The next day was fine and sunny. Sir Percival came up, after breakfast, to tell us that the chaise would be at the door at a quarter to twelve--the train to London stopping at our station at twenty minutes after. He informed Lady Glyde that he was obliged to go out, but added that he hoped to be back before she left. If any unforeseen accident delayed him, I was to accompany her to the station, and to take special care that she was in time for the train. Sir Percival communicated these directions very hastily-- walking here and there about the room all the time. Her ladyship looked attentively after him wherever he went. He never once looked at her in return.
She only spoke when he had done, and then she stopped him as he approached the door, by holding out her hand.
"I shall see you no more," she said, in a very marked manner. "This is our parting--our parting, it may be for ever. Will you try to forgive me, Percival, as heartily as I forgive YOU?"
His face turned of an awful whiteness all over, and great beads of perspiration broke out on his bald forehead. "I shall come back," he said, and made for the door, as hastily as if his wife's farewell words had frightened him out of the room.
I had never liked Sir Percival, but the manner in which he left Lady Glyde made me feel ashamed of having eaten his bread and lived in his service. I thought of saying a few comforting and Christian words to the poor lady, but there was something in her face, as she looked after her husband when the door closed on him, that made me alter my mind and keep silence.
At the time named the chaise drew up at the gates. Her ladyship was right--Sir Percival never came back. I waited for him till the last moment, and waited in vain.
No positive responsibility lay on my shoulders, and yet I did not feel easy in my mind. "It is of your own free will," I said, as the chaise drove through the lodge-gates, "that your ladyship goes to London?"
"I will go anywhere," she answered, "to end the dreadful suspense that I am suffering at this moment."
She had made me feel almost as anxious and as uncertain about Miss Halcombe as she felt herself. I presumed to ask her to write me a line, if all went well in London. She answered, "Most willingly, Mrs. Michelson."
"We all have our crosses to bear, my lady," I said, seeing her silent and thoughtful, after she had promised to write.
She made no reply--she seemed to be too much wrapped up in her own thoughts to attend to me.
"I fear your ladyship rested badly last night," I remarked, after waiting a little.
"Yes," she said, "I was terribly disturbed by dreams."
"Indeed, my lady?" I thought she was going to tell me her dreams, but no, when she spoke next it was only to ask a question.
"You posted the letter to Mrs. Vesey with your own hands?"
"Yes, my lady."
"Did Sir Percival say, yesterday, that Count Fosco was to meet me at the terminus in London?"
"He did, my lady."
She sighed heavily when I answered that last question, and said no more.
We arrived at the station, with hardly two minutes to spare. The gardener (who had driven us) managed about the luggage, while I took the ticket. The whistle of the train was sounding when I joined her ladyship on the platform. She looked very strangely, and pressed her hand over her heart, as if some sudden pain or fright had overcome her at that moment.
"I wish you were going with me!" she said, catching eagerly at my arm when I gave her the ticket.
If there had been time, if I had felt the day before as I felt then, I would have made my arrangements to accompany her, even though the doing so had obliged me to give Sir Percival warning on the spot. As it was, her wishes, expressed at the last moment only, were expressed too late for me to comply with them. She seemed to understand this herself before I could explain it, and did not repeat her desire to have me for a travelling companion. The train drew up at the platform. She gave the gardener a present for his children, and took my hand, in her simple hearty manner, before she got into the carriage.
"You have been very kind to me and to my sister," she said--"kind when we were both friendless. I shall remember you gratefully, as long as I live to remember any one. Good-bye--and God bless you!"
She spoke those words with a tone and a look which brought the tears into my eyes--she spoke them as if she was bidding me farewell for ever.
"Good-bye, my lady," I said, putting her into the carriage, and trying to cheer her; "good-bye, for the present only; good-bye, with my best and kindest wishes for happier times."
She shook her head, and shuddered as she settled herself in the carriage. The guard closed the door. "Do you believe in dreams?" she whispered to me at the window. "My dreams, last night, were dreams I have never had before. The terror of them is hanging over me still." The whistle sounded before I could answer, and the train moved. Her pale quiet face looked at me for the last time-- looked sorrowfully and solemnly from the window. She waved her hand, and I saw her no more.
Towards five o'clock on the afternoon of that same day, having a little time to myself in the midst of the household duties which now pressed upon me, I sat down alone in my own room, to try and compose my mind with the volume of my husband's Sermons. For the first time in my life I found my attention wandering over those pious and cheering words. Concluding that Lady Glyde's departure must have disturbed me far more seriously than I had myself supposed, I put the book aside, and went out to take a turn in the garden. Sir Percival had not yet returned, to my knowledge, so I could feel no hesitation about showing myself in the grounds.
On turning the corner of the house, and gaining a view of the garden, I was startled by seeing a stranger walking in it. The stranger was a woman--she was lounging along the path with her back to me, and was gathering the flowers.