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Chapter II.5
The autumn was now over; the winter--a cold, gloomy winter--had fairly come.
Five months had nearly elapsed since Clara and my father had departed for the
country. What communication did I hold with them, during that interval?
No personal communication with either--written communication only with my
sister. Clara's letters to me were frequent. They studiously avoided anything like
a reproach for my long absence; and were confined almost exclusively to such
details of country life as the writer thought likely to interest me. Their tone was as
affectionate--nay, more affectionate, if possible--than usual; but Clara's gaiety
and quiet humour, as a correspondent, were gone. My conscience taught me
only too easily and too plainly how to account for this change--my conscience
told me who had altered the tone of my sister's letters, by altering all the favourite
purposes and favourite pleasures of her country life.
I was selfishly enough devoted to my own passions and my own interests, at this
period of my life; but I was not so totally dead to every one of the influences
which had guided me since childhood, as to lose all thought of Clara and my
father, and the ancient house that was associated with my earliest and happiest
recollections. Sometimes, even in Margaret's beloved presence, a thought of
Clara put away from me all other thoughts. And, sometimes, in the lonely London
house, I dreamed--with the strangest sleeping oblivion of my marriage, and of all
the new interests which it had crowded into my life--of country rides with my
sister, and of quiet conversations in the old gothic library at the Hall. Under such
influences as these, I twice resolved to make amends for my long absence, by
joining my father and my sister in the country, even though it were only for a few
days--and, each time, I failed in my resolution. On the second occasion, I had
actually mustered firmness enough to get as far as the railway station; and only
at the last moment faltered and hung back. The struggle that it cost me to part for
any length of time from Margaret, I had overcome; but the apprehension, as vivid
as it was vague, that something--I knew not what--might happen to her in my
absence, turned my steps backward at starting. I felt heartily ashamed of my own
weakness; but I yielded to it nevertheless.
At last, a letter arrived from Clara, containing a summons to the country, which I
could not disobey.
"I have never asked you," she wrote, "to come and see us for my sake; for I
would not interfere with any of your interests or any of your plans; but I now ask
you to come here for your own sake--just for one week, and no more, unless you
like to remain longer. You remember papa telling you, in your room in London,
that he believed you kept some secret from him. I am afraid this is preying on his
mind: your long absence is making him uneasy about you. He does not say so;
but he never sends any message, when I write; and if I speak about you, he
always changes the subject directly. Pray come here, and show yourself for a
few days--no questions will be asked, you may be sure. It will do so much good;
and will prevent--what I hope and pray may never happen--a serious