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always, but it never was more beautiful than it was now, with that red sunshine lighting up all those stately white giants in their robes of rime. He started lightly, closing the door after him with a cheerful bang, and turning his steps towards the lime-tree walk, through which one great beam of sunshine like red gold had pierced in the opening between the two greatest trees. This looked like a golden bridge cutting the little avenue in two; beyond it there was the shadow of the wall already described which thrust itself straight in front of the low sun.
While Edmund admired this great broad blaze of light he was startled by seeing something move beyond it in the darker partsomething white, which he could not make out so long as he was himself in the sun. But when he had crossed that bridge of light he was still more surprised to see in front of him, at the end of the avenue, a woman, a lady, walking along with the most composed and gentle tread. The road was not exactly a private road—all the people from the village, almost everybody who came to Daintrey on foot, used it. But Edmund thought he knew all the people about, and he certainly did not know anyone whose appearance was at all like that of the lady who preceded him to the door in the wall — unless it were one of the girls masquerading; but he had just left the girls with their mother round the fire, and he could not entertain this idea. The dress, too, struck him with great surprise. It was a white dress, with a black mantle round the shoulders, and a large hat : not unlike the kind of costume which people in æsthetic circles begin to affect, but far more real and natural, it seemed to him-though how he could judge at this distance and with only the lady's back visible it would be difficult to tell. The curious thing was that the moment Edmund saw this pretty figure in front of him his heart began to beat. He had the same feeling which a man sometimes has when he suddenly meets a lovely face and says to himself that, please God, this woman is the one woman for him. But such a thing would be absurd when you consider that it was only her back he saw.
Yet it made his heart beat; he was seized with a great desire to follow, to "get a good look’ at her, to know what she could be doing here and who she was. What had she been doing there? Surely a creature of so much grace, moving like that, dressed like that, could not possibly have been visiting the servants' hall; and that she had not been in the drawing-room he was sure. If she only would turn round at the sound of his step :- but she did not turn round. She moved on as if she heard nothingacross the curious little square, straight to the door in the wall. Come, Edmund said to himself, if she is going to the village I must overtake her. And he did not hurry, feeling sure she could not escape him. He was pleased by the little mystery—Who could it be? But he must find out before he returned, for unknown ladies do not walk about in a park in the country, or go to and fro between a pretty walk she had! so light that her step was not audible—no creaking and crunching upon fallen twigs and stones and frostbound sod as with him. He was charmed with the pretty graceful figurecertainly a little like Maud, slimmer and not quite so straight, with a pretty droop in it of fragility and dependence, but yet certainly like
- younger perhaps, though Maud was but nineteen. He followed her softly, promising to himself to quicken his steps as soon as she should have passed the door in the wall to which she was leading the way. Presently, about two minutes before him, she reached the door; he was so near that he could see her half turn round as if to look who was behind: but, though she must have perceived him, she closed the door upon him as she passed through—not very civil, he thought; but perhaps she was espiègle, and could not resist a little merry affront to him, innocently provocative, as is the fashion of girls. He hurried along the few intervening steps of the way, and opened the door. Perhaps after all she knew him; perhaps it was Maud, who was very fond of fun in the old days. The smile was almost a laugh on his mouth when he stepped out of the park and let the door swing careiessly behind him-not shutting it elaborately, as she had taken the trouble to do.
Strange, very strange! There was nobody to be seen on the other side of the door; certainly it must be Maud or one of the girls. She had slipped behind a bush, no doubt, to bewilder him. There were several byways running in different directions—one towards the deserted cricket-ground, another towards the keeper's cottage, beside the straight road which led to the village. Probably she had tucked up her dress and made a dart among the brushwood out of sight. He stood for a moment looking after her, now way, now another, but he could see no one. "I know you,' he cried, I know you; where are you, Maud ?' But there was no answer from among the brushwood. Finally, he had to make up his mind that he trick had been successful, that she had got away, and that if he was to execute his commissions in the village he must not lose
But he went along with only half the spirit with which he had started, his mind quite absorbed in this adventure. As he resumed his way he met one of the keepers coming in the opposite direction, whom he stopped to ask if he had met a lady on his way. The man looked at him as if he thought him mad, but answered No, he had met no one. • A lady in a white dress and a black mantle, said Edmund. Lord bless you, sir,' said the keeper, a white dress!' -and then it occurred to Edmund for the first time bow entirely inappropriate such a garb was to the season. It must have been one of the girls who had dressed up,' as they used to be so fond of doing in the old days, to give him a fright. And yet in his heart he did not in the least believe this explanation he liad given to himself. Even Maud, though he liked her so much, had never excited that sudden and causeless emotion in his heart. It was someone new-someone
work he knew not what commotion in it. But then, who could it be?
• Did you go out after I went out ?' he asked when he went back to Daintrey. “Tell me, did you or anyone take a run into the park?'
"Oh, no; mother would not let us go. She said we could not go to skate to-morrow if we went out so late to-day.'
Or has anyone been here ? Did you have any visitors ?' Edmund asked, though he knew very well that this could not explain the presence of the lady who must have left the house before he did. Maud looked up at him with her soft blue eyes. • We have had no one,' she said. “We did not stir all the after
Mother had a headache, and we did not wish to leave her. After you went out we sat and talked till the dressing-bell rang. That was all; but why do you suppose we must have had visitors ?' Edmund felt-hecould scarcely tell why—alittleshyness and unwillingness to explain himself.
· Because I met a lady in the park,' he said, and could not make out who she was. Have you any new neighbours since I have been gone?' Maud shook her head. “Nobody,' she said.
• Nobody,' she said. Nobody had been calling. Nobody had intruded into the neighbourhood. She looked earnestly at the young man, who, for his part, was a little excited by his own questions, but not at all unpleasantly excited.
'I thought for a moment you were playing me a trick. She looked a little like you—that is, her figure looked like you. I did not see her face.'
Like me?' Maud was half pleased, but more surprised. I play you a trick? I don't think,' she said, with a sad look, that I shall ever do that again.'
• But I hope you will a hundred times,' said the young man; and this pleased her, though she could not have told why. “But help me to find out who it is,' he went on. “I feel annoyed that I don't know everybody, as I used to do. She was dressed in white with a
* In white! You must have been dreaming,' said Maud, in
He stopped short again. That's why I thought it must be you, he said, yet with a little conscious jesuitry, for he had not thought 80—indeed, had assured himself that the little stir of his being which he had experienced could only mean that this was some one of a different kind from any he had met before: a new woman, a creature born to influence him. But it is quite true, and I was not dreaming. She had on a white gown. Something black over her shoulders like, the thing ladies have been wearing lately: I forget how you call it --not a cloak nor a scarf--something put round and knotted behind like this,' said Edmund, doing his best to show how, upon himself with his hands.
"A fichu, you mean,' said Maud, suffering herself to be betrayed "A fichu, that's the thing; and a large broad hat. But she did not look like art-needlework—she looked quite natural.'
• What an interest you must have taken in this lady! When did you meet her?
It could not have been anyone coming here, for no one has been here all day.'
• I met her—but I did not meet her-I followed her along the lime-tree walk and out by the little corner door.'
How very strange! I cannot think who it can have been. And where did she
after?' That is the strangest of all,' said Edmund. • She disappeared somewhere. That was another reason why I thought it must have been you. I cannot tell where she went. Down by the keeper's cottage, I suppose; but I saw her no more.'
I'll tell you who it was,' said Maud, just a little piqued it must have been the keeper's niece, who has come for a little change. She is in a dressmaker's in London. Of course she will dress nicelythough to wear white on a winter afternoon, trailing across the damp grass She laughed again but not so sweetly as before. “This must have been your lady, Edmund, I fear.'
. I do not believe it. I cannot believe it,' he said, much vexed; but after a good deal of resistance he was brought to allow that as he had only seen her back, and that at a little distance, he could not have any such certainty as he had supposed that she was a lady.
6 Besides,' said Maud, with a little gentle triumph, a girl like that may walk like a lady and dress like a lady. She has got to be among ladies most of her time, and to see the best people. talked to her and found she dropped her h's, or had vulgar ideas, how could you tell? Indeed, sometimes they talk eren, just as nicely as we do,' said the young lady, more just than many of her kind. This seemed to make an end of the question. At least Edmund could find no more to say; and Lady Beresford, who had observed the long and interesting conversation in which he had been engaged with Maud, gave him a still kinder smile than usual when she bade him good night.
CHAPTER III. Next day the frost held; the pond was bearing, and the whole house turned out to skate-even Sir Robert. Lady Beresford looked on with that indulgent wonder with which a woman regards a man's delight in outdoor amusements, and the charm they exercise over him. She was unfeignedly glad that her husband should be roused from that growling seclusion in the library, which looked like temper and meant grief-glad to the bottom of her heart ; and yet there was a wondering in her mind, a sensation of half-grieved, halfsmiling surprise. She was glad to get them all out of the house, and said Thank God!' fervently, that here was something which would take off the strain, which would bring in a little amusement, and
• in these young people; and then she went up to her own room and shut her door, feeling as if she, who had the best right to it, had got that faithful sorrow all to herself, and uncovered his picture, and read his last letter, and wept out all the tears that had been gathering and gathering. Meanwhile, the rest had got out of the shadow for the moment, and the pond was a merry scene. Sir Robert skated about very solemnly at first, taking long turns round the island that lay at one end of the long piece of water ; but by and hy he began to help little Edie and give directions to Tom. This diversion filled up the whole day and the next. Edmund had been half vexed, half irritated by the supposed discovery that his white lady was the keeper's niece, especially as Maud had already given him several little playful reminders and he determined, accordingly, that he would not allow himself to think any more of the little figure which had so charmed him. Of course it was 'mere imagination, nothing else—a girl's back, in a black fichu and white gown. What could anyone make of that? There was in his mind a lurking purpose of coming home from the ice some evening by the keeper's cottage, just to see; but even that he did not carry out for those two days. On the third afternoon, however, by some chance, he was left to come home alone. The others had set out before he was ready. He heard their voices sounding cheerily through the frosty night air, a good way on, upon the path before him, when he completed his last long whirl round the island, during which Sir Robert had got impatient, and summoned all his flock about him. They had all lingered to the last moment possible, as there were signs of the frost breaking. It was dark, so dark that Edmund could scarcely see to take his skates off, and all the hollows of the park were full of mist, and the sky overspread and blurred, and covered with clouds. It was clearer in the east, however, and there an early pale-eyed young moon, with a certain eagerness about her, as though full of impatience to see what was going on in the earth, had got up hastily in a bit of blue. She touched the mists, and made them poetical, gradually lightening over the milky expanse of the park, in which the trees stood up like bands of shadows.
Suddenly it came into Edmund's head that this was the very moment to carry out his intention. He took up his skates hastily, and walked round by the other end of the pond towards the cottage of Ferney the keeper. The moon, getting brighter every moment, threw the whole little settlement of this small habitation in the midst of the park and woods, into brilliant relief. There was a sound of dogs and human voices populating the stillness, and the cluster of low red roofs, the smoke from the chimneys, the cheerful blaze of firelight out of the uncovered windows, seemed to cheer and warm the whole landscape. Half ashamed of his own artifice, Edmund stopped at the door to give some message to the keeper. In the room beyond he saw a young woman seated at a table sewing, the light of a candle throwing