‘Our England is a bonnie island,’ said Shirley, ‘and Yorkshire is one of her bonniest nooks.’

‘You are a Yorkshire girl, too?’

‘I am—Yorkshire in blood and birth. Five generations of my race sleep under the aisles of Briarfield Church; I drew my first breath in the old black hall behind us.’

Hereupon Caroline presented her hand, which was accordingly taken and shaken.

‘We are compatriots,’ said she.

‘Yes,’ agreed Shirley with a grave nod. ‘And that’ —asked Miss Keeldar, pointing to the forest—‘that is Nunnwood?’

‘It is.’

‘Were you ever there?’

‘Many a time.’

‘In the heart of it?’


‘What is it like?’

‘It is like an encampment of forest sons of Anak. The trees are huge and old. When you stand at their roots, the summits seem in another region, the trunks remain still and firm as pillars, while the boughs sway to every breeze. In the deepest calm their leaves are never quite hushed, and in high wind a flood rushes—a sea thunders above you.’

‘Was it not one of Robin Hood’s haunts?’

‘Yes, and there are mementos of him still existing. To penetrate into Nunnwood, Miss Keeldar, is to go far back into the dim days of eld. Can you see a break in the forest, about the centre?’

‘Yes, distinctly.’

‘That break is a dell—a deep, hollow cup, lined with turf as green and short as the sod of this Common—the very oldest of the trees, gnarled mighty oaks, crowd about the brink of this dell; in the bottom lie the ruins of a nunnery.’

‘We will go—you and I alone, Caroline—to that wood early some fine summer morning, and spend a long day there. We can take pencils and sketch-books and any interesting reading-book we like, and of course we shall take something to eat. I have two little baskets in which Mrs. Gill, my housekeeper, might pack our provisions, and we could each carry our own. It would not tire you too much to walk so far?’

‘Oh no; especially if we rested the whole day in the wood, and I know all the pleasantest spots; I know where we could get nuts in nutting time, I know where wild strawberries abound, I know certain lonely, quite untrodden glades, carpeted with strange mosses, some yellow as if gilded, some a sober gray, some gem-green. I know groups of trees that ravish the eye with their perfect, picture-like effects: rude oak, delicate birch, glossy beech, clustered in contrast; and ash trees stately as Saul, standing isolated, and superannuated wood-giants, clad in bright shrouds of ivy. Miss Keeldar, I could guide you.’

‘You would be dull with me alone?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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