* * * * *
And now a midsummer sun was rising over Oxford. The last carriage had rumbled through the streets; the last merry group of black-coated men, and girls in thin shoes and opera-cloaks had vanished. The summer dawn held the whole beautiful and silenced city in its peace.
Constance, in her dressing-gown, sat at the open window, looking out over the dewy garden, and vaguely conscious of its scents as one final touch of sweetness in a whole of pleasure which was still sending its thrill through all her pulses.
At last, she found pen and paper on her writing-table, and wrote an instruction for Annette upon it.
* * * * *
“Please send early for the horses. They should be here at a quarter to nine. Call me at eight. Tell Aunt Ellen that I have gone for a ride, and shall be back by eleven. It was quite a nice ball.”
* * * * *
Then, with a silent laugh at the last words, she took the sheet of paper, stole noiselessly out of her room, and up the stairs to Annette’s room, where she pushed the message under the door. Annette had not been well the day before, and Connie had peremptorily forbidden her to sit up.
The day was still young in Lathom Woods. A wood-cutter engaged in cutting coppice on the wood’s eastern skirts, hearing deep muffled sounds from “Tom” clock-tower, borne to him from Oxford on the light easterly breeze, stopped to count the strokes.
He straightened himself, wiped the sweat from his brow, and was immediately aware of certain other sounds approaching from the wood itself. Horses—at a walk. No doubt the same gentleman and lady who had passed him an hour earlier, going in a contrary direction.
He watched them as they passed him again, repeating his reflection that they were a “fine-lookin’ couple”—no doubt sweethearts. What else should bring a young man and a young woman riding in Lathom Woods at that time in the morning? “Never seed ’em doin’ it before, anyways.”
Connie threw the old man a gracious “Good morning!”—to which he guardedly responded, looking full at her, as he stood leaning on his axe.
“I wonder what the old fellow is thinking about us!” she said lightly, when they had moved forward. Then she flushed, conscious that the remark had been ill-advised.
Falloden, who was sitting erect and rather sombre, his reins lying loosely on his horse’s neck, said slowly—
“He is probably thinking all sorts of foolish things, which aren’t true. I wish they were.”
Connie’s eyes were shining with a suppressed excitement.
“He supposes at any rate we have had a good time, and in fact—we haven’t. Is that what you mean?”
“If you like to put it so.”