‘Come and sit down,’ she said, gently.
And, going up to him, she took him by the arm and led him back to his chair.
He sank upon it, his eyes hanging on her. She stooped over him.
‘Shall I,’ she said, uncertainly—’shall I—go first? Oh, I oughtn’t to go! Nobody ought to interfere—between husband and wife. But if you wish it—if I could do any good—’
Her eyes sought the answer of his.
Her face, framed in the folds of her black veil, shone in the candle-light; her voice was humble, yet brave.
The silence continued a moment. Then his lips moved.
‘Be my messenger!’ he said, just breathing it.
She made a sign of assent. And he, feebly lifting her hands, brought them to his lips. Close to them—unseen by her—for the moment unremembered by him—lay the revolver with which he had meant to take his life—and the letter in which he had bid her a last farewell.
Great Langdale was once more in spring. After the long quiet of the winter, during which these remoter valleys of the Lakes resume their primitive and self-dependent life, there were now a few early tourists in the two Dungeon Ghyll hotels, and the road traffic had begun to revive. Phoebe Fenwick, waiting and listening for the post in an upper room of Green Nab Cottage, ran hurriedly to the window several times in vain, drawn by the sound of wheels. The cart which clattered past was not that which bore Her Majesty’s mails.
At the third of these false alarms she lingered beside the open casement window, looking out into the valley. It was a very weary woman who stood thus—motionless and drooping; a woman so tired, so conscious of wasted life and happiness, that although expectation held her in a grip of torture, there was in it little or nothing of hope.
Twelve years since she had last looked on those twin peaks, those bare fields and winding river! Twelve years! Time, the inexorable, had dealt with her, and not softly. All that rounded grace which Fenwick had once loved to draw had dropped from her, as the bloom drops from a wild cherry in the night. Phoebe was now thirty-five—close on thirty-six; and twelve years of hard work, joyless struggle, and pursuing remorse had left upon her indelible marks. She had grown excessively thin, and lines of restlessness, of furtive pain and suspicion, had graven themselves, delicately, irrevocably, about her eyes and mouth, on her broad brow and childish neck. There were hollows in the cheeks, the cutting of the face seemed to be ruder and the skin browner than of old. Nevertheless, the leanness of the face was that of energy, not that of emaciation. It pointed to life in the open air, a strenuous physical life; and, but for the look of fretting, of ceaseless and troubled longing with which it was associated, it would rather have given beauty than taken it away.