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Marion considered the question. “I sing on Thursday,” she said ; "I cannot go before. We will go on Friday to this Sunleigh. He should not be left alone.”
“ You are right,” said Kerisen, gravely. “ You will come with us?” she asked.
He paused a moment before he answered, “If you wish it.”
“Thank you,” said she, with equal gravity.
“And he won't disturb your study?” asked her father, with a half smile.
“It does not matter; we must go,” she said.
“ Varium et mutabile semper," murmured Sebastian to his second cigar.
“On Friday, then ?” asked Kerisen.
“Friday,” said she, “and thank you.” She held out her hand to him again.
“You may depend on me,” he said, with all the meaning which he could put into the words.
When he had gone, Miss Archer remarked that he was not as cynical as he pretended to be. The wise parent only answered by a smile, enjoying, as he alone could enjoy, the observation of life and character. The talented daughter put away idle thoughts, and gave all her attention to the careful drying of a most delicate cup.
On the afternoon of the same day, as Miss Katharine Adare was reading by the open window, the footman announced Mr Edward Harefel. The young lady jumped up in spite of the heat, and went forward with outstretched hand. “When did you get back? I am glad,” she began, and stopped abruptly. Was this the effect of foreign travel? The eyes which were wont to look so clearly and cheerfully on the world, stared at her from the midst of dark circles. “What is it?" she asked, and her voice sounded strange to her.
“I have come from Irvine,” he began, quickly. “I have come to you; don't say that it is no business of yours.” He spoke pleadingly, and his eyes, full of eager inquiry, never left her face.
“What is it?" she asked again, in a voice so low, that he knew only by the motion of her lips that she had spoken. She was filled with a great dread. She remembered the day when she had sent Ned Harefel away, and declared that Irvine's love affairs were of no consequence to her. It had never been true. She remembered how bitter her feelings had seemed to her then, when she spoke so lightly. What would she not give for that bitterness now, when she feared that the time for reconciliation had gone for ever! Among many broken, flying thoughts, these were terribly clear. Out of her woman's heart came an inarticulate cry _“I should have borne with him. I could have helped him. It is my fault.” A few minutes had gone since Ned had entered the room, and the sunlight was quenched, the world was changed. She condemned herself wholly with the sublime unreason of her sex. Would Ned never speak ? An age was passing, and he stood staring at her with those awe-inspiring eyes. She felt a great thrill of relief and thankfulness when he said, “ Irvine is very ill.” She sat down and looked to him for more. He told her, forcing himself to speak calmly and in order, of his return to England, his fruitless journey to Oxford, his inquiries at the hotel, his pursuit to the railway station. “I can't speak of that railway journey," he said, and she saw him tremble. This calm sensible man was not easily moved.
“Poor Ned,” she said, tenderly, and laid her hand upon his arm. He seemed to tremble anew under her touch. He had assigned himself a duty, and he feared that she would make it too hard.
“Don't think of me,” he said, almost fiercely; “it is he whom we must think of. We ought not to have left him alone."
She was almost glad of his blame. She was already busy with plans of atonement. “Has he a good doctor?” she asked; "and a good nurse ?”
“The woman of the house is an excellent nurse. There is a doctor with him, and my mother's doctor will go down this evening with me.”
“And your mother?” she asked.
“I have not told her yet.” As he said this, there flashed back upon them both the picture of that country drawing-room where she had rebuked him for bringing Irvine's letter to her before he had shown it to Lady Harefel. They were both silent for a moment, but he could not wait. He felt that he must finish the task which he had given himself to do. “My mother would go to him, of course, but she is nursing my father; he has overworked himself on committees, and London does not agree with him. It is nothing serious, but he can't bear her to leave him when he is ill: it might make him worse, and her too.” Here he paused for a minute. “Katharine,” he continued, more solemnly, “poor Irvie is delirious. If you could only hear him. He talks all the time, and every now and then he cries out as if for help, and it is always for you. If you could only hear him.”
“I will go to him," she said, quietly, as if she
had waited for this; and she rose as if to go at once.
“Stop,” he said, and she obeyed the unusual authority in his voice. “You must think what you do. I hope, I believe that he will get well, and then- Katharine, you know that you cannot go away now without people talking. You must think what they will say. He is nothing to you in the eyes of the world. If you go, it will be like a promise- Katharine, you don't know how he loves you. If you could only hear him." His voice was broken, and his words confused, but she understood him. He took her hand in his, and looked at her eagerly. He was pleading another's cause as if it were his own.
“I will go to him," she said, simply; and they stood silent, hand in hand, like two children, and a great peace was with them, for all their trouble. She was the first to remember that the details of the plan must be arranged. She was glad to have something to do. “I must have somebody with me," she said, with a faint smile. “I can persuade mamma that I am right; but she is hard to move in a hurry, and can't do without a maid. I have it. How lucky it is! Your aunt Susan has been with us since Sir Joseph was taken ill."