The vicar was not visible. It was a strange and unheard of thing—there were visitors in the drawing-room. This doubtless accounted for the fact that the fly from the Duke’s Head was standing on the opposite side of the road. The two young men went into their study, which was on the ground floor and opened upon the passage which led to the drawing-room from the little hall. Angleside remarked that by leaving the door open they would catch a glimpse of the visitor when he went out. But the visitor stayed long. The curiosity of the two was wrought up to a high pitch; it was many months since there had been a real visitor at the vicarage. Angleside suggested going out and finding old Reynolds—he always knew everything that was going on.
“If we only wait long enough,” said Short philosophically, “they are sure to come out.”
“Perhaps,” returned Cornelius rather doubtfully.
“They” did come out. The drawing-room door opened and there was a sound of voices. It was a woman’s voice, and a particularly sweet voice, too. Still no one came down the passage. The lady seemed to be lingering in taking her leave. Then there was a sound of small feet and suddenly a little girl stood before the open door of the study, looking wonderingly at the two young men. Short thought he had never seen such a beautiful child. She could not have been more than seven or eight years old, and was not tall for her age; a delicate little figure, all in black, with long brown curls upon her shoulders, flowing abundantly from beneath a round black sailor’s hat that was set far back upon her head. The child’s face was rather pale than very fair, of a beautiful transparent paleness, with the least tinge of colour in the cheeks; her great violet eyes gazed wonderingly into the study, and her lips parted in childlike uncertainty, while her little gloved hand rested on the door-post as though to get a sense of security from something so solid.
It was only for a moment. Both the young fellows smiled at the child unconsciously. Perhaps she thought they were laughing at her; she turned and ran away again; then passed a second time, stealing a long glance at the two strangers, but followed immediately by the lady, who was probably her mother, and whose voice had been heard for the last few moments. The lady, too, glanced in as she went by, and John Short lost his heart then and there; not that the lady was beautiful as the little girl was, but because there was something in her face, in her figure, in her whole carriage, that moved the boy suddenly as she looked at him and sent the blood rushing to his cheeks and forehead.