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TOWARDS eleven o'clock, on the morning of the
third of November, the breakfast-table at Baliol
Cottage presented that essentially comfortless
appearance which is caused by a meal in a state
of transitionthat is to say, by a meal prepared
for two persons, which has been already partaken
of by one, and which has not yet been approached
by the other. It must be a hardy appetite which
can contemplate without a momentary discouragement,
the battered egg-shell, the fish half-stripped
to a skeleton, the crumbs in the plate, and the
dregs in the cup. There is surely a wise
submission to those weaknesses in human nature
which must be respected and not reproved, in
the sympathising rapidity with which servants in
places of public refreshment clear away all signs
of the customer in the past, from the eyes of the
customer in the present. Although his
predecessor may have been the wife of his bosom or
the child of his loins, no man can find himself
confronted at table by the traces of a vanished
eater, without a passing sense of injury in
connexion with the idea of his own meal.

Some such impression as this found its way
into the mind of Mr. Noel Vanstone, when he
entered the lonely breakfast-parlour at Baliol
Cottage, shortly after eleven o'clock. He looked
at the table with a frown, and rang the bell with
an expression of disgust.

"Clear away this mess," he said, when the
servant appeared. "Has your mistress gone?"

"Yes, sirnearly an hour ago."

"Is Louisa down stairs?"

"Yes, sir."

"When you have put the table right, send
Louisa up to me."

He walked away to the window. The momentary
irritation passed from his face; but it left
an expression there which remainedan expression
of pining discontent. Personally, his
marriage had altered him for the worse. His wizen
little cheeks were beginning to shrink into
hollows; his frail little figure had already
contracted a slight stoop. The former delicacy of
his complexion had gonethe sickly paleness of
it was all that remained. His thin flaxen
moustachios were no longer pragmatically waxed and
twisted into a curl: their weak feathery ends
hung meekly pendent over the querulous corners
of his mouth. If the ten or twelve weeks since
his marriage, had been counted by his looks, they
might have reckoned as ten or twelve years. He
stood at the window mechanically picking leaves
from a pot of heath placed in front of it, and
drearily humming the forlorn fragment of a

The prospect from the window overlooked the
course of the Nith, at a bend of the river a few
miles above Dumfries. Here and there, through
wintry gaps in the wooded bank, broad tracts of
the level cultivated valley met the eye. Boats
passed on the river, and carts plodded along
the high road on their way to Dumfries. The
sky was clear; the November sun shone as
pleasantly as if the year had been younger by
two good months; and the view, noted in Scotland
for its bright and peaceful charm, was
presented at the best which its wintry aspect could
assume. If it had been hidden in mist or drenched
with rain, Mr. Noel Vanstone would, to all
appearance, have found it as attractive as he found
it now. He waited at the window until he
heard Louisa's knock at the doorthen turned
back sullenly to the breakfast-table and told her
to come in.

"Make the tea," he said. "I know nothing
about it. I'm left here neglected. Nobody
helps me."

The discreet Louisa silently and submissively

"Did your mistress leave any message for
me," he asked, "before she went away?"

"No message in particular, sir. My mistress
only said she should be too late, if she waited
breakfast any longer."

"Did she say nothing else?"

"She told me at the carriage-door, sir, that
she would most likely be back by the end of the

"Was she in good spirits at the carriage-

"No, sir. I thought my mistress seemed
very anxious and uneasy. Is there anything
more I can do, sir?"