A charm like that, she gave me to understand, I must by hook or by crook obtain. She had not a second. None of her people in the camp over there possessed one. I am ashamed to confess that I actually paid her a pound for this brass pin! The purchase was partly an indication of my temperament, which could never let an opportunity pass away irrevocably without a struggle, and always apprehended ’Some day or other I’ll reproach myself for having neglected it!’ and partly a record of the trepidations of that period of my life. At all events I had her pin, and she my pound, and I venture to say I was the gladder of the two.
She stood on the road-side bank courtseying and smiling, the first enchantress I had encountered, and I watched the receding picture, with its patches of firelight, its dusky groups and donkey carts, white as skeletons in the moonlight, as we drove rapidly away.
They, I suppose, had a wild sneer and a merry laugh over my purchase, as they sat and ate their supper of stolen poultry, about their fire, and were duly proud of belonging to the superior race.
Mary Quince, shocked at my prodigality, hinted a remonstrance.
’It went to my heart, Miss, it did. They’re such a lot, young and old, all alike thieves and vagabonds, and many a poor body wanting.’
’Tut, Mary, never mind. Everyone has her fortune told some time in her life, and you can’t have a good one without paying. I think, Mary, we must be near Bartram now.’
The road now traversed the side of a steep hill, parallel to which, along the opposite side of a winding river, rose the dark steeps of a corresponding upland, covered with forest that looked awful and dim in the deep shadow, while the moonlight rippled fitfully upon the stream beneath.
‘It seems to be a beautiful country,’ I said to Mary Quince, who was munching a sandwich in the corner, and thus appealed to, adjusted her bonnet, and made an inspection from her window, which, however, commanded nothing but the heathy slope of the hill whose side we were traversing.
‘Well, Miss, I suppose it is; but there’s a deal o’ mountains—is not there?’
And so saying, honest Mary leaned back again, and went on with her sandwich.
We were now descending at a great pace. I knew we were coming near. I stood up as well as I could in the carriage, to see over the postilions’ heads. I was eager, but frightened too; agitated as the crisis of the arrival and meeting approached. At last, a long stretch of comparatively level country below us, with masses of wood as well as I could see irregularly overspreading it, became visible as the narrow valley through which we were speeding made a sudden bend.
Down we drove, and now I did perceive a change. A great grass-grown park-wall, overtopped with mighty trees; but still on and on we came at a canter that seemed almost a gallop. The old grey park-wall flanking us at one side, and a pretty pastoral hedgerow of ash-trees, irregularly on the other.