“Why, John, you are as pallid as a ghost!” Gilbert exclaimed, grasping the hand extended to him, and thinking of that one moment in which he had fancied he was never to touch that hand again. “You have been at the old work, I suppose—overdoing it, as usual!”
“No, I have been working very little for these last few days. The truth is, I have not been able to work. The divine afflatus wouldn’t come down upon me. There are times when a man’s brain seems to be made of melted butter. Mine has been like that for the last week or so.”
“I thought you were going back to your fishing village near Oxford.”
“No, I was not in spirits for that. I have dined two or three times in Cavendish Square, and have been made much of, and have contrived to forget my troubles for a few hours.”
“You talk of your troubles as if you were very heavily burdened; and yet, for the life of me, I cannot see what you have to complain of,” Gilbert said wonderingly.
“Of course not. That is always the case with one’s friends—even the best of them. It’s only the man who wears the shoe that knows why it pinches and galls him. But what have you been doing since I saw you last?”
“I have been in Hampshire.”
“Indeed!” said John Saltram, looking him full in the face. “And what took you into that quarter of the world?”
“I thought you took more interest in my affairs than to have to ask that question. I went to look for Marian Holbrook,—and I found her.”
“Poor old fellow!” Mr. Saltram said gently. “And was there any satisfaction for you in the meeting?”
“Yes, and no. There was a kind of mournful pleasure in seeing the dear face once more.”
“She must have been surprised to see you.”
“She was, no doubt, surprised—unpleasantly, perhaps; but she received me very kindly, and was perfectly frank upon every subject except her husband. She would tell me nothing about him—neither his position in the world, nor his profession, if he has one, as I suppose he has. She owned he was not rich, and that is about all she said of him. Poor girl, I do not think she is happy!”
“What ground have you for such an idea?”
“Her face, which told me a great deal more than her words. Her beauty is very much faded since the summer evening when I first saw her in Lidford Church. She seems to lead a lonely life in the old farm-house to which her husband brought her immediately after their marriage—a life which few women would care to lead. And now, John, I want to know how it is you have kept back the truth from me in this matter; that you have treated me with a reserve which I had no right to expect from a friend.”
“What have I kept from you”
“Your knowledge of this man Holbrook.”
“What makes you suppose that I have any knowledge of him?”
“The fact that he is a friend of Sir David Forster’s.
The house in which
I found Marian belongs to Sir David, and was lent by him to Mr.