Chapter 10


THIS morning Mr Gilmore left us.

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

I have been sadly distrustful of myself, in this difficult and

* The passages omitted, here and elsewhere, in Miss Halcombe's Diary are only those which bear no reference to Miss Fairlie or to any of the persons with whom she is associated in these pages. lamentable matter, ever since I found out my own ignorance of the strength of Laura's unhappy attachment. I ought to have known that the delicacy and forbearance and sense of honour which drew me to poor Hartright, and made me so sincerely admire and respect him, were just the qualities to appeal most irresistibly to Laura's natural sensitiveness and natural generosity of nature. And yet, until she opened her heart to me of her own accord, I had no suspicion that this new feeling had taken root so deeply. I once thought time and care might remove it. I now fear that it will remain with her and alter her for life. The discovery that I have committed such an error in judgment as this makes me hesitate about everything else. I hesitate about Sir Percival, in the face of the plainest proofs. I hesitate even in speaking to Laura. On this very morning I doubted, with my hand on the door, whether I should ask her the questions I had come to put, or not.

When I went into her room I found her walking up and down in great impatience. She looked flushed and excited, and she came forward at once, 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's drawings -- the fatal book that she will dream over whenever she is alone -- was in one of her hands. I began by gently and firmly taking it from 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 was very kind and good to me, Marian, and I am ashamed to say I distressed him by crying. I am miserably helpless -- I can't control myself. For my own sake, and for all our sakes, I must have courage enough to end it.'

`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 my bosom 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 lay on 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 l can do, Marian, is not to add the remembrance that I have broken my promise and forgotten my father's dying words, to make that wretchedness worse.'

`What is it you propose, then?' I asked.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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