THE WOMAN IN WHITE.
MISS HALCOMBE'S NARRATIVE CONTINUED.
JULY 1ST. — The confusion of their arrival
has had time to subside. Two days have
elapsed since the return of the travellers;
and that interval has sufficed to put the new
machinery of our lives at Blackwater Park in
fair working order. I may now return to my
journal, with some little chance of being able
to continue the entries in it as collectedly as
I think I must begin by putting down an odd
remark, which has suggested itself to me since
Laura came back.
When two members of a family, or two
intimate friends, are separated, and one goes
abroad and one remains at home, the return
of the relative or friend who has been travelling,
always seems to place the relative or
friend who has been staying at home at a painful
disadvantage, when the two first meet. The
sudden encounter of the new thoughts and new
habits eagerly gained in the one case, with the
old thoughts and old habits passively preserved
in the other, seems, at first, to part the sympathies
of the most loving relatives and the fondest
friends, and to set a sudden strangeness, unexpected
by both and uncontrollable by both,
between them on either side. After the first
happiness of my meeting with Laura was over,
after we had sat down together, hand in hand,
to recover breath enough and calmness enough
to talk, I felt this strangeness instantly, and I
could see that she felt it too. It has partially
worn away, now that we have fallen back into
most of our old habits; and it will probably disappear
before long. But it has certainly had an
influence over the first impressions that I have
formed of her, now that we are living together
again— for which reason only I have thought
fit to mention it here.
She has found me unaltered; but I have found
Changed in person, and, in one respect,
changed in character. I cannot absolutely say
that she is less beautiful than she used to be: I
can only say that she is less beautiful to me.
Others, who do not look at her with my eyes
and my recollections, would probably think her
improved. There is more colour, and more decision
and roundness of outline in her face than
there used to be; and her figure seems more
firmly set, and more sure and easy in all its
movements than it was in her maiden days.
But I miss something when I look at her—
something that once belonged to the happy,
innocent life of Laura Fairlie, and that I cannot
find in Lady Glyde. There was, in the old
times, a freshness, a softness, an ever-varying
and yet ever-remaining tenderness of beauty in
her face, the charm of which it is not possible
to express in words— or, as poor Hartright used
often to say, in painting, either. This is gone.
I thought I saw the faint reflexion of it, for a
moment, when she turned pale under the agitation
of our sudden meeting, on the evening of
her return; but it has never reappeared since.
None of her letters had prepared me for a personal
change in her. On the contrary, they had
led me to expect that her marriage had left her,
in appearance at least, quite unaltered. Perhaps,
I read her letters wrongly, in the past, and am
now reading her face wrongly, in the present?
No matter! Whether her beauty has gained, or
whether it has lost, in the last six months, the
separation, either way, has made her own dear
self more precious to me than ever— and that is
one good result of her marriage, at any rate!
The second change, the change that I have
observed in her character, has not surprised me,
because I was prepared for it, in this case, by
the tone of her letters. Now that she is
at home again, I find her just as unwilling to
enter into any details on the subject of her
married life, as I had previously found her, all
through the time of our separation, when we
could only communicate with each other by
writing. At the first approach I made to the
forbidden topic, she put her hand on my lips,
with a look and gesture which touchingly, almost
painfully, recalled to my memory the days of her
girlhood and the happy bygone time when there
were no secrets between us.
"Whenever you and I are together, Marian,"
she said, "we shall both be happier and easier with
one another, if we accept my married life for what
it is, and say and think as little about it as possible.
I would tell you everything, darling, about myself,"
she went on, nervously buckling and unbuckling
the ribbon round my waist, "if my confidences
could only end there. But they could not
— they would lead me into confidences about my
husband, too; and, now I am married, I think I
had better avoid them, for his sake, and for your
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