Shirley probably got on pleasantly with Sir Philip that evening, for the next morning she came down in one of her best moods.

‘Who will take a walk with me?’ she asked, after breakfast. ‘Isabella and Gertrude—will you?’

So rare was such an invitation from Miss Keeldar to her female cousins that they hesitated before they accepted it. Their mamma, however, signifying acquiescence in the project, they fetched their bonnets, and the trio set out.

It did not suit these three young persons to be thrown much together: Miss Keeldar liked the society of few ladies: indeed, she had a cordial pleasure in that of none except Mrs. Pryor and Caroline Helstone. She was civil, kind, attentive even to her cousins; but still she usually had little to say to them. In the sunny mood of this particular morning she contrived to entertain even the Misses Sympson. Without deviating from her wonted rule of discussing with them only ordinary themes, she imparted to these themes an extraordinary interest: the sparkle of her spirit glanced along her phrases.

What made her so joyous? All the cause must have been in herself. The day was not bright; it was dim—a pale, waning autumn day: the walks through the dun woods were damp; the atmosphere was heavy, the sky overcast; and yet it seemed that in Shirley’s heart lived all the light and azure of Italy, as all its fervour laughed in her gray English eye.

Some directions necessary to be given to her foreman, John, delayed her behind her cousins as they neared Fieldhead on their return; perhaps an interval of twenty minutes elapsed between her separation from them and her re-entrance into the house: in the meantime she had spoken to John, and then she had lingered in the lane at the gate. A summons to luncheon called her in: she excused herself from the meal, and went upstairs.

‘Is not Shirley coming to luncheon?’ asked Isabella; ‘she said she was not hungry.’

An hour after, as she did not quit her chamber, one of her cousins went to seek her there. She was found sitting at the foot of the bed, her head resting on her hand: she looked quite pale, very thoughtful, almost sad.

‘You are not ill?’ was the question put.

‘A little sick,’ replied Miss Keeldar.

Certainly she was not a little changed from what she had been two hours before.

This change, accounted for only by those three words, explained no otherwise; this change—whencesoever springing, effected in a brief ten minutes—passed like no light summer cloud. She talked when she joined her friends at dinner, talked as usual; she remained with them during the evening; when again questioned respecting her health, she declared herself perfectly recovered: it had been a mere passing faintness: a momentary sensation, not worth a thought: yet it was felt there was a difference in Shirley.

The next day—the day—the week—the fortnight after—this new and peculiar shadow lingered on the countenance, in the manner of Miss Keeldar. A strange quietude settled over her look, her movements, her very voice. The alteration was not so marked as to court or permit frequent questioning, yet it was there, and it would not pass away: it hung over her like a cloud which not breeze could stir or disperse. Soon it became evident that to notice this change was to annoy her. First she shrank from remark; and, if persisted in, she, with her own peculiar hauteur, repelled it. ‘Was she ill?’ The reply came with decision:

‘I am not.’

‘Did anything weigh on her mind? Had anything happened to affect her spirits?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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