As soon as the week was over, my father and I parted exactly as we had met. When I took leave of Clara, she refrained from making any allusion to the shortness of my stay; and merely said that we should soon meet again in London. She evidently saw that my visit had weighed a little on my spirits, and was determined to give to our short farewell as happy and hopeful a character as possible. We now thoroughly understood each other; and that was some consolation on leaving her.
Immediately on my return to London I repaired to North Villa.
Nothing, I was told, had happened in my absence, but I remarked some change in Margaret. She looked pale and nervous, and was more silent than I had ever known her to be before, when we met. She accounted for this, in answer to my inquiries, by saying that confinement to the house, in consequence of the raw, wintry weather, had a little affected her; and then changed the subject. In other directions, household aspects had not deviated from their accustomed monotony. As usual, Mrs. Sherwin was at her post in the drawing-room; and her husband was reading the evening paper, over his renowned old port, in the dining-room. After the first five minutes of my arrival, I adapted myself again to my old way of life at Mr. Sherwin’s, as easily as if I had never interrupted it for a single day. Henceforth, wherever my young wife was, there, and there only, would it be home for me!
Late in the evening, Mr. Mannion arrived with some business letters for Mr. Sherwin’s inspection. I sent for him into the hall to see me, as I was going away. His hand was never a warm one; but as I now took it, on greeting him, it was so deadly cold that it literally chilled mine for the moment. He only congratulated me, in the usual terms, on my safe return; and said that nothing had taken place in my absence—but in his utterance of those few words, I discovered, for the first time, a change in his voice: his tones were lower, and his articulation quicker than usual. This, joined to the extraordinary coldness of his hand, made me inquire whether he was unwell. Yes, he too had been ill while I was away—harassed with hard work, he said. Then apologising for leaving me abruptly, on account of the letters he had brought with him, he returned to Mr. Sherwin, in the dining-room, with a greater appearance of hurry in his manner than I had ever remarked in it on any former occasion.
I had left Margaret and Mr. Mannion both well—I returned, and found them both ill. Surely this was something that had taken place in my absence, though they all said that nothing had happened. But trifling illnesses seemed to be little regarded at North Villa—perhaps, because serious illness was perpetually present there, in the person of Mrs. Sherwin.
About six weeks after I had left the Hall, my father and Clara returned to London for the season.