+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

"I don't know. Wait a minute."

He proceeded discontentedly with his breakfast.
Louisa waited resignedly at the door.

"I think your mistress has been in bad spirits,
lately," he resumed, with a sudden outbreak of

"My mistress has not been very cheerful,

"What do you mean by not very cheerful?
Do you mean to prevaricate? Am I nobody in
the house? Am I to be kept in the dark about
everything? Is your mistress to go away on her
own affairs, and leave me at home like a child
and am I not even to ask a question about her?
Am I to be prevaricated with by a servant? I
won't be prevaricated with! Not very cheerful?
What do you mean by not very cheerful?"

"I only meant that my mistress was not in
good spirits, sir."

"Why couldn't you say it then? Don't you
know the value of words? The most dreadful
consequences sometimes happen from not knowing
the value of words. Did your mistress tell
you she was going to London?"

"Yes, sir."

"What did you think when your mistress told
you she was going to London? Did you think it
odd she was going without me?"

"I did not presume to think it odd, sir.—Is
there anything more I can do for you, if you
please, sir?"

"What sort of a morning is it out? Is it
warm? Is the sun on the garden?"

"Yes, sir."

"Have you seen the sun yourself on the

"Yes, sir."

"Get me my great-coat; I'll take a little turn.
Has the man brushed it? Did you see the man
brush it yourself? What do you mean by saying
he has brushed it, when you didn't see him?
Let me look at the tails. If there's a speck of
dust on the tails, I'll turn the man off!—Help me
on with it."

Louisa helped him on with his coat, and gave
him his hat. He went out irritably. The coat was
a large one (it had belonged to his father); the
hat was a large one (it was a misfit, purchased
at a bargain by himself). He was submerged in
his hat and coat; he looked singularly small, and
frail, and miserable, as he slowly wended his way,
in the wintry sunlight, down the garden walk.
The path sloped gently from the back of the
house to the water-side, from which it was
parted by a low wooden fence. After pacing
backwards and forwards slowly for some little
time, he stopped at the lower extremity of the
garden; and leaning on the fence, looked down
listlessly at the smooth flow of the river.

His thoughts still ran on the subject of his first
fretful question to Louisahe was still brooding
over the circumstances under which his wife had
left the cottage that morning, and over the want
of consideration towards himself, implied in the
manner of her departure. The longer he thought
of his grievance, the more acutely he resented it.
He was capable of great tenderness of feeling
where any injury to his sense of his own
importance was concerned. His head drooped
little by little on his arms, as they rested on the
fence; and, in the deep sincerity of his mortification,
he sighed bitterly.

The sigh was answered by a voice close at
his side.

"You were happier with me, sir," said the
voice, in accents of tender regret.

He looked up with a screamliterally with a
screamand confronted Mrs. Lecount.

Was it the spectre of the woman? or the woman
herself? Her hair was white; her face had
fallen away; her eyes looked out large, bright,
and haggard over her hollow cheeks. She was
withered and old. Her dress hung loose round
her wasted figure; not a trace of its buxom
autumnal beauty remained. The quietly
impenetrable resolution, the smoothly insinuating
voicethese were the only relics of the past
which sickness and suffering had left in Mrs.

"Compose yourself, Mr. Noel," she said,
gently. "You have no cause to be alarmed at
seeing me. Your servant, when I inquired, said
you were in the garden; and I came here to find
you. I have traced you out, sir, with no resentment
against yourself, with no wish to distress
you by so much as the shadow of a reproach. I
come here, on what has been, and is still, the
business of my lifeyour service."

He recovered himself a little; but he was still
incapable of speech. He held fast by the fence,
and stared at her.

"Try to possess your mind, sir, of what I say,"
proceeded Mrs. Lecount. "I have not come
here as your enemy, but as your friend. I have
been tried by sickness; I have been tried by
distress. Nothing remains of me, but my heart.
My heart forgives you; my heart, in your sore
needneed which you have yet to feelplaces
me at your service. Take my arm, Mr. Noel.
A little turn in the sun will help you to recover

She put his hand through her arm, and
marched him slowly up the garden-walk. Before
she had been five minutes in his company, she
had resumed full possession of him, in her own

"Now down again, Mr. Noel," she said.
"Gently down again, in this fine sunlight. I
have much to say to you, sir, which you never
expected to hear from me. Let me ask a little
domestic question first. They told me, at the
house door, Mrs. Noel Vanstone was gone away
on a journey. Has she gone for long?"

Her master's hand trembled on her arm as she
put that question. Instead of answering it, he
tried faintly to plead for himself. The first
words that escaped him were prompted by his
first, returning sensethe sense that his house-
keeper had taken him into custody. He tried to
make his peace with Mrs. Lecount.