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II.10. The House-Maid's Face
ALL was quiet at Thorpe Ambrose. The hall was solitary, the rooms were dark.
The servants, waiting for the supper hour in the garden at the back of the house,
looked up at the clear heaven and the rising moon, and agreed that there was little
prospect of the return of the picnic party until later in the night. The general
opinion, led by the high authority of the cook, predicted that they might all sit
down to supper without the least fear of being disturbed by the bell. Having
arrived at this conclusion, the servants assembled round the table, and exactly at
the moment when they sat down the bell rang.
The footman, wondering, went up stairs to open the door, and found to his
astonishment Midwinter waiting alone on the threshold, and looking (in the
servant's opinion) miserably ill. He asked for a light, and, saying he wanted
nothing else, withdrew at once to his room. The footman went back to his fellow-
servants, and reported that something had certainly happened to his master's
On entering his room, Midwinter closed the door, and hurriedly filled a bag with
the necessaries for traveling. This done, he took from a locked drawer, and placed
in the breast pocket of his coat, some little presents which Allan had given him--a
cigar case, a purse, and a set of studs in plain gold. Having possessed himself of
these memorials, he snatched up the bag and laid his hand on the door. There, for
the first time, he paused. There, the headlong haste of all his actions thus far
suddenly ceased, and the hard despair in his face began to soften: he waited, with
the door in his hand.
Up to that moment he had been conscious of but one motive that animated him,
but one purpose that he was resolute to achieve. "For Allan's sake!" he had said to
himself, when he looked back toward the fatal landscape and saw his friend
leaving him to meet the woman at the pool. "For Allan's sake!" he had said again,
when he crossed the open country beyond the wood, and saw afar, in the gray
twilight, the long line of embankment and the distant glimmer of the railway
lamps beckoning him away already to the iron road.
It was only when he now paused before he closed the door behind him--it was
only when his own impetuous rapidity of action came for the first time to a check,
that the nobler nature of the man rose in protest against the superstitious despair
which was hurrying him from all that he held dear. His conviction of the terrible
necessity of leaving Allan for Allan's good had not been shaken for an instant
since he had seen the first Vision of the Dream realized on the shores of the Mere.
But now, for the first time, his own heart rose against him in unanswerable
rebuke. "Go, if you must and will! but remember the time when you were ill, and
he sat by your bedside; friendless, and he opened his heart to you--and write, if
you fear to speak; write and ask him to forgive you, before you leave him
The half-opened door closed again softly. Midwinter sat down at the writing-table
and took up the pen.