AT ten o'clock the next morning Norah and Magdalen stood alone in the hall at
Combe-Raven watching the departure of the carriage which took their father and
mother to the London train.
Up to the last moment, both the sisters had hoped for some explanation of that
mysterious "family business" to which Mrs. Vanstone had so briefly alluded on
the previous day. No such explanation had been offered. Even the agitation of
the leave-taking, under circumstances entirely new in the home experience of the
parents and children, had not shaken the resolute discretion of Mr. and Mrs.
Vanstone. They had gone -- with the warmest testimonies of affection, with
farewell embraces fervently reiterated again and again -- but without dropping
one word, from first to last, of the nature of their errand.
As the grating sound of the carriage-wheels ceased suddenly at a turn in the
road, the sisters looked one another in the face; each feeling, and each betraying
in her own way, the dreary sense that she was openly excluded, for the first time,
from the confidence of her parents. Norah's customary reserve strengthened into
sullen silence -- she sat down in one of the hall chairs and looked out frowningly
through the open house door. Magdalen, as usual when her temper was ruffled,
expressed her dissatisfaction in the plainest terms. "I don't care who knows it -- I
think we are both of us shamefully ill-used!" With those words, the young lady
followed her sister's example by seating herself on a hall chair and looking
aimlessly out through the open house door.
Almost at the same moment Miss Garth entered the hall from the morning-room.
Her quick observation showed her the necessity for interfering to some practical
purpose; and her ready good sense at once pointed the way.
"Look up, both of you, if you please, and listen to me," said Miss Garth. "If we are
all three to be comfortable and happy together, now we are alone, we must stick
to our usual habits and go on in our regular way. There is the state of things in