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curiosity when I left the town. But, although it was nearly
midnight when I came out of the yard in a chaise, followed by what
I had in charge, there were many people waiting. At intervals,
along the town, and even a little way out upon the road, I saw
more: but at length only the bleak night and the open country were
around me, and the ashes of my youthful friendship.

Upon a mellow autumn day, about noon, when the ground was perfumed
by fallen leaves, and many more, in beautiful tints of yellow, red,
and brown, yet hung upon the trees, through which the sun was
shining, I arrived at Highgate. I walked the last mile, thinking
as I went along of what I had to do; and left the carriage that had
followed me all through the night, awaiting orders to advance.

The house, when I came up to it, looked just the same. Not a blind
was raised; no sign of life was in the dull paved court, with its
covered way leading to the disused door. The wind had quite gone
down, and nothing moved.

I had not, at first, the courage to ring at the gate; and when I
did ring, my errand seemed to me to be expressed in the very sound
of the bell. The little parlour-maid came out, with the key in her
hand; and looking earnestly at me as she unlocked the gate, said:

'I beg your pardon, sir. Are you ill?'

'I have been much agitated, and am fatigued.'

'Is anything the matter, sir? - Mr. James? -'
'Hush!' said I. 'Yes, something has happened, that I have to break
to Mrs. Steerforth. She is at home?'

The girl anxiously replied that her mistress was very seldom out
now, even in a carriage; that she kept her room; that she saw no
company, but would see me. Her mistress was up, she said, and Miss
Dartle was with her. What message should she take upstairs?

Giving her a strict charge to be careful of her manner, and only to
carry in my card and say I waited, I sat down in the drawing-room
(which we had now reached) until she should come back. Its former
pleasant air of occupation was gone, and the shutters were half
closed. The harp had not been used for many and many a day. His
picture, as a boy, was there. The cabinet in which his mother had
kept his letters was there. I wondered if she ever read them now;
if she would ever read them more!
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