Further communications on business

In Shirley’s nature prevailed at times an easy indolence. There were periods when she took delight in perfect vacancy of hand and eye—moments when her thoughts, her simple existence, the fact of the world being around and heaven above her, seemed to yield her such fulness of happiness that she did not need to lift a finger to increase the joy. Often, after an active morning, she would spend a sunny afternoon in lying stirless on the turf at the foot of some tree of friendly umbrage. No society did she need but that of Caroline, and it sufficed if she were within call; no spectacle did she ask but that of the deep blue sky, and such cloudlets as sailed afar and aloft across its span; no sound but that of the bee’s hum, the leaf’s whisper. Her sole book in such hours was the dim chronicle of memory, or the sibyl page of anticipation; from her young eyes fell on each volume a glorious light to read by; round her lips at moments played a smile which revealed glimpses of the tale or prophecy—it was not sad, not dark. Fate had been benign to the blissful dreamer, and promised to favour her yet again. In her past were sweet passages; in her future, rosy hopes.

Yet one day when Caroline drew near to rouse her, thinking she had lain long enough, behold, as she looked down, Shirley’s cheek was wet as if with dew; those fine eyes of hers shone humid and brimming.

‘Shirley, why do you cry?’ asked Caroline, involuntarily laying stress on you.

Miss Keeldar smiled and turned her picturesque head towards the questioner.

‘Because it pleases me mightily to cry,’ she said.

‘My heart is both sad and glad. But why, you good, patient child—why do you not bear me company? I only weep tears, delightful, and soon wiped away: you might weep gall, if you choose.’

‘Why should I weep gall?’

‘Mateless, solitary bird!’ was the only answer.

‘And are not you, too, mateless, Shirley?’

‘At heart, no.’

‘Oh! Who nestles there, Shirley?’

But Shirley only laughed gaily at this question, and alertly started up.

‘I have dreamed,’ she said—‘a mere day-dream: certainly bright, probably baseless.’

Miss Helstone was by this time free enough from illusions; she took a sufficiently grave view of the future, and fancied she knew pretty well how her own destiny and that of some others were tending. Yet old associations retained their influence over her, and it was these, and the power of habit, which still frequently drew her of an evening to the field-stile and the old thron overlooking the Hollow.

One night—the night after the incident of the note—she had been at her usual-post watching for her beacon, watching vainly: that evening no lamp was lit. She waited till the rising of certain constellations warned her of lateness and signed her away. In passing Field-head on her return, its moonlight beauty attracted her glance and stayed her step an instant. Tree and hall rose peaceful under the night sky and clear, full orb: pearly paleness gilded the building, mellow brown gloom bosomed it round, shadows of deep green brooded above its oak-wreathed roof. The broad pavement in front shone pale also; it gleamed as if some spell had transformed the dark granite to glistening Parian. On the silvery space slept two sable shadows, thrown, sharply defined, from two human figures. These figures, when first seen, were motionless and mute; presently they moved in harmonious step, and spoke low in harmonious key. Earnest was the gaze that scrutinized them as they emerged from behind the trunk of the cedar.

‘Is it Mrs. Pryor and Shirley?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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