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A FUGITIVE IN BROAD DAY.
THE fugitive was not Sir William ; he stayed on at Whitehills as if he meant to stay there. for the rest of his life. He had given up his scheme of emigration, and after his short scandalous outbreak and his wife's death, settled down as he had done on his arrival in the neighbourhood. But though he had made no inroads to speak of on his fortune during his brief prodigal madness, he took no steps to reorganize or replenish the ranks of his household, which had fallen into still further disorder, and been diminished to the last degree in the prospect of Sir William and Lady Thwaite's leaving the country. In fact Sir William's establishment now consisted of an old woman, with a girl to help her, and Bill Rogers. With this moiety the master of
the house appeared satisfied, leading as he did the life of a recluse.
This went on for nearly two years. Mr. Miles came down on business occasionally, and tried to prove his client's reformation and his own trust in its permanency, by seeking to draw out Sir William afresh, and by endeavouring to interest him in county matters, and in his duties as a landlord. So far as that went Sir William was amenable to influence. While he read more than ever, he strove harder to lay himself open to every source of intelligent observation and occupation around him, and to comply with all the obligations that could reasonably be required of him, not living for himself alone, but for others. He began to rebuild the half-finished houses, he dabbled in the allotment system, he showed interest in the decisions of the justices. He met his neighbours again on these grounds, and, after the first blush, overcame his reluctance to encounter them, displaying to them something of the dearly bought obliviousness and blunt superiority to manners and fashions generally, which were partly the results of passing a second time through the fires of remorse and unappeasable regret. In the
light of the errors he had committed and the losses he had sustained, the infringement of any of the superficial forms which ought to enclose solid realities, but are in themselves the sum-total of life to many persons, dwindled into insignificance.
But Sir William's complacence ended there, though the most of his neighbours would have been well enough pleased to have granted him further grace, even to have ventured on readmitting him to the sanctuary of their homes. These magnates were coming round to the conclusion that Sir William had sown his wild oats in one crop, that it was all the result of his miserable marriage from which he had got a deliverance, for his low-born wife was dead. He was living once more as quietly and soberly as a judge. Even though he were to practise less austerity he would still be an eligible partner. Was he not Sir William Thwaite, of Whitehills ? and did it not betray a shocking want of charity not to believe in the sincerity and enduring nature of his repentance ? The poor young fellow had suffered from his disadvantages in early life. After his arrival at Whitehills he had, unhappily, fallen among thieves in more instances than one. The speakers would mention no names, and they did not propose to confound the innocent with the guilty ; but everybody knew a certain terrible old lady whose bow and spear had brought down heaps of victims in her day. Sir William had escaped with the skin of his teeth from all his perils, and it was the duty of every good Christian and good neighbour, after a sufficient interval had passed to test his reformation—for no necessary precaution was spared—to welcome back the prodigal, and encourage him in the way he should go.
But Sir William declined every social overture, not so much rudely as with calm persistence, that foiled and wore out the most persevering endeavours. He did not even make the exceptions he had allowed himself three years before. Lady Thwaite, Sir John's widow, had returned from Rome long ago; but though Sir William's carriages and the produce of his hot-houses were once more at her disposal, no little notes, clever manoeuvres, or frank advances would induce him either to go to her at Netherton, or to receive her and authorize her interference in the domestic economy of Whitehills.
The cool motions which old Lady Fermor
made to Sir William to renew his intercourse with Lambford fared still worse. There was a rumour that he not only declined all her invitations, but passed her carriage with a bow, though its mistress hailed him in a voice which might have been heard a mile off. What better could have been expected from the plain man with whom she had played like a wicked, hoary-headed enchantress, whom she had beguiled with lures which her granddaughter disowned ?
Sir William was never seen within the Rectory, though he had resumed his attendance at church, had gone to vestry meetings, and was ready with help for the parish poor when it was called for.
If Sir William enjoyed the respite from neighbourly visiting, there was another person, had he known it, the last he would have exposed to suffer on his account, who was punished for his remissness. Lady Fermor's anger against Iris had taken the form of persecution, and assumed some of the features of a craze. Is it a proof that our natural normal state ought to be one of healthy-minded fairness and human kindness, when, in all cases of crying injustice and cruelty, a strain of