After some weeks of sullenness, during which for days at a time she hardly spoke to me, and seemed lost in dark and evil abstraction, she once more, and somewhat suddenly, recovered her spirits, and grew quite friendly. Her gaieties and friendliness were not reassuring, and in my mind presaged approaching mischief and treachery. The days were shortening to the wintry span. The edge of the red sun had already touched the horizon as Madame and I, overtaken at the warren by his last beams, were hastening homeward.
A narrow carriage-road traverses this wild region of the park, to which a distant gate gives entrance. On descending into this unfrequented road, I was surprised to see a carriage standing there. A thin, sly postilion, with that pert, turned-up nose which the old caricaturist Woodward used to attribute to the gentlemen of Tewkesbury, was leaning on his horses, and looked hard at me as I passed. A lady who sat within looked out, with an extra-fashionable bonnet on, and also treated us to a stare. Very pink and white cheeks she had, very black glossy hair and bright eyes—fat, bold, and rather cross, she looked—and in her bold way she examined us curiously as we passed.
I mistook the situation. It had once happened before that an intending visitor at Knowl had entered the place by that park-road, and lost several hours in a vain search for the house.
’Ask him, Madame, whether they want to go to the house; I dare say they have missed their way,’ whispered I.
’Eh bien, they will find again. I do not choose to talk to post-boys; allons!’
But I asked the man as we passed, ‘Do you want to reach the house?’
By this time he was at the horses’ heads, buckling the harness.
‘Noa,’ he said in a surly tone, smiling oddly on the winkers, but, recollecting his politeness, he added, ’Noa, thankee, misses, it’s what they calls a picnic; we’ll be takin’ the road now.’
He was smiling now on a little buckle with which he was engaged.
‘Come—nonsense!’ whispered Madame sharply in my ear, and she whisked me by the arm, so we crossed the little stile at the other side.
Our path lay across the warren, which undulates in little hillocks. The sun was down by this time, blue shadows were stretching round us, colder in the splendid contrast of the burnished sunset sky.
Descending over these hillocks we saw three figures a little in advance of us, not far from the path we were tracing. Two were standing smoking and chatting at intervals: one tall and slim, with a high chimney-pot, worn a little on one side, and a white great-coat buttoned up to the chin; the other shorter and stouter, with a dark-coloured wrapper. These gentlemen were facing rather our way as we came over the edge of the eminence, but turned their backs on perceiving our approach. As they did so, I remember so well each lowered his cigar suddenly with the simultaneousness