The young girls and their companions passed the hours very merrily upon the summit of the tall hill, from which the old border town was visible far below, its chimneys sending upward slender lines of smoke, which rose like blue and golden staves of olden banners, then were flattened, and so melted into air.
Winchester itself had slowly sunk into gloom, for the evening was coming on, and a storm also. The red light streamed from a mass of clouds in the west, which resembled some old feudal castle in flames; and the fiery furzes of the sunset only made the blackness of the mass more palpable.
Then this light gradually disappeared: a murky gloom settled down upon the conflagration, as of dying fires at midnight, and a cool wind from the mountains rose and died away, and rose again, and swept along in gusts, and shook the trees, making them grate and moan.
Verty rose to his feet.
“In five minutes we shall have a storm,” he said. “Come, Redbud—and Miss Fanny.”
Even as he spoke, the far distance pushed a blinding mass toward them, and a dozen heavy drops began to fall.
“We cannot get back!” cried Ralph.
“But we can reach the house at the foot of the hill!” said Fanny.
“No time to lose!”
And so saying, Verty took Redbud’s hand, and leaving Fanny to Ralph, hastened down the hill.
Before they had gone twenty steps, the thunder gust burst on them furiously.
The rain was blinding—terrible. It scudded along the hill-side, driven by the wind, with a fury which broke the boughs, snapped the strong rushes, and flooded everything.
Redbud, who was as brave a girl as ever lived, drew her chip hat closer on her brow, and laughed. Fanny laughed for company, but it was rather affected, and the gentlemen did not consider themselves called upon to do likewise.
“Oh, me!” cried Verty, “you’ll be drenched, Redbud! I must do something for your shoulders. They are almost bare!”
And before Redbud could prevent him, the young man drew off his fur fringed coat and wrapped it round the girl’s shoulders, with a tenderness which brought the color to her cheek.
Redbud in vain remonstrated—Verty was immovable; and to divert her, called her attention to the goings on of Ralph.
This young gentleman had no sooner seen Verty strip off his coat for Redbud, than with devoted gallantry he jerked off his own, and threw it over Miss Fanny; not over her shoulders only, but her head, completely blinding her: the two arms hanging down, indeed, like enormous ears from the young girl’s cheeks.
Having achieved this feat, Mr. Ralph hurried on—followed Verty and Redbud over the log, treating Miss Fanny much after the fashion of the morning; and so in ten minutes they reached the house at the foot of the hill, and were sheltered.
Fanny overflowed with panting laughter as she turned and threw the coat back to Ralph.