A Summer Night
The hour was now that of dusk. A clear air favoured the kindling of the stars.
There will be just light enough to show me the way home, said Miss Keeldar, as she prepared to take leave of Caroline at the Rectory garden-door.
You must not go alone, Shirley. Fanny shall accompany you.
That she shall not. Of what need I be afraid in my own parish? I would walk from Fieldhead to the church any fine midsummer night, three hours later than this, for the mere pleasure of seeing the stars, and the chance of meeting a fairy.
But just wait till the crowd is cleared away.
Agreed. There are the five Misses Armitage streaming by. Here comes Mrs. Sykess phaeton, Mr. Wynnes close carriage, Mrs. Birtwhistles car: I dont wish to go through the ceremony of bidding them all good- bye, so we will step into the garden and take shelter amongst the laburnums for an instant.
The Rectors, their curates, and their churchwardens, now issued from the church-porch. There was a great confabulation, shaking of hands, congratulation on speeches, recommendation to be careful of the night air, etc. By degrees the throng dispersed; the carriages drove off. Miss Keeldar was just emerging from her flowery refuge, when Mr. Helstone entered the garden and met her.
Oh! I want you! he said; I was afraid you were already gone. Caroline, come here.
Caroline came, expecting, as Shirley did, a lecture on not having been visible at Church. Other subjects, however, occupied the Rectors mind.
I shall not sleep at home to-night, he continued. I have just met with an old friend, and promised to accompany him. I shall return probably about noon to-morrow. Thomas, the clerk, is engaged, and I cannot get him to sleep in the house, as I usually do when I am absent for a night; now
Now, interrupted Shirley, you want me as a gentlemanthe first gentleman in Briarfield, in short, to supply your place, be master of the Rectory, and guardian of your niece and maids while you are away?
Exactly, Captain; I thought the post would suit you. Will you favour Caroline so far as to be her guest for one night? Will you stay here instead of going back to Fieldhead?
And what will Mrs. Pryor do? She expects me home.
I will send her word. Come, make up your mind to stay. It grows late; the dew falls heavily; you and Caroline will enjoy each others society, I doubt not.
I promise you then to stay with Caroline, replied Shirley. As you say, we shall enjoy each others society; we will not be separated to-night. Now, rejoin your old friend, and fear nothing for us.
If there should chance to be any disturbance in the night, Captainif you should hear the picking of a lock, the cutting out of a pane of glass, a stealthy tread of steps about the house (and I need not fear to tell you, who bear a well-tempered, mettlesome heart under your girls ribbon-sash, that such little incidents are very possible in the present time), what would you do?
Dont knowfaint, perhapsfall down, and have to be picked up again. But, Doctor, if you assign me the post of honour, you must give me arms. What weapons are there in your stronghold?
You could not wield a sword?
No; I could manage the carving-knife better.
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