A kind of frost had fallen on her own soul; she could find no sustenance there; it was all there, she knew, all the mysterious life that had rioted within her like spring, in the convent, breathing its fragrances, bewildering in its wealth of shape and colour. But an icy breath had petrified it all; it had sunk down out of sight; it needed a soul like her own, feminine and sympathetic, a soul that had experienced the same things as her own, that knew the tenderness and love of the Saviour, to melt that frigid covering and draw out the essences and sweetness again, that lay there paralysed by this icy environment....
There were wheels at last.
She gathered up her black skirt, and ran to the edge of the low yews that bounded the garden on the north; and as she caught a glimpse of the nodding heads of the postilions, the plumes of their mounts, and the great carriage-roof swaying in the iron ruts, she shrank back again, in an agony of shyness, terrified of being seen.
The sky had deepened to flaming orange in the west, barred by the tall pines, before she unlatched the garden-gate to go back to the house.
The windows shone out bright and inviting from the parlour on the ground-floor and from beneath the high gable of the hall as she came up the slope. Mistress Atherton, she knew, would be in one of these rooms if she had not already gone up stairs; and with an instinct of shyness still strong within her the girl slipped round to the back, and passed in through the chapel.
The court was lighted by a link that flared beside one of the doorways on the left, and a couple of great trunks lay below it. A servant came out as she stood there hesitating, and she called to him softly to know where was Mistress Atherton.
“She is in the parlour, Mistress Margaret,” said the man.
The girl went slowly across to the corner doorway, glancing at the parlour windows as she passed; but the curtains were drawn on this side, and she could catch no glimpse of the party within.
The little entrance passage was dark; but she could hear a murmur of voices as she stood there, still hesitating. Then she opened the door suddenly, and went into the room.
Her mother was speaking; and the girl heard those icy detached tones as she looked round the group.
“It must be very difficult for you, Mistress Atherton, in these days.”
Margaret saw her father standing at the window-seat, and Chris beside him; and in a moment saw that the faces of both were troubled and uneasy.
A tall girl was in the chair opposite, her hands lying easily on the arms and her head thrown back almost negligently. She was well dressed, with furs about her throat; her buckled feet were crossed before the blaze, and her fingers shone with jewels. Her face was pale; her scarlet lips were smiling, and there was a certain keen and genial amusement in her black eyes.