THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница

all the experience, which had availed me with other women, and secured

me against other temptations, failed me with her. It had been my

profession, for years past, to be in this close contact with young

girls of all ages, and of all orders of beauty. I had accepted the

position as part of my calling in life; I had trained myself to leave

all the sympathies natural to my age in my employer's outer hall, as

coolly as I left my umbrella there before I went upstairs. I had long

since learnt to understand, composedly and as a matter of course, that

my situation in life was THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница considered a guarantee against any of my

female pupils feeling more than the most ordinary interest in me, and

that I was admitted among beautiful and captivating women much as a

harmless domestic animal is admitted among them. This guardian

experience I had gained early; this guardian experience had sternly and

strictly guided me straight along my own poor narrow path, without once

letting me stray aside, to the right hand or to the left. And now I

and my trusty talisman were parted for the first time. Yes, my

hardly-earned self-control was as completely lost to me as if I had

never possessed it; lost THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница to me, as it is lost every day to other men,

in other critical situations, where women are concerned. I know, now,

that I should have questioned myself from the first. I should have

asked why any room in the house was better than home to me when she

entered it, and barren as a desert when she went out again--why I

always noticed and remembered the little changes in her dress that I

had noticed and remembered in no other woman's before--why I saw her,

heard her, and touched her (when we shook hands at night and THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница morning)

as I had never seen, heard, and touched any other woman in my life? I

should have looked into my own heart, and found this new growth

springing up there, and plucked it out while it was young. Why was

this easiest, simplest work of self-culture always too much for me? The

explanation has been written already in the three words that were many

enough, and plain enough, for my confession. I loved her.

The days passed, the weeks passed; it was approaching the third month

of my stay in Cumberland. The delicious monotony of life in our calm

seclusion flowed on with me, like a smooth THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница stream with a swimmer who

glides down the current. All memory of the past, all thought of the

future, all sense of the falseness and hopelessness of my own position,

lay hushed within me into deceitful rest. Lulled by the Syren-song that

my own heart sung to me, with eyes shut to all sight, and ears closed

to all sound of danger, I drifted nearer and nearer to the fatal rocks.

The warning that aroused me at last, and startled me into sudden,

self-accusing consciousness of my own weakness, was the plainest, the

truest, the kindest of all warnings, for it THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница came silently from HER.

We had parted one night as usual. No word had fallen from my lips, at

that time or at any time before it, that could betray me, or startle

her into sudden knowledge of the truth. But when we met again in the

morning, a change had come over her--a change that told me all.

I shrank then--I shrink still--from invading the innermost sanctuary of

her heart, and laying it open to others, as I have laid open my own.

Let it be enough to say that the time when she first surprised my

secret was, I firmly THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница believe, the time when she first surprised her

own, and the time, also, when she changed towards me in the interval of

one night. Her nature, too truthful to deceive others, was too noble

to deceive itself. When the doubt that I had hushed asleep first laid

its weary weight on her heart, the true face owned all, and said, in

its own frank, simple language--I am sorry for him; I am sorry for

myself.

It said this, and more, which I could not then interpret. I understood

but too well the change in her manner, to greater kindness and quicker

readiness in interpreting THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница all my wishes, before others--to constraint

and sadness, and nervous anxiety to absorb herself in the first

occupation she could seize on, whenever we happened to be left together



alone. I understood why the sweet sensitive lips smiled so rarely and

so restrainedly now, and why the clear blue eyes looked at me,

sometimes with the pity of an angel, sometimes with the innocent

perplexity of a child. But the change meant more than this. There was

a coldness in her hand, there was an unnatural immobility in her face,

there was in all her movements the mute expression of constant fear and

clinging self-reproach THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница. The sensations that I could trace to herself

and to me, the unacknowledged sensations that we were feeling in

common, were not these. There were certain elements of the change in

her that were still secretly drawing us together, and others that were,

as secretly, beginning to drive us apart.

In my doubt and perplexity, in my vague suspicion of something hidden

which I was left to find by my own unaided efforts, I examined Miss

Halcombe's looks and manner for enlightenment. Living in such intimacy

as ours, no serious alteration could take place in any one of us which

did not sympathetically THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница affect the others. The change in Miss Fairlie

was reflected in her half-sister. Although not a word escaped Miss

Halcombe which hinted at an altered state of feeling towards myself,

her penetrating eyes had contracted a new habit of always watching me.

Sometimes the look was like suppressed anger, sometimes like suppressed

dread, sometimes like neither--like nothing, in short, which I could

understand. A week elapsed, leaving us all three still in this

position of secret constraint towards one another. My situation,

aggravated by the sense of my own miserable weakness and forgetfulness

of myself, now too late awakened in me, was becoming THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница intolerable. I

felt that I must cast off the oppression under which I was living, at

once and for ever--yet how to act for the best, or what to say first,

was more than I could tell.

From this position of helplessness and humiliation I was rescued by

Miss Halcombe. Her lips told me the bitter, the necessary, the

unexpected truth; her hearty kindness sustained me under the shock of

hearing it; her sense and courage turned to its right use an event

which threatened the worst that could happen, to me and to others, in

Limmeridge House.

X

It was on a Thursday in the week THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница, 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 about."

Miss Fairlie came in from the garden, and the usual morning greeting

passed between us. Her hand struck colder to mine than ever THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница. 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница, 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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."

"What woman?"

"A woman well stricken in age."

"Oh, an old woman. Any one you knew?"

"I canna' tak' it THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 way."

She led me across the lawn, along the same THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница, 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 yourself 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница. 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница, 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 advice."

"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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 Miss Fairlie THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница?

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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница, 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница, which I sent on

to the house before we came here."

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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница 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 THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 6 страница had not heard her

former reply.

"Knight, or Baronet?" I asked, with an agitation that I could hide no

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