him, and from the topics on which he discoursed so fluently. The solitary walk of the last two hours had wrought its effect on me—it had set the idea in my mind of hastening my departure from Limmeridge House. Why should I prolong the hard trial of saying farewell by one unnecessary minute? What further service was required of me by any one? There was no useful purpose to be served by my stay in Cumberland; there was no restriction of time in the permission to leave which my employer had granted to me. Why not end it there and then?
I determined to end it. There were some hours of daylight still left—there was no reason why my journey back to London should not begin on that afternoon. I made the first civil excuse that occurred to me for leaving Mr. Gilmore; and returned at once to the house.
On my way up to my own room I met Miss Halcombe on the stairs. She saw, by the hurry of my movements and the change in my manner, that I had some new purpose in view; and asked what had happened.
I told her the reasons which induced me to think of hastening my departure, exactly as I have told them here.
"No, no," she said, earnestly and kindly, "leave us like a friend; break bread with us once more. Stay here and dine; stay here and help us to spend our last evening with you as happily, as like our first evenings, as we can. It is my invitation; Mrs. Vesey's invitation——" she hesitated a little, and then added, "Laura's invitation as well."
I promised to remain. God knows I had no wish to leave even the shadow of a sorrowful impression with any one of them.
My own room was the best place for me till the dinner bell rang. I waited there till it was time to go down stairs.
I had not spoken to Miss Fairlie—I had not even seen her—all that day. The first meeting with her, when I entered the drawing-room, was a hard trial to her self-control and to mine. She, too, had done her best to make our last evening renew the golden bygone time—the time that could never come again. She had put on the dress which I used to admire more than any other that she possessed—a dark blue silk, trimmed quaintly and prettily with old-fashioned lace; she came forward to meet me with her former readiness; she gave me her hand with the frank, innocent good-will of happier days. The cold fingers that trembled round mine; the pale cheeks with a bright red spot burning in the midst of them; the faint smile that struggled to live on her lips and