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Just now, standing outside the castle in the warmth and softness of the
dying daylight, one can hardly think of by-gone horrors, or aught that
is sad and sinful.
There is an air of bustle and expectancy within-doors that betokens
coming guests; the servants are moving to and fro noiselessly but
busily, and now and then the stately housekeeper passes from room to
room uttering commands and injunctions to the maids as she goes. No less
occupied and anxious is the butler, as he surveys the work of the
footmen. It is so long since the old place has had a resident master,
and so much longer still since guests have been invited to it, that the
household are more than ordinarily excited at the change now about to
Sir Adrian Dynecourt, after a prolonged tour on the Continent and
lingering visits to the East, has at last come home with the avowed
intention of becoming a staid country gentleman, and of settling down
to the cultivation of turnips, the breeding of prize oxen, and the
determination to be the M.F.H. when old Lord Dartree shall have
fulfilled his declared intention of retiring in his favor. He is a tall
young man, lithe and active. His skin, though naturally fair, is bronzed
by foreign travel. His hair is a light brown, cut very close to his
head. His eyes are large, clear, and honest, and of a peculiarly dark
violet; they are beautiful eyes, winning and sweet, and steady in their
glance. His mouth, shaded by a drooping fair mustache, is large and
firm, yet very prone to laughter.
It is quite the end of the London season, and Sir Adrian has hurried
down from town to give directions for the reception of some people whom
he has invited to stay with him during the slaughter of the partridges.
Now all is complete, and the last train from London being due half an
hour ago Sir Adrian is standing on the steps of his hall-door anxiously
awaiting some of his guests.
There is even a touch of genuine impatience in his manner, which could
hardly be attributed to the ordinary longing of a young man to see a few
of his friends. Sir Adrian's anxiety is open and undisguised, and there
is a little frown upon his brow. Presently his face brightens as be
hears the roll of carriage-wheels. When the carriage turns the corner
of the drive, and the horses are pulled up at the hall door, Sir Adrian
sees a fair face at the window that puts to flight all the fears he has
been harboring for the last half hour.
"You have come?" he says delightedly, running down the steps and opening
the carriage door himself. "I am so glad! I began to think the train had
run away with you, or that the horses had bolted."
"Such a journey as it has been!" exclaims a voice not belonging to the
face that had looked from the carriage at Sir Adrian. "It has been
tiresome to the last degree. I really don't know when I felt so
A little woman, small and fair, steps languidly to the ground as she
says this, and glances pathetically at her host. She is beautifully "got
up," both in dress and complexion, and at a first glance appears almost
girlish. Laying her hand in Sir Adrian's, she lets it rest there, as
though glad to be at her journey's end, conveying at the same time by
a gentle pressure of her taper fingers the fact that she is even more
glad that the end of her journey has brought her to him. She looks up
at him with her red lips drooping as if tired, and with a bewildered
expression in her pretty blue eyes that adds to the charm of her face.
"It's an awful distance from town!" says Sir Adrian, as if apologizing
for the spot on which his grand old castle has been built. "And it was
more than good of you to come to me. I can only try to make up to you
for the discomfort you have experienced to-day by throwing all possible
chances of amusement in your way whilst you stay here."
By this time she has withdrawn her hand, and so he is free to go up to
his other guest and bid her welcome. He says nothing to her, strange to
say, but it is his hand that seeks to retain hers this time, and it is
his eyes that look longingly into the face before him.
"You are tired, too?" he says at length. "Come into the house and
rest awhile before dinner. You will like to go to your rooms at once,
perhaps?" he adds, turning to his two visitors.
"Thank you--yes. If you will have our tea sent upstairs," replies Mrs.
Talbot plaintively, "it will be such a comfort!" she always speaks in a
somewhat pouting tone, and with heavy emphasis.
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