I rose to go. He made no effort to detain me; but, after unbarring the shutter and looking out of the window, simply remarked that the rain had almost entirely ceased, and that my umbrella would be quite sufficient protection against all that remained. He followed me into the passage to light me out. As I turned round upon his door-step to thank him for his hospitality, and to bid him good night, the thought came across me, that my manner must have appeared cold and repelling to him—especially when he was offering his services to my acceptance. If I had really produced this impression, he was my inferior in station, and it would be cruel to leave it. I tried to set myself right at parting.
“Let me assure you again,” I said, “that it will not be my fault if Margaret and I do not thankfully employ your good offices, as the good offices of a well-wisher and a friend.”
The lightning was still in the sky, though it only appeared at long intervals. Strangely enough, at the moment when I addressed him, a flash came, and seemed to pass right over his face. It gave such a hideously livid hue, such a spectral look of ghastliness and distortion to his features, that he absolutely seemed to be glaring and grinning on me like a fiend, in the one instant of its duration. For the moment, it required all my knowledge of the settled calmness of his countenance, to convince me that my eyes must have been only dazzled by an optical illusion produced by the lightning.
When the darkness had come again, I bade him good night—first mechanically repeating what I had just said, almost in the same words.
I walked home thoughtful. That night had given me much matter to think of.
About the time of my introduction to Mr. Mannion—or, to speak more correctly, both before and after that period—certain peculiarities in Margaret’s character and conduct, which came to my knowledge by pure accident, gave me a little uneasiness and even a little displeasure. Neither of these feelings lasted very long, it is true; for the incidents which gave rise to them were of a trifling nature in themselves. While I now write, however, these domestic occurrences are all vividly present to my recollection. I will mention two of them as instances. Subsequent events, yet to be related, will show that they are not out of place at this part of my narrative.
One lovely autumn morning, I called rather before the appointed time at North Villa. As the servant opened the front garden-gate, the idea occurred to me of giving Margaret a surprise, by entering the drawing room unexpectedly, with a nosegay gathered for her from her own flower-bed. Telling the servant not to announce me, I went round to the back garden, by a gate which opened into it at the side of the house. The progress of my flower-gathering led me on to the lawn under one of the drawing-room windows, which was left a little open. The voices of my wife and her mother reached me from the room. It was this part of their conversation which I unintentionally overheard:—