely postponed. Caroline is
like a girl awakening in the middle of a somnambulistic experience,
and does not realize where she is, or how she stands. She walks
about silently, and I cannot tell her thoughts, as I used to do. It
was her own doing to write to M. de la Feste and tell him that the
wedding could not possibly take place this autumn as originally
planned. There is something depressing in this long postponement if
she is to marry him at all; and yet I do not see how it could be
avoided.

October 20.--I have had so much to occupy me in consoling Caroline
that I have been continually overlooking my diary. Her life was much
nearer to my mother's than mine was. She has never, as I, lived away
from home long enough to become self-dependent, and hence in her
first loss, and all that it involved, she drooped like a rain-beaten
lily. But she is of a nature whose wounds soon heal, even though
they may be deep, and the supreme poignancy of her sorrow has already
passed.

My father is of opinion that the wedding should not be delayed too
long. While at Versailles he made the acquaintance of M. de la
Feste, and though they had but a short and hurried communion with
each other, he was much impressed by M. de la Feste's disposition and
conduct, and is strongly in favour of his suit. It is odd that
Caroline's betrothed should influence in his favour all who come near
him. His portrait, which dear Caroline has shown me, exhibits him to
be of a physique that partly accounts for this: but there must be
something more than mere appearance, and it is probably some sort of
glamour or fascinating power--the quality which prevented Caroline
from describing him to me with any accuracy of detail. At the same
time, I see from the photograph that his face and head are remarkably
well formed; and though the contours of his mouth are hidden by his
moustache, his arched brows show well the romantic disposition of a
true lover and painter of Nature. I think that the owner of such a
face as this must be tender and sympathetic and true.

October 30.--As my sister's grief for her mother becomes more and
more calmed, her love for M. de la Feste begins to reassume its
former absorbing command of her. She thinks of him incessantly, and
writes whole treatises to him by way of letters. Her blank
disappointment at his announcement of his inability to pay us a visit
quite so soon as he had promised, was quite tragic. I, too, am
disappointed, for I wanted to see and estimate him. But having
arranged to go to Holland to seize some aerial effects for his
pictures, which are only to be obtained at this time of the autumn,
he is obliged to postpone his journey this way, which is now to be
made early in the new year. I think myself that he ought to have
come at all sacrifices, considering Caroline's recent loss, the sad
postponement of what she was looking forward to, and her single-
minded affection for him. Still, who knows; his professional success
is important. Moreover, she is cheerful, and hopeful, and the delay
will soon be overpast.

CHAPTER IV.--SHE BEHOLDS THE ATTRACTIVE STRANGER

February 16.--We have had such a dull life here all the winter that I
have found nothing important enough to set down, and broke off my
journal accordingly. I resume it now to make an entry on the subject
of dear Caroline's future. It seems that she was too grieved,
immediately after the loss of our mother, to answer definitely the
question of M. de la Feste how long the postponement was to be; then,
afterwards, it was agreed that the matter should be discussed on his
autumn visit; but as he did not come, it has remained in abeyance
till this week, when Caroline, with the greatest simplicity and
confidence, has written to him without any further pressure on his
part, and told him that she is quite ready to fix the time, and will
do so as soon as he arrives to see her. She is a little frightened
now, lest it should seem forward in her to have revived the subject
of her own accord; but she may assume that his question has been
waiting on for an answer ever since, and that she has, therefore,
acted only within her promise. In truth, the secret at the bottom of
it all is that she is somewhat saddened because he has not latterly
reminded her of the pause in their affairs--that, in short, his
original impatience to possess her is not now found to animate him so
obviously. I suppose that he loves her as much as ever; indeed, I am
sure he must do so, seeing how lovable she is. It is mostly thus
with all men when women are out of their sight; they grow negligent.
Caroline must have patience, and remember that a man of his genius
has many and important calls upon his time. In justice to her I must
add that she does remember it fairly well, and has as much patience
as any girl ever had in the circumstances. He hopes to come at the
beginning of April at latest. Well, when he comes we shall see him.

April 5.--I think that what M. de la Feste writes is reasonable
enough, though Caroline looks heart-sick about it. It is hardly
worth while for him to cross all the way to England and back just
now, while the sea is so turbulent, seeing that he will be obliged,
in any event, to come in May, when he has to be in London for
professional purposes, at which time he can take us easily on his way
both coming and going. When Caroline becomes his wife she will be
more practical, no doubt; but she is such a child as yet that there
is no contenting her with reasons. However, the time will pass
quickly, there being so much to do in preparing a trousseau for her,
which must now be put in hand in order that we may have plenty of
leisure to get it ready. On no account must Caroline be married in
half-mourning; I am sure that mother, could she know, would not wish
it, and it is odd that Caroline should be so intractably persistent
on this point, when she is usually so yielding.

April 30.--This month has flown on swallow's wings. We are in a
great state of excitement--I as much as she--I cannot quite tell why.
He is really coming in ten days, he says.

May 9. Four p.m.--I am so agitated I can scarcely write, and yet am
particularly impelled to do so before leaving my room. It is the
unexpected shape of an expected event which has caused my absurd
excitement, which proves me almost as much a school-girl as Caroline.

M. de la Feste was not, as we understood, to have come till to-
morrow; but he is here--just arrived. All household directions have
devolved upon me, for my father, not thinking M. de la Feste would
appear before us for another four-and-twenty hours, left home before
post time to attend a distant consecration; and hence Caroline and I
were in no small excitement when Charles's letter was opened, and we
read that he had been unexpectedly favoured in the dispatch of his
studio work, and would follow his letter in a few hours. We sent the
covered carriage to meet the train indicated, and waited like two
newly strung harps for the first sound of the returning wheels. At
last we heard them on the gravel; and the question arose who was to
receive him. It was, strictly speaking, my duty; but I felt timid; I
could not help shirking it, and insisted that Caroline should go
down. She did not, however, go near the door as she usually does
when anybody is expected, but waited palpitating in the drawing-room.
He little thought when he saw the silent hall, and the apparently
deserted house, how that house was at the very same moment alive and
throbbing with interest under the surface. I stood at the back of
the upper landing, where nobody could see me from downstairs, and
heard him walk across the hall--a lighter step than my father's--and
heard him then go into the drawing-room, and the servant shut the
door behind him and go away.

What a pretty lover's meeting they must have had in there all to
themselves! Caroline's sweet face looking up from her black gown--
how it must have touched him. I know she wept very much, for I heard
her; and her eyes will be red afterwards, and no wonder, poor dear,
though she is no doubt happy. I can imagine what she is telling him
while I write this--her fears lest anything should have happened to
prevent his coming after all--gentle, smiling reproaches for his long
delay; and things of that sort. His two portmanteaus are at this
moment crossing the landing on the way to his room. I wonder if I
ought to go down.

A little later.--I have seen him! It was not at all in the way that
I intended to encounter him, and I am vexed. Just after his
portmanteaus were brought up I went out from my room to descend,
when, at the moment of stepping towards the first stair, my eyes were
caught by an object in the hall below, and I paused for an instant,
till I saw that it was a bundle of canvas and sticks, composing a
sketching tent and easel. At the same nick of time the drawing-room
door opened and the affianced pair came out. They were saying they
would go into the garden; and he waited a moment while she put on her
hat. My idea was to let them pass on without seeing me, since they
seemed not to want my company, but I had got too far on the landing
to retreat; he looked up, and stood staring at me--engrossed to a
dream-like fixity. Thereupon I, too, instead of advancing as I ought
to have done, stood moonstruck and awkward, and before I could gather
my weak senses sufficiently to descend, she had called him, and they
went out by the garden door together. I then thought of following
them, but have changed my mind, and come here to jot down these few
lines. It is all I am fit for . . .

He is even more handsome than I expected. I was right in feeling he
must have an attraction beyond that of form: it appeared even in
that momentary glance. How happy Caroline ought to be. But I must,
of course, go down to be ready with tea in the drawing-room by the
time they come indoors.

11 p.m.--I have made the acquaintance of M. de la Feste; and I seem
to be another woman from the effect of it. I cannot describe why
this should be so, but conversation with him seems to expand the
view, and open the heart, and raise one as upon stilts to wider
prospects. He has a good intellectual forehead, perfect eyebrows,
dark hair and eyes, an animated manner, and a persuasive voice. His
voice is soft in quality--too soft for a man, perhaps; and yet on
second thoughts I would not have it less so. We have been talking of
his art: I had no notion that art demanded such sacrifices or such
tender devotion; or that there were two roads for choice within its
precincts, the road of vulgar money-making, and the road of high aims
and consequent inappreciation for many long years by the public.
That he has adopted the latter need not be said to those who
understand him. It is a blessing for Caroline that she has been
chosen by such a man, and she ought not to lament at postponements
and delays, since they have arisen unavoidably. Whether he finds
hers a sufficiently rich nature, intellectually and emotionally, for
his own, I know not, but he seems occasionally to be disappointed at
her simple views of things. Does he really feel such love for her at
this moment as he no doubt believes himself to be feeling, and as he
no doubt hopes to feel for the remainder of his life towards her?

It was a curious thing he told me when we were left for a few minutes
alone; that Caroline had alluded so slightly to me in her
conversation and letters that he had not realized my presence in the
house here at all. But, of course, it was only natural that she
should write and talk most about herself. I suppose it was on
account of the fact of his being taken in some measure unawares, that
I caught him on two or three occasions regarding me fixedly in a way
that disquieted me somewhat, having been lately in so little society;
till my glance aroused him from his reverie, and he looked elsewhere
in some confusion. It was fortunate that he did so, and thus failed
to notice my own. It shows that he, too, is not particularly a
society person.

May 10.--Have had another interesting conversation with M. de la
Feste on schools of landscape painting in the drawing-room after
dinner this evening--my father having fallen asleep, and left nobody
but Caroline and myself for Charles to talk to. I did not mean to
say so much to him, and had taken a volume of Modern Painters from
the bookcase to occupy myself with, while leaving the two lovers to
themselves; but he would include me in his audience, and I was
obliged to lay the book aside. However, I insisted on keeping
Caroline in the conversation, though her views on pictorial art were
only too charmingly crude and primitive.

To-morrow, if fine, we are all three going to Wherryborne Wood, where
Charles will give us practical illustrations of the principles of
coloring that he has enumerated to-night. I am determined not to
occupy his attention to the exclusion of Caroline, and my plan is
that when we are in the dense part of the wood I will lag behind, and
slip away, and leave them to return by themselves. I suppose the
reason of his attentiveness to me lies in his simply wishing to win
the good opinion of one who is so closely united to Caroline, and so
likely to influence her good opinion of him.

May 11. Late.--I cannot sleep, and in desperation have lit my candle
and taken up my pen. My restlessness is occasioned by what has
occurred to-day, which at first I did not mean to write down, or
trust to any heart but my own. We went to Wherryborne Wood--
Caroline, Charles and I, as we had intended--and walked all three
along the green track through the midst, Charles in the middle
between Caroline and myself. Presently I found that, as usual, he
and I were the only talkers, Caroline amusing herself by observing
birds and squirrels as she walked docilely alongside her betrothed.
Having noticed this I dropped behind at the first opportunity and
slipped among the trees, in a direction in which I knew I should find
another path that would take me home. Upon this track I by and by
emerged, and walked along it in silent thought till, at a bend, I
suddenly encountered M. de la Feste standing stock still and smiling
thoughtfully at me.

'Where is Caroline?' said I.

'Only a little way off,' says he. 'When we missed you from behind us
we thought you might have mistaken the direction we had followed, so
she has gone one way to find you and I have come this way.'

We then went back to find Caroline, but could not discover her
anywhere, and the upshot was that he and I were wandering about the
woods alone for more than an hour. On reaching home we found she had
given us up after searching a little while, and arrived there some
time before. I should not be so disturbed by the incident if I had
not perceived that, during her absence from us, he did not make any
earnest effort to rediscover her; and in answer to my repeated
expressions of wonder as to whither she could have wandered he only
said, 'Oh, she's quite safe; she told me she knew the way home from
any part of this wood. Let us go on with our talk. I assure you I
value this privilege of being with one I so much admire more than you
imagine;' and other things of that kind. I was so foolish as to show
a little perturbation--I cannot tell why I did not control myself;
and I think he noticed that I was not cool. Caroline has, with her
simple good faith, thought nothing of the occurrence; yet altogether
I am not satisfied.

CHAPTER V.--HER SITUATION IS A TRYING ONE

May 15.--The more I think of it day after day, the more convinced I
am that my suspicions are true. He is too interested in me--well, in
plain words, loves me; or, not to degrade that phrase, has a wild
passion for me; and his affection for Caroline is that towards a
sister only. That is the distressing truth; how it has come about I
cannot tell, and it wears upon me.

A hundred little circumstances have revealed this to me, and the
longer I dwell upon it the more agitating does the consideration
become. Heaven only can help me out of the terrible difficulty in
which this places me. I have done nothing to encourage him to be
faithless to her. I have studiously kept out of his way; have
persistently refused to be a third in their interviews. Yet all to
no purpose. Some fatality has seemed to rule, ever since he came to
the house, that this disastrous inversion of things should arise. If
I had only foreseen the possibility of it before he arrived, how
gladly would I have departed on some visit or other to the meanest
friend to hinder such an apparent treachery. But I blindly welcomed
him--indeed, made myself particularly agreeable to him for her sake.

There is no possibility of my suspicions being wrong; not until they
have reached absolute certainty have I dared even to admit the truth
to myself. His conduct to-day would have proved them true had I
entertained no previous apprehensions. Some photographs of myself
came for me by post, and they were handed round at the breakfast
table and criticised. I put them temporarily on a side table, and
did not remember them until an hour afterwards when I was in my own
room. On going to fetch them I discovered him standing at the table
with his back towards the door bending over the photographs, one of
which he raised to his lips.

The witnessing this act so frightened me that I crept away to escape
observation. It was the climax to a series of slight and significant
actions all tending to the same conclusion. The question for me now
is, what am I to do? To go away is what first occurs to me, but what
reason can I give Caroline and my father for such a step; besides, it
might precipitate some sort of catastrophe by driving Charles to
desperation. For the present, therefore, I have decided that I can
only wait, though his contiguity is strangely disturbing to me now,
and I hardly retain strength of mind to encounter him. How will the
distressing complication end?

May 19.--And so it has come! My mere avoidance of him has
precipitated the worst issue--a declaration. I had occasion to go
into the kitchen garden to gather some of the double ragged-robins
which grew in a corner there. Almost as soon as I had entered I
heard footsteps without. The door opened and shut, and I turned to
behold him just inside it. As the garden is closed by four walls and
the gardener was absent, the spot ensured absolute privacy. He came
along the path by the asparagus-bed, and overtook me.

'You know why I come, Alicia?' said he, in a tremulous voice.

I said nothing, and hung my head, for by his tone I did know.

'Yes,' he went on, 'it is you I love; my sentiment towards your
sister is one of affection too, but protective, tutelary affection--
no more. Say what you will I cannot help it. I mistook my feeling
for her, and I know how much I am to blame for my want of self-
knowledge. I have fought against this discovery night and day; but
it cannot be concealed. Why did I ever see you, since I could not
see you till I had committed myself? At the moment my eyes beheld
you on that day of my arrival, I said, "This is the woman for whom my
manhood has waited." Ever since an unaccountable fascination has
riveted my heart to you. Answer one word!'

'O, M. de la Feste!' I burst out. What I said more I cannot
remember, but I suppose that the misery I was in showed pretty
plainly, for he said, 'Something must be done to let her know;
perhaps I have mistaken her affection, too; but all depends upon what
you feel.'

'I cannot tell what I feel,' said I, 'except that this seems terrible
treachery; and every moment that I stay with you here makes it worse!
. . . Try to keep faith with her--her young heart is tender;
believe me there is no mistake in the quality of her love for you.
Would there were! This would kill her if she knew it!'

He sighed heavily. 'She ought never to be my wife,' he said.
'Leaving my own happiness out of the question, it would be a cruelty
to her to unite her to me.'

I said I could not hear such words from him, and begged him in tears
to go away; he obeyed, and I heard the garden door shut behind him.
What is to be the end of the announcement, and the fate of Caroline?

May 20.--I put a good deal on paper yesterday, and yet not all. I
was, in truth, hoping against hope, against conviction, against too
conscious self-judgment. I scarcely dare own the truth now, yet it
relieves my aching heart to set it down. Yes, I love him--that is
the dreadful fact, and I can no longer parry, evade, or deny it to
myself though to the rest of the world it can never be owned. I love
Caroline's betrothed, and he loves me. It is no yesterday's passion,
cultivated by our converse; it came at first sight, independently of
my will; and my talk with him yesterday made rather against it than
for it, but, alas, did not quench it. God forgive us both for this
terrible treachery.

May 25.--All is vague; our courses shapeless. He comes and goes,
being occupied, ostensibly at least, with sketching in his tent in
the wood. Whether he and she see each other privately I cannot tell,
but I rather think they do not; that she sadly awaits him, and he
does not appear. Not a sign from him that my repulse has done him
any good, or that he will endeavour to keep faith with her. O, if I
only had the compulsion of a god, and the self-sacrifice of a martyr!

May 31.--It has all ended--or rather this act of the sad drama has
ended--in nothing. He has left us. No day for the fulfilment of the
engagement with Caroline is named, my father not being the man to
press any one on such a matter, or, indeed, to interfere in any way.
We two girls are, in fact, quite defenceless in a case of this kind;
lovers may come when they choose, and desert when they choose; poor
father is too urbane to utter a word of remonstrance or inquiry.
Moreover, as the approved of my dead mother, M. de la Feste has a
sort of autocratic power with my father, who holds it unkind to her
memory to have an opinion about him. I, feeling it my duty, asked M.
de la Feste at the last moment about the engagement, in a voice I
could not keep firm.

'Since the death of your mother all has been indefinite--all!' he
said gloomily. That was the whole. Possibly, Wherryborne Rectory
may see him no more.

June 7 .--M. de la Feste has written--one letter to her, one to me.
Hers could not have been very warm, for she did not brighten on
reading it. Mine was an ordinary note of friendship, filling an
ordinary sheet of paper, which I handed over to Caroline when I had
finished looking it through. But there was a scrap of paper in the
bottom of the envelope, which I dared not show any one. This scrap
is his real letter: I scanned it alone in my room, trembling, hot
and cold by turns. He tells me he is very wretched; that he deplores
what has happened, but was helpless. Why did I let him see me, if
only to make him faithless. Alas, alas!

June 21 .--My dear Caroline has lost appetite, spirits, health. Hope
deferred maketh the heart sick. His letters to her grow colder--if
indeed he has written more than one. He has refrained from writing
again to me--he knows it is no use. Altogether the situation that he
and she and I are in is melancholy in the extreme. Why are human
hearts so perverse?

CHAPTER VI.--HER INGENUITY INSTIGATES HER

September 19.--Three months of anxious care--till at length I have
taken the extreme step of writing to him. Our chief distress has
been caused by the state of poor Caroline, who, after sinking by
degrees into such extreme weakness as to make it doubtful if she can
ever recover full vigour, has to-day been taken much worse. Her
position is very critical. The doctor says plainly that she is dying
of a broken heart--and that even the removal of the cause may not now
restore her. Ought I to have written to Charles sooner? But how
could I when she forbade me? It was her pride only which instigated
her, and I should not have obeyed.

Sept. 26.--Charles has arrived and has seen her. He is shocked,
conscience-stricken, remorseful. I have told him that he can do no
good beyond cheering her by his presence. I do not know what he
thinks of proposing to her if she gets better, but he says little to
her at present: indeed he dares not: his words agitate her
dangerously.

Sept. 28.--After a struggle between duty and selfishness, such as I
pray to Heaven I may never have to undergo again, I have asked him
for pity's sake to make her his wife, here and now, as she lies. I
said to him that the poor child would not trouble him long; and such
a solemnization would soothe her last hours as nothing else could do.
He said that he would willingly do so, and had thought of it himself;
but for one forbidding reason: in the event of her death as his wife
he can never marry me, her sister, according to our laws. I started
at his words. He went on: 'On the other hand, if I were sure that
immediate marriage with me would save her life, I would not refuse,
for possibly I might after a while, and out of sight of you, make
myself fairly content with one of so sweet a disposition as hers; but
if, as is probable, neither my marrying her nor any other act can
avail to save her life, by so doing I lose both her and you.' I
could not answer him.

Sept. 29.--He continued firm in his reasons for refusal till this
morning, and then I became possessed with an idea, which I at once
propounded to him. It was that he should at least consent to a FORM
of marriage with Caroline, in consideration of her love; a form which
need not be a legal union, but one which would satisfy her sick and
enfeebled soul. Such things have been done, and the sentiment of
feeling herself his would inexpressibly comfort her mind, I am sure.
Then, if she is taken from us, I should not have lost the power of
becoming his lawful wife at some future day, if it indeed should be
deemed expedient; if, on the other hand, she lives, he can on her
recovery inform her of the incompleteness of their marriage contract,
the ceremony can be repeated, and I can, and I am sure willingly
would, avoid troubling them with my presence till grey hairs and
wrinkles make his unfortunate passion for me a thing of the past. I
put all this before him; but he demurred.

Sept. 30.--I have urged him again. He says he will consider. It is
no time to mince matters, and as a further inducement I have offered
to enter into a solemn engagement to marry him myself a year after
her death.

Sept. 30. Later.--An agitating interview. He says he will agree to
whatever I propose, the three possibilities and our contingent acts
being recorded as follows: First, in the event of dear Caroline
being taken from us, I marry him on the expiration of a year:
Second, in the forlorn chance of her recovery I take upon myself the
responsibility of explaining to Caroline the true nature of the
ceremony he has gone through with her, that it was done at my
suggestion to make her happy at once, before a special licence could
be obtained, and that a public ceremony at church is awaiting her:
Third, in the unlikely event of her cooling, and refusing to repeat
the ceremony with him, I leave England, join him abroad, and there
wed him, agreeing not to live in England again till Caroline has
either married another or regards her attachment to Charles as a
bygone matter. I have thought over these conditions, and have agreed
to them all as they stand.

11 p.m.--I do not much like this scheme, after all. For one thing, I
have just sounded my father on it before parting with him for the
night, my impression having been that he would see no objection. But
he says he could on no account countenance any such unreal
proceeding; however good our intentions, and even though the poor
girl were dying, it would not be right. So I sadly seek my pillow.

October 1.--I am sure my father is wrong in his view. Why is it not
right, if it would be balm to Caroline's wounded soul, and if a real
ceremony is absolutely refused by Charles--moreover is hardly
practicable in the difficulty of getting a special licence, if he
were agreed? My father does not know, or will not believe, that
Caroline's attachment has been the cause of her hopeless condition.
But that it is so, and that the form of words would give her
inexpressible happiness, I know well; for I whispered tentatively in
her ear on such marriages, and the effect was great. Henceforth my
father cannot be taken into confidence on the subject of Caroline.
He does not understand her.

12 o'clock noon.--I have taken advantage of my father's absence to-
day to confide my secret notion to a thoughtful young man, who called
here this morning to speak to my father. He is the Mr. Theophilus
Higham, of whom I have already had occasion to speak--a Scripture
reader in the next town, and is soon going to be ordained. I told
him the pitiable case, and my remedy. He says ardently that he will
assist me--would do anything for me (he is, in truth, an admirer of
mine); he sees no wrong in such an act of charity. He is coming
again to the house this afternoon before my father returns, to carry
out the idea. I have spoken to Charles, who promises to be ready. I
must now break the news to Caroline.

11 o'clock p.m.--I have been in too much excitement till now to set
down the result. We have accomplished our plan; and though I feel
like a guilty sinner, I am glad. My father, of course, is not to be
informed as yet. Caroline has had a seraphic expression upon her
wasted, transparent face ever since. I should hardly be surprised if
it really saved her life even now, and rendered a legitimate union
necessary between them. In that case my father can be informed of
the whole proceeding, and in the face of such wonderful success
cannot disapprove. Meanwhile poor Charles has not lost the
possibility of taking unworthy me to fill her place should she--.
But I cannot contemplate that alternative unmoved, and will not write
it. Charles left for the South of Europe immediately after the
ceremony. He was in a high-strung, throbbing, almost wild state of
mind at first, but grew calmer under my exhortations. I had to pay
the penalty of receiving a farewell kiss from him, which I much
regret, considering its meaning; but he took me so unexpectedly, and
in a moment was gone.

Oct. 6.--She certainly is better, and even when she found that
Charles had been suddenly obliged to leave, she received the news
quite cheerfully. The doctor says that her apparent improvement may
be delusive; but I think our impressing upon her the necessity of
keeping what has occurred a secret from papa, and everybody, helps to
give her a zest for life.

Oct. 8.--She is still mending. I am glad to have saved her--my only
sister--if I have done so; though I shall now never become Charles's
wife.

CHAPTER VII.--A SURPRISE AWAITS HER

Feb. 5.--Writing has been absolutely impossible for a long while; but
I now reach a stage at which it seems possible to jot down a line.
Caroline's recovery, extending over four months, has been very
engrossing; at first slow, latterly rapid. But a fearful
complication of affairs attends it!

O what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!

Charles has written reproachfully to me from Venice, where he is. He
says how can he fulfil in the real what he has enacted in the
counterfeit, while he still loves me? Yet how, on the other hand,
can he leave it unfulfilled? All this time I have not told her, and
up to this minute she believes that he has indeed taken her for
better, for worse, till death them do part. It is a harassing
position for me, and all three. In the awful approach of death,
one's judgment loses its balance, and we do anything to meet the
exigencies of the moment, with a single eye to the one who excites
our sympathy, and from whom we seem on the brink of being separated
for ever.

Had he really married her at that time all would be settled now. But
he took too much thought; she might have died, and then he had his
reason. If indeed it had turned out so, I should now be perhaps a
sad woman; but not a tempest-tossed one . . . The possibility of his
claiming me after all is what lies at the root of my agitation.
Everything hangs by a thread. Suppose I tell her the marriage was a
mockery; suppose she is indignant with me and with him for the
deception--and then? Otherwise, suppose she is not indignant but
forgives all; he is bound to marry her; and honour constrains me to
urge him thereto, in spite of what he protests, and to smooth the way
to this issue by my method of informing her. I have meant to tell
her the last month--ever since she has been strong enough to bear
such tidings; but I have been without the power--the moral force.
Surely I must write, and get him to come and assist me.

March 14.--She continually wonders why he does not come, the five
months of his enforced absence having expired; and still more she
wonders why he does not write oftener. His last letter was cold, she
says, and she fears he regrets his marriage, which he may only have
celebrated with her for pity's sake, thinking she was sure to die.
It makes one's heart bleed to hear her hovering thus so near the
truth, and yet never discerning its actual shape.

A minor trouble besets me, too, in the person of the young Scripture
reader, whose conscience pricks him for the part he played. Surely I
am punished, if ever woman were, for a too ingenious perversion of
her better judgment!

April 2.--She is practically well. The faint pink revives in her
cheek, though it is not quite so full as heretofore. But she still
wonders what she can have done to offend 'her dear husband,' and I
have been obliged to tell the smallest part of the truth--an
unimportant fragment of the whole, in fact, I said that I feared for
the moment he might regret the precipitancy of the act, which her
illness caused, his affairs not having been quite sufficiently
advanced for marriage just then, though he will doubtless come to her
as soon as he has a home ready. Meanwhile I have written to him,
peremptorily, to come and relieve me in this awful dilemma. He will
find no note of love in that.

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