After dinner I went up to my chamber; and a great heaviness fell upon me, till I looked out of the window and saw that beyond the limes the clouds spewed a reddish tint that marked the approach of thunder; and at that grew reassured again; and not only for myself but for my Cousin Dorothy, whose tale had lain close on my heart through the morning: for this thought I, is the explanation of it all: the maid was oppressed by the heat and the approaching storm, and fancied all the rest.
I fell asleep in my chair, over my Italian; and when I awakened it was near supper-time, and the heaviness was upon me again, like lead; and my diary not written.
After supper and some talk, I made excuse to do my writing; and as it was growing dark, and I was finishing, I heard music from the Great Chamber beneath. They were singing together a song I had not heard before; and I listened, well pleased, promising myself the pleasure too of going downstairs presently and hearing it.
Between two of the verses, I heard on a sudden, over the hill-top beyond the village, the beat of a horse’s hoofs, galloping; but I thought no more of it. At the end of the next verse, even before it was finished, I heard the hoofs again, through the music; I ran to the window to see who rode so fast; and was barely in time to see a courier, in a blue coat, dash past the new iron gate, pulling at his horse as he did so; an instant later, I heard the horse turn in at the yard gate, and immediately the singing ceased.
As I came down the stairs, I saw my Cousin Dolly run out into the inner lobby, and her face, in the dusk, was as white as paper; and the same instant there came a hammering at the hall door.
“What is it? What is it?” cried she; and clung to me as I came down.
I saw, through the inner door, my Cousin Tom unbolting the outer one; he had taken down a pistol that hung upon the wall, for the highwaymen waxed very bold sometimes; then when he opened the door, I heard my name.
I went forward, and received from the courier, a sealed letter; and there, in the twilight I opened and read it. It was from Mr. Chiffinch, bidding me come to town at once on King’s business.
“I must ride to town,” I said. “Cousin Tom, will you order my horse for me; and another for this man? I do not know when I shall be back again.”
And, as I said these words, I saw my Cousin Dorothy’s face looking at me from the dusk of the inner hall, and knew what was in her mind; and that it was the matter of the tall old woman in her room.