She echoed the sentiment with a sigh.
‘I have strange fancies,’ she said. ’I suppose it must have been my husband who came back, and not some other man.’
Nicholas felt that there was little doubt. ‘Besides—the skeleton,’ he said.
’Yes . . . If it could not have been another person’s—but no, of course it was he.’
’You might have married me on the day we had fixed, and there would have been no impediment. You would now have been seventeen years my wife, and we might have had tall sons and daughters.’
‘It might have been so,’ she murmured.
‘Well—is it still better late than never?’
The question was one which had become complicated by the increasing years of each. Their wills were somewhat enfeebled now, their hearts sickened of tender enterprise by hope too long deferred. Having postponed the consideration of their course till a year after the interment of Bellston, each seemed less disposed than formerly to take it up again.
‘Is it worth while, after so many years?’ she said to him. ’We are fairly happy as we are—perhaps happier than we should be in any other relation, seeing what old people we have grown. The weight is gone from our lives; the shadow no longer divides us: then let us be joyful together as we are, dearest Nic, in the days of our vanity; and
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.’
He fell in with these views of hers to some extent. But occasionally he ventured to urge her to reconsider the case, though he spoke not with the fervour of his earlier years.
CHAPTER I.—SHE MISSES HER SISTER
July 7.—I wander about the house in a mood of unutterable sadness, for my dear sister Caroline has left home to-day with my mother, and I shall not see them again for several weeks. They have accepted a long-standing invitation to visit some old friends of ours, the Marlets, who live at Versailles for cheapness—my mother thinking that it will be for the good of Caroline to see a little of France and Paris. But I don’t quite like her going. I fear she may lose some of that childlike simplicity and gentleness which so characterize her, and have been nourished by the seclusion of our life here. Her solicitude about her pony before starting was quite touching, and she made me promise to visit it daily, and see that it came to no harm.
Caroline gone abroad, and I left here! It is the reverse of an ordinary situation, for good or ill-luck has mostly ordained that I should be the absent one. Mother will be quite tired out by the young enthusiasm of Caroline. She will demand to be taken everywhere—to Paris continually, of course; to all the stock shrines of history’s devotees; to palaces and prisons; to kings’