THE hands on the hall-clock pointed to half-past six in the
morning. The house was a country residence in West Somersetshire,
called Combe-Raven. The day was the fourth of March, and the year
was eighteen hundred and forty-six.
No sounds but the steady ticking of the clock, and the lumpish
snoring of a large dog stretched on a mat outside the dining-room
door, disturbed the mysterious morning stillness of hall and
staircase. Who were the sleepers hidden in the upper regions? Let
the house reveal its own secrets; and, one by one, as they descend
the stairs from their beds, let the sleepers disclose
As the clock pointed to a quarter to seven, the dog woke and
shook himself. After waiting in vain for the footman, who was
accustomed to let him out, the animal wandered restlessly from one
closed door to another on the ground-floor; and, returning to his
mat in great perplexity, appealed to the sleeping family with a
long and melancholy howl.
Before the last notes of the dog's remonstrance had died away,
the oaken stairs in the higher regions of the house creaked under
slowly-descending footsteps. In a minute more the first of the
female servants made her appearance, with a dingy woolen shawl over
her shoulders—for the March morning was bleak; and rheumatism and
the cook were old acquaintances.
Receiving the dog's first cordial advances with the worst
possible grace, the cook slowly opened the hall door and let the
animal out. It was a wild morning. Over a spacious lawn, and behind
a black plantation of firs, the rising sun rent its way upward
through piles of ragged gray cloud; heavy drops of rain fell few
and far between; the March wind shuddered round the corners of the
house, and the wet trees swayed wearily.
Seven o'clock struck; and the signs of domestic life began to
show themselves in more rapid succession.
The housemaid came down—tall and slim, with the state of the
spring temperature written redly on her nose. The lady's-maid
followed—young, smart, plump, and sleepy. The kitchen-maid came
next—afflicted with the face-ache, and making no secret of her
sufferings. Last of all, the footman appeared, yawning
disconsolately; the living picture of a man who felt that he had
been defrauded of his fair night's rest.
The conversation of the servants, when they assembled before the
slowly lighting kitchen fire, referred to a recent family event,
and turned at starting on this question: Had Thomas, the footman,
seen anything of the concert at Clifton, at which his master and
the two young ladies had been present on the previous night? Yes;
Thomas had heard the concert; he had been paid for to go in at the
back; it was a loud concert; it was a hot concert; it was described
at the top of the bills as Grand; whether it was worth traveling
sixteen miles to hear by railway, with the additional hardship of
going back nineteen miles by road, at half-past one in the
morning—was a question which he would leave his master and the
young ladies to decide; his own opinion, in the meantime, being
unhesitatingly, No. Further inquiries, on the part of all the
female servants in succession, elicited no additional information
of any sort. Thomas could hum none of the songs, and could describe
none of the ladies' dresses. His audience, accordingly, gave him up
in despair; and the kitchen small-talk flowed back into its
ordinary channels, until the clock struck eight and startled the
assembled servants into separating for their morning's work.
A quarter past eight, and nothing happened. Half-past—and more
signs of life appeared from the bedroom regions. The next member of
the family who came downstairs was Mr. Andrew Vanstone, the master
of the house.
Tall, stout, and upright—with bright blue eyes, and healthy,
florid complexion—his brown plush shooting-jacket carelessly
buttoned awry; his vixenish little Scotch terrier barking unrebuked
at his heels; one hand thrust into his waistcoat pocket, and the
other smacking the banisters cheerfully as he came downstairs
humming a tune—Mr. Vanstone showed his character on the surface of
him freely to all men. An easy, hearty, handsome, good-humored
gentleman, who walked on the sunny side of the way of life, and who
asked nothing better than to meet all his fellow-passengers in this
world on the sunny side, too. Estimating him by years, he had
turned fifty. Judging him by lightness of heart, strength of
constitution, and capacity for enjoyment, he was no older than most
men who have only turned thirty.
"Thomas!" cried Mr. Vanstone, taking up his old felt hat and his
thick walking stick from the hall table. "Breakfast, this morning,
at ten. The young ladies are not likely to be down earlier after
the concert last night.—By-the-by, how did you like the concert
yourself, eh? You thought it was grand? Quite right; so it was.
Nothing but crash-ban g, varied now and then by bang-crash; all the
women dressed within an inch of their lives; smothering heat,
blazing gas, and no room for anybody—yes, yes, Thomas; grand's the
word for it, and comfortable isn't." With that expression of
opinion, Mr. Vanstone whistled to his vixenish terrier; flourished
his stick at the hall door in cheerful defiance of the rain; and
set off through wind and weather for his morning walk.
The hands, stealing their steady way round the dial of the
clock, pointed to ten minutes to nine. Another member of the family
appeared on the stairs—Miss Garth, the governess.
No observant eyes could have surveyed Miss Garth without seeing
at once that she was a north-countrywoman. Her hard featured face;
her masculine readiness and decision of movement; her obstinate
honesty of look and manner, all proclaimed her border birth and
border training. Though little more than forty years of age, her
hair was quite gray; and she wore over it the plain cap of an old
woman. Neither hair nor head-dress was out of harmony with her
face—it looked older than her years: the hard handwriting of
trouble had scored it heavily at some past time. The
self-possession of her progress downstairs, and the air of habitual
authority with which she looked about her, spoke well for her
position in Mr. Vanstone's family. This was evidently not one of
the forlorn, persecuted, pitiably dependent order of governesses.
Here was a woman who lived on ascertained and honorable terms with
her employers—a woman who looked capable of sending any parents in
England to the right-about, if they failed to rate her at her
"Breakfast at ten?" repeated Miss Garth, when the footman had
answered the bell, and had mentioned his master's orders. "Ha! I
thought what would come of that concert last night. When people who
live in the country patronize public amusements, public amusements
return the compliment by upsetting the family afterward for days
together. You're upset, Thomas, I can see your
eyes are as red as a ferret's, and your cravat looks as if you had
slept in it. Bring the kettle at a quarter to ten—and if you don't
get better in the course of the day, come to me, and I'll give you
a dose of physic. That's a well-meaning lad, if you only let him
alone," continued Miss Garth, in soliloquy, when Thomas had
retired; "but he's not strong enough for concerts twenty miles off.
They wanted me to go with them last night. Yes:
Nine o'clock struck; and the minute-hand stole on to twenty
minutes past the hour, before any more footsteps were heard on the
stairs. At the end of that time, two ladies appeared, descending to
the breakfast-room together—Mrs. Vanstone and her eldest
If the personal attractions of Mrs. Vanstone, at an earlier
period of life, had depended solely on her native English charms of
complexion and freshness, she must have long since lost the last
relics of her fairer self. But her beauty as a young woman had
passed beyond the average national limits; and she still preserved
the advantage of her more exceptional personal gifts. Although she
was now in her forty-fourth year; although she had been tried, in
bygone times, by the premature loss of more than one of her
children, and by long attacks of illness which had followed those
bereavements of former years—she still preserved the fair
proportion and subtle delicacy of feature, once associated with the
all-adorning brightness and freshness of beauty, which had left her
never to return. Her eldest child, now descending the stairs by her
side, was the mirror in which she could look back and see again the
reflection of her own youth. There, folded thick on the daughter's
head, lay the massive dark hair, which, on the mother's, was fast
turning gray. There, in the daughter's cheek, glowed the lovely
dusky red which had faded from the mother's to bloom again no more.
Miss Vanstone had already reached the first maturity of womanhood;
she had completed her six-and-twentieth year. Inheriting the dark
majestic character of her mother's beauty, she had yet hardly
inherited all its charms. Though the shape of her face was the
same, the features were scarcely so delicate, their proportion was
scarcely so true. She was not so tall. She had the dark-brown eyes
of her mother—full and soft, with the steady luster in them which
Mrs. Vanstone's eyes had lost—and yet there was less interest, less
refinement and depth of feeling in her expression: it was gentle
and feminine, but clouded by a certain quiet reserve, from which
her mother's face was free. If we dare to look closely enough, may
we not observe that the moral force of character and the higher
intellectual capacities in parents seem often to wear out
mysteriously in the course of transmission to children? In these
days of insidious nervous exhaustion and subtly-spreading nervous
malady, is it not possible that the same rule may apply, less
rarely than we are willing to admit, to the bodily gifts as
The mother and daughter slowly descended the stairs together—the
first dressed in dark brown, with an Indian shawl thrown over her
shoulders; the second more simply attired in black, with a plain
collar and cuffs, and a dark orange-colored ribbon over the bosom
of her dress. As they crossed the hall and entered the
breakfast-room, Miss Vanstone was full of the all-absorbing subject
of the last night's concert.
"I am so sorry, mamma, you were not with us," she said. "You
have been so strong and so well ever since last summer—you have
felt so many years younger, as you said yourself—that I am sure the
exertion would not have been too much for you."
"Perhaps not, my love—but it was as well to keep on the safe
"Quite as well," remarked Miss Garth, appearing at the
breakfast-room door. "Look at Norah (good-morning, my dear)—look, I
say, at Norah. A perfect wreck; a living proof of your wisdom and
mine in staying at home. The vile gas, the foul air, the late
hours—what can you expect? She's not made of iron, and she suffers
accordingly. No, my dear, you needn't deny it. I see you've got a
Norah's dark, handsome face brightened into a smile—then lightly
clouded again with its accustomed quiet reserve.
"A very little headache; not half enough to make me regret the
concert," she said, and walked away by herself to the window.
On the far side of a garden and paddock the view overlooked a
stream, some farm buildings which lay beyond, and the opening of a
wooded, rocky pass (called, in Somersetshire, a Combe), which here
cleft its way through the hills that closed the prospect. A winding
strip of road was visible, at no great distance, amid the
undulations of the open ground; and along this strip the stalwart
figure of Mr. Vanstone was now easily recognizable, returning to
the house from his morning walk. He flourished his stick gayly, as
he observed his eldest daughter at the window. She nodded and waved
her hand in return, very gracefully and prettily—but with something
of old-fashioned formality in her manner, which looked strangely in
so young a woman, and which seemed out of harmony with a salutation
addressed to her father.
The hall-clock struck the adjourned breakfast-hour. When the
minute hand had recorded the lapse of five minutes more a door
banged in the bedroom regions—a clear young voice was heard singing
blithely—light, rapid footsteps pattered on the upper stairs,
descended with a jump to the landing, and pattered again, faster
than ever, down the lower flight. In another moment the youngest of
Mr. Vanstone's two daughters (and two only surviving children)
dashed into view on the dingy old oaken stairs, with the suddenness
of a flash of light; and clearing the last three steps into the
hall at a jump, presented herself breathless in the breakfast-room
to make the family circle complete.
By one of those strange caprices of Nature, which science leaves
still unexplained, the youngest of Mr. Vanstone's children
presented no recognizable resemblance to either of her parents. How
had she come by her hair? how had she come by her eyes? Even her
father and mother had asked themselves those questions, as she grew
up to girlhood, and had been sorely perplexed to answer them. Her
hair was of that purely light-brown hue, unmixed with flaxen, or
yellow, or red—which is oftener seen on the plumage of a bird than
on the head of a human being. It was soft and plentiful, and waved
downward from her low forehead in regular folds—but, to some
tastes, it was dull and dead, in its absolute want of glossiness,
in its monotonous purity of plain light color. Her eyebrows and
eyelashes were just a shade darker than her hair, and seemed made
expressly for those violet-blue eyes, which assert their most
irresistible charm when associated with a fair complexion. But it
was here exactly that the promise of her face failed of performance
in the most startling manner. The eyes, which should have been
dark, were incomprehensibly and discordantly light; they were of
that nearly colorless gray which, though little attractive in
itself, possesses the rare compensating merit of interpreting the
finest gradations of thought, the gentlest changes of feeling, the
deepest trouble of passion, with a subtle transparency of
expression which no darker eyes can rival. Thus quaintly
self-contradictory in the upper part of her face, she was hardly
less at variance with established ideas of harmony in the lower.
Her lips had the true feminine delicacy of form, her cheeks the
lovely roundness and smoothness of youth—but the mouth was too
large and firm, the chin too square and massive for her sex and
age. Her complexion partook of the pure monotony of tint which
characterized her hair—it was of the same soft, warm, creamy
fairness all over, without a tinge of color in the cheeks, except
on occasions of unusual bodily exertion or sudden mental
disturbance. The whole countenance—so remarkable in its strongly
opposed characteristics—was rendered additionally striking by its
extraordinary mobility. The large, electric, light-gray eyes were
hardly ever in repose; all varieties of expression followed each
other over the plastic, ever-changing face, with a giddy rapidity
which left sober analysis far behind in the race. The girl's
exuberant vitality asserted itself all over her, from head to foot.
Her figure—taller than her sister's, taller than the average of
woman's height; instinct with such a seductive, serpentine
suppleness, so lightly and playfully graceful, that its movements
suggested, not unnaturally, the movements of a young cat—her figure
was so perfectly developed already that no one who saw her could
have supposed that she was only eighteen. She bloomed in the full
physical maturity of twenty years or more—bloomed naturally and
irresistibly, in right of her matchless health and strength. Here,
in truth, lay the mainspring of this strangely-constituted
organization. Her headlong course down the house stairs; the brisk
activity of all her movements; the incessant sparkle of expression
in her face; the enticing gayety which took the hearts of the
quietest people by storm—even the reckless delight in bright colors
which showed itself in her brilliantly-striped morning dress, in
her fluttering ribbons, in the large scarlet rosettes on her smart
little shoes—all sprang alike from the same source; from the
overflowing physical health which strengthened every muscle, braced
every nerve, and set the warm young blood tingling through her
veins, like the blood of a growing child.
On her entry into the breakfast-room, she was saluted with the
customary remonstrance which her flighty disregard of all
punctuality habitually provoked from the long-suffering household
authorities. In Miss Garth's favorite phrase, "Magdalen was born
with all the senses—except a sense of order."
Magdalen! It was a strange name to have given her? Strange,
indeed; and yet, chosen under no extraordinary circumstances. The
name had been borne by one of Mr. Vanstone's sisters, who had died
in early youth; and, in affectionate remembrance of her, he had
called his second daughter by it—just as he had called his eldest
daughter Norah, for his wife's sake. Magdalen! Surely, the grand
old Bible name—suggestive of a sad and somber dignity; recalling,
in its first association, mournful ideas of penitence and
seclusion—had been here, as events had turned out, inappropriately
bestowed? Surely, this self-contradictory girl had perversely
accomplished one contradiction more, by developing into a character
which was out of all harmony with her own Christian name!
"Late again!" said Mrs. Vanstone, as Magdalen breathlessly
"Late again!" chimed in Miss Garth, when Magdalen came her way
next. "Well?" she went on, taking the girl's chin familiarly in her
hand, with a half-satirical, half-fond attention which betrayed
that the youngest daughter, with all her faults, was the
governess's favorite—"Well? and what has the concert done
for you? What form of suffering has dissipation
inflicted on your system this morning?"
"Suffering!" repeated Magdalen, recovering her breath, and the
use of her tongue with it. "I don't know the meaning of the word:
if there's anything the matter with me, I'm too well. Suffering!
I'm ready for another concert to-night, and a ball to-morrow, and a
play the day after. Oh," cried Magdalen, dropping into a chair and
crossing her hands rapturously on the table, "how I do like
"Come! that's explicit at any rate," said Miss Garth. "I think
Pope must have had you in his mind when he wrote his famous
"'Men some to business, some to pleasure take, But every woman
is at heart a rake.'"
"The deuce she is!" cried Mr. Vanstone, entering the room while
Miss Garth was making her quotation, with the dogs at his heels.
"Well; live and learn. If you're all rakes, Miss Garth, the sexes
are turned topsy-turvy with a vengeance; and the men will have
nothing left for it but to stop at home and darn the
stockings.—Let's have some breakfast."
"How-d'ye-do, papa?" said Magdalen, taking Mr. Vanstone as
boisterously round the neck as if he belonged to some larger order
of Newfoundland dog, and was made to be romped with at his
daughter's convenience. "I'm the rake Miss Garth means; and I want
to go to another concert—or a play, if you like—or a ball, if you
prefer it—or anything else in the way of amusement that puts me
into a new dress, and plunges me into a crowd of people, and
illuminates me with plenty of light, and sets me in a tingle of
excitement all over, from head to foot. Anything will do, as long
as it doesn't send us to bed at eleven o'clock."
Mr. Vanstone sat down composedly under his daughter's flow of
language, like a man who was well used to verbal inundation from
that quarter. "If I am to be allowed my choice of amusements next
time," said the worthy gentleman, "I think a play will suit me
better than a concert. The girls enjoyed themselves amazingly, my
dear," he continued, addressing his wife. "More than I did, I must
say. It was altogether above my mark. They played one piece of
music which lasted forty minutes. It stopped three times,
by-the-way; and we all thought it was done each time, and clapped
our hands, rejoiced to be rid of it. But on it went again, to our
great surprise and mortification, till we gave it up in despair,
and all wished ourselves at Jericho. Norah, my dear! when we had
crash-bang for forty minutes, with three stoppages by-the-way, what
did they call it?"
"A symphony, papa," replied Norah.
"Yes, you darling old Goth, a symphony by the great Beethoven!"
added Magdalen. "How can you say you were not amused? Have you
forgotten the yellow-looking foreign woman, with the
unpronounceable name? Don't you remember the faces she made when
she sang? and the way she courtesied and courtesied, till she
cheated the foolish people into crying encore? Look here,
mamma—look here, Miss Garth!"
She snatched up an empty plate from the table, to represent a
sheet of music, held it before her in the established concert-room
position, and produced an imitation of the unfortunate singer's
grimaces and courtesyings, so accurately and quaintly true to the
original, that her father roared with laughter; and even the
footman (who came in at that moment with the post-bag) rushed out
of the room again, and committed the indecorum of echoing his
master audibly on the other side of the door.
"Letters, papa. I want the key," said Magdalen, passing from the
imitation at the breakfast-table to the post-bag on the sideboard
with the easy abruptness which characterized all her actions.
Mr. Vanstone searched his pockets and shook his head. Though his
youngest daughter might resemble him in nothing else, it was easy
to see where Magdalen's unmethodical habits came from.
"I dare say I have left it in the library, along with my other
keys," said Mr. Vanstone. "Go and look for it, my dear."
"You really should check Magdalen," pleaded Mrs. Vanstone,
addressing her husband when her daughter had left the room. "Those
habits of mimicry are growing on her; and she speaks to you with a
levity which it is positively shocking to hear."
"Exactly what I have said myself, till I am tired of repeating
it," remarked Miss Garth. "She treats Mr. Vanstone as if he was a
kind of younger brother of hers."
"You are kind to us in everything else, papa; and you make kind
allowances for Magdalen's high spirits—don't you?" said the quiet
Norah, taking her father's part and her sister's with so little
show of resolution on the surface that few observers would have
been sharp enough to detect the genuine substance beneath it.
"Thank you, my dear," said good-natured Mr. Vanstone. "Thank you
for a very pretty speech. As for Magdalen," he continued,
addressing his wife and Miss Garth, "she's an unbroken filly. Let
her caper and kick in the paddock to her heart's content. Time
enough to break her to harness when she gets a little older."
The door opened, and Magdalen returned with the key. She
unlocked the post-bag at the sideboard and poured out the letters
in a heap. Sorting them gayly in less than a minute, she approached
the breakfast-table with both hands full, and delivered the letters
all round with the business-like rapidity of a London postman.
"Two for Norah," she announced, beginning with her sister.
"Three for Miss Garth. None for mamma. One for me. And the other
six all for papa. You lazy old darling, you hate answering letters,
don't you?" pursued Magdalen, dropping the postman's character and
assuming the daughter's. "How you will grumble and fidget in the
study! and how you will wish there were no such things as letters
in the world! and how red your nice old bald head will get at the
top with the worry of writing the answers; and how many of the
answers you will leave until tomorrow after all! The
Bristol Theater's open, papa," she whispered, slyly and
suddenly, in her father's ear; "I saw it in the newspaper when I
went to the library to get the key. Let's go to-morrow night!"
While his daughter was chattering, Mr. Vanstone was mechanically
sorting his letters. He turned over the first four in succession
and looked carelessly at the addresses. When he came to the fifth
his attention, which had hitherto wandered toward Magdalen,
suddenly became fixed on the post-mark of the letter.
Stooping over him, with her head on his shoulder, Magdalen could
see the post-mark as plainly as her father saw it—NEW ORLEANS.
"An American letter, papa!" she said. "Who do you know at New
Mrs. Vanstone started, and looked eagerly at her husband the
moment Magdalen spoke those words.
Mr. Vanstone said nothing. He quietly removed his daughter's arm
from his neck, as if he wished to be free from all interruption.
She returned, accordingly, to her place at the breakfast-table. Her
father, with the letter in his hand, waited a little before he
opened it; her mother looking at him, the while, with an eager,
expectant attention which attracted Miss Garth's notice, and
Norah's, as well as Magdalen's.
After a minute or more of hesitation Mr. Vanstone opened the
His face changed color the instant he read the first lines; his
cheeks fading to a dull, yellow-brown hue, which would have been
ashy paleness in a less florid man; and his expression becoming
saddened and overclouded in a moment. Norah and Magdalen, watching
anxiously, saw nothing but the change that passed over their
father. Miss Garth alone observed the effect which that change
produced on the attentive mistress of the house.
It was not the effect which she, or any one, could have
anticipated. Mrs. Vanstone looked excited rather than alarmed. A
faint flush rose on her cheeks—her eyes brightened—she stirred the
tea round and round in her cup in a restless, impatient manner
which was not natural to her.
Magdalen, in her capacity of spoiled child, was, as usual, the
first to break the silence.
"What is the matter, papa?" she asked.
"Nothing," said Mr. Vanstone, sharply, without looking up at
"I'm sure there must be something," persisted Magdalen. "I'm
sure there is bad news, papa, in that American letter."
"There is nothing in the letter that
concerns you," said Mr. Vanstone.
It was the first direct rebuff that Magdalen had ever received
from her father. She looked at him with an incredulous surprise,
which would have been irresistibly absurd under less serious
Nothing more was said. For the first time, perhaps, in their
lives, the family sat round the breakfast-table in painful silence.
Mr. Vanstone's hearty morning appetite, like his hearty morning
spirits, was gone. He absently broke off some morsels of dry toast
from the rack near him, absently finished his first cup of tea—then
asked for a second, which he left before him untouched.
"Norah," he said, after an interval, "you needn't wait for me.
Magdalen, my dear, you can go when you like."
His daughters rose immediately; and Miss Garth considerately
followed their example. When an easy-tempered man does assert
himself in his family, the rarity of the demonstration invariably
has its effect; and the will of that easy-tempered man is Law.
"What can have happened?" whispered Norah, as they closed the
breakfast-room door and crossed the hall.
"What does papa mean by being cross with Me?" exclaimed
Magdalen, chafing under a sense of her own injuries.
"May I ask—what right you had to pry into your father's private
affairs?" retorted Miss Garth.
"Right?" repeated Magdalen. "I have no secrets from papa—what
business has papa to have secrets from me! I consider myself
"If you considered yourself properly reproved for not minding
your own business," said the plain-spoken Miss Garth, "you would be
a trifle nearer the truth. Ah! you are like all the rest of the
girls in the present day. Not one in a hundred of you knows which
end of her's uppermost."
The three ladies entered the morning-room; and Magdalen
acknowledged Miss Garth's reproof by banging the door.
Half an hour passed, and neither Mr. Vanstone nor his wife left
the breakfast-room. The servant, ignorant of what had happened,
went in to clear the table—found his master and mistress seated
close together in deep consultation—and immediately went out again.
Another quarter of an hour elapsed before the breakfast-room door
was opened, and the private conference of the husband and wife came
to an end.
"I hear mamma in the hall," said Norah. "Perhaps she is coming
to tell us something."
Mrs. Vanstone entered the morning-room as her daughter spoke.
The color was deeper on her cheeks, and the brightness of
half-dried tears glistened in her eyes; her step was more hasty,
all her movements were quicker than usual.
"I bring news, my dears, which will surprise you," she said,
addressing her daughters. "Your father and I are going to London
Magdalen caught her mother by the arm in speechless
astonishment. Miss Garth dropped her work on her lap; even the
sedate Norah started to her feet, and amazedly repeated the words,
"Going to London!"
"Without us?" added Magdalen.
"Your father and I are going alone," said Mrs. Vanstone.
"Perhaps, for as long as three weeks—but not longer. We are
going"—she hesitated—"we are going on important family business.
Don't hold me, Magdalen. This is a sudden necessity—I have a great
deal to do to-day—many things to set in order before tomorrow.
There, there, my love, let me go."
She drew her arm away; hastily kissed her youngest daughter on
the forehead; and at once left the room again. Even Magdalen saw
that her mother was not to be coaxed into hearing or answering any
The morning wore on, and nothing was seen of Mr. Vanstone. With
the reckless curiosity of her age and character, Magdalen, in
defiance of Miss Garth's prohibition and her sister's
remonstrances, determined to go to the study and look for her
father there. When she tried the door, it was locked on the inside.
She said, "It's only me, papa;" and waited for the answer. "I'm
busy now, my dear," was the answer. "Don't disturb me."
Mrs. Vanstone was, in another way, equally inaccessible. She
remained in her own room, with the female servants about her,
immersed in endless preparations for the approaching departure. The
servants, little used in that family to sudden resolutions and
unexpected orders, were awkward and confused in obeying directions.
They ran from room to room unnecessarily, and lost time and
patience in jostling each other on the stairs. If a stranger had
entered the house that day, he might have imagined that an
unexpected disaster had happened in it, instead of an unexpected
necessity for a journey to London. Nothing proceeded in its
ordinary routine. Magdalen, who was accustomed to pass the morning
at the piano, wandered restlessly about the staircases and
passages, and in and out of doors when there were glimpses of fine
weather. Norah, whose fondness for reading had passed into a family
proverb, took up book after book from table and shelf, and laid
them down again, in despair of fixing her attention. Even Miss
Garth felt the all-pervading influence of the household
disorganization, and sat alone by the morning-room fire, with her
head shaking ominously, and her work laid aside.
"Family affairs?" thought Miss Garth, pondering over Mrs.
Vanstone's vague explanatory words. "I have lived twelve years at
Combe-Raven; and these are the first family affairs which have got
between the parents and the children, in all my experience. What
does it mean? Change? I suppose I'm getting old. I don't like