’Chatty, it is very early, not quite five, but I want you to get up and dress yourself as quietly as you can and come into the turret-room. I am going out, and I do not want to wake anybody, and you understand the fastenings of the front door. I am afraid I should only bungle at them.’
‘You are going out, ma’am!’ in an astonished voice. Chatty was thoroughly awake now.
’Yes, I am sorry to disturb you, but I do not want Miss Gladys to miss me. I shall not be long, but it is some business that I must do.’ And then I crept back to the turret-room.
Leah slept in a little room at the end of the passage, and I was very unwilling that any unusual sound should reach her ears. Chatty seemed to share this feeling, for when she joined me presently she was carrying her shoes in her hands. ‘I can’t help making a noise,’ she said apologetically; ’and so I crept down the passage in my stockings. If you are ready, ma’am, I will come and let you out.’
I stood by, rather nervously, as Chatty manipulated the intricate fastenings. I asked her to replace them as soon as I had gone, and to come down in about half an hour and open the door leading to the garden. ’I will return that way, and they will only think I have taken an early stroll,’ I observed. I was rather sorry to resort to this small subterfuge before Chatty, but the girl had implicit trust in me, and evidently thought no harm; she only smiled and nodded; and as I lingered for a moment on the gravel path I heard the bolt shoot into its place.
It was only half-past five, and I walked on leisurely. I had not been farther than the garden for three weeks, and the sudden sense of freedom and space was exhilarating.
It was a lovely morning. A dewy freshness seemed on everything; the birds were singing deliciously; the red curtains were drawn across the windows of the Man and Plough; a few white geese waddled slowly across the green; some brown speckled hens were feeding under the horse-trough; a goat browsing by the roadside looked up, quite startled, as I passed him, and butted slowly at me in a reflective manner. There was a scent of sweet-brier, of tall perfumy lilies and spicy carnations from the gardens. I looked at the windows of the houses I passed, but the blinds were drawn, and the bees and the flowers were the only waking things there. The village seemed asleep, until I turned the corner, and there, coming out of the vicarage gate, was Uncle Max himself. He was walking along slowly, with his old felt hat in his hand, reading his little Greek Testament as he walked, and the morning sun shining on his uncovered head and his brown beard.
He did not see me until I was close to him, and then he started, and an expression of fear crossed his face.
’Ursula, my dear, were you coming to the vicarage? Nothing is wrong, I hope?’ looking at me anxiously.
‘Wrong! what should be wrong on such a morning?’ I returned playfully. ’Is it not delicious? The air is like champagne; only champagne never had the scent of those flowers in it. The world is just a big dewy bouquet. It is good only to be alive on such a morning.’