There were noises in the hall; the boys had returned earlier than she expected. As they went along the corridor and caught a glimpse of her light under the door, Jim cried gaily: ’Now then, out with that light! A little thing like you ought to be asleep hours since.’
She listened for the bang of their door, and then, very hurriedly, she removed her pink frock and put on an old black one, which was rather tight in the waist. And she donned her hat, securing it carefully with both pins, extinguished the candles, and crept quietly downstairs, and so by the back-door into the garden. Carlo, the retriever, came halfway out of his kennel and greeted her in the moonlight with a yawn. She patted his head and ran stealthily up the garden, through the gate, and up the waste green land towards the crown of the hill.
The top of Toft End is the highest land in the Five Towns, and from it may be clearly seen all the lurid evidences of manufacture which sweep across the borders of the sky on north, east, west, and south. North-eastwards lie the moorlands, and far off Manifold, the ’metropolis of the moorlands,’ as it is called. On this night the furnaces of Red Cow Ironworks, in the hollow to the east, were in full blast; their fluctuating yellow light illuminated queerly the grass of the fields above Deane’s house, and the regular roar of their breathing reached that solitary spot like the distant rumour of some leviathan beast angrily fuming. Further away to the south-west the Cauldon Bar Ironworks reproduced the same phenomena, and round the whole horizon, near and far, except to the north-east, the lesser fires of labour leapt and flickered and glinted in their mists of smoke, burning ceaselessly, as they burned every night and every day at all seasons of all years. The town of Bursley slept in the deep valley to the west, and vast Hanbridge in the shallower depression to the south, like two sleepers accustomed to rest quietly amid great disturbances; the beacons of their Town Halls and churches kept watch, and the whole scene was dominated by the placidity of the moon, which had now risen clear of the Red Cow furnace clouds, and was passing upwards through tracts of stars.
Into this scene, climbing up from the direction of Manifold, came Lionel Woolley, nearly at midnight, having walked some eighteen miles in a vain effort to re-establish his self-satisfaction by a process of reasoning and ingenious excuses. Lionel felt that in the brief episode of the afternoon he had scarcely behaved with dignity. In other words, he was fully and painfully aware that he must have looked a fool, a coward, an ass, a contemptible and pitiful person, in the eyes of at least one girl, if not of two. He did not like this—no man would have liked it; and to Lionel the memory of an undignified act was acute torture. Why had he bidden the girls adieu and departed? Why