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think of it, Jemima, he has been very odd and distrait for a week past; several times when I spoke to him, he answered quite à tort et à travers, and once or twice he did not answer at all.”
I shrug my shoulders.
“ They are all alike; determination of Lenore to the brain ; when Lenore is in the room they never answer me. I am quite used to it; are not you ? For the last five years I have walked through life with a gooseberry-bush in my hand.”
“She is very nice-looking, of course," says Sylvia, in a rather demurring voice, not seeming particularly to relish the being put, by implication, in the same boat with me. “I am sure I am the last person to gainsay that; nobody can accuse me of not being willing to admit other people's good looks; but there is no denying that she is on too large a scale to suit some people's tastes : many men prefer something more petite and mignonne.
“Do they?” say I, sceptically. “I do not know. It seems to me that most men like a woman that there is a good deal of.”
“I do not think I quite liked the way she did her hair last night," says Sylvia, taking some honey and looking at it pensively, as it slides in a long string from the spoon ; " too much scratched off her face.”
With what clever stroke of caustic wit or incisive irony I might have parried this thrust will never now be certainly known, for at this moment a footman enters with a note, which he hands to Sylvia. She opens it and reads; apparently it does not take long to peruse.
“Are all the people run mad ?" she cries, in a tone of peevish astonishment, tossing it over to me.
I pick it up: “DEAR MRS. PRODGERS, I must apologise to you for leaving your house so suddenly and at so untimely an hour; but the fact is, I am unavoidably called away. Thank you over and over again for all the kindness and hospitality you have shown me.
“I remain, yours very truly,
“PAUL LE MESURIER.”
“ Is Mr. Le Mesurier gone ?” cry I to the footman, who is in the act of leaving the room.
“About seven, 'm. I heard him telling the driver that he must catch the 7.25 up-train from Norley."
“I wonder did he and Charlie travel together?" say I, sotto voce, tickled, despite myself, by the notion of the rivals boxed up together, within the narrow precincts of a smoking-carriage, for all the long transit between Norley and London.
"Did he leave nothing besides this ?” cries Sylvia, in indignant excitement, holding up the little billet between her finger and thumb; "no message—nothing ?”
“I believe, 'm, there was a letter for Miss Lenore.”
He retires, inwardly amused, interested, compassionate, no doubt; outwardly as absolutely indifferent to the joys, the sorrows, the deaths, the marriages, the jiltings, and being-jilteds of his family, as is incumbent on any servant who wishes to keep his situation.
The urn sputters and fizzes; the pug sits on his haunches, with his blear eyes rolling, and gives a short suppressed bark, that means, "Muffin." We stare at one another.
“I thought there was something wrong last night, when Lenore said he had gone home with a headache,” say I, with that sort of backhanded prophecy—that “ told-you-so” wisdom-for which women are so remarkable.
“So did I,” says Sylvia, determined not to be behindhand in sapience.
Again we stare at one another, with our toast dropped from our fingers, and our tea quickly cooling in the frosty morning air.
“I think I will go and see how she is getting on," I say, rising. “So will I,” says Sylvia, rising too.
This is not quite what I wish; but it cannot be helped. As we pass the nursery, the children, hearing our footsteps, shoot out like bombshells, and join us.
By the time we reach Lenore's door we form a quite considerable cortége, both as to noise and numbers.
I knock-no answer. I knock again. “Lenore, may I come in ?" Still no answer. I try the handle—it is locked. I announce the fact.
“How very odd !" says Sylvia, rattling the handle in her turn. “ Lenore ! Lenore ! we are all come to see you. Let us in !"
I do not myself think this form of request likely to invite compliance, but whether it is or not, it meets with no better success than its predecessors.
“Do you think she can have got out of the window ?” suggests my sister, beginning to look rather tragic.
" Absurd! Why should she ?"
Again we knock and rattle, each one in turn, and then all together. No result.
“Suppose you look through the keyhole, Jemima ?” says Sylvia.
I comply. A keyhole is an unsatisfactory vehicle for exercising sight. At my first glance, I see nothing; at my second, I dimly
discern what looks like a rose-coloured heap lying on the hearthrug -Lenore has a rose-coloured dressing-gown.
“She is lying on the hearthrug,” I announce, in a whisper. “Poor soul! I am afraid that she is taking it sadly to heart.”
" Lying on the hearthrug!" repeats Sylvia, turning rather pale, and clutching my arm. “Good heavens ! Jemima, I hope she has not --has not-put-put an end to herself ?”
"Fiddlesticks !" cry I, angrily. “Why should she? How could she ? Swallowed the poker, I suppose, or cut her throat with a smalltooth comb."
Sylvia applies her eye, in turn, to the keyhole.
“Lenore !” (raising her voice) “why are you lying on the hearthrug ? What are you doing? You are frightening us all out of our wits. Open the door this instant !"
We hear a noise inside; in a moment more the door is flung roughly open, and Lenore confronts us in her dressing-gown-her undressed hair falling in a long, bright brown shower about her face, which is ash-white. Her eyes are red, and her eyelids redder-the first are half and the latter double their normal size.
“What do you want?" she says, hoarsely. “Why are you making this noise ? What has brought you all here ?”
A daunted silence falls upon us for a moment—then Sylvia speaks:
Nothing particular, dear; we only wanted to know what has made Paul take himself off so suddenly, and we thought you might be able to tell us?”
"I neither know nor care,” she answers, fiercely; but I see both lips and eyelids twitching.
“Aunty Lenore, how red your nose is!” cries Bobby, with all that delicacy for other's feelings, that charming reticence, so characteristic of infancy-staring at her the while, with eyes as black and round as the plums in a Christmas pudding. The last straw breaks the camel's back.
“Had not you better send for the servants and the stablemen, the dogs and the parrot ?" cries Lenore, turning savagely to Sylvia. “It is a pity that you should not have every living thing in the house to
gape at me."
“Go downstairs,” say I, pleadingly, “and take the children with you. I will be down directly; perhaps she will let me speak to her myself.”
With many demurrings, both of word and look, Sylvia complies, and retires with her offspring. I follow Lenore into her room, and close the door.
“ Is it true ?” I say compassionately, taking her hot reluctant hand. “Is what true ?"
“That he is gone?"
“I really cannot say; I have not been to look for him," she answers in a devil-may-care voice, averting her eyes.
“ Lenore !" I cry reproachfully, “what is the good of keeping up this affectation with me? It is all very well before Sylvia ; but have you forgotten that night at Morlaix, when you were so happy, and when you came and told me all about it?”
“I remember,” she answers, with a hard laugh ; "and how pleased you were at being waked out of your beauty-sleep, and how kind and complimentary you were about him."
“ I was not kind,” I answer, rather crestfallen. “I was sleepy, and very ill-natured, and rather envious; but I am not ill-natured now. I would help you, if I knew how; and though you are determined to hide it from me, I know what you are feeling.”
“ Then you know more than I do myself,” replies my sister, quite collectedly. “I give you my word of honour, at the present moment I feel absolutely nothing.”
I am not generally short of words, but I can find none now.
“When I first got that,” she continues, nodding her head towards a note, which lies open on the dressing-table—“you know I had been buoying myself up with hope all night, because he came back here, instead of going straight away—I thought it a good sign—but when I got that I think I must have gone mad for five minutes—do people ever go mad for such a short time ?-I found myself down on the hearth-rug, beating my head against the floor. That was wise, was not it? So likely to bring him back. Jemima !” (grasping my arm with her burning hand), “I am going to tell you a secret; if I could have found anything to do it with, I should have tried to put an end to myself. I should have done it in a bungling, journeyman way, and very likely, when I got into the other world, I should have been sorry that I had not staid here; still, I should have tried; but you see (laughing) “it is difficult for the best-intentioned person to commit suicide with a cake of Windsor soap or a back-hair glass !"
“Lenore !” I cry angrily, “you frighten me! Why do not you cry? Why do you laugh? I wish you would not look so odd !"
“Do I look odd ?" she says, rising and going over to the long cheval glass.
Well-yes!” (making a derisive bow to her own swollen disfigured image) “a charming-looking person !—the belle of the ball ! I always told Paul” (a sharp contraction of the muscles of her face as she speaks his name) “ that I looked nothing without my plaits."
I stand stupidly staring at her, with my hands clasped.
“If you want to ask any questions, now is your time," she continues, calmly; "it will be back on me just now—rushing, tearing back; but for the moment I feel as little as you do, or, if possible, less; I
say over ‘Paul is gone !' and then 'Charlie is gone!' and the one fact seems as little afflicting as the other.”
“Lenore, are you speaking truth ?" I cry, incredulously. look as if you were ! Tell me, if
you are sure you can bear to do it, how was it?, You know I am quite in the dark-how did it come about?"
Incompatibility of opinion about Mr. Scrope,” she answers, with a forced laugh ; then sinking down on the floor, hiding her face in the folds of my gown like a child. “I do not think I will tell you, after all !” she says, moaning; “ when one's ship has gone down, what is the good of going into the details of the wreck ?” At tho last word she breaks into tumultuous weeping.
Perhaps it has not gone down,” say I, eagerly. • Who knows? Let me see the note. May I ?” (stretching out my hand to take it).
“If you like” (then laughing again painfully between her sobs); “it is not go affectionate that one need be ashamed of showing it.”
I pick it up eagerly. It is not very tidily written-scratchily rather, and shakily-several of the little words are left out:
“ December 28th, 5) A.M. “I would not have come back here last night, if I could have helped it, but it was unavoidable. I shall, at least, not intrude upon your sight again, as I shall be gone hours before you are up. I will send back your letters in a day or two; also, if you insist upon it, your photographs. Do not send back anything of mine--it is the last favour I ask of you.—P. LE M.”
I touch Lenore's heaving shoulder. "Look up!" I say, cheerfully. “I am in better spirits. There is hope !" She lifts her heavy head.
“Hope of what?" Poor soul! The tears are running flat races down her cheeks, coursing down her nose, and making hot wet spots on the breast of her smart rose dressing-gown.
“ He is angry,” I say, smiling; "there is always hope when a man is angry.”
She does not answer in words, but she draws herself up into a kneeling posture, and clutches my arm with painful tightness, while a little red creeps into her cheeks; there is already plenty in her nose and eyes. With her loose streaming hair, and upward wet eyes, she looks a Magdalen all over. The old painters, if you remark, have a knack of making their Magdalens' noses a little red.
“ If you wish it, and are willing to take him on his own terms, I believe you may get him back.”
Still she says nothing; only the clasp on my arm tightens, till I wriggle uncomfortably under it.