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  • 26/11/1859-25/8/1860
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again, and said you had escaped from his Asylum.”

She sprang to her feet as if my last words had set the pursuers on her track.

“Stop! and hear the end,” I cried. “Stop! and you shall know how I befriended you. A word from me would have told the men which way you had gone–and I never spoke that word. I helped your escape–I made it safe and certain. Think, try to think. Try to understand what I tell you.”

My manner seemed to influence her more than my words. She made an effort to grasp the new idea. Her hands shifted the damp cloth hesitatingly from one to the other, exactly as they had shifted the little travelling-bag on the night when I first saw her. Slowly the purpose of my words seemed to force its way through the confusion and agitation of her mind. Slowly her features relaxed, and her eyes looked at me with their expression gaining in curiosity what it was fast losing in fear.

“YOU don’t think I ought to be back in the Asylum, do you?” she said.

“Certainly not. I am glad you escaped from it–I am glad I helped you.”

“Yes, yes, you did help me indeed; you helped me at the hard part,” she went on a little vacantly. “It was easy to escape, or I should not have got away. They never suspected me as they suspected the others. I was so quiet, and so obedient, and so easily frightened. The finding London was the hard part, and there you helped me. Did I thank you at the time? I thank you now very kindly.”

“Was the Asylum far from where you met me? Come! show that you believe me to be your friend, and tell me where it was.”

She mentioned the place–a private Asylum, as its situation informed me; a private Asylum not very far from the spot where I had seen her–and then, with evident suspicion of the use to which I might put her answer, anxiously repeated her former inquiry, “You don’t think I ought to be taken back, do you?”

“Once again, I am glad you escaped–I am glad you prospered well after you left me,” I answered. “You said you had a friend in London to go to. Did you find the friend?”

“Yes. It was very late, but there was a girl up at needle-work in the house, and she helped me to rouse Mrs. Clements. Mrs. Clements is my friend. A good, kind woman, but not like Mrs. Fairlie. Ah no, nobody is like Mrs. Fairlie!”

“Is Mrs. Clements an old friend of yours? Have you known her a long time?”

“Yes, she was a neighbour of ours once, at home, in Hampshire, and liked me, and took care of me when I was a little girl. Years ago, when she went away from us, she wrote down in my Prayer-book for me where she was going to live in London, and she said, ‘If you are ever in trouble, Anne, come to me. I have no husband alive to say me nay, and no children to look after, and I will take care of you.’ Kind words, were they not? I suppose I remember them because they were kind. It’s little enough I remember besides–little enough, little enough!”

“Had you no father or mother to take care of you?”

“Father?–I never saw him–I never heard mother speak of him. Father? Ah, dear! he is dead, I suppose.”

“And your mother?”

“I don’t get on well with her. We are a trouble and a fear to each other.”

A trouble and a fear to each other! At those words the suspicion crossed my mind, for the first time, that her mother might be the person who had placed her under restraint.

“Don’t ask me about mother,” she went on. “I’d rather talk of Mrs. Clements. Mrs. Clements is like you, she doesn’t think that I ought to be back in the Asylum, and she is as glad as you are that I escaped from it. She cried over my misfortune, and said it must be kept secret from everybody.”

Her “misfortune.” In what sense was she using that word? In a sense which might explain her motive in writing the anonymous letter? In a sense which might show it to be the too common and too customary motive that has led many a woman to interpose anonymous hindrances to the marriage of the man who has ruined her? I resolved to attempt the clearing up of this doubt before more words passed between us on either side.

“What misfortune?” I asked.

“The misfortune of my being shut up,” she answered, with every appearance of feeling surprised at my question. “What other misfortune could there be?”

I determined to persist, as delicately and forbearingly as possible. It was of very great importance that I should be absolutely sure of every step in the investigation which I now gained in advance.

“There is another misfortune,” I said, “to which a woman may be liable, and by which she may suffer lifelong sorrow and shame.”

“What is it?” she asked eagerly.

“The misfortune of believing too innocently in her own virtue, and in the faith and honour of the man she loves,” I answered.

She looked up at me with the artless bewilderment of a child. Not the slightest confusion or change of colour–not the faintest trace of any secret consciousness of shame struggling to the surface appeared in her face–that face which betrayed every other emotion with such transparent clearness. No words that ever were spoken could have assured me, as her look and manner now assured me, that the motive which I had assigned for her writing the letter and sending it to Miss Fairlie was plainly and distinctly the wrong one. That doubt, at any rate, was now set at rest; but the very removal of it opened a new prospect of uncertainty. The letter, as I knew from positive testimony, pointed at Sir Percival Glyde, though it did not name him. She must have had some strong motive, originating in some deep sense of injury, for secretly denouncing him to Miss Fairlie in such terms as she had employed, and that motive was unquestionably not to be traced to the loss of her innocence and her character. Whatever wrong he might have inflicted on her was not of that nature. Of what nature could it be?

“I don’t understand you,” she said, after evidently trying hard, and trying in vain, to discover the meaning of the words I had last said to her.

“Never mind,” I answered. “Let us go on with what we were talking about. Tell me how long you stayed with Mrs. Clements in London, and how you came here.”

“How long?” she repeated. “I stayed with Mrs. Clements till we both came to this place, two days ago.”

“You are living in the village, then?” I said. “It is strange I should not have heard of you, though you have only been here two days.”

“No, no, not in the village. Three miles away at a farm. Do you know the farm? They call it Todd’s Corner.”

I remembered the place perfectly–we had often passed by it in our drives. It was one of the oldest farms in the neighbourhood, situated in a solitary, sheltered spot, inland at the junction of two hills.

“They are relations of Mrs. Clements at Todd’s Corner,” she went on, “and they had often asked her to go and see them. She said she would go, and take me with her, for the quiet and the fresh air. It was very kind, was it not? I would have gone anywhere to be quiet, and safe, and out of the way. But when I heard that Todd’s Corner was near Limmeridge–oh! I was so happy I would have walked all the way barefoot to get there, and see the schools and the village and Limmeridge House again. They are very good people at Todd’s Corner. I hope I shall stay there a long time. There is only one thing I don’t like about them, and don’t like about Mrs. Clements—-”

“What is it?”

“They will tease me about dressing all in white–they say it looks so particular. How do they know? Mrs. Fairlie knew best. Mrs. Fairlie would never have made me wear this ugly blue cloak! Ah! she was fond of white in her lifetime, and here is white stone about her grave–and I am making it whiter for her sake. She often wore white herself, and she always dressed her little daughter in white. Is Miss Fairlie well and happy? Does she wear white now, as she used when she was a girl?”

Her voice sank when she put the questions about Miss Fairlie, and she turned her head farther and farther away from me. I thought I detected, in the alteration of her manner, an uneasy consciousness of the risk she had run in sending the anonymous letter, and I instantly determined so to frame my answer as to surprise her into owning it.

“Miss Fairlie was not very well or very happy this morning,” I said.

She murmured a few words, but they were spoken so confusedly, and in such a low tone, that I could not even guess at what they meant.

“Did you ask me why Miss Fairlie was neither well nor happy this morning?” I continued.

“No,” she said quickly and eagerly–“oh no, I never asked that.”

“I will tell you without your asking,” I went on. “Miss Fairlie has received your letter.”

She had been down on her knees for some little time past, carefully removing the last weather-stains left about the inscription while we were speaking together. The first sentence of the words I had just addressed to her made her pause in her occupation, and turn slowly without rising from her knees, so as to face me. The second sentence literally petrified her. The cloth she had been holding dropped from her hands–her lips fell apart–all the little colour that there was naturally in her face left it in an instant.

“How do you know?” she said faintly. “Who showed it to you?” The blood rushed back into her face–rushed overwhelmingly, as the sense rushed upon her mind that her own words had betrayed her. She struck her hands together in despair. “I never wrote it,” she gasped affrightedly; “I know nothing about it!”

“Yes,” I said, “you wrote it, and you know about it. It was wrong to send such a letter, it was wrong to frighten Miss Fairlie. If you had anything to say that it was right and necessary for her to hear, you should have gone yourself to Limmeridge House–you should have spoken to the young lady with your own lips.”

She crouched down over the flat stone of the grave, till her face was hidden on it, and made no reply.

“Miss Fairlie will be as good and kind to you as her mother was, if you mean well,” I went on. “Miss Fairlie will keep your secret, and not let you come to any harm. Will you see her to- morrow at the farm? Will you meet her in the garden at Limmeridge House?”

“Oh, if I could die, and be hidden and at rest with YOU!” Her lips murmured the words close on the grave-stone, murmured them in tones of passionate endearment, to the dead remains beneath. “You know how I love your child, for your sake! Oh, Mrs. Fairlie! Mrs. Fairlie! tell me how to save her. Be my darling and my mother once more, and tell me what to do for the best.”

I heard her lips kissing the stone–I saw her hands beating on it passionately. The sound and the sight deeply affected me. I stooped down, and took the poor helpless hands tenderly in mine, and tried to soothe her.

It was useless. She snatched her hands from me, and never moved her face from the stone. Seeing the urgent necessity of quieting her at any hazard and by any means, I appealed to the only anxiety that she appeared to feel, in connection with me and with my opinion of her–the anxiety to convince me of her fitness to be mistress of her own actions.

“Come, come,” I said gently. “Try to compose yourself, or you will make me alter my opinion of you. Don’t let me think that the person who put you in the Asylum might have had some excuse—-”

The next words died away on my lips. The instant I risked that chance reference to the person who had put her in the Asylum she sprang up on her knees. A most extraordinary and startling change passed over her. Her face, at all ordinary times so touching to look at, in its nervous sensitiveness, weakness, and uncertainty, became suddenly darkened by an expression of maniacally intense hatred and fear, which communicated a wild, unnatural force to every feature. Her eyes dilated in the dim evening light, like the eyes of a wild animal. She caught up the cloth that had fallen at her side, as if it had been a living creature that she could kill, and crushed it in both her hands with such convulsive strength, that the few drops of moisture left in it trickled down on the stone beneath her.

“Talk of something else,” she said, whispering through her teeth. “I shall lose myself if you talk of that.”

Every vestige of the gentler thoughts which had filled her mind hardly a minute since seemed to be swept from it now. It was evident that the impression left by Mrs. Fairlie’s kindness was not, as I had supposed, the only strong impression on her memory. With the grateful remembrance of her school-days at Limmeridge, there existed the vindictive remembrance of the wrong inflicted on her by her confinement in the Asylum. Who had done that wrong? Could it really be her mother?

It was hard to give up pursuing the inquiry to that final point, but I forced myself to abandon all idea of continuing it. Seeing her as I saw her now, it would have been cruel to think of anything but the necessity and the humanity of restoring her composure.

“I will talk of nothing to distress you,” I said soothingly.

“You want something,” she answered sharply and suspiciously. “Don’t look at me like that. Speak to me–tell me what you want.”

“I only want you to quiet yourself, and when you are calmer, to think over what I have said.”

“Said?” She paused–twisted the cloth in her hands, back-wards and forwards, and whispered to herself, “What is it he said?” She turned again towards me, and shook her head impatiently. “Why don’t you help me?” she asked, with angry suddenness.

“Yes, yes,” I said, “I will help you, and you will soon remember. I ask you to see Miss Fairlie to-morrow and to tell her the truth about the letter.”

“Ah! Miss Fairlie–Fairlie–Fairlie—-”

The mere utterance of the loved familiar name seemed to quiet her. Her face softened and grew like itself again.

“You need have no fear of Miss Fairlie,” I continued, “and no fear of getting into trouble through the letter. She knows so much about it already, that you will have no difficulty in telling her all. There can be little necessity for concealment where there is hardly anything left to conceal. You mention no names in the letter; but Miss Fairlie knows that the person you write of is Sir Percival Glyde—-”

The instant I pronounced that name she started to her feet, and a scream burst from her that rang through the churchyard, and made my heart leap in me with the terror of it. The dark deformity of the expression which had just left her face lowered on it once more, with doubled and trebled intensity. The shriek at the name, the reiterated look of hatred and fear that instantly followed, told all. Not even a last doubt now remained. Her mother was guiltless of imprisoning her in the Asylum. A man had shut her up–and that man was Sir Percival Glyde.

The scream had reached other ears than mine. On one side I heard the door of the sexton’s cottage open; on the other I heard the voice of her companion, the woman in the shawl, the woman whom she had spoken of as Mrs. Clements.

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” cried the voice from behind the clump of dwarf trees.

In a moment more Mrs. Clements hurried into view.

“Who are you?” she cried, facing me resolutely as she set her foot on the stile. “How dare you frighten a poor helpless woman like that?”

She was at Anne Catherick’s side, and had put one arm around her, before I could answer. “What is it, my dear?” she said. “What has he done to you?”

“Nothing,” the poor creature answered. “Nothing. I’m only frightened.”

Mrs. Clements turned on me with a fearless indignation, for which I respected her.

“I should be heartily ashamed of myself if I deserved that angry look,” I said. “But I do not deserve it. I have unfortunately startled her without intending it. This is not the first time she has seen me. Ask her yourself, and she will tell you that I am incapable of willingly harming her or any woman.”

I spoke distinctly, so that Anne Catherick might hear and understand me, and I saw that the words and their meaning had reached her.

“Yes, yes,” she said–“he was good to me once–he helped me—-” She whispered the rest into her friend’s ear.

“Strange, indeed!” said Mrs. Clements, with a look of perplexity. “It makes all the difference, though. I’m sorry I spoke so rough to you, sir; but you must own that appearances looked suspicious to a stranger. It’s more my fault than yours, for humouring her whims, and letting her be alone in such a place as this. Come, my dear–come home now.”

I thought the good woman looked a little uneasy at the prospect of the walk back, and I offered to go with them until they were both within sight of home. Mrs. Clements thanked me civilly, and declined. She said they were sure to meet some of the farm- labourers as soon as they got to the moor.

“Try to forgive me,” I said, when Anne Catherick took her friend’s arm to go away. Innocent as I had been of any intention to terrify and agitate her, my heart smote me as I looked at the poor, pale, frightened face.

“I will try,” she answered. “But you know too much–I’m afraid you’ll always frighten me now.”

Mrs. Clements glanced at me, and shook her head pityingly.

“Good-night, sir,” she said. “You couldn’t help it, I know but I wish it was me you had frightened, and not her.”

They moved away a few steps. I thought they had left me, but Anne suddenly stopped, and separated herself from her friend.

“Wait a little,” she said. “I must say good-bye.”

She returned to the grave, rested both hands tenderly on the marble cross, and kissed it.

“I’m better now,” she sighed, looking up at me quietly. “I forgive you.”

She joined her companion again, and they left the burial-ground. I saw them stop near the church and speak to the sexton’s wife, who had come from the cottage, and had waited, watching us from a distance. Then they went on again up the path that led to the moor. I looked after Anne Catherick as she disappeared, till all trace of her had faded in the twilight–looked as anxiously and sorrowfully as if that was the last I was to see in this weary world of the woman in white.

XIV

Half an hour later I was back at the house, and was informing Miss Halcombe of all that had happened.

She listened to me from beginning to end with a steady, silent attention, which, in a woman of her temperament and disposition, was the strongest proof that could be offered of the serious manner in which my narrative affected her.

“My mind misgives me,” was all she said when I had done. “My mind misgives me sadly about the future.”

“The future may depend,” I suggested, “on the use we make of the present. It is not improbable that Anne Catherick may speak more readily and unreservedly to a woman than she has spoken to me. If Miss Fairlie—-”

“Not to be thought of for a moment,” interposed Miss Halcombe, in her most decided manner.

“Let me suggest, then,” I continued, “that you should see Anne Catherick yourself, and do all you can to win her confidence. For my own part, I shrink from the idea of alarming the poor creature a second time, as I have most unhappily alarmed her already. Do you see any objection to accompanying me to the farmhouse to- morrow?”

“None whatever. I will go anywhere and do anything to serve Laura’s interests. What did you say the place was called?”

“You must know it well. It is called Todd’s Corner.”

“Certainly. Todd’s Corner is one of Mr. Fairlie’s farms. Our dairymaid here is the farmer’s second daughter. She goes backwards and forwards constantly between this house and her father’s farm, and she may have heard or seen something which it may be useful to us to know. Shall I ascertain, at once, if the girl is downstairs?”

She rang the bell, and sent the servant with his message. He returned, and announced that the dairymaid was then at the farm. She had not been there for the last three days, and the housekeeper had given her leave to go home for an hour or two that evening.

“I can speak to her to-morrow,” said Miss Halcombe, when the servant had left the room again. “In the meantime, let me thoroughly understand the object to be gained by my interview with Anne Catherick. Is there no doubt in your mind that the person who confined her in the Asylum was Sir Percival Glyde?”

“There is not the shadow of a doubt. The only mystery that remains is the mystery of his MOTIVE. Looking to the great difference between his station in life and hers, which seems to preclude all idea of the most distant relationship between them, it is of the last importance–even assuming that she really required to be placed under restraint–to know why HE should have been the person to assume the serious responsibility of shutting her up—-”

“In a private Asylum, I think you said?”

“Yes, in a private Asylum, where a sum of money, which no poor person could afford to give, must have been paid for her maintenance as a patient.”

“I see where the doubt lies, Mr. Hartright, and I promise you that it shall be set at rest, whether Anne Catherick assists us to- morrow or not. Sir Percival Glyde shall not be long in this house without satisfying Mr. Gilmore, and satisfying me. My sister’s future is my dearest care in life, and I have influence enough over her to give me some power, where her marriage is concerned, in the disposal of it.”

We parted for the night.

After breakfast the next morning, an obstacle, which the events of the evening before had put out of my memory, interposed to prevent our proceeding immediately to the farm. This was my last day at Limmeridge House, and it was necessary, as soon as the post came in, to follow Miss Halcombe’s advice, and to ask Mr. Fairlie’s permission to shorten my engagement by a month, in consideration of an unforeseen necessity for my return to London.

Fortunately for the probability of this excuse, so far as appearances were concerned, the post brought me two letters from London friends that morning. I took them away at once to my own room, and sent the servant with a message to Mr. Fairlie, requesting to know when I could see him on a matter of business.

I awaited the man’s return, free from the slightest feeling of anxiety about the manner in which his master might receive my application. With Mr. Fairlie’s leave or without it, I must go. The consciousness of having now taken the first step on the dreary journey which was henceforth to separate my life from Miss Fairlie’s seemed to have blunted my sensibility to every consideration connected with myself. I had done with my poor man’s touchy pride–I had done with all my little artist vanities. No insolence of Mr. Fairlie’s, if he chose to be insolent, could wound me now.

The servant returned with a message for which I was not unprepared. Mr. Fairlie regretted that the state of his health, on that particular morning, was such as to preclude all hope of his having the pleasure of receiving me. He begged, therefore, that I would accept his apologies, and kindly communicate what I had to say in the form of a letter. Similar messages to this had reached me, at various intervals, during my three months’ residence in the house. Throughout the whole of that period Mr. Fairlie had been rejoiced to “possess” me, but had never been well enough to see me for a second time. The servant took every fresh batch of drawings that I mounted and restored back to his master with my “respects,” and returned empty-handed with Mr. Fairlie’s “kind compliments,” “best thanks,” and “sincere regrets” that the state of his health still obliged him to remain a solitary prisoner in his own room. A more satisfactory arrangement to both sides could not possibly have been adopted. It would be hard to say which of us, under the circumstances, felt the most grateful sense of obligation to Mr. Fairlie’s accommodating nerves.

I sat down at once to write the letter, expressing myself in it as civilly, as clearly, and as briefly as possible. Mr. Fairlie did not hurry his reply. Nearly an hour elapsed before the answer was placed in my hands. It was written with beautiful regularity and neatness of character, in violet-coloured ink, on note-paper as smooth as ivory and almost as thick as cardboard, and it addressed me in these terms–

“Mr. Fairlie’s compliments to Mr. Hartright. Mr. Fairlie is more surprised and disappointed than he can say (in the present state of his health) by Mr. Hartright’s application. Mr. Fairlie is not a man of business, but he has consulted his steward, who is, and that person confirms Mr. Fairlie’s opinion that Mr. Hartright’s request to be allowed to break his engagement cannot be justified by any necessity whatever, excepting perhaps a case of life and death. If the highly-appreciative feeling towards Art and its professors, which it is the consolation and happiness of Mr. Fairlie’s suffering existence to cultivate, could be easily shaken, Mr. Hartright’s present proceeding would have shaken it. It has not done so–except in the instance of Mr. Hartright himself.

“Having stated his opinion–so far, that is to say, as acute nervous suffering will allow him to state anything–Mr. Fairlie has nothing to add but the expression of his decision, in reference to the highly irregular application that has been made to him. Perfect repose of body and mind being to the last degree important in his case, Mr. Fairlie will not suffer Mr. Hartright to disturb that repose by remaining in the house under circumstances of an essentially irritating nature to both sides. Accordingly, Mr. Fairlie waives his right of refusal, purely with a view to the preservation of his own tranquillity–and informs Mr. Hartright that he may go.”

I folded the letter up, and put it away with my other papers. The time had been when I should have resented it as an insult–I accepted it now as a written release from my engagement. It was off my mind, it was almost out of my memory, when I went downstairs to the breakfast-room, and informed Miss Halcombe that I was ready to walk with her to the farm.

“Has Mr. Fairlie given you a satisfactory answer?” she asked as we left the house.

“He has allowed me to go, Miss Halcombe.”

She looked up at me quickly, and then, for the first time since I had known her, took my arm of her own accord. No words could have expressed so delicately that she understood how the permission to leave my employment had been granted, and that she gave me her sympathy, not as my superior, but as my friend. I had not felt the man’s insolent letter, but I felt deeply the woman’s atoning kindness.

On our way to the farm we arranged that Miss Halcombe was to enter the house alone, and that I was to wait outside, within call. We adopted this mode of proceeding from an apprehension that my presence, after what had happened in the churchyard the evening before, might have the effect of renewing Anne Catherick’s nervous dread, and of rendering her additionally distrustful of the advances of a lady who was a stranger to her. Miss Halcombe left me, with the intention of speaking, in the first instance, to the farmer’s wife (of whose friendly readiness to help her in any way she was well assured), while I waited for her in the near neighbourhood of the house.

I had fully expected to be left alone for some time. To my surprise, however, little more than five minutes had elapsed before Miss Halcombe returned.

“Does Anne Catherick refuse to see you?” I asked in astonishment.

“Anne Catherick is gone,” replied Miss Halcombe.

“Gone?”

“Gone with Mrs. Clements. They both left the farm at eight o’clock this morning.”

I could say nothing–I could only feel that our last chance of discovery had gone with them.

“All that Mrs. Todd knows about her guests, I know,” Miss Halcombe went on, “and it leaves me, as it leaves her, in the dark. They both came back safe last night, after they left you, and they passed the first part of the evening with Mr. Todd’s family as usual. Just before supper-time, however, Anne Catherick startled them all by being suddenly seized with faintness. She had had a similar attack, of a less alarming kind, on the day she arrived at the farm; and Mrs. Todd had connected it, on that occasion, with something she was reading at the time in our local newspaper, which lay on the farm table, and which she had taken up only a minute or two before.”

“Does Mrs. Todd know what particular passage in the newspaper affected her in that way?” I inquired.

“No,” replied Miss Halcombe. “She had looked it over, and had seen nothing in it to agitate any one. I asked leave, however, to look it over in my turn, and at the very first page I opened I found that the editor had enriched his small stock of news by drawing upon our family affairs, and had published my sister’s marriage engagement, among his other announcements, copied from the London papers, of Marriages in High Life. I concluded at once that this was the paragraph which had so strangely affected Anne Catherick, and I thought I saw in it, also, the origin of the letter which she sent to our house the next day.”

“There can be no doubt in either case. But what did you hear about her second attack of faintness yesterday evening?”

“Nothing. The cause of it is a complete mystery. There was no stranger in the room. The only visitor was our dairymaid, who, as I told you, is one of Mr. Todd’s daughters, and the only conversation was the usual gossip about local affairs. They heard her cry out, and saw her turn deadly pale, without the slightest apparent reason. Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Clements took her upstairs, and Mrs. Clements remained with her. They were heard talking together until long after the usual bedtime, and early this morning Mrs. Clements took Mrs. Todd aside, and amazed her beyond all power of expression by saying that they must go. The only explanation Mrs. Todd could extract from her guest was, that something had happened, which was not the fault of any one at the farmhouse, but which was serious enough to make Anne Catherick resolve to leave Limmeridge immediately. It was quite useless to press Mrs. Clements to be more explicit. She only shook her head, and said that, for Anne’s sake, she must beg and pray that no one would question her. All she could repeat, with every appearance of being seriously agitated herself, was that Anne must go, that she must go with her, and that the destination to which they might both betake themselves must be kept a secret from everybody. I spare you the recital of Mrs. Todd’s hospitable remonstrances and refusals. It ended in her driving them both to the nearest station, more than three hours since. She tried hard on the way to get them to speak more plainly, but without success; and she set them down outside the station-door, so hurt and offended by the unceremonious abruptness of their departure and their unfriendly reluctance to place the least confidence in her, that she drove away in anger, without so much as stopping to bid them good-bye. That is exactly what has taken place. Search your own memory, Mr. Hartright, and tell me if anything happened in the burial-ground yesterday evening which can at all account for the extraordinary departure of those two women this morning.”

“I should like to account first, Miss Halcombe, for the sudden change in Anne Catherick which alarmed them at the farmhouse, hours after she and I had parted, and when time enough had elapsed to quiet any violent agitation that I might have been unfortunate enough to cause. Did you inquire particularly about the gossip which was going on in the room when she turned faint?”

“Yes. But Mrs. Todd’s household affairs seem to have divided her attention that evening with the talk in the farmhouse parlour. She could only tell me that it was ‘just the news,’–meaning, I suppose, that they all talked as usual about each other.”

“The dairymaid’s memory may be better than her mother’s,” I said. “It may be as well for you to speak to the girl, Miss Halcombe, as soon as we get back.”

My suggestion was acted on the moment we returned to the house. Miss Halcombe led me round to the servants’ offices, and we found the girl in the dairy, with her sleeves tucked up to her shoulders, cleaning a large milk-pan and singing blithely over her work.

“I have brought this gentleman to see your dairy, Hannah,” said Miss Halcombe. “It is one of the sights of the house, and it always does you credit.”

The girl blushed and curtseyed, and said shyly that she hoped she always did her best to keep things neat and clean.

“We have just come from your father’s,” Miss Halcombe continued. “You were there yesterday evening, I hear, and you found visitors at the house?”

“Yes, miss.”

“One of them was taken faint and ill, I am told. I suppose nothing was said or done to frighten her? You were not talking of anything very terrible, were you?”

“Oh no, miss!” said the girl, laughing. “We were only talking of the news.”

“Your sisters told you the news at Todd’s Corner, I suppose?”

“Yes, miss.”

“And you told them the news at Limmeridge House?”

“Yes, miss. And I’m quite sure nothing was said to frighten the poor thing, for I was talking when she was taken ill. It gave me quite a turn, miss, to see it, never having been taken faint myself.”

Before any more questions could be put to her, she was called away to receive a basket of eggs at the dairy door. As she left us I whispered to Miss Halcombe–

“Ask her if she happened to mention, last night, that visitors were expected at Limmeridge House.”

Miss Halcombe showed me, by a look, that she understood, and put the question as soon as the dairymaid returned to us.

“Oh yes, miss, I mentioned that,” said the girl simply. “The company coming, and the accident to the brindled cow, was all the news I had to take to the farm.”

“Did you mention names? Did you tell them that Sir Percival Glyde was expected on Monday?”

“Yes, miss–I told them Sir Percival Glyde was coming. I hope there was no harm in it–I hope I didn’t do wrong.”

“Oh no, no harm. Come, Mr. Hartright, Hannah will begin to think us in the way, if we interrupt her any longer over her work.”

We stopped and looked at one another the moment we were alone again.

“Is there any doubt in your mind, NOW, Miss Halcombe?”

“Sir Percival Glyde shall remove that doubt, Mr. Hartright–or Laura Fairlie shall never be his wife.”

XV

As we walked round to the front of the house a fly from the railway approached us along the drive. Miss Halcombe waited on the door-steps until the fly drew up, and then advanced to shake hands with an old gentleman, who got out briskly the moment the steps were let down. Mr. Gilmore had arrived.

I looked at him, when we were introduced to each other, with an interest and a curiosity which I could hardly conceal. This old man was to remain at Limmeridge House after I had left it, he was to hear Sir Percival Glyde’s explanation, and was to give Miss Halcombe the assistance of his experience in forming her judgment; he was to wait until the question of the marriage was set at rest; and his hand, if that question were decided in the affirmative, was to draw the settlement which bound Miss Fairlie irrevocably to her engagement. Even then, when I knew nothing by comparison with what I know now, I looked at the family lawyer with an interest which I had never felt before in the presence of any man breathing who was a total stranger to me.

In external appearance Mr. Gilmore was the exact opposite of the conventional idea of an old lawyer. His complexion was florid– his white hair was worn rather long and kept carefully brushed– his black coat, waistcoat, and trousers fitted him with perfect neatness–his white cravat was carefully tied, and his lavender- coloured kid gloves might have adorned the hands of a fashionable clergyman, without fear and without reproach. His manners were pleasantly marked by the formal grace and refinement of the old school of politeness, quickened by the invigorating sharpness and readiness of a man whose business in life obliges him always to keep his faculties in good working order. A sanguine constitution and fair prospects to begin with–a long subsequent career of creditable and comfortable prosperity–a cheerful, diligent, widely-respected old age–such were the general impressions I derived from my introduction to Mr. Gilmore, and it is but fair to him to add, that the knowledge I gained by later and better experience only tended to confirm them.

I left the old gentleman and Miss Halcombe to enter the house together, and to talk of family matters undisturbed by the restraint of a stranger’s presence. They crossed the hall on their way to the drawing-room, and I descended the steps again to wander about the garden alone.

My hours were numbered at Limmeridge House–my departure the next morning was irrevocably settled–my share in the investigation which the anonymous letter had rendered necessary was at an end. No harm could be done to any one but myself if I let my heart loose again, for the little time that was left me, from the cold cruelty of restraint which necessity had forced me to inflict upon it, and took my farewell of the scenes which were associated with the brief dream-time of my happiness and my love.

I turned instinctively to the walk beneath my study-window, where I had seen her the evening before with her little dog, and followed the path which her dear feet had trodden so often, till I came to the wicket gate that led into her rose garden. The winter bareness spread drearily over it now. The flowers that she had taught me to distinguish by their names, the flowers that I had taught her to paint from, were gone, and the tiny white paths that led between the beds were damp and green already. I went on to the avenue of trees, where we had breathed together the warm fragrance of August evenings, where we had admired together the myriad combinations of shade and sunlight that dappled the ground at our feet. The leaves fell about me from the groaning branches, and the earthy decay in the atmosphere chilled me to the bones. A little farther on, and I was out of the grounds, and following the lane that wound gently upward to the nearest hills. The old felled tree by the wayside, on which we had sat to rest, was sodden with rain, and the tuft of ferns and grasses which I had drawn for her, nestling under the rough stone wall in front of us, had turned to a pool of water, stagnating round an island of draggled weeds. I gained the summit of the hill, and looked at the view which we had so often admired in the happier time. It was cold and barren–it was no longer the view that I remembered. The sunshine of her presence was far from me-the charm of her voice no longer murmured in my ear. She had talked to me, on the spot from which I now looked down, of her father, who was her last surviving parent–had told me how fond of each other they had been, and how sadly she missed him still when she entered certain rooms in the house, and when she took up forgotten occupations and amusements with which he had been associated. Was the view that I had seen, while listening to those words, the view that I saw now, standing on the hill-top by myself? I turned and left it–I wound my way back again, over the moor, and round the sandhills, down to the beach. There was the white rage of the surf, and the multitudinous glory of the leaping waves–but where was the place on which she had once drawn idle figures with her parasol in the sand–the place where we had sat together, while she talked to me about myself and my home, while she asked me a woman’s minutely observant questions about my mother and my sister, and innocently wondered whether I should ever leave my lonely chambers and have a wife and a house of my own? Wind and wave had long since smoothed out the trace of her which she had left in those marks on the sand, I looked over the wide monotony of the seaside prospect, and the place in which we two had idled away the sunny hours was as lost to me as if I had never known it, as strange to me as if I stood already on a foreign shore.

The empty silence of the beach struck cold to my heart. I returned to the house and the garden, where traces were left to speak of her at every turn.

On the west terrace walk I met Mr. Gilmore. He was evidently in search of me, for he quickened his pace when we caught sight of each other. The state of my spirits little fitted me for the society of a stranger; but the meeting was inevitable, and I resigned myself to make the best of it.

“You are the very person I wanted to see,” said the old gentleman. “I had two words to say to you, my dear sir; and If you have no objection I will avail myself of the present opportunity. To put it plainly, Miss Halcombe and I have been talking over family affairs–affairs which are the cause of my being here–and in the course of our conversation she was naturally led to tell me of this unpleasant matter connected with the anonymous letter, and of the share which you have most creditably and properly taken in the proceedings so far. That share, I quite understand, gives you an interest which you might not otherwise have felt, in knowing that the future management of the investigation which you have begun will be placed in safe hands. My dear sir, make yourself quite easy on that point–it will be placed in MY hands.”

“You are, in every way, Mr. Gilmore, much fitter to advise and to act in the matter than I am. Is it an indiscretion on my part to ask if you have decided yet on a course of proceeding?

“So far as it is possible to decide, Mr. Hartright, I have decided. I mean to send a copy of the letter, accompanied by a statement of the circumstances, to Sir Percival Glyde’s solicitor in London, with whom I have some acquaintance. The letter itself I shall keep here to show to Sir Percival as soon as he arrives. The tracing of the two women I have already provided for, by sending one of Mr. Fairlie’s servants–a confidential person–to the station to make inquiries. The man has his money and his directions, and he will follow the women in the event of his finding any clue. This is all that can be done until Sir Percival comes on Monday. I have no doubt myself that every explanation which can be expected from a gentleman and a man of honour, he will readily give. Sir Percival stands very high, sir–an eminent position, a reputation above suspicion–I feel quite easy about results–quite easy, I am rejoiced to assure you. Things of this sort happen constantly in my experience. Anonymous letters– unfortunate woman–sad state of society. I don’t deny that there are peculiar complications in this case; but the case itself is, most unhappily, common–common.”

“I am afraid, Mr. Gilmore, I have the misfortune to differ from you in the view I take of the case.”

“Just so, my dear sir–just so. I am an old man, and I take the practical view. You are a young man, and you take the romantic view. Let us not dispute about our views. I live professionally in an atmosphere of disputation, Mr. Hartright, and I am only too glad to escape from it, as I am escaping here. We will wait for events–yes, yes, yes–we will wait for events. Charming place this. Good shooting? Probably not, none of Mr. Fairlie’s land is preserved, I think. Charming place, though, and delightful people. You draw and paint, I hear, Mr. Hartright? Enviable accomplishment. What style?”

We dropped into general conversation, or rather, Mr. Gilmore talked and I listened. My attention was far from him, and from the topics on which he discoursed so fluently. The solitary walk of the last two hours had wrought its effect on me–it had set the idea in my mind of hastening my departure from Limmeridge House. Why should I prolong the hard trial of saying farewell by one unnecessary minute? What further service was required of me by any one? There was no useful purpose to be served by my stay in Cumberland–there was no restriction of time in the permission to leave which my employer had granted to me. Why not end it there and then?

I determined to end it. There were some hours of daylight still left–there was no reason why my journey back to London should not begin on that afternoon. I made the first civil excuse that occurred to me for leaving Mr. Gilmore, and returned at once to the house.

On my way up to my own room I met Miss Halcombe on the stairs. She saw, by the hurry of my movements and the change in my manner, that I had some new purpose in view, and asked what had happened.

I told her the reasons which induced me to think of hastening my departure, exactly as I have told them here.

“No, no,” she said, earnestly and kindly, “leave us like a friend– break bread with us once more. Stay here and dine, stay here and help us to spend our last evening with you as happily, as like our first evenings, as we can. It is my invitation–Mrs. Vesey’s invitation—-” she hesitated a little, and then added, “Laura’s invitation as well.”

I promised to remain. God knows I had no wish to leave even the shadow of a sorrowful impression with any one of them.

My own room was the best place for me till the dinner bell rang. I waited there till it was time to go downstairs.

I had not spoken to Miss Fairlie–I had not even seen her–all that day. The first meeting with her, when I entered the drawing- room, was a hard trial to her self-control and to mine. She, too, had done her best to make our last evening renew the golden bygone time–the time that could never come again. She had put on the dress which I used to admire more than any other that she possessed–a dark blue silk, trimmed quaintly and prettily with old-fashioned lace; she came forward to meet me with her former readiness–she gave me her hand with the frank, innocent good-will of happier days. The cold fingers that trembled round mine–the pale cheeks with a bright red spot burning in the midst of them– the faint smile that struggled to live on her lips and died away from them while I looked at it, told me at what sacrifice of herself her outward composure was maintained. My heart could take her no closer to me, or I should have loved her then as I had never loved her yet.

Mr. Gilmore was a great assistance to us. He was in high good- humour, and he led the conversation with unflagging spirit. Miss Halcombe seconded him resolutely, and I did all I could to follow her example. The kind blue eyes, whose slightest changes of expression I had learnt to interpret so well, looked at me appealingly when we first sat down to table. Help my sister–the sweet anxious face seemed to say–help my sister, and you will help me.

We got through the dinner, to all outward appearance at least, happily enough. When the ladies had risen from table, and Mr. Gilmore and I were left alone in the dining-room, a new interest presented itself to occupy our attention, and to give me an opportunity of quieting myself by a few minutes of needful and welcome silence. The servant who had been despatched to trace Anne Catherick and Mrs. Clements returned with his report, and was shown into the dining-room immediately.

“Well,” said Mr. Gilmore, “what have you found out?”

“I have found out, sir,” answered the man, “that both the women took tickets at our station here for Carlisle.”

“You went to Carlisle, of course, when you heard that?”

“I did, sir, but I am sorry to say I could find no further trace of them.”

“You inquired at the railway?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And at the different inns?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you left the statement I wrote for you at the police station?”

“I did, sir.”

“Well, my friend, you have done all you could, and I have done all I could, and there the matter must rest till further notice. We have played our trump cards, Mr. Hartright,” continued the old gentleman when the servant had withdrawn. “For the present, at least, the women have outmanoeuvred us, and our only resource now is to wait till Sir Percival Glyde comes here on Monday next. Won’t you fill your glass again? Good bottle of port, that–sound, substantial, old wine. I have got better in my own cellar, though.”

We returned to the drawing-room–the room in which the happiest evenings of my life had been passed–the room which, after this last night, I was never to see again. Its aspect was altered since the days had shortened and the weather had grown cold. The glass doors on the terrace side were closed, and hidden by thick curtains. Instead of the soft twilight obscurity, in which we used to sit, the bright radiant glow of lamplight now dazzled my eyes. All was changed–in-doors and out all was changed.

Miss Halcombe and Mr. Gilmore sat down together at the card-table– Mrs. Vesey took her customary chair. There was no restraint on the disposal of THEIR evening, and I felt the restraint on the disposal of mine all the more painfully from observing it. I saw Miss Fairlie lingering near the music-stand. The time had been when I might have joined her there. I waited irresolutely–I knew neither where to go nor what to do next. She cast one quick glance at me, took a piece of music suddenly from the stand, and came towards me of her own accord.

“Shall I play some of those little melodies of Mozart’s which you used to like so much?” she asked, opening the music nervously, and looking down at it while she spoke.

Before I could thank her she hastened to the piano. The chair near it, which I had always been accustomed to occupy, stood empty. She struck a few chords–then glanced round at me–then looked back again at her music.

“Won’t you take your old place?” she said, speaking very abruptly and in very low tones.

“I may take it on the last night,” I answered.

She did not reply–she kept her attention riveted on the music– music which she knew by memory, which she had played over and over again, in former times, without the book. I only knew that she had heard me, I only knew that she was aware of my being close to her, by seeing the red spot on the cheek that was nearest to me fade out, and the face grow pale all over.

“I am very sorry you are going,” she said, her voice almost sinking to a whisper, her eyes looking more and more intently at the music, her fingers flying over the keys of the piano with a strange feverish energy which I had never noticed in her before.

“I shall remember those kind words, Miss Fairlie, long after to- morrow has come and gone.”

The paleness grew whiter on her face, and she turned it farther away from me.

“Don’t speak of to-morrow,” she said. “Let the music speak to us of to-night, in a happier language than ours.”

Her lips trembled–a faint sigh fluttered from them, which she tried vainly to suppress. Her fingers wavered on the piano–she struck a false note, confused herself in trying to set it right, and dropped her hands angrily on her lap. Miss Halcombe and Mr. Gilmore looked up in astonishment from the card-table at which they were playing. Even Mrs. Vesey, dozing in her chair, woke at the sudden cessation of the music, and inquired what had happened.

“You play at whist, Mr. Hartright?” asked Miss Halcombe, with her eyes directed significantly at the place I occupied.

I knew what she meant–I knew she was right, and I rose at once to go to the card-table. As I left the piano Miss Fairlie turned a page of the music, and touched the keys again with a surer hand.

“I WILL play it,” she said, striking the notes almost passionately. “I WILL play it on the last night.”

“Come, Mrs. Vesey,” said Miss Halcombe, “Mr. Gilmore and I are tired of ecarte–come and be Mr. Hartright’s partner at whist.”

The old lawyer smiled satirically. His had been the winning hand, and he had just turned up a king. He evidently attributed Miss Halcombe’s abrupt change in the card-table arrangements to a lady’s inability to play the losing game.

The rest of the evening passed without a word or a look from her. She kept her place at the piano, and I kept mine at the card- table. She played unintermittingly–played as if the music was her only refuge from herself. Sometimes her fingers touched the notes with a lingering fondness–a soft, plaintive, dying tenderness, unutterably beautiful and mournful to hear; sometimes they faltered and failed her, or hurried over the instrument mechanically, as if their task was a burden to them. But still, change and waver as they might in the expression they imparted to the music, their resolution to play never faltered. She only rose from the piano when we all rose to say Good-night.

Mrs. Vesey was the nearest to the door, and the first to shake hands with me.

“I shall not see you again, Mr. Hartright,” said the old lady. “I am truly sorry you are going away. You have been very kind and attentive, and an old woman like me feels kindness and attention. I wish you happy, sir–I wish you a kind good-bye.”

Mr. Gilmore came next.

“I hope we shall have a future opportunity of bettering our acquaintance, Mr. Hartright. You quite understand about that little matter of business being safe in my hands? Yes, yes, of course. Bless me, how cold it is! Don’t let me keep you at the door. Bon voyage, my dear sir–bon voyage, as the French say.”

Miss Halcombe followed.

“Half-past seven to-morrow morning,” she said–then added in a whisper, “I have heard and seen more than you think. Your conduct to-night has made me your friend for life.”

Miss Fairlie came last. I could not trust myself to look at her when I took her hand, and when I thought of the next morning.

“My departure must be a very early one,” I said. “I shall be gone, Miss Fairlie, before you—-”

“No, no,” she interposed hastily, “not before I am out of my room. I shall be down to breakfast with Marian. I am not so ungrateful, not so forgetful of the past three months—-”

Her voice failed her, her hand closed gently round mine–then dropped it suddenly. Before I could say “Good-night” she was gone.

The end comes fast to meet me–comes inevitably, as the light of the last morning came at Limmeridge House.

It was barely half-past seven when I went downstairs, but I found them both at the breakfast-table waiting for me. In the chill air, in the dim light, in the gloomy morning silence of the house, we three sat down together, and tried to eat, tried to talk. The struggle to preserve appearances was hopeless and useless, and I rose to end it.

As I held out my hand, as Miss Halcombe, who was nearest to me, took it, Miss Fairlie turned away suddenly and hurried from the room.

“Better so,” said Miss Halcombe, when the door had closed–“better so, for you and for her.”

I waited a moment before I could speak–it was hard to lose her, without a parting word or a parting look. I controlled myself–I tried to take leave of Miss Halcombe in fitting terms; but all the farewell words I would fain have spoken dwindled to one sentence.

“Have I deserved that you should write to me?” was all I could say.

“You have nobly deserved everything that I can do for you, as long as we both live. Whatever the end is you shall know it.”

“And if I can ever be of help again, at any future time, long after the memory of my presumption and my folly is forgotten ”

I could add no more. My voice faltered, my eyes moistened in spite of me.

She caught me by both hands–she pressed them with the strong, steady grasp of a man–her dark eyes glittered–her brown complexion flushed deep–the force and energy of her face glowed and grew beautiful with the pure inner light of her generosity and her pity.

“I will trust you–if ever the time comes I will trust you as my friend and HER friend, as my brother and HER brother.” She stopped, drew me nearer to her–the fearless, noble creature– touched my forehead, sister-like, with her lips, and called me by my Christian name. “God bless you, Walter!” she said. “Wait here alone and compose yourself–I had better not stay for both our sakes–I had better see you go from the balcony upstairs.”

She left the room. I turned away towards the window, where nothing faced me but the lonely autumn landscape–I turned away to master myself, before I too left the room in my turn, and left it for ever.

A minute passed–it could hardly have been more–when I heard the door open again softly, and the rustling of a woman’s dress on the carpet moved towards me. My heart beat violently as I turned round. Miss Fairlie was approaching me from the farther end of the room.

She stopped and hesitated when our eyes met, and when she saw that we were alone. Then, with that courage which women lose so often in the small emergency, and so seldom in the great, she came on nearer to me, strangely pale and strangely quiet, drawing one hand after her along the table by which she walked, and holding something at her side in the other, which was hidden by the folds of her dress.

“I only went into the drawing-room,” she said, “to look for this. It may remind you of your visit here, and of the friends you leave behind you. You told me I had improved very much when I did it, and I thought you might like—-”

She turned her head away, and offered me a little sketch, drawn throughout by her own pencil, of the summer-house in which we had first met. The paper trembled in her hand as she held it out to me–trembled in mine as I took it from her.

I was afraid to say what I felt–I only answered, “It shall never leave me–all my life long it shall be the treasure that I prize most. I am very grateful for it–very grateful to you, for not letting me go away without bidding you good-bye.”

“Oh!” she said innocently, “how could I let you go, after we have passed so many happy days together!”

“Those days may never return, Miss Fairlie–my way of life and yours are very far apart. But if a time should come, when the devotion of my whole heart and soul and strength will give you a moment’s happiness, or spare you a moment’s sorrow, will you try to remember the poor drawing-master who has taught you? Miss Halcombe has promised to trust me–will you promise too?”

The farewell sadness in the kind blue eyes shone dimly through her gathering tears.

“I promise it,” she said in broken tones. “Oh, don’t look at me like that! I promise it with all my heart.”

I ventured a little nearer to her, and held out my hand.

“You have many friends who love you, Miss Fairlie. Your happy future is the dear object of many hopes. May I say, at parting, that it is the dear object of MY hopes too?”

The tears flowed fast down her cheeks. She rested one trembling hand on the table to steady herself while she gave me the other. I took it in mine–I held it fast. My head drooped over it, my tears fell on it, my lips pressed it–not in love; oh, not in love, at that last moment, but in the agony and the self- abandonment of despair.

“For God’s sake, leave me!” she said faintly.

The confession of her heart’s secret burst from her in those pleading words. I had no right to hear them, no right to answer them–they were the words that banished me, in the name of her sacred weakness, from the room. It was all over. I dropped her hand, I said no more. The blinding tears shut her out from my eyes, and I dashed them away to look at her for the last time. One look as she sank into a chair, as her arms fell on the table, as her fair head dropped on them wearily. One farewell look, and the door had closed upon her–the great gulf of separation had opened between us–the image of Laura Fairlie was a memory of the past already.

The End of Hartright’s Narrative.

THE STORY CONTINUED BY VINCENT GILMORE (of Chancery Lane, Solicitor)

I

I write these lines at the request of my friend, Mr. Walter Hartright. They are intended to convey a description of certain events which seriously affected Miss Fairlie’s interests, and which took place after the period of Mr. Hartright’s departure from Limmeridge House.

There is no need for me to say whether my own opinion does or does not sanction the disclosure of the remarkable family story, of which my narrative forms an important component part. Mr. Hartright has taken that responsibility on himself, and circumstances yet to be related will show that he has amply earned the right to do so, if he chooses to exercise it. The plan he has adopted for presenting the story to others, in the most truthful and most vivid manner, requires that it should be told, at each successive stage in the march of events, by the persons who were directly concerned in those events at the time of their occurrence. My appearance here, as narrator, is the necessary consequence of this arrangement. I was present during the sojourn of Sir Percival Glyde in Cumberland, and was personally concerned in one important result of his short residence under Mr. Fairlie’s roof. It is my duty, therefore, to add these new links to the chain of events, and to take up the chain itself at the point where, for the present only Mr. Hartright has dropped it.

I arrived at Limmeridge House on Friday the second of November.

My object was to remain at Mr. Fairlie’s until the arrival of Sir Percival Glyde. If that event led to the appointment of any given day for Sir Percival’s union with Miss Fairlie, I was to take the necessary instructions back with me to London, and to occupy myself in drawing the lady’s marriage-settlement.

On the Friday I was not favoured by Mr. Fairlie with an interview. He had been, or had fancied himself to be, an invalid for years past, and he was not well enough to receive me. Miss Halcombe was the first member of the family whom I saw. She met me at the house door, and introduced me to Mr. Hartright, who had been staying at Limmeridge for some time past.

I did not see Miss Fairlie until later in the day, at dinner-time. She was not looking well, and I was sorry to observe it. She is a sweet lovable girl, as amiable and attentive to every one about her as her excellent mother used to be–though, personally speaking, she takes after her father. Mrs. Fairlie had dark eyes and hair, and her elder daughter, Miss Halcombe, strongly reminds me of her. Miss Fairlie played to us in the evening–not so well as usual, I thought. We had a rubber at whist, a mere profanation, so far as play was concerned, of that noble game. I had been favourably impressed by Mr. Hartright on our first introduction to one another, but I soon discovered that he was not free from the social failings incidental to his age. There are three things that none of the young men of the present generation can do. They can’t sit over their wine, they can’t play at whist, and they can’t pay a lady a compliment. Mr. Hartright was no exception to the general rule. Otherwise, even in those early days and on that short acquaintance, he struck me as being a modest and gentlemanlike young man.

So the Friday passed. I say nothing about the more serious matters which engaged my attention on that day–the anonymous letter to Miss Fairlie, the measures I thought it right to adopt when the matter was mentioned to me, and the conviction I entertained that every possible explanation of the circumstances would be readily afforded by Sir Percival Glyde, having all been fully noticed, as I understand, in the narrative which precedes this.

On the Saturday Mr. Hartright had left before I got down to breakfast. Miss Fairlie kept her room all day, and Miss Halcombe appeared to me to be out of spirits. The house was not what it used to be in the time of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Fairlie. I took a walk by myself in the forenoon, and looked about at some of the places which I first saw when I was staying at Limmeridge to transact family business, more than thirty years since. They were not what they used to be either.

At two o’clock Mr. Fairlie sent to say he was well enough to see me. HE had not altered, at any rate, since I first knew him. His talk was to the same purpose as usual–all about himself and his ailments, his wonderful coins, and his matchless Rembrandt etchings. The moment I tried to speak of the business that had brought me to his house, he shut his eyes and said I “upset” him. I persisted in upsetting him by returning again and again to the subject. All I could ascertain was that he looked on his niece’s marriage as a settled thing, that her father had sanctioned it, that he sanctioned it himself, that it was a desirable marriage, and that he should be personally rejoiced when the worry of it was over. As to the settlements, if I would consult his niece, and afterwards dive as deeply as I pleased into my own knowledge of the family affairs, and get everything ready, and limit his share in the business, as guardian, to saying Yes, at the right moment– why, of course he would meet my views, and everybody else’s views, with infinite pleasure. In the meantime, there I saw him, a helpless sufferer, confined to his room. Did I think he looked as if he wanted teasing? No. Then why tease him?

I might, perhaps, have been a little astonished at this extraordinary absence of all self-assertion on Mr. Fairlie’s part, in the character of guardian, if my knowledge of the family affairs had not been sufficient to remind me that he was a single man, and that he had nothing more than a life-interest in the Limmeridge property. As matters stood, therefore, I was neither surprised nor disappointed at the result of the interview. Mr. Fairlie had simply justified my expectations–and there was an end of it.

Sunday was a dull day, out of doors and in. A letter arrived for me from Sir Percival Glyde’s solicitor, acknowledging the receipt of my copy of the anonymous letter and my accompanying statement of the case. Miss Fairlie joined us in the afternoon, looking pale and depressed, and altogether unlike herself. I had some talk with her, and ventured on a delicate allusion to Sir Percival. She listened and said nothing. All other subjects she pursued willingly, but this subject she allowed to drop. I began to doubt whether she might not be repenting of her engagement– just as young ladies often do, when repentance comes too late.

On Monday Sir Percival Glyde arrived.

I found him to be a most prepossessing man, so far as manners and appearance were concerned. He looked rather older than I had expected, his head being bald over the forehead, and his face somewhat marked and worn, but his movements were as active and his spirits as high as a young man’s. His meeting with Miss Halcombe was delightfully hearty and unaffected, and his reception of me, upon my being presented to him, was so easy and pleasant that we got on together like old friends. Miss Fairlie was not with us when he arrived, but she entered the room about ten minutes afterwards. Sir Percival rose and paid his compliments with perfect grace. His evident concern on seeing the change for the worse in the young lady’s looks was expressed with a mixture of tenderness and respect, with an unassuming delicacy of tone, voice, and manner, which did equal credit to his good breeding and his good sense. I was rather surprised, under these circumstances, to see that Miss Fairlie continued to be constrained and uneasy in his presence, and that she took the first opportunity of leaving the room again. Sir Percival neither noticed the restraint in her reception of him, nor her sudden withdrawal from our society. He had not obtruded his attentions on her while she was present, and he did not embarrass Miss Halcombe by any allusion to her departure when she was gone. His tact and taste were never at fault on this or on any other occasion while I was in his company at Limmeridge House.

As soon as Miss Fairlie had left the room he spared us all embarrassment on the subject of the anonymous letter, by adverting to it of his own accord. He had stopped in London on his way from Hampshire, had seen his solicitor, had read the documents forwarded by me, and had travelled on to Cumberland, anxious to satisfy our minds by the speediest and the fullest explanation that words could convey. On hearing him express himself to this effect, I offered him the original letter, which I had kept for his inspection. He thanked me, and declined to look at it, saying that he had seen the copy, and that he was quite willing to leave the original in our hands.

The statement itself, on which he immediately entered, was as simple and satisfactory as I had all along anticipated it would be.

Mrs. Catherick, he informed us, had in past years laid him under some obligations for faithful services rendered to his family connections and to himself. She had been doubly unfortunate in being married to a husband who had deserted her, and in having an only child whose mental faculties had been in a disturbed condition from a very early age. Although her marriage had removed her to a part of Hampshire far distant from the neighbourhood in which Sir Percival’s property was situated, he had taken care not to lose sight of her–his friendly feeling towards the poor woman, in consideration of her past services, having been greatly strengthened by his admiration of the patience and courage with which she supported her calamities. In course of time the symptoms of mental affliction in her unhappy daughter increased to such a serious extent, as to make it a matter of necessity to place her under proper medical care. Mrs. Catherick herself recognised this necessity, but she also felt the prejudice common to persons occupying her respectable station, against allowing her child to be admitted, as a pauper, into a public Asylum. Sir Percival had respected this prejudice, as he respected honest independence of feeling in any rank of life, and had resolved to mark his grateful sense of Mrs. Catherick’s early attachment to the interests of himself and his family, by defraying the expense of her daughter’s maintenance in a trustworthy private Asylum. To her mother’s regret, and to his own regret, the unfortunate creature had discovered the share which circumstances had induced him to take in placing her under restraint, and had conceived the most intense hatred and distrust of him in consequence. To that hatred and distrust–which had expressed itself in various ways in the Asylum–the anonymous letter, written after her escape, was plainly attributable. If Miss Halcombe’s or Mr. Gilmore’s recollection of the document did not confirm that view, or if they wished for any additional particulars about the Asylum (the address of which he mentioned, as well as the names and addresses of the two doctors on whose certificates the patient was admitted), he was ready to answer any question and to clear up any uncertainty. He had done his duty to the unhappy young woman, by instructing his solicitor to spare no expense in tracing her, and in restoring her once more to medical care, and he was now only anxious to do his duty towards Miss Fairlie and towards her family, in the same plain, straightforward way.

I was the first to speak in answer to this appeal. My own course was plain to me. It is the great beauty of the Law that it can dispute any human statement, made under any circumstances, and reduced to any form. If I had felt professionally called upon to set up a case against Sir Percival Glyde, on the strength of his own explanation, I could have done so beyond all doubt. But my duty did not lie in this direction–my function was of the purely judicial kind. I was to weigh the explanation we had just heard, to allow all due force to the high reputation of the gentleman who offered it, and to decide honestly whether the probabilities, on Sir Percival’s own showing, were plainly with him, or plainly against him. My own conviction was that they were plainly with him, and I accordingly declared that his explanation was, to my mind, unquestionably a satisfactory one.

Miss Halcombe, after looking at me very earnestly, said a few words, on her side, to the same effect–with a certain hesitation of manner, however, which the circumstances did not seem to me to warrant. I am unable to say, positively, whether Sir Percival noticed this or not. My opinion is that he did, seeing that he pointedly resumed the subject, although he might now, with all propriety, have allowed it to drop.

“If my plain statement of facts had only been addressed to Mr. Gilmore,” he said, “I should consider any further reference to this unhappy matter as unnecessary. I may fairly expect Mr. Gilmore, as a gentleman, to believe me on my word, and when he has done me that justice, all discussion of the subject between us has come to an end. But my position with a lady is not the same. I owe to her–what I would concede to no man alive–a PROOF of the truth of my assertion. You cannot ask for that proof, Miss Halcombe, and it is therefore my duty to you, and still more to Miss Fairlie, to offer it. May I beg that you will write at once to the mother of this unfortunate woman–to Mrs. Catherick–to ask for her testimony in support of the explanation which I have just offered to you.”

I saw Miss Halcombe change colour, and look a little uneasy. Sir Percival’s suggestion, politely as it was expressed, appeared to her, as it appeared to me, to point very delicately at the hesitation which her manner had betrayed a moment or two since.

“I hope, Sir Percival, you don’t do me the injustice to suppose that I distrust you,” she said quickly.

“Certainly not, Miss Halcombe. I make my proposal purely as an act of attention to YOU. Will you excuse my obstinacy if I still venture to press it?”

He walked to the writing-table as he spoke, drew a chair to it, and opened the paper case.

“Let me beg you to write the note,” he said, “as a favour to ME. It need not occupy you more than a few minutes. You have only to ask Mrs. Catherick two questions. First, if her daughter was placed in the Asylum with her knowledge and approval. Secondly, if the share I took in the matter was such as to merit the expression of her gratitude towards myself? Mr. Gilmore’s mind is at ease on this unpleasant subject, and your mind is at ease–pray set my mind at ease also by writing the note.”

“You oblige me to grant your request, Sir Percival, when I would much rather refuse it.”

With those words Miss Halcombe rose from her place and went to the writing-table. Sir Percival thanked her, handed her a pen, and then walked away towards the fireplace. Miss Fairlie’s little Italian greyhound was lying on the rug. He held out his hand, and called to the dog good-humouredly.

“Come, Nina,” he said, “we remember each other, don’t we?”

The little beast, cowardly and cross-grained, as pet-dogs usually are, looked up at him sharply, shrank away from his outstretched hand, whined, shivered, and hid itself under a sofa. It was scarcely possible that he could have been put out by such a trifle as a dog’s reception of him, but I observed, nevertheless, that he walked away towards the window very suddenly. Perhaps his temper is irritable at times. If so, I can sympathise with him. My temper is irritable at times too.

Miss Halcombe was not long in writing the note. When it was done she rose from the writing-table, and handed the open sheet of paper to Sir Percival. He bowed, took it from her, folded it up immediately without looking at the contents, sealed it, wrote the address, and handed it back to her in silence. I never saw anything more gracefully and more becomingly done in my life.

“You insist on my posting this letter, Sir Percival?” said Miss Halcombe.

“I beg you will post it,” he answered. “And now that it is written and sealed up, allow me to ask one or two last questions about the unhappy woman to whom it refers. I have read the communication which Mr. Gilmore kindly addressed to my solicitor, describing the circumstances under which the writer of the anonymous letter was identified. But there are certain points to which that statement does not refer. Did Anne Catherick see Miss Fairlie?”

“Certainly not,” replied Miss Halcombe.

“Did she see you?”

“No.”

“She saw nobody from the house then, except a certain Mr. Hartright, who accidentally met with her in the churchyard here?”

“Nobody else.”

“Mr. Hartright was employed at Limmeridge as a drawing-master, I believe? Is he a member of one of the Water-Colour Societies?”

“I believe he is,” answered Miss Halcombe.

He paused for a moment, as if he was thinking over the last answer, and then added–

“Did you find out where Anne Catherick was living, when she was in this neighbourhood?”

“Yes. At a farm on the moor, called Todd’s Corner.”

“It is a duty we all owe to the poor creature herself to trace her,” continued Sir Percival. “She may have said something at Todd’s Corner which may help us to find her. I will go there and make inquiries on the chance. In the meantime, as I cannot prevail on myself to discuss this painful subject with Miss Fairlie, may I beg, Miss Halcombe, that you will kindly undertake to give her the necessary explanation, deferring it of course until you have received the reply to that note.”

Miss Halcombe promised to comp]y with his request. He thanked her, nodded pleasantly, and left us, to go and establish himself in his own room. As he opened the door the cross-grained greyhound poked out her sharp muzzle from under the sofa, and barked and snapped at him.

“A good morning’s work, Miss Halcombe,” I said, as soon as we were alone. “Here is an anxious day well ended already.”

“Yes,” she answered; “no doubt. I am very glad your mind is satisfied.”

“My mind! Surely, with that note in your hand, your mind is at ease too?”

“Oh yes–how can it be otherwise? I know the thing could not be,” she went on, speaking more to herself than to me; “but I almost wish Walter Hartright had stayed here long enough to be present at the explanation, and to hear the proposal to me to write this note.”

I was a little surprised–perhaps a little piqued also–by these last words.

“Events, it is true, connected Mr. Hartright very remarkably with the affair of the letter,” I said; “and I readily admit that he conducted himself, all things considered, with great delicacy and discretion. But I am quite at a loss to understand what useful influence his presence could have exercised in relation to the effect of Sir Percival’s statement on your mind or mine.”

“It was only a fancy,” she said absently. “There is no need to discuss it, Mr. Gilmore. Your experience ought to be, and is, the best guide I can desire.”

I did not altogether like her thrusting the whole responsibility, in this marked manner, on my shoulders. If Mr. Fairlie had done it, I should not have been surprised. But resolute, clear-minded Miss Halcombe was the very last person in the world whom I should have expected to find shrinking from the expression of an opinion of her own.

“If any doubts still trouble you,” I said, “why not mention them to me at once? Tell me plainly, have you any reason to distrust Sir Percival Glyde?”

“None whatever.”

“Do you see anything improbable, or contradictory, in his explanation?”

“How can I say I do, after the proof he has offered me of the truth of it? Can there be better testimony in his favour, Mr. Gilmore, than the testimony of the woman’s mother?”

“None better. If the answer to your note of inquiry proves to be satisfactory, I for one cannot see what more any friend of Sir Percival’s can possibly expect from him.”

“Then we will post the note,” she said, rising to leave the room, “and dismiss all further reference to the subject until the answer arrives. Don’t attach any weight to my hesitation. I can give no better reason for it than that I have been over-anxious about Laura lately–and anxiety, Mr. Gilmore, unsettles the strongest of us.”

She left me abruptly, her naturally firm voice faltering as she spoke those last words. A sensitive, vehement, passionate nature– a woman of ten thousand in these trivial, superficial times. I had known her from her earliest years–I had seen her tested, as she grew up, in more than one trying family crisis, and my long experience made me attach an importance to her hesitation under the circumstances here detailed, which I should certainly not have felt in the case of another woman. I could see no cause for any uneasiness or any doubt, but she had made me a little uneasy, and a little doubtful, nevertheless. In my youth, I should have chafed and fretted under the irritation of my own unreasonable state of mind. In my age, I knew better, and went out philosophically to walk it off.

II

We all met again at dinner-time.

Sir Percival was in such boisterous high spirits that I hardly recognised him as the same man whose quiet tact, refinement, and good sense had impressed me so strongly at the interview of the morning. The only trace of his former self that I could detect reappeared, every now and then, in his manner towards Miss Fairlie. A look or a word from her suspended his loudest laugh, checked his gayest flow of talk, and rendered him all attention to her, and to no one else at table, in an instant. Although he never openly tried to draw her into the conversation, he never lost the slightest chance she gave him of letting her drift into it by accident, and of saying the words to her, under those favourable circumstances, which a man with less tact and delicacy would have pointedly addressed to her the moment they occurred to him. Rather to my surprise, Miss Fairlie appeared to be sensible of his attentions without being moved by them. She was a little confused from time to time when he looked at her, or spoke to her; but she never warmed towards him. Rank, fortune, good breeding, good looks, the respect of a gentleman, and the devotion of a lover were all humbly placed at her feet, and, so far as appearances went, were all offered in vain.

On the next day, the Tuesday, Sir Percival went in the morning (taking one of the servants with him as a guide) to Todd’s Corner. His inquiries, as I afterwards heard, led to no results. On his return he had an interview with Mr. Fairlie, and in the afternoon he and Miss Halcombe rode out together. Nothing else happened worthy of record. The evening passed as usual. There was no change in Sir Percival, and no change in Miss Fairlie.

The Wednesday’s post brought with it an event–the reply from Mrs. Catherick. I took a copy of the document, which I have preserved, and which I may as well present in this place. It ran as follows–

“MADAM,–I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, inquiring whether my daughter, Anne, was placed under medical superintendence with my knowledge and approval, and whether the share taken in the matter by Sir Percival Glyde was such as to merit the expression of my gratitude towards that gentleman. Be pleased to accept my answer in the affirmative to both those questions, and believe me to remain, your obedient servant,

“JANE ANNE CATHERICK.”

Short, sharp, and to the point; in form rather a business-like letter for a woman to write–in substance as plain a confirmation as could be desired of Sir Percival Glyde’s statement. This was my opinion, and with certain minor reservations, Miss Halcombe’s opinion also. Sir Percival, when the letter was shown to him, did not appear to be struck by the sharp, short tone of it. He told us that Mrs. Catherick was a woman of few words, a clear-headed, straightforward, unimaginative person, who wrote briefly and plainly, just as she spoke.

The next duty to be accomplished, now that the answer had been received, was to acquaint Miss Fairlie with Sir Percival’s explanation. Miss Halcombe had undertaken to do this, and had left the room to go to her sister, when she suddenly returned again, and sat down by the easy-chair in which I was reading the newspaper. Sir Percival had gone out a minute before to look at the stables, and no one was in the room but ourselves.

“I suppose we have really and truly done all we can?” she said, turning and twisting Mrs. Catherick’s letter in her hand.

“If we are friends of Sir Percival’s, who know him and trust him, we have done all, and more than all, that is necessary,” I answered, a little annoyed by this return of her hesitation. “But if we are enemies who suspect him—-”

“That alternative is not even to be thought of,” she interposed. “We are Sir Percival’s friends, and if generosity and forbearance can add to our regard for him, we ought to be Sir Percival’s admirers as well. You know that he saw Mr. Fairlie yesterday, and that he afterwards went out with me.”

“Yes. I saw you riding away together.”

“We began the ride by talking about Anne Catherick, and about the singular manner in which Mr. Hartright met with her. But we soon dropped that subject, and Sir Percival spoke next, in the most unselfish terms, of his engagement with Laura. He said he had observed that she was out of spirits, and he was willing, if not informed to the contrary, to attribute to that cause the alteration in her manner towards him during his present visit. If, however, there was any more serious reason for the change, he would entreat that no constraint might be placed on her inclinations either by Mr. Fairlie or by me. All he asked, in that case, was that she would recall to mind, for the last time, what the circumstances were under which the engagement between them was made, and what his conduct had been from the beginning of the courtship to the present time. If, after due reflection on those two subjects, she seriously desired that he should withdraw his pretensions to the honour of becoming her husband–and if she would tell him so plainly with her own lips–he would sacrifice himself by leaving her perfectly free to withdraw from the engagement.”

“No man could say more than that, Miss Halcombe. As to my experience, few men in his situation would have said as much.”

She paused after I had spoken those words, and looked at me with a singular expression of perplexity and distress.

“I accuse nobody, and I suspect nothing,” she broke out abruptly. “But I cannot and will not accept the responsibility of persuading Laura to this marriage.”

“That is exactly the course which Sir Percival Glyde has himself requested you to take,” I replied in astonishment. “He has begged you not to force her inclinations.”

“And he indirectly obliges me to force them, if I give her his message.”

“How can that possibly be?”

“Consult your own knowledge of Laura, Mr. Gilmore. If I tell her to reflect on the circumstances of her engagement, I at once appeal to two of the strongest feelings in her nature–to her love for her father’s memory, and to her strict regard for truth. You know that she never broke a promise in her life–you know that she entered on this engagement at the beginning of her father’s fatal illness, and that he spoke hopefully and happily of her marriage to Sir Percival Glyde on his deathbed.”

I own that I was a little shocked at this view of the case.

“Surely,” I said, “you don’t mean to infer that when Sir Percival spoke to you yesterday he speculated on such a result as you have just mentioned?”

Her frank, fearless face answered for her before she spoke.

“Do you think I would remain an instant in the company of any man whom I suspected of such baseness as that?” she asked angrily.

I liked to feel her hearty indignation flash out on me in that way. We see so much malice and so little indignation in my profession.

“In that case,” I said, “excuse me if I tell you, in our legal phrase, that you are travelling out of the record. Whatever the consequences may be, Sir Percival has a right to expect that your sister should carefully consider her engagement from every reasonable point of view before she claims her release from it. If that unlucky letter has prejudiced her against him, go at once, and tell her that he has cleared himself in your eyes and in mine. What objection can she urge against him after that? What excuse can she possibly have for changing her mind about a man whom she had virtually accepted for her husband more than two years ago?”

“In the eyes of law and reason, Mr. Gilmore, no excuse, I daresay. If she still hesitates, and if I still hesitate, you must attribute our strange conduct, if you like, to caprice in both cases, and we must bear the imputation as well as we can.”

With those words she suddenly rose and left me. When a sensible woman has a serious question put to her, and evades it by a flippant answer, it is a sure sign, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, that she has something to conceal. I returned to the perusal of the newspaper, strongly suspecting that Miss Halcombe and Miss Fairlie had a secret between them which they were keeping from Sir Percival, and keeping from me. I thought this hard on both of us, especially on Sir Percival.

My doubts–or to speak more correctly, my convictions–were confirmed by Miss Halcombe’s language and manner when I saw her again later in the day. She was suspiciously brief and reserved in telling me the result of her interview with her sister. Miss Fairlie, it appeared, had listened quietly while the affair of the letter was placed before her in the right point of view, but when Miss Halcombe next proceeded to say that the object of Sir Percival’s visit at Limmeridge was to prevail on her to let a day be fixed for the marriage she checked all further reference to the subject by begging for time. If Sir Percival would consent to spare her for the present, she would undertake to give him his final answer before the end of the year. She pleaded for this delay with such anxiety and agitation, that Miss Halcombe had promised to use her influence, if necessary, to obtain it, and there, at Miss Fairlie’s earnest entreaty, all further discussion of the marriage question had ended.

The purely temporary arrangement thus proposed might have been convenient enough to the young lady, but it proved somewhat embarrassing to the writer of these lines. That morning’s post had brought a letter from my partner, which obliged me to return to town the next day by the afternoon train. It was extremely probable that I should find no second opportunity of presenting myself at Limmeridge House during the remainder of the year. In that case, supposing Miss Fairlie ultimately decided on holding to her engagement, my necessary personal communication with her, before I drew her settlement, would become something like a downright impossibility, and we should be obliged to commit to writing questions which ought always to be discussed on both sides by word of mouth. I said nothing about this difficulty until Sir Percival had been consulted on the subject of the desired delay. He was too gallant a gentleman not to grant the request immediately. When Miss Halcombe informed me of this I told her that I must absolutely speak to her sister before I left Limmeridge, and it was, therefore, arranged that I should see Miss Fairlie in her own sitting-room the next morning. She did not come down to dinner, or join us in the evening. Indisposition was the excuse, and I thought Sir Percival looked, as well he might, a little annoyed when he heard of it.

The next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, I went up to Miss Fairlie’s sitting-room. The poor girl looked so pale and sad, and came forward to welcome me so readily and prettily, that the resolution to lecture her on her caprice and indecision, which I had been forming all the way upstairs, failed me on the spot. I led her back to the chair from which she had risen, and placed myself opposite to her. Her cross-grained pet greyhound was in the room, and I fully expected a barking and snapping reception. Strange to say, the whimsical little brute falsified my expectations by jumping into my lap and poking its sharp muzzle familiarly into my hand the moment I sat down.

“You used often to sit on my knee when you were a child. my dear,” I said, “and now your little dog seems determined to succeed you in the vacant throne. Is that pretty drawing your doing?”

I pointed to a little album which lay on the table by her side and which she had evidently been looking over when I came in. The page that lay open had a small water-colour landscape very neatly mounted on it. This was the drawing which had suggested my question–an idle question enough–but how could I begin to talk of business to her the moment I opened my lips?

“No,” she said, looking away from the drawing rather confusedly, “it is not my doing.”

Her fingers had a restless habit, which I remembered in her as a child, of always playing with the first thing that came to hand whenever any one was talking to her. On this occasion they wandered to the album, and toyed absently about the margin of the little water-colour drawing. The expression of melancholy deepened on her face. She did not look at the drawing, or look at me. Her eyes moved uneasily from object to object in the room, betraying plainly that she suspected what my purpose was in coming to speak to her. Seeing that, I thought it best to get to the purpose with as little delay as possible.

“One of the errands, my dear, which brings me here is to bid you good-bye,” I began. “I must get back to London to-day: and, before I leave, I want to have a word with you on the subject of your own affairs.”

“I am very sorry you are going, Mr. Gilmore,” she said, looking at me kindly. “It is like the happy old times to have you here.

“I hope I may be able to come back and recall those pleasant memories once more,” I continued; “but as there is some uncertainty about the future, I must take my opportunity when I can get it, and speak to you now. I am your old lawyer and your old friend, and I may remind you, I am sure, without offence, of the possibility of your marrying Sir Percival Glyde.”

She took her hand off the little album as suddenly as if it had turned hot and burnt her. Her fingers twined together nervously in her lap, her eyes looked down again at the floor, and an expression of constraint settled on her face which looked almost like an expression of pain.

“Is it absolutely necessary to speak of my marriage engagement?” she asked in low tones.

“It is necessary to refer to it,” I answered, “but not to dwell on it. Let us merely say that you may marry, or that you may not marry. In the first case, I must be prepared, beforehand, to draw your settlement, and I ought not to do that without, as a matter of politeness, first consulting you. This may be my only chance of hearing what your wishes are. Let us, therefore, suppose the