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The Woman in White, Page 21

Wilkie Collins


  (in Extracts from her Diary)


  [1] The passages omitted, here and elsewhere, in Miss Halcombe's Diaryare only those which bear no reference to Miss Fairlie or to any of thepersons with whom she is associated in these pages.

  This morning Mr. Gilmore left us.

  His interview with Laura had evidently grieved and surprised him morethan he liked to confess. I felt afraid, from his look and manner whenwe parted, that she might have inadvertently betrayed to him the realsecret of her depression and my anxiety. This doubt grew on me so,after he had gone, that I declined riding out with Sir Percival, andwent up to Laura's room instead.

  I have been sadly distrustful of myself, in this difficult andlamentable matter, ever since I found out my own ignorance of thestrength of Laura's unhappy attachment. I ought to have known that thedelicacy and forbearance and sense of honour which drew me to poorHartright, and made me so sincerely admire and respect him, were justthe qualities to appeal most irresistibly to Laura's naturalsensitiveness and natural generosity of nature. And yet, until sheopened her heart to me of her own accord, I had no suspicion that thisnew feeling had taken root so deeply. I once thought time and caremight remove it. I now fear that it will remain with her and alter herfor life. The discovery that I have committed such an error injudgment as this makes me hesitate about everything else. I hesitateabout Sir Percival, in the face of the plainest proofs. I hesitateeven in speaking to Laura. On this very morning I doubted, with myhand on the door, whether I should ask her the questions I had come toput, or not.

  When I went into her room I found her walking up and down in greatimpatience. She looked flushed and excited, and she came forward atonce, and spoke to me before I could open my lips.

  "I wanted you," she said. "Come and sit down on the sofa with me.Marian! I can bear this no longer--I must and will end it."

  There was too much colour in her cheeks, too much energy in her manner,too much firmness in her voice. The little book of Hartright'sdrawings--the fatal book that she will dream over whenever she isalone--was in one of her hands. I began by gently and firmly taking itfrom her, and putting it out of sight on a side-table.

  "Tell me quietly, my darling, what you wish to do," I said. "Has Mr.Gilmore been advising you?"

  She shook her head. "No, not in what I am thinking of now. He wasvery kind and good to me, Marian, and I am ashamed to say I distressedhim by crying. I am miserably helpless--I can't control myself. Formy own sake, and for all our sakes, I must have courage enough to endit."

  "Do you mean courage enough to claim your release?" I asked.

  "No," she said simply. "Courage, dear, to tell the truth."

  She put her arms round my neck, and rested her head quietly on mybosom. On the opposite wall hung the miniature portrait of her father.I bent over her, and saw that she was looking at it while her head layon my breast.

  "I can never claim my release from my engagement," she went on."Whatever way it ends it must end wretchedly for me. All I can do,Marian, is not to add the remembrance that I have broken my promise andforgotten my father's dying words, to make that wretchedness worse."

  "What is it you propose, then?" I asked.

  "To tell Sir Percival Glyde the truth with my own lips," she answered,"and to let him release me, if he will, not because I ask him, butbecause he knows all."

  "What do you mean, Laura, by 'all'? Sir Percival will know enough (hehas told me so himself) if he knows that the engagement is opposed toyour own wishes."

  "Can I tell him that, when the engagement was made for me by my father,with my own consent? I should have kept my promise, not happily, I amafraid, but still contentedly--" she stopped, turned her face to me,and laid her cheek close against mine--"I should have kept myengagement, Marian, if another love had not grown up in my heart, whichwas not there when I first promised to be Sir Percival's wife."

  "Laura! you will never lower yourself by making a confession to him?"

  "I shall lower myself, indeed, if I gain my release by hiding from himwhat he has a right to know."

  "He has not the shadow of a right to know it!"

  "Wrong, Marian, wrong! I ought to deceive no one--least of all the manto whom my father gave me, and to whom I gave myself." She put her lipsto mine, and kissed me. "My own love," she said softly, "you are somuch too fond of me, and so much too proud of me, that you forget, inmy case, what you would remember in your own. Better that Sir Percivalshould doubt my motives, and misjudge my conduct if he will, than thatI should be first false to him in thought, and then mean enough toserve my own interests by hiding the falsehood."

  I held her away from me in astonishment. For the first time in ourlives we had changed places--the resolution was all on her side, thehesitation all on mine. I looked into the pale, quiet, resigned youngface--I saw the pure, innocent heart, in the loving eyes that lookedback at me--and the poor worldly cautions and objections that rose tomy lips dwindled and died away in their own emptiness. I hung my headin silence. In her place the despicably small pride which makes somany women deceitful would have been my pride, and would have made medeceitful too.

  "Don't be angry with me, Marian," she said, mistaking my silence.

  I only answered by drawing her close to me again. I was afraid ofcrying if I spoke. My tears do not flow so easily as they ought--theycome almost like men's tears, with sobs that seem to tear me in pieces,and that frighten every one about me.

  "I have thought of this, love, for many days," she went on, twining andtwisting my hair with that childish restlessness in her fingers, whichpoor Mrs. Vesey still tries so patiently and so vainly to cure herof--"I have thought of it very seriously, and I can be sure of mycourage when my own conscience tells me I am right. Let me speak tohim to-morrow--in your presence, Marian. I will say nothing that iswrong, nothing that you or I need be ashamed of--but, oh, it will easemy heart so to end this miserable concealment! Only let me know andfeel that I have no deception to answer for on my side, and then, whenhe has heard what I have to say, let him act towards me as he will."

  She sighed, and put her head back in its old position on my bosom. Sadmisgivings about what the end would be weighed upon my mind, but stilldistrusting myself, I told her that I would do as she wished. Shethanked me, and we passed gradually into talking of other things.

  At dinner she joined us again, and was more easy and more herself withSir Percival than I have seen her yet. In the evening she went to thepiano, choosing new music of the dexterous, tuneless, florid kind. Thelovely old melodies of Mozart, which poor Hartright was so fond of, shehas never played since he left. The book is no longer in themusic-stand. She took the volume away herself, so that nobody mightfind it out and ask her to play from it.

  I had no opportunity of discovering whether her purpose of the morninghad changed or not, until she wished Sir Percival good-night--and thenher own words informed me that it was unaltered. She said, veryquietly, that she wished to speak to him after breakfast, and that hewould find her in her sitting-room with me. He changed colour at thosewords, and I felt his hand trembling a little when it came to my turnto take it. The event of the next morning would decide his futurelife, and he evidently knew it.

  I went in, as usual, through the door between our two bedrooms, to bidLaura good-night before she went to sleep. In stooping over her tokiss her I saw the little book of Hartright's drawings half hiddenunder her pillow, just in the place where she used to hide herfavourite toys when she was a child. I could not find it in my heartto say anything, but I pointed to the book and shook my head. Shereached both hands up to my cheeks, and drew my face down to hers tillour lips met.

  "Leave it there to-night," she whispered; "to-morrow may be cruel, andmay make me say good-bye to it for ever."

  9th.--The first event of the morning was not of a kind to raise myspirits--a letter arrived for m
e from poor Walter Hartright. It is theanswer to mine describing the manner in which Sir Percival clearedhimself of the suspicions raised by Anne Catherick's letter. He writesshortly and bitterly about Sir Percival's explanations, only sayingthat he has no right to offer an opinion on the conduct of those whoare above him. This is sad, but his occasional references to himselfgrieve me still more. He says that the effort to return to his oldhabits and pursuits grows harder instead of easier to him every day andhe implores me, if I have any interest, to exert it to get himemployment that will necessitate his absence from England, and take himamong new scenes and new people. I have been made all the readier tocomply with this request by a passage at the end of his letter, whichhas almost alarmed me.

  After mentioning that he has neither seen nor heard anything of AnneCatherick, he suddenly breaks off, and hints in the most abrupt,mysterious manner, that he has been perpetually watched and followed bystrange men ever since he returned to London. He acknowledges that hecannot prove this extraordinary suspicion by fixing on any particularpersons, but he declares that the suspicion itself is present to himnight and day. This has frightened me, because it looks as if his onefixed idea about Laura was becoming too much for his mind. I willwrite immediately to some of my mother's influential old friends inLondon, and press his claims on their notice. Change of scene andchange of occupation may really be the salvation of him at this crisisin his life.

  Greatly to my relief, Sir Percival sent an apology for not joining usat breakfast. He had taken an early cup of coffee in his own room, andhe was still engaged there in writing letters. At eleven o'clock, ifthat hour was convenient, he would do himself the honour of waiting onMiss Fairlie and Miss Halcombe.

  My eyes were on Laura's face while the message was being delivered. Ihad found her unaccountably quiet and composed on going into her roomin the morning, and so she remained all through breakfast. Even whenwe were sitting together on the sofa in her room, waiting for SirPercival, she still preserved her self-control.

  "Don't be afraid of me, Marian," was all she said; "I may forget myselfwith an old friend like Mr. Gilmore, or with a dear sister like you,but I will not forget myself with Sir Percival Glyde."

  I looked at her, and listened to her in silent surprise. Through allthe years of our close intimacy this passive force in her character hadbeen hidden from me--hidden even from herself, till love found it, andsuffering called it forth.

  As the clock on the mantelpiece struck eleven Sir Percival knocked atthe door and came in. There was suppressed anxiety and agitation inevery line of his face. The dry, sharp cough, which teases him at mosttimes, seemed to be troubling him more incessantly than ever. He satdown opposite to us at the table, and Laura remained by me. I lookedattentively at them both, and he was the palest of the two.

  He said a few unimportant words, with a visible effort to preserve hiscustomary ease of manner. But his voice was not to be steadied, andthe restless uneasiness in his eyes was not to be concealed. He musthave felt this himself, for he stopped in the middle of a sentence, andgave up even the attempt to hide his embarrassment any longer.

  There was just one moment of dead silence before Laura addressed him.

  "I wish to speak to you, Sir Percival," she said, "on a subject that isvery important to us both. My sister is here, because her presencehelps me and gives me confidence. She has not suggested one word ofwhat I am going to say--I speak from my own thoughts, not from hers. Iam sure you will be kind enough to understand that before I go anyfarther?"

  Sir Percival bowed. She had proceeded thus far, with perfect outwardtranquillity and perfect propriety of manner. She looked at him, andhe looked at her. They seemed, at the outset, at least, resolved tounderstand one another plainly.

  "I have heard from Marian," she went on, "that I have only to claim myrelease from our engagement to obtain that release from you. It wasforbearing and generous on your part, Sir Percival, to send me such amessage. It is only doing you justice to say that I am grateful forthe offer, and I hope and believe that it is only doing myself justiceto tell you that I decline to accept it."

  His attentive face relaxed a little. But I saw one of his feet,softly, quietly, incessantly beating on the carpet under the table, andI felt that he was secretly as anxious as ever.

  "I have not forgotten," she said, "that you asked my father'spermission before you honoured me with a proposal of marriage. Perhapsyou have not forgotten either what I said when I consented to ourengagement? I ventured to tell you that my father's influence andadvice had mainly decided me to give you my promise. I was guided by myfather, because I had always found him the truest of all advisers, thebest and fondest of all protectors and friends. I have lost him now--Ihave only his memory to love, but my faith in that dear dead friend hasnever been shaken. I believe at this moment, as truly as I everbelieved, that he knew what was best, and that his hopes and wishesought to be my hopes and wishes too."

  Her voice trembled for the first time. Her restless fingers stoletheir way into my lap, and held fast by one of my hands. There wasanother moment of silence, and then Sir Percival spoke.

  "May I ask," he said, "if I have ever proved myself unworthy of thetrust which it has been hitherto my greatest honour and greatesthappiness to possess?"

  "I have found nothing in your conduct to blame," she answered. "Youhave always treated me with the same delicacy and the same forbearance.You have deserved my trust, and, what is of far more importance in myestimation, you have deserved my father's trust, out of which minegrew. You have given me no excuse, even if I had wanted to find one,for asking to be released from my pledge. What I have said so far hasbeen spoken with the wish to acknowledge my whole obligation to you.My regard for that obligation, my regard for my father's memory, and myregard for my own promise, all forbid me to set the example, on myside, of withdrawing from our present position. The breaking of ourengagement must be entirely your wish and your act, Sir Percival--notmine."

  The uneasy beating of his foot suddenly stopped, and he leaned forwardeagerly across the table.

  "My act?" he said. "What reason can there be on my side forwithdrawing?"

  I heard her breath quickening--I felt her hand growing cold. In spiteof what she had said to me when we were alone, I began to be afraid ofher. I was wrong.

  "A reason that it is very hard to tell you," she answered. "There is achange in me, Sir Percival--a change which is serious enough to justifyyou, to yourself and to me, in breaking off our engagement."

  His face turned so pale again that even his lips lost their colour. Heraised the arm which lay on the table, turned a little away in hischair, and supported his head on his hand, so that his profile only waspresented to us.

  "What change?" he asked. The tone in which he put the question jarredon me--there was something painfully suppressed in it.

  She sighed heavily, and leaned towards me a little, so as to rest hershoulder against mine. I felt her trembling, and tried to spare her byspeaking myself. She stopped me by a warning pressure of her hand, andthen addressed Sir Percival one more, but this time without looking athim.

  "I have heard," she said, "and I believe it, that the fondest andtruest of all affections is the affection which a woman ought to bearto her husband. When our engagement began that affection was mine togive, if I could, and yours to win, if you could. Will you pardon me,and spare me, Sir Percival, if I acknowledge that it is not so anylonger?"

  A few tears gathered in her eyes, and dropped over her cheeks slowly asshe paused and waited for his answer. He did not utter a word. At thebeginning of her reply he had moved the hand on which his head rested,so that it hid his face. I saw nothing but the upper part of hisfigure at the table. Not a muscle of him moved. The fingers of thehand which supported his head were dented deep in his hair. They mighthave expressed hidden anger or hidden grief--it was hard to saywhich--there was no significant trembling in them. There was nothing,absolutely nothing, to tell
the secret of his thoughts at thatmoment--the moment which was the crisis of his life and the crisis ofhers.

  I was determined to make him declare himself, for Laura's sake.

  "Sir Percival!" I interposed sharply, "have you nothing to say when mysister has said so much? More, in my opinion," I added, my unluckytemper getting the better of me, "than any man alive, in your position,has a right to hear from her."

  That last rash sentence opened a way for him by which to escape me ifhe chose, and he instantly took advantage of it.

  "Pardon me, Miss Halcombe," he said, still keeping his hand over hisface, "pardon me if I remind you that I have claimed no such right."

  The few plain words which would have brought him back to the point fromwhich he had wandered were just on my lips, when Laura checked me byspeaking again.

  "I hope I have not made my painful acknowledgment in vain," shecontinued. "I hope it has secured me your entire confidence in what Ihave still to say?"

  "Pray be assured of it." He made that brief reply warmly, dropping hishand on the table while he spoke, and turning towards us again.Whatever outward change had passed over him was gone now. His face waseager and expectant--it expressed nothing but the most intense anxietyto hear her next words.

  "I wish you to understand that I have not spoken from any selfishmotive," she said. "If you leave me, Sir Percival, after what you havejust heard, you do not leave me to marry another man, you only allow meto remain a single woman for the rest of my life. My fault towards youhas begun and ended in my own thoughts. It can never go any farther.No word has passed--" She hesitated, in doubt about the expression sheshould use next, hesitated in a momentary confusion which it was verysad and very painful to see. "No word has passed," she patiently andresolutely resumed, "between myself and the person to whom I am nowreferring for the first and last time in your presence of my feelingstowards him, or of his feelings towards me--no word ever canpass--neither he nor I are likely, in this world, to meet again. Iearnestly beg you to spare me from saying any more, and to believe me,on my word, in what I have just told you. It is the truth. SirPercival, the truth which I think my promised husband has a claim tohear, at any sacrifice of my own feelings. I trust to his generosityto pardon me, and to his honour to keep my secret."

  "Both those trusts are sacred to me," he said, "and both shall besacredly kept."

  After answering in those terms he paused, and looked at her as if hewas waiting to hear more.

  "I have said all I wish to say," she added quietly--"I have said morethan enough to justify you in withdrawing from your engagement."

  "You have said more than enough," he answered, "to make it the dearestobject of my life to KEEP the engagement." With those words he rosefrom his chair, and advanced a few steps towards the place where shewas sitting.

  She started violently, and a faint cry of surprise escaped her. Everyword she had spoken had innocently betrayed her purity and truth to aman who thoroughly understood the priceless value of a pure and truewoman. Her own noble conduct had been the hidden enemy, throughout, ofall the hopes she had trusted to it. I had dreaded this from thefirst. I would have prevented it, if she had allowed me the smallestchance of doing so. I even waited and watched now, when the harm wasdone, for a word from Sir Percival that would give me the opportunityof putting him in the wrong.

  "You have left it to ME, Miss Fairlie, to resign you," he continued."I am not heartless enough to resign a woman who has just shown herselfto be the noblest of her sex."

  He spoke with such warmth and feeling, with such passionate enthusiasm,and yet with such perfect delicacy, that she raised her head, flushedup a little, and looked at him with sudden animation and spirit.

  "No!" she said firmly. "The most wretched of her sex, if she must giveherself in marriage when she cannot give her love."

  "May she not give it in the future," he asked, "if the one object ofher husband's life is to deserve it?"

  "Never!" she answered. "If you still persist in maintaining ourengagement, I may be your true and faithful wife, Sir Percival--yourloving wife, if I know my own heart, never!"

  She looked so irresistibly beautiful as she said those brave words thatno man alive could have steeled his heart against her. I tried hard tofeel that Sir Percival was to blame, and to say so, but my womanhoodwould pity him, in spite of myself.

  "I gratefully accept your faith and truth," he said. "The least thatyou can offer is more to me than the utmost that I could hope for fromany other woman in the world."

  Her left hand still held mine, but her right hand hung listlessly ather side. He raised it gently to his lips--touched it with them,rather than kissed it--bowed to me--and then, with perfect delicacy anddiscretion, silently quitted the room.

  She neither moved nor said a word when he was gone--she sat by me, coldand still, with her eyes fixed on the ground. I saw it was hopelessand useless to speak, and I only put my arm round her, and held her tome in silence. We remained together so for what seemed a long andweary time--so long and so weary, that I grew uneasy and spoke to hersoftly, in the hope of producing a change.

  The sound of my voice seemed to startle her into consciousness. Shesuddenly drew herself away from me and rose to her feet.

  "I must submit, Marian, as well as I can," she said. "My new life hasits hard duties, and one of them begins to-day."

  As she spoke she went to a side-table near the window, on which hersketching materials were placed, gathered them together carefully, andput them in a drawer of her cabinet. She locked the drawer and broughtthe key to me.

  "I must part from everything that reminds me of him," she said. "Keepthe key wherever you please--I shall never want it again."

  Before I could say a word she had turned away to her book-case, and hadtaken from it the album that contained Walter Hartright's drawings.She hesitated for a moment, holding the little volume fondly in herhands--then lifted it to her lips and kissed it.

  "Oh, Laura! Laura!" I said, not angrily, not reprovingly--with nothingbut sorrow in my voice, and nothing but sorrow in my heart.

  "It is the last time, Marian," she pleaded. "I am bidding it good-byefor ever."

  She laid the book on the table and drew out the comb that fastened herhair. It fell, in its matchless beauty, over her back and shoulders,and dropped round her, far below her waist. She separated one long,thin lock from the rest, cut it off, and pinned it carefully, in theform of a circle, on the first blank page of the album. The moment itwas fastened she closed the volume hurriedly, and placed it in my hands.

  "You write to him and he writes to you," she said. "While I am alive,if he asks after me always tell him I am well, and never say I amunhappy. Don't distress him, Marian, for my sake, don't distress him.If I die first, promise you will give him this little book of hisdrawings, with my hair in it. There can be no harm, when I am gone, intelling him that I put it there with my own hands. And say--oh,Marian, say for me, then, what I can never say for myself--say I lovedhim!"

  She flung her arms round my neck, and whispered the last words in myear with a passionate delight in uttering them which it almost broke myheart to hear. All the long restraint she had imposed on herself gaveway in that first last outburst of tenderness. She broke from me withhysterical vehemence, and threw herself on the sofa in a paroxysm ofsobs and tears that shook her from head to foot.

  I tried vainly to soothe her and reason with her--she was past beingsoothed, and past being reasoned with. It was the sad, sudden end forus two of this memorable day. When the fit had worn itself out she wastoo exhausted to speak. She slumbered towards the afternoon, and I putaway the book of drawings so that she might not see it when she woke.My face was calm, whatever my heart might be, when she opened her eyesagain and looked at me. We said no more to each other about thedistressing interview of the morning. Sir Percival's name was notmentioned. Walter Hartright was not alluded to again by either of usfor the remainder of the day.

ing that she was composed and like herself this morning, Ireturned to the painful subject of yesterday, for the sole purpose ofimploring her to let me speak to Sir Percival and Mr. Fairlie, moreplainly and strongly than she could speak to either of them herself,about this lamentable marriage. She interposed, gently but firmly, inthe middle of my remonstrances.

  "I left yesterday to decide," she said; "and yesterday HAS decided. Itis too late to go back."

  Sir Percival spoke to me this afternoon about what had passed inLaura's room. He assured me that the unparalleled trust she had placedin him had awakened such an answering conviction of her innocence andintegrity in his mind, that he was guiltless of having felt even amoment's unworthy jealousy, either at the time when he was in herpresence, or afterwards when he had withdrawn from it. Deeply as helamented the unfortunate attachment which had hindered the progress hemight otherwise have made in her esteem and regard, he firmly believedthat it had remained unacknowledged in the past, and that it wouldremain, under all changes of circumstance which it was possible tocontemplate, unacknowledged in the future. This was his absoluteconviction; and the strongest proof he could give of it was theassurance, which he now offered, that he felt no curiosity to knowwhether the attachment was of recent date or not, or who had been theobject of it. His implicit confidence in Miss Fairlie made himsatisfied with what she had thought fit to say to him, and he washonestly innocent of the slightest feeling of anxiety to hear more.

  He waited after saying those words and looked at me. I was soconscious of my unreasonable prejudice against him--so conscious of anunworthy suspicion that he might be speculating on my impulsivelyanswering the very questions which he had just described himself asresolved not to ask--that I evaded all reference to this part of thesubject with something like a feeling of confusion on my own part. Atthe same time I was resolved not to lose even the smallest opportunityof trying to plead Laura's cause, and I told him boldly that Iregretted his generosity had not carried him one step farther, andinduced him to withdraw from the engagement altogether.

  Here, again, he disarmed me by not attempting to defend himself. Hewould merely beg me to remember the difference there was between hisallowing Miss Fairlie to give him up, which was a matter of submissiononly, and his forcing himself to give up Miss Fairlie, which was, inother words, asking him to be the suicide of his own hopes. Herconduct of the day before had so strengthened the unchangeable love andadmiration of two long years, that all active contention against thosefeelings, on his part, was henceforth entirely out of his power. Imust think him weak, selfish, unfeeling towards the very woman whom heidolised, and he must bow to my opinion as resignedly as he could--onlyputting it to me, at the same time, whether her future as a singlewoman, pining under an unhappily placed attachment which she couldnever acknowledge, could be said to promise her a much brighterprospect than her future as the wife of a man who worshipped the veryground she walked on? In the last case there was hope from time,however slight it might be--in the first case, on her own showing,there was no hope at all.

  I answered him--more because my tongue is a woman's, and must answer,than because I had anything convincing to say. It was only too plainthat the course Laura had adopted the day before had offered him theadvantage if he chose to take it--and that he HAD chosen to take it. Ifelt this at the time, and I feel it just as strongly now, while Iwrite these lines, in my own room. The one hope left is that hismotives really spring, as he says they do, from the irresistiblestrength of his attachment to Laura.

  Before I close my diary for to-night I must record that I wrote to-day,in poor Hartright's interest, to two of my mother's old friends inLondon--both men of influence and position. If they can do anythingfor him, I am quite sure they will. Except Laura, I never was moreanxious about any one than I am now about Walter. All that has happenedsince he left us has only increased my strong regard and sympathy forhim. I hope I am doing right in trying to help him to employmentabroad--I hope, most earnestly and anxiously, that it will end well.

  11th.--Sir Percival had an interview with Mr. Fairlie, and I was sentfor to join them.

  I found Mr. Fairlie greatly relieved at the prospect of the "familyworry" (as he was pleased to describe his niece's marriage) beingsettled at last. So far, I did not feel called on to say anything tohim about my own opinion, but when he proceeded, in his mostaggravatingly languid manner, to suggest that the time for the marriagehad better be settled next, in accordance with Sir Percival's wishes, Ienjoyed the satisfaction of assailing Mr. Fairlie's nerves with asstrong a protest against hurrying Laura's decision as I could put intowords. Sir Percival immediately assured me that he felt the force ofmy objection, and begged me to believe that the proposal had not beenmade in consequence of any interference on his part. Mr. Fairlieleaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, said we both of us didhonour to human nature, and then repeated his suggestion as coolly asif neither Sir Percival nor I had said a word in opposition to it. Itended in my flatly declining to mention the subject to Laura, unlessshe first approached it of her own accord. I left the room at onceafter making that declaration. Sir Percival looked seriouslyembarrassed and distressed, Mr. Fairlie stretched out his lazy legs onhis velvet footstool, and said, "Dear Marian! how I envy you yourrobust nervous system! Don't bang the door!"

  On going to Laura's room I found that she had asked for me, and thatMrs. Vesey had informed her that I was with Mr. Fairlie. She inquiredat once what I had been wanted for, and I told her all that had passed,without attempting to conceal the vexation and annoyance that I reallyfelt. Her answer surprised and distressed me inexpressibly--it was thevery last reply that I should have expected her to make.

  "My uncle is right," she said. "I have caused trouble and anxietyenough to you, and to all about me. Let me cause no more, Marian--letSir Percival decide."

  I remonstrated warmly, but nothing that I could say moved her.

  "I am held to my engagement," she replied; "I have broken with my oldlife. The evil day will not come the less surely because I put it off.No, Marian! once again my uncle is right. I have caused trouble enoughand anxiety enough, and I will cause no more."

  She used to be pliability itself, but she was now inflexibly passive inher resignation--I might almost say in her despair. Dearly as I loveher, I should have been less pained if she had been violentlyagitated--it was so shockingly unlike her natural character to see heras cold and insensible as I saw her now.

  12th.--Sir Percival put some questions to me at breakfast about Laura,which left me no choice but to tell him what she had said.

  While we were talking she herself came down and joined us. She wasjust as unnaturally composed in Sir Percival's presence as she had beenin mine. When breakfast was over he had an opportunity of saying a fewwords to her privately, in a recess of one of the windows. They werenot more than two or three minutes together, and on their separatingshe left the room with Mrs. Vesey, while Sir Percival came to me. Hesaid he had entreated her to favour him by maintaining her privilege offixing the time for the marriage at her own will and pleasure. Inreply she had merely expressed her acknowledgments, and had desired himto mention what his wishes were to Miss Halcombe.

  I have no patience to write more. In this instance, as in every other,Sir Percival has carried his point with the utmost possible credit tohimself, in spite of everything that I can say or do. His wishes arenow, what they were, of course, when he first came here; and Laurahaving resigned herself to the one inevitable sacrifice of themarriage, remains as coldly hopeless and enduring as ever. In partingwith the little occupations and relics that reminded her of Hartright,she seems to have parted with all her tenderness and all herimpressibility. It is only three o'clock in the afternoon while Iwrite these lines, and Sir Percival has left us already, in the happyhurry of a bridegroom, to prepare for the bride's reception at hishouse in Hampshire. Unless some extraordinary event happens to preventit they will be married exactly at the time when he wished to bemarrie
d--before the end of the year. My very fingers burn as I writeit!

  13th.--A sleepless night, through uneasiness about Laura. Towards themorning I came to a resolution to try what change of scene would do torouse her. She cannot surely remain in her present torpor ofinsensibility, if I take her away from Limmeridge and surround her withthe pleasant faces of old friends? After some consideration I decidedon writing to the Arnolds, in Yorkshire. They are simple, kind-hearted,hospitable people, and she has known them from her childhood. When Ihad put the letter in the post-bag I told her what I had done. Itwould have been a relief to me if she had shown the spirit to resistand object. But no--she only said, "I will go anywhere with you,Marian. I dare say you are right--I dare say the change will do megood."

  14th.--I wrote to Mr. Gilmore, informing him that there was really aprospect of this miserable marriage taking place, and also mentioningmy idea of trying what change of scene would do for Laura. I had noheart to go into particulars. Time enough for them when we get nearerto the end of the year.

  15th.--Three letters for me. The first, from the Arnolds, full ofdelight at the prospect of seeing Laura and me. The second, from oneof the gentlemen to whom I wrote on Walter Hartright's behalf,informing me that he has been fortunate enough to find an opportunityof complying with my request. The third, from Walter himself, thankingme, poor fellow, in the warmest terms, for giving him an opportunity ofleaving his home, his country, and his friends. A private expeditionto make excavations among the ruined cities of Central America is, itseems, about to sail from Liverpool. The draughtsman who had beenalready appointed to accompany it has lost heart, and withdrawn at theeleventh hour, and Walter is to fill his place. He is to be engagedfor six months certain, from the time of the landing in Honduras, andfor a year afterwards, if the excavations are successful, and if thefunds hold out. His letter ends with a promise to write me a farewellline when they are all on board ship, and when the pilot leaves them.I can only hope and pray earnestly that he and I are both acting inthis matter for the best. It seems such a serious step for him totake, that the mere contemplation of it startles me. And yet, in hisunhappy position, how can I expect him or wish him to remain at home?

  16th.--The carriage is at the door. Laura and I set out on our visitto the Arnolds to-day.