Some one had looked out their train in last month’s Bradshaw, unwitting of the autumn alterations, and was kept from you till the next day. You took the left instead of the right side of the square on your way home, or you stood for a minute gossiping at your neighbour’s door, and there came by some one who ultimately altered and embittered your whole life, and who, but for that accidental meeting, you would, probably, never have seen again; or some evil adviser was at hand, whilst one whose opinion you revered, and whose timely help would have saved you from taking that false step you ever after regretted, was kept to the house, by Heaven knows what ridiculous trifle—a cold in the head, or finger-ache—and did not see you to warn and to keep you back from your own folly until it was too late.
People say these things are ordered for us. I do not know; it may be so, but sometimes it seems rather as if we were irresponsible puppets, tossed and buffeted about, blindly and helplessly, upon life’s river, as fluttering dead leaves are danced wildly along the swift current of a Highland stream. Such a trifle might have saved us! yet there was no pitying hand put forth to avert that which, in our human blindness, appeared to us to be as unimportant as any other incident of our lives.
Life is an unsolvable problem. Shall we ever, in some other world, I wonder, read its riddles aright?
All these moral dissertations have been called forth because Vera Nevill went to stay for a week at Shadonake. If she had known—what we none of us know—the future, she doubtless would have stayed away. Fate—a beneficent fate, indeed—made, I am bound to confess, a valiant effort in her behalf. Little Minnie fell ill the day before her departure; and the symptoms were such that everybody in the house believed that she was sickening for scarlet fever. The doctor, however, having been hastily summoned, pronounced the disease to be an infantile complaint of a harmless and innocuous nature, which he dignified by the delusively poetical name of “Rosalia.”
“It is not infectious, Mr. Smee, I hope?” asked Marion, anxiously. “Nothing to prevent my sister going to stay at the Millers’ to morrow?”
“Not in the least infectious, Mrs. Daintree, and anybody in the house can go wherever they like, except the child herself, who must be kept in a warm room for two days, when she will probably be quite well again.”
“I am glad, dear, there is nothing to put a stop to your visit; it would have been such a pity,” said Marion, in her blindness, to her sister afterwards.
So the fates had a game of pitch and toss with Vera’s future, and settled it amongst them to their own satisfaction, probably, but not, it will be seen, for Vera’s own good or ultimate happiness.
On the afternoon of the 3rd day of January, therefore, Eustace Daintree drove his sister-in-law over to Shadonake in the open basket pony-carriage, and deposited her and her box safely at the stone-colonnaded door of that most imposing mansion, which she entered exactly ten minutes before the dressing-bell rang, and was conducted almost immediately upstairs to her own room.