+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

"What can have happened?" whispered
Norah, as they closed the breakfast-room door,
and crossed the hall.

"What does papa mean by being cross with
Me?" exclaimed Magdalen, chafing under a sense
of her own injuries.

"May I ask what right you had to pry into
your father's private affairs?" retorted Miss

"Right?" repeated Magdalen.  "I have no
secrets from papawhat business has papa to
have secrets from me!  I consider myself

"If you considered yourself properly reproved
for not minding your own business," said the
plain-spoken Miss Garth, "you would be a trifle
nearer the truth. Ah! you're like all the rest
of the girls in the present day. Not one in a
hundred of you knows which end of her's uppermost."

The three ladies entered the morning-room;
and Magdalen acknowledged Miss Garth's
reproof by banging the door.

Half an hour passed, and neither Mr.
Vanstone nor his wife left the breakfast-room. The
servant, ignorant of what had happened, went in
to clear the tablefound his master and mistress
seated close together in deep consultationand
immediately went out again. Another quarter
of an hour elapsed before the breakfast-room
door was opened, and the private conference of
the husband and wife came to an end.

"I hear mamma in the hall," said Norah.
"Perhaps she is coming to tell us something."

Mrs. Vanstone entered the morning-room as
her daughter spoke. The colour was deeper on
her cheeks, and the brightness of half-dried tears
glistened in her eyes: her step was more hasty,
all her movements were quicker than usual.

"I bring news, my dears, which will surprise
you," she said, addressing her daughters. "Your
father and I are going to London to-morrow."

Magdalen caught her mother by the arm in
speechless astonishment; Miss Garth dropped
her work on her lap; even the sedate Norah
started to her feet, and amazedly repeated the
words, "Going to London!"

"Without us!" added Magdalen.

"Your father and I are going alone," said Mrs.
Vanstone. "Perhaps, for as long as three weeks
but not longer. We are going"—she
hesitated—"we are going on important family
business. Don't hold me, Magdalen. This is a
sudden necessityI have a great deal to do
todaymany things to set in order before
tomorrow. There, there, my love, let me go."

She drew her arm away; hastily kissed her
youngest daughter on the forehead; and at once
left the room again. Even Magdalen saw that
her mother was not to be coaxed into hearing or
answering any more questions.

The morning wore on, and nothing was seen
of Mr. Vanstone. With the reckless curiosity
of her age and character, Magdalen, in defiance
of Miss Garth's prohibition and her sister's
remonstrances, determined to go to the study, and
look for her father there. When she tried the
door, it was locked on the inside. She said, "It's
only me, papa;" and waited for the answer. "I'm
busy now, my dear," was the answer. "Don't
disturb me."

Mrs. Vanstone was, in another way, equally
inaccessible. She remained in her own room,
with the female servants about her, immersed in
endless preparations for the approaching
departure. The servants, little used in that family
to sudden resolutions and unexpected orders,
were awkward and confused in obeying directions.
They ran from room to room unnecessarily,
and lost time and patience in jostling
each other on the stairs. If a stranger had
entered the house, that day, he might have
imagined that an unexpected disaster had
happened in it, instead of an unexpected necessity
for a journey to London. Nothing proceeded in
its ordinary routine. Magdalen, who was
accustomed to pass the morning at the piano,
wandered restlessly about the staircases and
passages, and in and out of doors when there
were glimpses of fine weather. Norah, whose
fondness for reading had passed into a family
proverb, took up book after book from table and
shelf, and laid them down again, in despair of
fixing her attention. Even Miss Garth felt the
all-pervading influence of the household
disorganisation, and sat alone by the morning-room
fire, with her head shaking ominously and her
work laid aside.

"Family affairs?" thought Miss Garth,
pondering over Mrs. Vanstone's vague explanatory
words. "I have lived twelve years at Combe-
Raven; and these are the first family affairs
which have got between the parents and the
children, in all my experience. What does it
mean? Change? I suppose I'm getting old.
I don't like change."


AT ten o'clock the next morning, Norah and
Magdalen stood alone in the hall at Combe-
Raven, watching the departure of the carriage
which took their father and mother to the
London train.

Up to the last moment, both the sisters had
hoped for some explanation of that mysterious
"family business" to which Mrs. Vanstone had
so briefly alluded on the previous day. No such
explanation had been offered. Even the agitation
of the leave-taking, under circumstances
entirely new in the home experience of the
parents and children, had not shaken the
resolute discretion of Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone.
They had gonewith the warmest testimonies
of affection, with farewell embraces fervently
reiterated again and againbut without dropping
one word, from first to last, of the nature of
their errand.

As the grating sound of the carriage-wheels
ceased suddenly at a turn in the road, the sisters
looked one another in the face; each feeling,
and each betraying in her own way, the dreary