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Chapter 18


CHAPTER XVIII


Merry days were these at Thornfield Hall; and busy days too:  how
different from the first three months of stillness, monotony, and
solitude I had passed beneath its roof!  All sad feelings seemed now
driven from the house, all gloomy associations forgotten:  there was
life everywhere, movement all day long.  You could not now traverse
the gallery, once so hushed, nor enter the front chambers, once so
tenantless, without encountering a smart lady's-maid or a dandy
valet.

The kitchen, the butler's pantry, the servants' hall, the entrance
hall, were equally alive; and the saloons were only left void and
still when the blue sky and halcyon sunshine of the genial spring
weather called their occupants out into the grounds.  Even when that
weather was broken, and continuous rain set in for some days, no
damp seemed cast over enjoyment:  indoor amusements only became more
lively and varied, in consequence of the stop put to outdoor gaiety.

I wondered what they were going to do the first evening a change of
entertainment was proposed:  they spoke of "playing charades," but
in my ignorance I did not understand the term.  The servants were
called in, the dining-room tables wheeled away, the lights otherwise
disposed, the chairs placed in a semicircle opposite the arch.
While Mr. Rochester and the other gentlemen directed these
alterations, the ladies were running up and down stairs ringing for
their maids.  Mrs. Fairfax was summoned to give information
respecting the resources of the house in shawls, dresses, draperies
of any kind; and certain wardrobes of the third storey were
ransacked, and their contents, in the shape of brocaded and hooped
petticoats, satin sacques, black modes, lace lappets, &c., were
brought down in armfuls by the abigails; then a selection was made,
and such things as were chosen were carried to the boudoir within
the drawing-room.

Meantime, Mr. Rochester had again summoned the ladies round him, and
was selecting certain of their number to be of his party.  "Miss
Ingram is mine, of course," said he:  afterwards he named the two
Misses Eshton, and Mrs. Dent.  He looked at me:  I happened to be
near him, as I had been fastening the clasp of Mrs. Dent's bracelet,
which had got loose.

"Will you play?" he asked.  I shook my head.  He did not insist,
which I rather feared he would have done; he allowed me to return
quietly to my usual seat.

He and his aids now withdrew behind the curtain:  the other party,
which was headed by Colonel Dent, sat down on the crescent of
chairs.  One of the gentlemen, Mr. Eshton, observing me, seemed to
propose that I should be asked to join them; but Lady Ingram
instantly negatived the notion.

"No," I heard her say:  "she looks too stupid for any game of the
sort."

Ere long a bell tinkled, and the curtain drew up.  Within the arch,
the bulky figure of Sir George Lynn, whom Mr. Rochester had likewise
chosen, was seen enveloped in a white sheet:  before him, on a
table, lay open a large book; and at his side stood Amy Eshton,
draped in Mr. Rochester's cloak, and holding a book in her hand.
Somebody, unseen, rang the bell merrily; then Adele (who had
insisted on being one of her guardian's party), bounded forward,
scattering round her the contents of a basket of flowers she carried
on her arm.  Then appeared the magnificent figure of Miss Ingram,
clad in white, a long veil on her head, and a wreath of roses round
her brow; by her side walked Mr. Rochester, and together they drew
near the table.  They knelt; while Mrs. Dent and Louisa Eshton,
dressed also in white, took up their stations behind them.  A
ceremony followed, in dumb show, in which it was easy to recognise
the pantomime of a marriage.  At its termination, Colonel Dent and
his party consulted in whispers for two minutes, then the Colonel
called out -

"Bride!" Mr. Rochester bowed, and the curtain fell.

A considerable interval elapsed before it again rose.  Its second
rising displayed a more elaborately prepared scene than the last.
The drawing-room, as I have before observed, was raised two steps
above the dining-room, and on the top of the upper step, placed a
yard or two back within the room, appeared a large marble basin--
which I recognised as an ornament of the conservatory--where it
usually stood, surrounded by exotics, and tenanted by gold fish--and
whence it must have been transported with some trouble, on account
of its size and weight.

Seated on the carpet, by the side of this basin, was seen Mr.
Rochester, costumed in shawls, with a turban on his head.  His dark
eyes and swarthy skin and Paynim features suited the costume
exactly:  he looked the very model of an Eastern emir, an agent or a
victim of the bowstring.  Presently advanced into view Miss Ingram.
She, too, was attired in oriental fashion:  a crimson scarf tied
sash-like round the waist:  an embroidered handkerchief knotted
about her temples; her beautifully-moulded arms bare, one of them
upraised in the act of supporting a pitcher, poised gracefully on
her head.  Both her cast of form and feature, her complexion and her
general air, suggested the idea of some Israelitish princess of the
patriarchal days; and such was doubtless the character she intended
to represent.

She approached the basin, and bent over it as if to fill her
pitcher; she again lifted it to her head.  The personage on the
well-brink now seemed to accost her; to make some request:- "She
hasted, let down her pitcher on her hand, and gave him to drink."
From the bosom of his robe he then produced a casket, opened it and
showed magnificent bracelets and earrings; she acted astonishment
and admiration; kneeling, he laid the treasure at her feet;
incredulity and delight were expressed by her looks and gestures;
the stranger fastened the bracelets on her arms and the rings in her
ears.  It was Eliezer and Rebecca:  the camels only were wanting.

The divining party again laid their heads together:  apparently they
could not agree about the word or syllable the scene illustrated.
Colonel Dent, their spokesman, demanded "the tableau of the whole;"
whereupon the curtain again descended.

On its third rising only a portion of the drawing-room was
disclosed; the rest being concealed by a screen, hung with some sort
of dark and coarse drapery.  The marble basin was removed; in its
place, stood a deal table and a kitchen chair:  these objects were
visible by a very dim light proceeding from a horn lantern, the wax
candles being all extinguished.

Amidst this sordid scene, sat a man with his clenched hands resting
on his knees, and his eyes bent on the ground.  I knew Mr.
Rochester; though the begrimed face, the disordered dress (his coat
hanging loose from one arm, as if it had been almost torn from his
back in a scuffle), the desperate and scowling countenance, the
rough, bristling hair might well have disguised him.  As he moved, a
chain clanked; to his wrists were attached fetters.

"Bridewell!" exclaimed Colonel Dent, and the charade was solved.

A sufficient interval having elapsed for the performers to resume
their ordinary costume, they re-entered the dining-room.  Mr.
Rochester led in Miss Ingram; she was complimenting him on his
acting.

"Do you know," said she, "that, of the three characters, I liked you
in the last best?  Oh, had you but lived a few years earlier, what a
gallant gentleman-highwayman you would have made!"

"Is all the soot washed from my face?" he asked, turning it towards
her.

"Alas! yes:  the more's the pity!  Nothing could be more becoming to
your complexion than that ruffian's rouge."

"You would like a hero of the road then?"

"An English hero of the road would be the next best thing to an
Italian bandit; and that could only be surpassed by a Levantine
pirate."

"Well, whatever I am, remember you are my wife; we were married an
hour since, in the presence of all these witnesses."  She giggled,
and her colour rose.

"Now, Dent," continued Mr. Rochester, "it is your turn."  And as the
other party withdrew, he and his band took the vacated seats.  Miss
Ingram placed herself at her leader's right hand; the other diviners
filled the chairs on each side of him and her.  I did not now watch
the actors; I no longer waited with interest for the curtain to
rise; my attention was absorbed by the spectators; my eyes, erewhile
fixed on the arch, were now irresistibly attracted to the semicircle
of chairs.  What charade Colonel Dent and his party played, what
word they chose, how they acquitted themselves, I no longer
remember; but I still see the consultation which followed each
scene:  I see Mr. Rochester turn to Miss Ingram, and Miss Ingram to
him; I see her incline her head towards him, till the jetty curls
almost touch his shoulder and wave against his cheek; I hear their
mutual whisperings; I recall their interchanged glances; and
something even of the feeling roused by the spectacle returns in
memory at this moment.

I have told you, reader, that I had learnt to love Mr. Rochester:  I
could not unlove him now, merely because I found that he had ceased
to notice me--because I might pass hours in his presence, and he
would never once turn his eyes in my direction--because I saw all
his attentions appropriated by a great lady, who scorned to touch me
with the hem of her robes as she passed; who, if ever her dark and
imperious eye fell on me by chance, would withdraw it instantly as
from an object too mean to merit observation.  I could not unlove
him, because I felt sure he would soon marry this very lady--because
I read daily in her a proud security in his intentions respecting
her--because I witnessed hourly in him a style of courtship which,
if careless and choosing rather to be sought than to seek, was yet,
in its very carelessness, captivating, and in its very pride,
irresistible.

There was nothing to cool or banish love in these circumstances,
though much to create despair.  Much too, you will think, reader, to
engender jealousy:  if a woman, in my position, could presume to be
jealous of a woman in Miss Ingram's.  But I was not jealous:  or
very rarely;--the nature of the pain I suffered could not be
explained by that word.  Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy:
she was too inferior to excite the feeling.  Pardon the seeming
paradox; I mean what I say.  She was very showy, but she was not
genuine:  she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her
mind was poor, her heart barren by nature:  nothing bloomed
spontaneously on that soil; no unforced natural fruit delighted by
its freshness.  She was not good; she was not original:  she used to
repeat sounding phrases from books:  she never offered, nor had, an
opinion of her own.  She advocated a high tone of sentiment; but she
did not know the sensations of sympathy and pity; tenderness and
truth were not in her.  Too often she betrayed this, by the undue
vent she gave to a spiteful antipathy she had conceived against
little Adele:  pushing her away with some contumelious epithet if
she happened to approach her; sometimes ordering her from the room,
and always treating her with coldness and acrimony.  Other eyes
besides mine watched these manifestations of character--watched them
closely, keenly, shrewdly.  Yes; the future bridegroom, Mr.
Rochester himself, exercised over his intended a ceaseless
surveillance; and it was from this sagacity--this guardedness of
his--this perfect, clear consciousness of his fair one's defects--
this obvious absence of passion in his sentiments towards her, that
my ever-torturing pain arose.

I saw he was going to marry her, for family, perhaps political
reasons, because her rank and connections suited him; I felt he had
not given her his love, and that her qualifications were ill adapted
to win from him that treasure.  This was the point--this was where
the nerve was touched and teased--this was where the fever was
sustained and fed:  SHE COULD NOT CHARM HIM.

If she had managed the victory at once, and he had yielded and
sincerely laid his heart at her feet, I should have covered my face,
turned to the wall, and (figuratively) have died to them.  If Miss
Ingram had been a good and noble woman, endowed with force, fervour,
kindness, sense, I should have had one vital struggle with two
tigers--jealousy and despair:  then, my heart torn out and devoured,
I should have admired her--acknowledged her excellence, and been
quiet for the rest of my days:  and the more absolute her
superiority, the deeper would have been my admiration--the more
truly tranquil my quiescence.  But as matters really stood, to watch
Miss Ingram's efforts at fascinating Mr. Rochester, to witness their
repeated failure--herself unconscious that they did fail; vainly
fancying that each shaft launched hit the mark, and infatuatedly
pluming herself on success, when her pride and self-complacency
repelled further and further what she wished to allure--to witness
THIS, was to be at once under ceaseless excitation and ruthless
restraint.

Because, when she failed, I saw how she might have succeeded.
Arrows that continually glanced off from Mr. Rochester's breast and
fell harmless at his feet, might, I knew, if shot by a surer hand,
have quivered keen in his proud heart--have called love into his
stern eye, and softness into his sardonic face; or, better still,
without weapons a silent conquest might have been won.

"Why can she not influence him more, when she is privileged to draw
so near to him?" I asked myself.  "Surely she cannot truly like him,
or not like him with true affection!  If she did, she need not coin
her smiles so lavishly, flash her glances so unremittingly,
manufacture airs so elaborate, graces so multitudinous.  It seems to
me that she might, by merely sitting quietly at his side, saying
little and looking less, get nigher his heart.  I have seen in his
face a far different expression from that which hardens it now while
she is so vivaciously accosting him; but then it came of itself:  it
was not elicited by meretricious arts and calculated manoeuvres; and
one had but to accept it--to answer what he asked without
pretension, to address him when needful without grimace--and it
increased and grew kinder and more genial, and warmed one like a
fostering sunbeam.  How will she manage to please him when they are
married?  I do not think she will manage it; and yet it might be
managed; and his wife might, I verily believe, be the very happiest
woman the sun shines on."

I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr. Rochester's project
of marrying for interest and connections.  It surprised me when I
first discovered that such was his intention:  I had thought him a
man unlikely to be influenced by motives so commonplace in his
choice of a wife; but the longer I considered the position,
education, &c., of the parties, the less I felt justified in judging
and blaming either him or Miss Ingram for acting in conformity to
ideas and principles instilled into them, doubtless, from their
childhood.  All their class held these principles:  I supposed,
then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom.
It seemed to me that, were I a gentleman like him, I would take to
my bosom only such a wife as I could love; but the very obviousness
of the advantages to the husband's own happiness offered by this
plan convinced me that there must be arguments against its general
adoption of which I was quite ignorant:  otherwise I felt sure all
the world would act as I wished to act.

But in other points, as well as this, I was growing very lenient to
my master:  I was forgetting all his faults, for which I had once
kept a sharp look-out.  It had formerly been my endeavour to study
all sides of his character:  to take the bad with the good; and from
the just weighing of both, to form an equitable judgment.  Now I saw
no bad.  The sarcasm that had repelled, the harshness that had
startled me once, were only like keen condiments in a choice dish:
their presence was pungent, but their absence would be felt as
comparatively insipid.  And as for the vague something--was it a
sinister or a sorrowful, a designing or a desponding expression?--
that opened upon a careful observer, now and then, in his eye, and
closed again before one could fathom the strange depth partially
disclosed; that something which used to make me fear and shrink, as
if I had been wandering amongst volcanic-looking hills, and had
suddenly felt the ground quiver and seen it gape:  that something,
I, at intervals, beheld still; and with throbbing heart, but not
with palsied nerves.  Instead of wishing to shun, I longed only to
dare--to divine it; and I thought Miss Ingram happy, because one day
she might look into the abyss at her leisure, explore its secrets
and analyse their nature.

Meantime, while I thought only of my master and his future bride--
saw only them, heard only their discourse, and considered only their
movements of importance--the rest of the party were occupied with
their own separate interests and pleasures.  The Ladies Lynn and
Ingram continued to consort in solemn conferences, where they nodded
their two turbans at each other, and held up their four hands in
confronting gestures of surprise, or mystery, or horror, according
to the theme on which their gossip ran, like a pair of magnified
puppets.  Mild Mrs. Dent talked with good-natured Mrs. Eshton; and
the two sometimes bestowed a courteous word or smile on me.  Sir
George Lynn, Colonel Dent, and Mr. Eshton discussed politics, or
county affairs, or justice business.  Lord Ingram flirted with Amy
Eshton; Louisa played and sang to and with one of the Messrs. Lynn;
and Mary Ingram listened languidly to the gallant speeches of the
other.  Sometimes all, as with one consent, suspended their by-play
to observe and listen to the principal actors:  for, after all, Mr.
Rochester and--because closely connected with him--Miss Ingram were
the life and soul of the party.  If he was absent from the room an
hour, a perceptible dulness seemed to steal over the spirits of his
guests; and his re-entrance was sure to give a fresh impulse to the
vivacity of conversation.

The want of his animating influence appeared to be peculiarly felt
one day that he had been summoned to Millcote on business, and was
not likely to return till late.  The afternoon was wet:  a walk the
party had proposed to take to see a gipsy camp, lately pitched on a
common beyond Hay, was consequently deferred.  Some of the gentlemen
were gone to the stables:  the younger ones, together with the
younger ladies, were playing billiards in the billiard-room.  The
dowagers Ingram and Lynn sought solace in a quiet game at cards.
Blanche Ingram, after having repelled, by supercilious taciturnity,
some efforts of Mrs. Dent and Mrs. Eshton to draw her into
conversation, had first murmured over some sentimental tunes and
airs on the piano, and then, having fetched a novel from the
library, had flung herself in haughty listlessness on a sofa, and
prepared to beguile, by the spell of fiction, the tedious hours of
absence.  The room and the house were silent:  only now and then the
merriment of the billiard-players was heard from above.

It was verging on dusk, and the clock had already given warning of
the hour to dress for dinner, when little Adele, who knelt by me in
the drawing-room window-seat, suddenly exclaimed -

"Voile, Monsieur Rochester, qui revient!"

I turned, and Miss Ingram darted forwards from her sofa:  the
others, too, looked up from their several occupations; for at the
same time a crunching of wheels and a splashing tramp of horse-hoofs
became audible on the wet gravel.  A post-chaise was approaching.

"What can possess him to come home in that style?" said Miss Ingram.
"He rode Mesrour (the black horse), did he not, when he went out?
and Pilot was with him:- what has he done with the animals?"

As she said this, she approached her tall person and ample garments
so near the window, that I was obliged to bend back almost to the
breaking of my spine:  in her eagerness she did not observe me at
first, but when she did, she curled her lip and moved to another
casement.  The post-chaise stopped; the driver rang the door-bell,
and a gentleman alighted attired in travelling garb; but it was not
Mr. Rochester; it was a tall, fashionable-looking man, a stranger.

"How provoking!" exclaimed Miss Ingram:  "you tiresome monkey!"
(apostrophising Adele), "who perched you up in the window to give
false intelligence?" and she cast on me an angry glance, as if I
were in fault.

Some parleying was audible in the hall, and soon the new-comer
entered.  He bowed to Lady Ingram, as deeming her the eldest lady
present.

"It appears I come at an inopportune time, madam," said he, "when my
friend, Mr. Rochester, is from home; but I arrive from a very long
journey, and I think I may presume so far on old and intimate
acquaintance as to instal myself here till he returns."

His manner was polite; his accent, in speaking, struck me as being
somewhat unusual,--not precisely foreign, but still not altogether
English:  his age might be about Mr. Rochester's,--between thirty
and forty; his complexion was singularly sallow:  otherwise he was a
fine-looking man, at first sight especially.  On closer examination,
you detected something in his face that displeased, or rather that
failed to please.  His features were regular, but too relaxed:  his
eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a
tame, vacant life--at least so I thought.

The sound of the dressing-bell dispersed the party.  It was not till
after dinner that I saw him again:  he then seemed quite at his
ease.  But I liked his physiognomy even less than before:  it struck
me as being at the same time unsettled and inanimate.  His eye
wandered, and had no meaning in its wandering:  this gave him an odd
look, such as I never remembered to have seen.  For a handsome and
not an unamiable-looking man, he repelled me exceedingly:  there was
no power in that smooth-skinned face of a full oval shape:  no
firmness in that aquiline nose and small cherry mouth; there was no
thought on the low, even forehead; no command in that blank, brown
eye.

As I sat in my usual nook, and looked at him with the light of the
girandoles on the mantelpiece beaming full over him--for he occupied
an arm-chair drawn close to the fire, and kept shrinking still
nearer, as if he were cold, I compared him with Mr. Rochester.  I
think (with deference be it spoken) the contrast could not be much
greater between a sleek gander and a fierce falcon:  between a meek
sheep and the rough-coated keen-eyed dog, its guardian.

He had spoken of Mr. Rochester as an old friend.  A curious
friendship theirs must have been:  a pointed illustration, indeed,
of the old adage that "extremes meet."

Two or three of the gentlemen sat near him, and I caught at times
scraps of their conversation across the room.  At first I could not
make much sense of what I heard; for the discourse of Louisa Eshton
and Mary Ingram, who sat nearer to me, confused the fragmentary
sentences that reached me at intervals.  These last were discussing
the stranger; they both called him "a beautiful man."  Louisa said
he was "a love of a creature," and she "adored him;" and Mary
instanced his "pretty little mouth, and nice nose," as her ideal of
the charming.

"And what a sweet-tempered forehead he has!" cried Louisa,--"so
smooth--none of those frowning irregularities I dislike so much; and
such a placid eye and smile!"

And then, to my great relief, Mr. Henry Lynn summoned them to the
other side of the room, to settle some point about the deferred
excursion to Hay Common.

I was now able to concentrate my attention on the group by the fire,
and I presently gathered that the new-comer was called Mr. Mason;
then I learned that he was but just arrived in England, and that he
came from some hot country:  which was the reason, doubtless, his
face was so sallow, and that he sat so near the hearth, and wore a
surtout in the house.  Presently the words Jamaica, Kingston,
Spanish Town, indicated the West Indies as his residence; and it was
with no little surprise I gathered, ere long, that he had there
first seen and become acquainted with Mr. Rochester.  He spoke of
his friend's dislike of the burning heats, the hurricanes, and rainy
seasons of that region.  I knew Mr. Rochester had been a traveller:
Mrs. Fairfax had said so; but I thought the continent of Europe had
bounded his wanderings; till now I had never heard a hint given of
visits to more distant shores.

I was pondering these things, when an incident, and a somewhat
unexpected one, broke the thread of my musings.  Mr. Mason,
shivering as some one chanced to open the door, asked for more coal
to be put on the fire, which had burnt out its flame, though its
mass of cinder still shone hot and red.  The footman who brought the
coal, in going out, stopped near Mr. Eshton's chair, and said
something to him in a low voice, of which I heard only the words,
"old woman,"--"quite troublesome."

"Tell her she shall be put in the stocks if she does not take
herself off," replied the magistrate.

"No--stop!" interrupted Colonel Dent.  "Don't send her away, Eshton;
we might turn the thing to account; better consult the ladies."  And
speaking aloud, he continued--"Ladies, you talked of going to Hay
Common to visit the gipsy camp; Sam here says that one of the old
Mother Bunches is in the servants' hall at this moment, and insists
upon being brought in before 'the quality,' to tell them their
fortunes.  Would you like to see her?"

"Surely, colonel," cried Lady Ingram, "you would not encourage such
a low impostor?  Dismiss her, by all means, at once!"

"But I cannot persuade her to go away, my lady," said the footman;
"nor can any of the servants:  Mrs. Fairfax is with her just now,
entreating her to be gone; but she has taken a chair in the chimney-
comer, and says nothing shall stir her from it till she gets leave
to come in here."

"What does she want?" asked Mrs. Eshton.

"'To tell the gentry their fortunes,' she says, ma'am; and she
swears she must and will do it."

"What is she like?" inquired the Misses Eshton, in a breath.

"A shockingly ugly old creature, miss; almost as black as a crock."

"Why, she's a real sorceress!" cried Frederick Lynn.  "Let us have
her in, of course."

"To be sure," rejoined his brother; "it would be a thousand pities
to throw away such a chance of fun."

"My dear boys, what are you thinking about?" exclaimed Mrs. Lynn.

"I cannot possibly countenance any such inconsistent proceeding,"
chimed in the Dowager Ingram.

"Indeed, mama, but you can--and will," pronounced the haughty voice
of Blanche, as she turned round on the piano-stool; where till now
she had sat silent, apparently examining sundry sheets of music.  "I
have a curiosity to hear my fortune told:  therefore, Sam, order the
beldame forward."

"My darling Blanche! recollect--"

"I do--I recollect all you can suggest; and I must have my will--
quick, Sam!"

"Yes--yes--yes!" cried all the juveniles, both ladies and gentlemen.
"Let her come--it will be excellent sport!"

The footman still lingered.  "She looks such a rough one," said he.

"Go!" ejaculated Miss Ingram, and the man went.

Excitement instantly seized the whole party:  a running fire of
raillery and jests was proceeding when Sam returned.

"She won't come now," said he.  "She says it's not her mission to
appear before the 'vulgar herd' (them's her words).  I must show her
into a room by herself, and then those who wish to consult her must
go to her one by one."

"You see now, my queenly Blanche," began Lady Ingram, "she
encroaches.  Be advised, my angel girl--and--"

"Show her into the library, of course," cut in the "angel girl."
"It is not my mission to listen to her before the vulgar herd
either:  I mean to have her all to myself.  Is there a fire in the
library?"

"Yes, ma'am--but she looks such a tinkler."

"Cease that chatter, blockhead! and do my bidding."

Again Sam vanished; and mystery, animation, expectation rose to full
flow once more.

"She's ready now," said the footman, as he reappeared.  "She wishes
to know who will be her first visitor."

"I think I had better just look in upon her before any of the ladies
go," said Colonel Dent.

"Tell her, Sam, a gentleman is coming."

Sam went and returned.

"She says, sir, that she'll have no gentlemen; they need not trouble
themselves to come near her; nor," he added, with difficulty
suppressing a titter, "any ladies either, except the young, and
single."

"By Jove, she has taste!" exclaimed Henry Lynn.

Miss Ingram rose solemnly:  "I go first," she said, in a tone which
might have befitted the leader of a forlorn hope, mounting a breach
in the van of his men.

"Oh, my best! oh, my dearest! pause--reflect!" was her mama's cry;
but she swept past her in stately silence, passed through the door
which Colonel Dent held open, and we heard her enter the library.

A comparative silence ensued.  Lady Ingram thought it "le cas" to
wring her hands:  which she did accordingly.  Miss Mary declared she
felt, for her part, she never dared venture.  Amy and Louisa Eshton
tittered under their breath, and looked a little frightened.

The minutes passed very slowly:  fifteen were counted before the
library-door again opened.  Miss Ingram returned to us through the
arch.

Would she laugh?  Would she take it as a joke?  All eyes met her
with a glance of eager curiosity, and she met all eyes with one of
rebuff and coldness; she looked neither flurried nor merry:  she
walked stiffly to her seat, and took it in silence.

"Well, Blanche?" said Lord Ingram.

"What did she say, sister?" asked Mary.

"What did you think?  How do you feel?--Is she a real fortune-
teller?" demanded the Misses Eshton.

"Now, now, good people," returned Miss Ingram, "don't press upon me.
Really your organs of wonder and credulity are easily excited:  you
seem, by the importance of you all--my good mama included--ascribe
to this matter, absolutely to believe we have a genuine witch in the
house, who is in close alliance with the old gentleman.  I have seen
a gipsy vagabond; she has practised in hackneyed fashion the science
of palmistry and told me what such people usually tell.  My whim is
gratified; and now I think Mr. Eshton will do well to put the hag in
the stocks to-morrow morning, as he threatened."

Miss Ingram took a book, leant back in her chair, and so declined
further conversation.  I watched her for nearly half-an-hour:
during all that time she never turned a page, and her face grew
momently darker, more dissatisfied, and more sourly expressive of
disappointment.  She had obviously not heard anything to her
advantage:  and it seemed to me, from her prolonged fit of gloom and
taciturnity, that she herself, notwithstanding her professed
indifference, attached undue importance to whatever revelations had
been made her.

Meantime, Mary Ingram, Amy and Louisa Eshton, declared they dared
not go alone; and yet they all wished to go.  A negotiation was
opened through the medium of the ambassador, Sam; and after much
pacing to and fro, till, I think, the said Sam's calves must have
ached with the exercise, permission was at last, with great
difficulty, extorted from the rigorous Sibyl, for the three to wait
upon her in a body.

Their visit was not so still as Miss Ingram's had been:  we heard
hysterical giggling and little shrieks proceeding from the library;
and at the end of about twenty minutes they burst the door open, and
came running across the hall, as if they were half-scared out of
their wits.

"I am sure she is something not right!" they cried, one and all.
"She told us such things!  She knows all about us!" and they sank
breathless into the various seats the gentlemen hastened to bring
them.

Pressed for further explanation, they declared she had told them of
things they had said and done when they were mere children;
described books and ornaments they had in their boudoirs at home:
keepsakes that different relations had presented to them.  They
affirmed that she had even divined their thoughts, and had whispered
in the ear of each the name of the person she liked best in the
world, and informed them of what they most wished for.

Here the gentlemen interposed with earnest petitions to be further
enlightened on these two last-named points; but they got only
blushes, ejaculations, tremors, and titters, in return for their
importunity.  The matrons, meantime, offered vinaigrettes and
wielded fans; and again and again reiterated the expression of their
concern that their warning had not been taken in time; and the elder
gentlemen laughed, and the younger urged their services on the
agitated fair ones.

In the midst of the tumult, and while my eyes and ears were fully
engaged in the scene before me, I heard a hem close at my elbow:  I
turned, and saw Sam.

"If you please, miss, the gipsy declares that there is another young
single lady in the room who has not been to her yet, and she swears
she will not go till she has seen all.  I thought it must be you:
there is no one else for it.  What shall I tell her?"

"Oh, I will go by all means," I answered:  and I was glad of the
unexpected opportunity to gratify my much-excited curiosity.  I
slipped out of the room, unobserved by any eye--for the company were
gathered in one mass about the trembling trio just returned--and I
closed the door quietly behind me.

"If you like, miss," said Sam, "I'll wait in the hall for you; and
if she frightens you, just call and I'll come in."

"No, Sam, return to the kitchen:  I am not in the least afraid."
Nor was I; but I was a good deal interested and excited.


Charlotte Bronte