He repeated the name with unspeakable tenderness in his tone—a deeper feeling than would have seemed natural to a passing fancy. It was more like a symptom of sickening for life’s great fever.
It was close upon eleven when he made his appearance in his sister’s drawing-room, where Martin Lister was enjoying a comfortable nap, while his wife stifled her yawns over a mild theological treatise.
He had to listen to a good deal of wonderment about the length of his absence, and was fain to confess to an accidental encounter with Captain Sedgewick, which had necessitated his going into the cottage.
“Why, what could have taken you that way, Gilbert?”
“A truant fancy, I suppose, my dear. It is as good a way as any other.”
Mrs. Lister sighed, and shook her head doubtfully. “What fools you men are,” she said, “about a pretty face!” “Including Martin, Belle, when he fell in love with your fair self?”
“Martin did not stare me out of countenance in church, sir. But you have almost kept us waiting for prayers.”
The servants came filing in. Martin Lister woke with a start, and Gilbert Fenton knelt down among his sister’s household to make his evening orisons. But his thoughts were not easily to be fixed that night. They wandered very wide of that simple family prayer, and made themselves into a vision of the future, in which he saw his life changed and brightened by the companionship of a fair young wife.
The days passed, and there was no more dulness or emptiness for Gilbert Fenton in his life at Lidford. He went every day to the white-walled cottage on the green. It was easy enough to find some fresh excuse for each visit—a book or a piece of music which he had recommended to Miss Nowell, and had procured from London for her, or something of an equally frivolous character. The Captain was always cordial, always pleased to see him. His visits were generally made in the evening; and it was his delight to linger over the pretty little round table by the bow-window, drinking tea dispensed by Marian. The bright home-like room, the lovely face turned so trustingly to his; these were the things which made that fair vision of the future that haunted him so often now. He fancied himself the master of some pretty villa in the suburbs—at Kingston or Twickenham, perhaps—with a garden sloping down to the water’s edge, a lawn on which he and his wife and some chosen friend might sit after dinner in the long summer evenings, sipping their claret or their tea, as the case might be, and watching the last rosy glow of the sunset fade and die upon the river. He fancied himself with this girl for his wife, and the delight of going back from the dull dryasdust labours of his city life to a home in which she would bid him welcome. He behaved with a due amount of