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23. An Evening Out
One fine summer day that Caroline had spent entirely alone (her uncle being at
Whinbury), and whose long, bright, noiseless, breezeless, cloudless hours (how
many they seemed since sunrise!) had been to her as desolate as if they had
gone over her head in the shadowless and trackless wastes of Sahara, instead of
in the blooming garden of an English home, she was sitting in the alcove, - her
task of work on her knee, her fingers assiduously plying the needle, her eyes
following and regulating their movements, her brain working restlessly, - when
Fanny came to the door, looked round over the lawn and borders, and not seeing
her whom she sought, called out - 'Miss Caroline!'
A low voice answered - 'Fanny!' It issued from the alcove, and thither Fanny
hastened - a note in her hand, which she delivered to fingers that hardly seemed
to have nerve to hold it. Miss Helstone did not ask whence it came, and she did
not look at it: she let it drop amongst the folds of her work.
'Joe Scott's son, Harry, brought it,' said Fanny.
The girl was no enchantress, and knew no magic-spell, yet what she said took
almost magical effect on her young mistress: she lifted her head with the quick
motion of revived sensation; she shot - not a languid, but a lifelike, questioning
glance at Fanny.
'Harry Scott! Who sent him?'
'He came from the Hollow.'
The dropped note was snatched up eagerly - the seal was broken; it was read in
two seconds. An affectionate billet from Hortense, informing her young cousin
that she was returned from Wormwood Wells; that she was alone to-day, as
Robert was gone to Whinbury market; that nothing would give her greater
pleasure than to have Caroline's company to tea; and - the good lady added -
she was sure such a change would be most acceptable and beneficial to
Caroline, who must be sadly at a loss both for safe guidance and improving
society since the misunderstanding between Robert and Mr. Helstone had
occasioned a separation from her 'meilleure amie, Hortense Gerard Moore.' In a
postscript, she was urged to put on her bonnet and run down directly.
Caroline did not need the injunction: glad was she to lay by the child's brown
Holland slip she was trimming with braid for the Jew's basket, to hasten upstairs,
cover her curls with her straw bonnet, and throw round her shoulders the black
silk scarf, whose simple drapery suited as well her shape as its dark hue set off
the purity of her dress and the fairness of her face; glad was she to escape for a
few hours the solitude, the sadness, the nightmare of her life; glad to run down
the green lane sloping to the Hollow, to scent the fragrance of hedge-flowers
sweeter than the perfume of moss-rose or lily. True, she knew Robert was not at
the cottage; but it was delight to go where he had lately been: so long, so totally
separated from him, merely to see his home, to enter the room where he had that
morning sat, felt like a reunion. As such it revived her; and then Illusion was
again following her in Peri-mask: the soft agitation of wings caressed her cheek,
and the air, breathing from the blue summer sky, bore a voice which whispered -