So I taxed her on the matter of this Stranger, saying this and that, and how I had cause to believe he loved her.
“That is beyond doubt,” she answered, and smiled.
“By my head, I believe his fancy is returned!” I blurted out.
And her smile grew radiant, as, looking me in the face, she answered, “By my soul, husband, it is.”
Then I went from her, down into my garden, where the day grew hot and the flowers were beginning to droop. I stared upon them and could find no solution to the problem that worked in my heart. And then I glanced up, eastward, to the sun above the privet-hedge, and saw him coming across the flower beds, treading them down in wantonness. He came with a light step and a smile, and I waited for him, leaning heavily on my stick.
“Give me your watch!” he called out, as he drew near.
“Why should I give you my watch?” I asked, while something worked in my throat.
“Because I wish it; because it is gold; because you are too old, and won’t want it much longer.”
“Take it,” I cried, pulling the watch out and thrusting it into his hand. “Take it—you who have taken all that is better! Strip me, spoil me—”
A soft laugh sounded above, and I turned. My wife was looking down on us from the window, and her eyes were both moist and glad.
“Pardon me,” she said, “it is you who are spoiling the child.”
I.—THE AFFAIR OF BLEAKIRK-ON-SANDS.
[The events, which took place on November 23, 186-, are narrated by Reuben Cartwright, Esq., of Bleakirk Hall, Bleakirk-on-Sands, in the North Riding of Yorkshire.]
A rough, unfrequented bridle-road rising and dipping towards the coast, with here and there a glimpse of sea beyond the sad-coloured moors: straight overhead, a red and wintry sun just struggling to assert itself: to right and left, a stretch of barren down still coated white with hoar-frost.
I had flung the reins upon my horse’s neck, and was ambling homewards. Between me and Bleakirk lay seven good miles, and we had come far enough already on the chance of the sun’s breaking through; but as the morning wore on, so our prospect of hunting that day faded further from us. It was now high noon, and I had left the hunt half an hour ago, turned my face towards the coast, and lit a cigar to beguile the way. When a man is twenty-seven he begins to miss the fun of shivering beside a frozen cover.
The road took a sudden plunge among the spurs of two converging hills. As I began to descend, the first gleam of sunshine burst from the dull heaven and played over the hoar-frost. I looked up, and saw, on the slope of the hill to the right, a horseman also descending.
At first glance I took him for a brother sportsman who, too, had abandoned hope of a fox. But the second assured me of my mistake. The stranger wore a black suit of antique, clerical cut, a shovel hat, and gaiters; his nag was the sorriest of ponies, with a shaggy coat of flaring yellow, and so low in the legs that the broad flaps of its rider’s coat all but trailed on the ground. A queerer turnout I shall never see again, though I live to be a hundred.