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                 THE WOMAN IN WHITE.



WHEN I entered the room, I found Miss Halcombe
and an elderly lady seated at the luncheon-table.

The elderly lady, when I was presented to her,
proved to be Miss Fairlie's former governess,
Mrs. Vesey, who had been briefly described to
me by my lively companion at the breakfast-table,
as possessed of "all the cardinal virtues,
and counting for nothing." I can do little more
than offer my humble testimony to the truthfulness
of Miss Halcombe's sketch of the old lady's
character. Mrs. Vesey looked the  personification
of human composure and female amiability.
A calm enjoyment of a calm existence beamed
in drowsy smiles on her plump, placid face. Some
of us rush through life; and some of us saunter
through life. Mrs. Vesey sat through life. Sat
in the house, early and late; sat in the garden;
sat in unexpected window-seats in passages; sat
(on a camp-stool) when her friends tried to take
her out walking; sat before she looked at anything,
before she talked of anything, before she
answered, Yes, or No, to the commonest question
always with the same serene smile on her lips,
the same vacantly attentive turn of her head,
the same snugly, comfortable position of her
hands and arms, under every possible change of
domestic circumstances. A mild, a  compliant,
an unutterably tranquil and harmless old lady,
who never by any chance suggested the idea that
she had been actually alive since the hour of
her birth. Nature has so much to do in this
world, and is engaged in generating such a vast
variety of co-existent productions, that she must
surely be now and then too flurried and confused
to distinguish between the different processes
that she is carrying on at the same time. Starting
from this point of view, it will always remain my
private persuasion that Nature was absorbed in
making cabbages when Mrs. Vesey was born,
and that the good lady suffered the consequences
of a vegetable preoccupation in the mind of the
Mother of us all.

"Now, Mrs. Vesey," said Miss Halcombe,
looking brighter, sharper, and readier than ever,
by contrast with the undemonstrative old lady
at her side, "what will you have? A cutlet?"

Mrs. Vesey crossed her dimpled hands on the
edge of the table; smiled placidly; and said,
"Yes, dear."

"What is that, opposite Mr. Hartright?
Boiled chicken, is it not? I thought you liked
boiled chicken better than cutlet, Mrs. Vesey?"

Mrs. Vesey took her dimpled hands off the
edge of the table and crossed them on her lap
instead; nodded contemplatively at the boiled
chicken; and said "Yes, dear."

"Well, but which will you have, to-day?
Shall Mr. Hartright give you some chicken? or
shall I give you some cutlet?"

Mrs. Vesey put one of her dimpled hands
back again on the edge of the table; hesitated
drowsily; and said, "Which you please, dear."

"Mercy on me! it's a question for your taste,
my good lady, not for mine. Suppose you have
a little of both? and suppose you begin with
the chicken, because Mr. Hartright looks
devoured by anxiety to carve for you?"

Mrs. Vesey put the other dimpled hand back
on the edge of the table; brightened dimly, one
moment; went out again, the next; bowed
obediently; and said, "If you please, sir."

Surely a mild, a compliant, an unutterably
tranquil and harmless old lady? But enough,
perhaps, for the present, of Mrs. Vesey.

All this time, there were no signs of Miss
Fairlie. We finished our luncheon; and still
she never appeared. Miss Halcombe, whose
quick eye nothing escaped, noticed the looks
that I cast, from time to time, in the direction
of the door.

"I understand you, Mr. Hartright," she said;
"you are wondering what has become of your
other pupil. She has been down stairs, and has
got over her headache; but has not sufficiently
recovered her appetite to join us at lunch. If
you will put yourself under my charge, I think
I can undertake to find her somewhere in the

She took up a parasol, lying on a chair near
her, and led the way out, by a long window at
the bottom of the room , which opened on to the
lawn. It is almost unnecessary to say that we
left Mrs. Vesey still seated at the table, with
her dimpled hands still crossed on the edge of
it; apparently settled in that position for the
rest of the afternoon.

As we crossed the lawn, Miss Halcombe
looked at me significantly, and shook her head.

"That mysterious adventure of yours," she