Some weeks passed away; Margaret and I resumed our usual employments and
amusements; the life at North Villa ran on as smoothly and obscurely as usual--
and still I remained ignorant of Mr. Mannion's history and Mr. Mannion's
character. He came frequently to the house, in the evening; but was generally
closeted with Mr. Sherwin, and seldom accepted his employer's constant
invitation to him to join the party in the drawing-room. At those rare intervals
when we did see him, his appearance and behaviour were exactly the same as
on the night when I had met him for the first time; he spoke just as seldom, and
resisted just as resolutely and respectfully the many attempts made on my part to
lead him into conversation and familiarity. If he had really been trying to excite
my interest, he could not have succeeded more effectually. I felt towards him
much as a man feels in a labyrinth, when every fresh failure in gaining the centre,
only produces fresh obstinacy in renewing the effort to arrive at it.
From Margaret I gained no sympathy for my newly-aroused curiosity. She
appeared, much to my surprise, to care little about Mr. Mannion; and always
changed the conversation, if it related to him, whenever it depended upon her to
continue the topic or not.
Mrs. Sherwin's conduct was far from resembling her daughter's, when I spoke to
her on the same subject. She always listened intently to what I said; but her
answers were invariably brief, confused, and sometimes absolutely
incomprehensible. It was only after great difficulty that I induced her to confess
her dislike of Mr. Mannion. Whence it proceeded she could never tell. Did she
suspect anything? In answering this question, she always stammered, trembled,
and looked away from me. "How could she suspect anything? If she did suspect,
it would very wrong without good reason: but she ought not to suspect, and did
not, of course."
I never obtained any replies from her more intelligible than these. Attributing their
confusion to the nervous agitation which more or less affected her when she
spoke on any subject, I soon ceased making any efforts to induce her to explain
herself; and determined to search for the clue to Mr. Mannion's character, without
seeking assistance from any one.
Accident at length gave me an opportunity of knowing something of his habits
and opinions; and so far, therefore, of knowing something about the man himself.
One night, I met him in the hall at North Villa, about to leave the house at the
same time that I was, after a business-consultation in private with Mr. Sherwin.
We went out together. The sky was unusually black; the night atmosphere
unusually oppressive and still. The roll of distant thunder sounded faint and
dreary all about us. The sheet lightning, flashing quick and low in the horizon,
made the dark firmament look like a thick veil, rising and falling incessantly, over
a heaven of dazzling light behind it. Such few foot-passengers as passed us,
passed running--for heavy, warning drops were falling already from the sky. We
quickened our pace; but before we had walked more than two hundred yards, the