‘Why would you rather sit up longer?’ asked Miss Keeldar, taking up the firearms, examining them, and again laying them down.

‘Because I have a strange excited feeling in my heart.’

‘So have I.’

‘Is this state of sleeplessness and restlessness caused by something electrical in the air, I wonder?’

‘No; the sky is clear, the stars numberless; it is a fine night.’

‘But very still. I hear the water fret over its stony bed in Hollow’s Copse as distinctly as if it ran below the churchyard wall.’

‘I am glad it is so still a night; a moaning wind or rushing rain would vex me to fever just now.’

‘Why, Shirley?’

‘Because it would baffle my efforts to listen.’

‘Do you listen towards the Hollow?’

‘Yes; it is the only quarter whence we can hear a sound just now.’

‘The only one, Shirley.’

They both sat near the window, and both leaned their arms on the sill, and both inclined their heads towards the open lattice. They saw each other’s young faces by the starlight and that dim June twilight which does not wholly fade from the west till dawn begins to break in the east.

‘Mr. Helstone thinks we have no idea which way he is gone,’ murmured Miss Keeldar, ‘nor on what errand, nor with what expectations, nor how prepared; but I guess much—do not you?’

‘I guess something.’

‘All those gentlemen—your cousin Moore included—think that you and I are now asleep in our beds, unconscious.’

‘Caring nothing about them, hoping and fearing nothing for them,’ added Caroline.

Both kept silence for full half an hour. The night was silent, too; only the church clock measured its course by quarters. Some words were interchanged about the chill of the air; they wrapped their scarves closer round them, resumed their bonnets, which they had removed, and again watched.

Towards midnight the teasing, monotonous bark of the house-dog disturbed the quietude of their vigil. Caroline rose, and made her way noiselessly through the dark passages to the kitchen, intending to appease him with a piece of bread; she succeeded. On returning to the dining-room, she found it all dark, Miss Keeldar having extinguished the candle. The outline of her shape was visible near the still open window, leaning out. Miss Helstone asked no questions; she stole to her side. The dog recommenced barking furiously; suddenly he stopped, and seemed to listen. The occupants of the dining-room listened too, and not merely now to the flow of the mill-stream; there was a nearer though a muffled sound on the road below the churchyard—a measured, beating, approaching sound—a dull tramp of marching feet.

It drew nearer. Those who listened by degrees comprehended its extent. It was not the tread of two, nor of a dozen, nor of a score of men; it was the tread of hundreds. They could see nothing; the high shrubs of the garden formed a leafy screen between them and the road. To hear, however, was not

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.