He turned to Mrs. Trenchard as though she must have perceived that he was not alone. But she had noticed nothing; with another sharp turn of the wrist she had locked the door.
To-morrow was Christmas Eve: he had promised to spend Christmas with friends in Somerset. Now he went to the little village post-office and telegraphed that he was detained; he felt at that moment as though he would never like to leave Clinton again.
The inn, the “Hearty Cow,” was kept by people who were new to him—“foreigners, from up-country.” The fat landlord complained to Seymour of the slowness of the Clinton people, that they never could be induced to see things to their own proper advantage. “A dead-alive place I call it,” he said; “but still, mind you,” he added, “it’s got a sort of a ’old on one.”
From the diamond-paned windows of his bedroom next morning he surveyed a glorious day, the very sky seemed to glitter with frost, and when his window was opened he could hear quite plainly the bell on Trezent Rock, so crystal was the air. He walked that morning for miles; he covered all his old ground, picking up memories as though he were building a pleasure-house. Here was his dream, there was disappointment, here that flaming discovery, there this sudden terror—nothing had changed for him, the Moor, St. Arthe Church, St. Dreot Woods, the high white gates and mysterious hidden park of Portcullis House—all were as though it had been yesterday that he had last seen them. Polchester had dwindled before his giant growth. Here the moor, the woods, the roads had grown, and it was he that had shrunken.
At last he stood on the sand-dunes that bounded the moor and looked down upon the marbled sand, blue and gold after the retreating tide. The faint lisp and curdle of the sea sang to him. A row of sea-gulls, one and then another quivering in the light, stood at the water’s edge; the stiff grass that pushed its way fiercely from the sand of the dunes was white with hoar-frost, and the moon, silver now, and sharply curved, came climbing behind the hill.
He turned back and went home. He had promised to have tea at the Vicarage, and he found Mrs. Trenchard putting holly over the pictures in the little dark square hall. She looked as though she had always been there, and as though, in some curious way, the holly, with its bright red berries, especially belonged to her.
She asked him to help her, and Seymour thought that he must have known her all his life. She had a tranquil, restful air, but, now and then, hummed a little tune. She was very tidy as she moved about, picking up little scraps of holly. A row of pins shone in her green dress. After a while they went upstairs and hung holly in the passages.
Seymour had turned his back to her and was balanced on a little ladder, when he heard her utter a sharp little cry.