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It was on a Thursday in the week, and nearly at the end of the
third month of my sojourn in Cumberland.
In the morning, when I went down into the breakfast-room at the
usual hour, Miss Halcombe, for the first time since I had known
her, was absent from her customary place at the table.
Miss Fairlie was out on the lawn. She bowed to me, but did not
come in. Not a word had dropped from my lips, or from hers, that
could unsettle either of us--and yet the same unacknowledged sense
of embarrassment made us shrink alike from meeting one another
alone. She waited on the lawn, and I waited in the breakfast-
room, till Mrs. Vesey or Miss Halcombe came in. How quickly I
should have joined her: how readily we should have shaken hands,
and glided into our customary talk, only a fortnight ago.
In a few minutes Miss Halcombe entered. She had a preoccupied
look, and she made her apologies for being late rather absently.
"I have been detained," she said, "by a consultation with Mr.
Fairlie on a domestic matter which he wished to speak to me
Miss Fairlie came in from the garden, and the usual morning
greeting passed between us. Her hand struck colder to mine than
ever. She did not look at me, and she was very pale. Even Mrs.
Vesey noticed it when she entered the room a moment after.
"I suppose it is the change in the wind," said the old lady. "The
winter is coming--ah, my love, the winter is coming soon!"
In her heart and in mine it had come already!
Our morning meal--once so full of pleasant good-humoured
discussion of the plans for the day--was short and silent. Miss
Fairlie seemed to feel the oppression of the long pauses in the
conversation, and looked appealingly to her sister to fill them
up. Miss Halcombe, after once or twice hesitating and checking
herself, in a most uncharacteristic manner, spoke at last.
"I have seen your uncle this morning, Laura," she said. "He
thinks the purple room is the one that ought to be got ready, and
he confirms what I told you. Monday is the day--not Tuesday."
While these words were being spoken Miss Fairlie looked down at
the table beneath her. Her fingers moved nervously among the
crumbs that were scattered on the cloth. The paleness on her
cheeks spread to her lips, and the lips themselves trembled
visibly. I was not the only person present who noticed this.
Miss Halcombe saw it, too, and at once set us the example of
rising from table.
Mrs. Vesey and Miss Fairlie left the room together. The kind
sorrowful blue eyes looked at me, for a moment, with the prescient
sadness of a coming and a long farewell. I felt the answering
pang in my own heart--the pang that told me I must lose her soon,
and love her the more unchangeably for the loss.
I turned towards the garden when the door had closed on her. Miss
Halcombe was standing with her hat in her hand, and her shawl over
her arm, by the large window that led out to the lawn, and was
looking at me attentively.
"Have you any leisure time to spare," she asked, "before you begin
to work in your own room?"
"Certainly, Miss Halcombe. I have always time at your service."
"I want to say a word to you in private, Mr. Hartright. Get your
hat and come out into the garden. We are not likely to be
disturbed there at this hour in the morning."
As we stepped out on to the lawn, one of the under-gardeners--a
mere lad--passed us on his way to the house, with a letter in his
hand. Miss Halcombe stopped him.
"Is that letter for me?" she asked.
"Nay, miss; it's just said to be for Miss Fairlie," answered the
lad, holding out the letter as he spoke.
Miss Halcombe took it from him and looked at the address.
"A strange handwriting," she said to herself. "Who can Laura's
correspondent be? Where did you get this?" she continued,
addressing the gardener.
"Well, miss," said the lad, "I just got it from a woman."
"A woman well stricken in age."
"Oh, an old woman. Any one you knew?"
"I canna' tak' it on mysel' to say that she was other than a
stranger to me."
"Which way did she go?"
"That gate," said the under-gardener, turning with great
deliberation towards the south, and embracing the whole of that
part of England with one comprehensive sweep of his arm.
"Curious," said Miss Halcombe; "I suppose it must be a begging-
letter. There," she added, handing the letter back to the lad,
"take it to the house, and give it to one of the servants. And
now, Mr. Hartright, if you have no objection, let us walk this
She led me across the lawn, along the same path by which I had
followed her on the day after my arrival at Limmeridge.
At the little summer-house, in which Laura Fairlie and I had first
seen each other, she stopped, and broke the silence which she had
steadily maintained while we were walking together.
"What I have to say to you I can say here."
With those words she entered the summer-house, took one of the
chairs at the little round table inside, and signed to me to take
the other. I suspected what was coming when she spoke to me in
the breakfast-room; I felt certain of it now.
"Mr. Hartright," she said, "I am going to begin by making a frank
avowal to you. I am going to say--without phrase-making, which I
detest, or paying compliments, which I heartily despise--that I
have come, in the course of your residence with us, to feel a
strong friendly regard for you. I was predisposed in your favour
when you first told me of your conduct towards that unhappy woman
whom you met under such remarkable circumstances. Your management
of the affair might not have been prudent, but it showed the self-
control, the delicacy, and the compassion of a man who was
naturally a gentleman. It made me expect good things from you,
and you have not disappointed my expectations."
She paused--but held up her hand at the same time, as a sign that
she awaited no answer from me before she proceeded. When I
entered the summer-house, no thought was in me of the woman in
white. But now, Miss Halcombe's own words had put the memory of
my adventure back in my mind. It remained there throughout the
interview--remained, and not without a result.
"As your friend," she proceeded, "I am going to tell you, at once,
in my own plain, blunt, downright language, that I have discovered
your secret--without help or hint, mind, from any one else. Mr.
Hartright, you have thoughtlessly allowed your-self to form an
attachment--a serious and devoted attachment I am afraid--to my
sister Laura. I don't put you to the pain of confessing it in so
many words, because I see and know that you are too honest to deny
it. I don't even blame you--I pity you for opening your heart to
a hopeless affection. You have not attempted to take any
underhand advantage--you have not spoken to my sister in secret.
You are guilty of weakness and want of attention to your own best
interests, but of nothing worse. If you had acted, in any single
respect, less delicately and less modestly, I should have told you
to leave the house without an instant's notice, or an instant's
consultation of anybody. As it is, I blame the misfortune of your
years and your position--I don't blame YOU. Shake hands--I have
given you pain; I am going to give you more, but there is no help
for it--shake hands with your friend, Marian Halcombe, first."
The sudden kindness--the warm, high-minded, fearless sympathy
which met me on such mercifully equal terms, which appealed with
such delicate and generous abruptness straight to my heart, my
honour, and my courage, overcame me in an instant. I tried to
look at her when she took my hand, but my eves were dim. I tried
to thank her, but my voice failed me.
"Listen to me," she said, considerately avoiding all notice of my
loss of self-control. "Listen to me, and let us get it over at
once. It is a real true relief to me that I am not obliged, in
what I have now to say, to enter into the question--the hard and
cruel question as I think it--of social inequalities.
Circumstances which will try you to the quick, spare me the
ungracious necessity of paining a man who has lived in friendly
intimacy under the same roof with myself by any humiliating
reference to matters of rank and station. You must leave
Limmeridge House, Mr. Hartright, before more harm is done. It is
my duty to say that to you; and it would be equally my duty to say
it, under precisely the same serious necessity, if you were the
representative of the oldest and wealthiest family in England.
You must leave us, not because you are a teacher of drawing----"
She waited a moment, turned her face full on me, and reaching
across the table, laid her hand firmly on my arm.
"Not because you are a teacher of drawing," she repeated, "but
because Laura Fairlie is engaged to be married."
The last word went like a bullet to my heart. My arm lost all
sensation of the hand that grasped it. I never moved and never
spoke. The sharp autumn breeze that scattered the dead leaves at
our feet came as cold to me, on a sudden, as if my own mad hopes
were dead leaves too, whirled away by the wind like the rest.
Hopes! Betrothed, or not betrothed, she was equally far from me.
Would other men have remembered that in my place? Not if they had
loved her as I did.
The pang passed, and nothing but the dull numbing pain of it
remained. I felt Miss Halcombe's hand again, tightening its hold
on my arm--I raised my head and looked at her. Her large black
eyes were rooted on me, watching the white change on my face,
which I felt, and which she saw.
"Crush it!" she said. "Here, where you first saw her, crush it!
Don't shrink under it like a woman. Tear it out; trample it under
foot like a man!"
The suppressed vehemence with which she spoke, the strength which
her will--concentrated in the look she fixed on me, and in the
hold on my arm that she had not yet relinquished--communicated to
mine, steadied me. We both waited for a minute in silence. At
the end of that time I had justified her generous faith in my
manhood--I had, outwardly at least, recovered my self-control.
"Are you yourself again?"
"Enough myself, Miss Halcombe, to ask your pardon and hers.
Enough myself to be guided by your advice, and to prove my
gratitude in that way, if I can prove it in no other."
"You have proved it already," she answered, "by those words. Mr.
Hartright, concealment is at an end between us. I cannot affect
to hide from you what my sister has unconsciously shown to me.
You must leave us for her sake, as well as for your own. Your
presence here, your necessary intimacy with us, harmless as it has
been, God knows, in all other respects, has unsteadied her and
made her wretched. I, who love her better than my own life--I,
who have learnt to believe in that pure, noble, innocent nature as
I believe in my religion--know but too well the secret misery of
self-reproach that she has been suffering since the first shadow
of a feeling disloyal to her marriage engagement entered her heart
in spite of her. I don't say--it would be useless to attempt to
say it after what has happened--that her engagement has ever had a
strong hold on her affections. It is an engagement of honour, not
of love; her father sanctioned it on his deathbed, two years
since; she herself neither welcomed it nor shrank from it--she was
content to make it. Till you came here she was in the position of
hundreds of other women, who marry men without being greatly
attracted to them or greatly repelled by them, and who learn to
love them (when they don't learn to hate!) after marriage, instead
of before. I hope more earnestly than words can say--and you
should have the self-sacrificing courage to hope too--that the new
thoughts and feelings which have disturbed the old calmness and
the old content have not taken root too deeply to be ever removed.
Your absence (if I had less belief in your honour, and your
courage, and your sense, I should not trust to them as I am
trusting now) your absence will help my efforts, and time will
help us all three. It is something to know that my first
confidence in you was not all misplaced. It is something to know
that you will not be less honest, less manly, less considerate
towards the pupil whose relation to yourself you have had the
misfortune to forget, than towards the stranger and the outcast
whose appeal to you was not made in vain."
Again the chance reference to the woman in white! Was there no
possibility of speaking of Miss Fairlie and of me without raising
the memory of Anne Catherick, and setting her between us like a
fatality that it was hopeless to avoid?
"Tell me what apology I can make to Mr. Fairlie for breaking my
engagement," I said. "Tell me when to go after that apology is
accepted. I promise implicit obedience to you and to your
"Time is every way of importance," she answered. "You heard me
refer this morning to Monday next, and to the necessity of setting
the purple room in order. The visitor whom we expect on Monday----"
I could not wait for her to be more explicit. Knowing what I knew
now, the memory of Miss Fairlie's look and manner at the
breakfast-table told me that the expected visitor at Limmeridge
House was her future husband. I tried to force it back; but
something rose within me at that moment stronger than my own will,
and I interrupted Miss Halcombe.
"Let me go to-day," I said bitterly. "The sooner the better."
"No, not to-day," she replied. "The only reason you can assign to
Mr. Fairlie for your departure, before the end of your engagement,
must be that an unforeseen necessity compels you to ask his
permission to return at once to London. You must wait till to-
morrow to tell him that, at the time when the post comes in,
because he will then understand the sudden change in your plans,
by associating it with the arrival of a letter from London. It is
miserable and sickening to descend to deceit, even of the most
harmless kind--but I know Mr. Fairlie, and if you once excite his
suspicions that you are trifling with him, he will refuse to
release you. Speak to him on Friday morning: occupy yourself
afterwards (for the sake of your own interests with your employer)
in leaving your unfinished work in as little confusion as
possible, and quit this place on Saturday. It will be time enough
then, Mr. Hartright, for you, and for all of us."
Before I could assure her that she might depend on my acting in
the strictest accordance with her wishes, we were both startled by
advancing footsteps in the shrubbery. Some one was coming from
the house to seek for us! I felt the blood rush into my cheeks and
then leave them again. Could the third person who was fast
approaching us, at such a time and under such circumstances, be
It was a relief--so sadly, so hopelessly was my position towards
her changed already--it was absolutely a relief to me, when the
person who had disturbed us appeared at the entrance of the
summer-house, and proved to be only Miss Fairlie's maid.
"Could I speak to you for a moment, miss?" said the girl, in
rather a flurried, unsettled manner.
Miss Halcombe descended the steps into the shrubbery, and walked
aside a few paces with the maid.
Left by myself, my mind reverted, with a sense of forlorn
wretchedness which it is not in any words that I can find to
describe, to my approaching return to the solitude and the despair
of my lonely London home. Thoughts of my kind old mother, and of
my sister, who had rejoiced with her so innocently over my
prospects in Cumberland--thoughts whose long banishment from my
heart it was now my shame and my reproach to realise for the first
time--came back to me with the loving mournfulness of old,
neglected friends. My mother and my sister, what would they feel
when I returned to them from my broken engagement, with the
confession of my miserable secret--they who had parted from me so
hopefully on that last happy night in the Hampstead cottage!
Anne Catherick again! Even the memory of the farewell evening with
my mother and my sister could not return to me now unconnected
with that other memory of the moonlight walk back to London. What
did it mean? Were that woman and I to meet once more? It was
possible, at the least. Did she know that I lived in London? Yes;
I had told her so, either before or after that strange question of
hers, when she had asked me so distrustfully if I knew many men of
the rank of Baronet. Either before or after--my mind was not calm
enough, then, to remember which.
A few minutes elapsed before Miss Halcombe dismissed the maid and
came back to me. She, too, looked flurried and unsettled now.
"We have arranged all that is necessary, Mr. Hartright," she said.
"We have understood each other, as friends should, and we may go
back at once to the house. To tell you the truth, I am uneasy
about Laura. She has sent to say she wants to see me directly,
and the maid reports that her mistress is apparently very much
agitated by a letter that she has received this morning--the same
letter, no doubt, which I sent on to the house before we came
We retraced our steps together hastily along the shrubbery path.
Although Miss Halcombe had ended all that she thought it necessary
to say on her side, I had not ended all that I wanted to say on
mine. From the moment when I had discovered that the expected
visitor at Limmeridge was Miss Fairlie's future husband, I had
felt a bitter curiosity, a burning envious eagerness, to know who
he was. It was possible that a future opportunity of putting the
question might not easily offer, so I risked asking it on our way
back to the house.
"Now that you are kind enough to tell me we have understood each
other, Miss Halcombe," I said, "now that you are sure of my
gratitude for your forbearance and my obedience to your wishes,
may I venture to ask who"--(I hesitated--I had forced myself to
think of him, but it was harder still to speak of him, as her
promised husband)--"who the gentleman engaged to Miss Fairlie is?"
Her mind was evidently occupied with the message she had received
from her sister. She answered in a hasty, absent way--
"A gentleman of large property in Hampshire."
Hampshire! Anne Catherick's native place. Again, and yet again,
the woman in white. There WAS a fatality in it.
"And his name?" I said, as quietly and indifferently as I could.
"Sir Percival Glyde."
SIR--Sir Percival! Anne Catherick's question--that suspicious
question about the men of the rank of Baronet whom I might happen
to know--had hardly been dismissed from my mind by Miss Halcombe's
return to me in the summer-house, before it was recalled again by
her own answer. I stopped suddenly, and looked at her.
"Sir Percival Glyde," she repeated, imagining that I had not heard
her former reply.
"Knight, or Baronet?" I asked, with an agitation that I could hide
She paused for a moment, and then answered, rather coldly--
"Baronet, of course."
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