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Riding a noble horse, and advancing from the opposite direction to that of Colonel Max and his guests, came a tall, stately man, getting in years. His features were regular as though they had been chiselled from marble; his fine blue eyes could sparkle yet; and his snow-white hair, wavy as of yore, was worn rather long behind, giving to him somewhat the appearance of a patriarch. But, the healthy bloom, which had once been characteristic of his face, had left it now: the paleness of ill health sat there, and he bent his body continually, as if too weak to bear up on his horse. His approach was discerned; and many started forward, as with one impulse, to greet him. None stood higher in the estimation of his fellow-men than did Sir George Godolphin; no other name was more respected in the county.
"This is good indeed, Sir George! To see you out again!"
"I thought I might venture," said Sir George, essaying to meet a dozen hands at once. "It has been a long confinement; a tedious illness. Six months, and never out of the house; and, for the last fortnight out but in a garden-chair. My lady wanted to box me up in the carriage this morning; if I must come, she said. But I would not have it: had I been unable to sit my horse, I would have remained at home."
"You feel weak still ?" remarked one, after most of the greeters had had their say, and were moving away.
"Ay. Strength, for me, has finally departed, I fear.".
"But you must not think that, Sir George. Now that you are so far recovered as to go out, you will improve daily."
"And get well all one way, Godolphin," joined in the hearty voice of Colonel Max. "Never lose heart, man."
Sir George turned his eyes upon Colonel Max with a cheerful glance. "Who told you I was losing heart?"
"Yourself. When a man begins to talk of his strength having finally departed, what's that, but a proof of his losing heart? Low spirits never cured anybody yet: but they have killed thousands."
"I shall be sixty-six years old to-morrow, colonel: and if, at that age, I can lose heart' at the prospect of the great change, my life has served me to little purpose. The young may faint at the near approach of death; the old should not."
"Sixty-six, old!" ejaculated Colonel Max. "I have never kept count of my own age, but I know I am that, if I am a day; and I am young yet. I may live these thirty years to come: and shall try for it, too."
"I hope you will, colonel," was the warm answer of Sir George Godolphin. "Prior's Ash could ill spare you."
"I don't know about that," laughed the colonel. "But I do know that I could ill spare life. I wish you could take the run with us this morning!"
"I wish I could. But that you might accuse me again of what was it?-losing heart, I would say that my last run with the hounds has been taken. It has cost me an effort to come so far as this, walking my horse at a snail's pace. Do you see Lady Godolphin? She ought to be here."
Colonel Max, who was a short man, raised himself in his stirrups, and gazed from point to point of the gradually increasing crowd. "In her carriage, I suppose ?"
"In her carriage, of course," answered Sir George. "She is no .Amazon." But he did not avow his reason for inquiring after his wife's carriage-that he felt a giddiness stealing over him, and deemed he might be glad of its support. Neither did he explain that he was unable to look round for it himself just then, under fear of falling from his horse.
"I don't think she has come yet," said Colonel Max. "I do not see the livery. As to the ladies, they all look so like one another now, with their furbelows and feathers, that I'll be shot if I should know my own wife-if I had one-at a dozen paces' distance. Here is some one else, however."
Riding up quietly, and reining in at the side of Sir George, was a gentleman of middle height, with dark hair, dark grey eyes, and a quiet, pale countenance. In age he may have wanted some three or four years of forty, and a casual observer might have pronounced him "insignificant," and never have cast on him a second glance. But there was a certain attraction in his face, for all that; and his voice sounded wonderfully sweet and kind as he grasped the hand of Sir George.
"My dear father! I am so glad to see you here !"
"And surprised too, I conclude, Thomas," returned Sir George, smiling on his son. "Come close to me, will you, and let me rest my arm upon your shoulder for a minute. I feel somewhat giddy."
"Should you have ventured out on horseback?" inquired Thomas Godolphin, as he hastened to place himself in proximity with his father.
"The air will do me good; and the exertion also. It is nothing to feel a little weak after a confinement such as mine has been. You don't follow the hounds to-day, I see, Thomas," continued Sir George, noting his son's plain costume.
A smile crossed Thomas Godolphin's lips. "No, sir. I rarely do follow them. I leave amusement for George."
"Is he here, that graceless George?" demanded the knight, searching into the crowd with fond and admiring eyes. But the admiring eyes did not see the object they thought to rest on.
"He is sure to be here, sir. I have not seen him.”
"And your sisters? Are they here?"
"No. They did not care to come."
"Speak for Janet and Cecil, if you please, Thomas," interrupted a young lady's voice at this juncture. The knight looked down; his son looked down: there stood the second daughter of the family, Bessy Godolphin. She was a dark, quick, active little woman of thirty, with an ever ready tongue, and deep grey eyes.
"Bessy!" uttered Sir George, in astonishment. "Have you come here on foot?"
"Yes, papa. Thomas asked us whether we wished to see the meet; and Janet-who must be master and mistress always, you knowanswered that we did not. Cecil dutifully agreed with her. I did care to see it; so I came alone."
But, Bessy, why did you not say so?" remonstrated Mr. Godolphin. "You should have ordered the carriage; you should not have come on foot. What will people think?"
"Think!" she echoed, holding up her pleasant face to her brother, in
its saucy independence. "They can think anything they please: I am Bessy Godolphin. I wonder how many scores have come on foot ?"
"None, Bessy, in your degree, who have carriages to sit in, or horses to ride," said Sir George.
'Papa, I like to use my legs better than to have them cramped under a habit or in a carriage; and you know I never could bow to fashion and form," she laughed. "Dear papa, I am delighted to see you! I was so thankful when I heard you were here! Janet will be fit to eat her own head now, for not coming."
"Who told you I was here, Bessy ?"
"Old Jekyl. He was leaning on his palings as I came by, and called out the information to me almost before I could hear. The master's gone to it, Miss Bessy! he is out once again! But he had not got on his scarlet,' the old fellow added; and his face lost its gladness. Papa, the whole world is delighted that you should have recovered, and be once more amongst them."
"Not quite recovered yet, Bessy. Getting better, though; getting better. Thank you, Thomas; the faintness has passed."
"Is not Lady Godolphin here, papa ?"
"She must be here by this time. I wish I could see her carriage: you must get into it."
"I did not come for that, papa," returned quick Bessy, with a touch of her warm temper.
"My dear, I wish you to join her. I do not like to see you here on foot."
"I shall set the fashion, papa," laughed Bessy, again. "At the great meet next year, you will see half the stylish pretenders of the county toiling here on their two feet. I say I am Bessy Godolphin."
The knight ranged his eyes over the motley group, but he could not discern his wife. Sturdy, bluff old fox-hunters were there in plenty, and well got-up young gentlemen, all on horseback, their white cords and their scarlet coats gleaming in the sun. Ladies were mostly in carriages; a few were mounted, who would ride quietly home again when the hounds had thrown off; a very few-they might be counted by units-would follow the field. Prior's Ash and its neighbourhood was supplied in a very limited degree with what they were pleased to call masculine women: for, the term "fast" had not then come in. Many a pretty woman, many a pretty girl was present, and the sportsmen lingered, and were well pleased to linger, in the sunshine of their charms, ere the business, for which they had come out, began, and they should throw themselves, heart and energy, into it.
On the outskirts of the crowd, sitting her horse well, was a handsome girl of right regal features and black flashing eyes. Above the ordinary height of woman, she was finely formed, her waist slender, her shoulders beautifully modelled. She wore a peculiar dress, and, from that cause alone, many eyes were on her. A well-fitting habit of bright grass-green, ornamented on the corsage with buttons of silver-gilt; similar buttons were also on the sleeves at the wrist, but they were partially hidden by her white gauntlets. A cap, grass-green, rested on the upper part of her forehead, a green-and-gold feather on its left side, which glittered as the sun's rays played upon it. It was a style of dress which had not yet been
seen at Prior's Ash, and was regarded with some doubt. But, as you are aware, it is not a dress in itself which is condemned or extolled: it depends upon who it is that wears it: and, as the young lady, wearing this, was just now the fashion at Prior's Ash, the feather and habit were taken into favour forthwith. She could have worn none more adapted to
her peculiar style of beauty.
Bending to his very saddle's bow, as he talked to her-for, though she was tall, he was taller still-was a gentleman of courtly mien. In his fine upright figure, his fair complexion and wavy hair, his good features and dark blue eyes, might be traced a strong resemblance to Sir George Godolphin. But the lips had a more ready smile upon them than Sir George's had ever worn, for his had always been somewhat of the sternest; the blue eyes twinkled with a gayer and more suspicious light, when gazing into other eyes, than could ever have been charged upon Sir George: but the bright complexion had been Sir George's once; imparting to his face, as it now did to his son's, a delicate beauty, almost as that of woman. "Graceless George," old Sir George was fond of calling him; but it was an appellation given in love, in pride, in admiration. He bent to his saddle-bow, and his gay blue eyes flashed with unmistakable admiration into those black ones as he talked to the lady: and the black ones most certainly flashed the admiration back again. Dangerous eyes, were those of Charlotte Pain's! And not altogether lovable ones.
"Do you always keep your promises like you kept that one yesterday?" she was asking him.
"I did not make a promise yesterday-that I remember. Had I made one to you, I should have kept it."
"Fickle and faithless!" she cried. "Men's promises are lasting as words traced upon the sea-side sand. When you met me yesterday in the carriage with Mrs. Verrall, and she asked you to take compassion on two forlorn dames and come in to Ashlydyat in the evening, and dissipate our ennui-what was your answer?"
"That I would, if it were possible."
"Was nothing more explicit implied?"
George Godolphin laughed. Perhaps his conscience told him that he had implied more, in a certain pressure he remembered giving to that fair hand, which was resting now, gauntleted, upon her reins. Gay George had meant to dissipate Ashlydyat's ennui, if nothing more tempting offered. But something more tempting did offer: and he had spent the evening in the company of one who was more to him than was Charlotte Pain. Otherwise you may
"An unavoidable engagement arose, Miss Pain. rely upon it I should have been at Ashlydyat."
"Unavoidable!" she replied, her eyes gleaming with something very like anger into those which smiled on her. "I know what your engagement was. You were at Lady Godolphin's Folly."
Right. Commanded to it by my father."
"Solicited, if not absolutely commanded," he continued. "And a wish from Sir George now bears its weight: we may not have him very long with us."
A smile of mockery, pretty and fascinating to look upon, played
upon her rich red lips. "It is edifying to hear these filial sentiments expressed by Mr. George Godolphin! Take you care, sir, to act up to them."
"Do you think I need the injunction? How shall I make my peace with you?"
"By coming to Ashlydyat some other evening while the present moon lasts. I mean, while it illumines the early part of the evening." She dropped her voice to a low key, and her tone had changed to seriousness. George Godolphin looked at her in surprise.
"What is the superstition?" she continued to whisper, "that attaches to Ashlydyat?"
Why do you ask me this?" he hastily said.
"Because, yesterday evening, when I was sitting on that seat underneath the ash-trees, watching the road from Lady Godolphin's Follywell, watching for you, if you like it better: but I can assure you there is nothing in the avowal that need excite your vanity, as I see it is doing. When a gentleman makes a promise, I expect him to keep it ; and, looking upon your coming as a matter of course, I did watch for you; as I might watch for one of Mrs. Verrall's servants, had I sent him on an errand and expected his return."
"Thank you," laughed George Godolphin. "But suffer my vanity to rest in abeyance for a while, will you, and go on with what you were saying?"
"Are you a convert to the superstition?" she inquired, disregarding the request.
"No," replied George Godolphin. But his voice sounded strangely indecisive. "Pray continue, Charlotte."
It was the first time he had ever called her by her christian name: and though she saw that it was but done in the unconscious excitement of the moment, her cheeks flushed with a deeper crimson.
"Did you ever see the shadow ?" she breathed.
He bowed his head.
"What form does it take ?"
George Godolphin did not answer. He appeared lost in thought, as he scored his horse's neck with his hunting-whip.
"The form of a bier on which rests something covered with a pall, that may be supposed to be a coffin; with a mourner at the head and at the foot?" she whispered.
He bowed his head again: very gravely.
"Then I saw it last night. I did indeed. I was sitting underneath the ash-trees, and I saw a strange shadow in the moonlight that I had never seen before
"Where?" he interrupted.
"In that wild-looking part of the grounds as you look across from the ash-trees. Just in front of the archway, where the ground is bare. It was there. Mr. Verrall says he wonders Sir George does not have those gorse-bushes cleared away, and the ground converted into civilised land, like the rest."
"It has been done, but the bushes grow again." "Well, I was sitting arrested my eye at once.
there, and I saw this unusual shadow. It Where did it come from? I wondered: what