― 229 ―


Confession and Confusion.


It was quite late, wonderfully so for Langville, but Isabel, thoroughly wide-awake, kept watch in her room, which commanded a view of one of the drawing-room windows, three of which formed a sort of wide bow, and stood out from the rest of the house.

The windows were open, and the muslin curtains were gently swaying in the evening breeze. She saw that some one was there. Every now and then Mr. Farrant's figure came in sight. He seemed to be walking up and down.

Mrs. Lang and Kate were in bed. Miss Terry had come up stairs with Isabel, and had given her a hurried nervous good-night at parting, and an extra squeeze of the hand as if to mark her sympathy.

‘What is he saying? I wonder,’ thought Isabel; ‘Will it vex papa if I say no? It will mamma, poor mamma! I thought, of course, he would speak to me first! But I suppose this is the correct thing. Not the nicest, though! Yet, perhaps, it is good, and will make it easier for me. I don't want to hurt or mortify him. Have I done wrong not to draw back more, I wonder? Hallo! Who is that?’

‘Isabel! May I come in?’

‘You, Miss Terry! Yes, come in. Have you no light? I can find some matches.’

‘No, don't. I don't wish for light. I could not be easy without seeking you, Isabel, for I feel that you guess, know, in fact! I saw your kind sympathy, to-night! Dear Isabel! let me talk to you a little.’

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‘Ah, well—so do! To be sure! I remember now; and to-morrow all this is to be gone through for you, only if Willie is right, he has blundered; excuse me, Miss Terry, but you must cure him of that same blundering propensity!’ Isabel went on rapidly and not very coherently. Miss Terry, with her hand on Isabel's arm, looked at her in surprise.

‘I want you to wish me joy—that is, if you can—if you believe it will be joy for me, Isabel! Do you know I feel lonely to-night—strange, isn't it?’

‘It is all strange to me! I wish I could understand and feel it. I suppose I am one who can't, who never am meant to be in love and all that. Does it really seem so long to you to wait for to-morrow to see him? You must, indeed, be very fond of him!’

‘Well, that I am; though when I spoke of loneliness it was that I missed the congratulations of friends and relations.’

‘I see! But indeed you will have plenty! I am so glad, so very glad, though I can't show it. I have always been wishing and planning this very thing! I assure you I have really planned and worked hard to get you quiet chats and so on.’

‘You have been most kind. I thought it so very generous not to be curious or angry at the evident mystery you perceived. Isabel, it has been painful to us both to keep it secret; but circumstances made it needful. I always felt it so wrong, so guilty, to be deceiving you all.’

‘For how long?—we could see for ourselves, don't flatter yourself!’

‘Yes; no doubt you could and you did see something, though we were careful, too. But you could not know how far it went—that in fact we were engaged before I came here!’

Isabel started.

‘Miss Terry! Come——What do you mean?’

‘Yes, indeed, so it was; and I felt it very wrong. But till my friends came round and consented, we dared not mention it. We agreed to do as well as we could, and patiently await our hour. It was a mere accident our coming to this district. I accepted this situation, while he, unknown to me, made his own arrangements with the bishop. I doubted, and was nearly giving up coming, and then we thought better of it, and agreed to receive it as a good omen, and be thankful. And——’

‘Stop, please! I am giddy! I don't hear quite well!’ and Isabel sat down as she spoke, with her hands raised to her head.

‘Do explain clearly, will you? You were—you are—engaged to——to——’

‘Mr. Farrant,’ interrupted Miss Terry. ‘There he is, telling your father all our story, at this moment. Do you see?’ and she pointed to the

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drawing-room window.

‘Yes, I see!’ Isabel said, in a low voice.

‘Are you ill, Isabel? Am I keeping you up selfishly?’

‘No; only I feel confused—giddy. Just say it again, will you?’

‘What, that Edward Farrant and I are promised to each other, and that he wants to have his wife soon, and is now consulting your kind father about his plans? But you don't congratulate me.’

‘Haven't I? But I do. Yes, I believe I do very much; only you see you have startled me—surprised me. And now—I can't help thinking of—remembering another, who will be also surprised and, perhaps, hurt.’

‘Who can that be? And I was so sure you had guessed our secret! Edward was sure of it too. He said he began to tell you one day at the Veseys, and you stopped him in your warm, hasty, but fervent way, and he was convinced you understood it all. And he even fancied you were kind enough to try and cultivate his acquaintance for my sake——’

‘Well, well!’ Isabel murmured, as if only half awake. ‘And Mr. Herbert; I suppose he also understood all?—so you imagine at least. And what are you all dreaming about? I am certain he came to confide the secret to me to-day, and before to-day! Why, I wished him joy, and he said, to-morrow you were to consult or tell my father!’

‘Impossible! You must have misunderstood him, Isabel. Mr. Herbert has known the truth for some little time, and has been very kind; interesting himself in getting at my brother-in-law and helping us much. It is you who have been dreaming, Isabel! Are you awake now, think you?’

‘I don't know! I hardly think so!’ she said in an uncertain way, and gazing about her.

‘Well, I will leave you to sleep and real dreams. To-morrow it will all seem clear to you, and I shall claim a heartier shake-hands; it is not like what I expected from Isabel at all. Good night!’

‘No! you must not go,’ said Isabel, springing after her with some of her own energy. ‘I am waking up—I shall be all right presently. But—no,’ she said, withdrawing her before extended hand, ‘I won't congratulate you yet, till I have picked my bone clean. Pray do you consider it proper, and right, and fair, for him—for any man—to come to a neighbourhood professedly a single and a free man—free to woo and win young ladies, and so on? Suppose Amelia, or Kate, or I had chosen to fall deeply in love. What then? I call it abominable!’

‘But I saw there was no such inclination. I was on my guard of course; and he was very guarded in his manner to others, even though he was imprudently regardless of remarks with respect to myself. If there had

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been the smallest fear, of course we should have confessed all, at whatever risk to ourselves.’

‘You think yourselves very wise—wonderfully sharp, I see! But I don't at all agree with you. No; I maintain you did ill. If no mischief has come it is not your faults. It proves us a very stony, unimpressible set here. I think’ (she went on just a little bitterly) ‘that with all Mr. Farrant's charms and ‘wishing-to-please-you’ manner, no one's heart was touched. As it is, say what you will, I believe that the men have fared the worse. I am certain Mr. Herbert has gone on a wrong track. I am sure he likes you, and thought he had won you, too!’

‘My dear Isabel, excuse me—that is going too far! Every one understands better than that. Why, I could show you notes of his—of Mr. Herbert's—to me and to Edward, about this very thing. Surely, don't you remember that day in the verandah, when you said you had overheard our secret?—his and mine! And Mr. Herbert said, since you had forced our confidence, you must keep it. Surely—O, Isabel! you do know better; you must be conscious. Come, if a fear of Mr. Herbert's being unhappy is what stands between me and my expected hoped-for good wishes, I must get them!"

‘Do you really care for them so much?—now, too, that you are so rich in that way! I should have fancied that swallowed up all other feelings, and there was no room for either regret or for more joy.’

‘But it is so long that I have been wishing and longing to tell you—to speak openly! I thought you liked Edward, and I was so glad. I have watched you admire his singing. It drew me closer to you, Isabel. It hurts me for you to be so cold and so harsh now! Can't you forgive us?—we have had much to bear.’

Isabel's answer was to throw her arms round Miss Terry's neck, and to kiss her vehemently. All the native generosity of her heart seemed to flash from her eyes, half dimmed as they were with hushed tears. ‘May you be happy! And you will be happy. Are you very fond of him? Tell me—what is it you feel? I want to know. Do you like all he does, and says, and is? Do you feel to want him when he is away, and yet wish to run away from him when he is here? O, it must be so very very strange! I should not like it. No; I don't really think it is in me to love in that way. If I ever did——’

‘What then, Isabel?’

‘I was going to say I should be unbearable. If I were alone, like you, I might perhaps throw myself wholly on one—only it would be so difficult to find the very right one—one to suit! But now I have papa, and mamma, and Kate, and the chicks, and the troublesome boys, and Mr.

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Herbert, in a fashion—to say nothing of you or the dear old Jollys, and Tom, and, most of all, daddy! He is my love.’

‘So you think now.’ And Miss Terry smiled. ‘There! the conference is over. See, the light is out, and your poor papa must be half dead with fatigue. He wont forget this evening in a hurry! I'll wait till they are in their rooms. There, both doors are fast. Now good night, dear Isabel! good night!’

‘Good night. Don't be surprised if I am clean gone—vanished to-morrow morning! I feel like it—as if I was whirling off somewhere—as if the whole world was turned over. To-morrow will not, cannot come like any other day, I am sure. We shall see! I feel like something will happen. You may laugh; but I mean it. I never was like this before.’

‘Shall I return to you? Are you afraid to be left? Over-excitement, perhaps. Take a little sal volatile.’

‘No, but a glass of water. On no account come back. Precisely what I want is to be alone. When I don't hear your voice I shall feel myself all right. Good night, Mrs. Farrant—arch-deceiver! actress! cunning woman!’

And again Isabel tried to think. But her efforts were worse than ever now. She had a confused notion that it was a relief—that she was glad, and sorry, and surprised all together—that there would be a great deal of ‘fuss’ to-morrow, and something would happen. She felt as if a part of her life had gone suddenly. There was to be a new act and a new scene. She felt as if she was shifted onwards by some invisible power, and had left old things behind. A few hours seemed to her like months or years ago. Sleep, sound and deep, put an end to these sensations.