He had never seen her before, nor any one like her. Yet he felt that, in her presence, the task which lay before him had become immeasurably more difficult. She was a type to him of all those things, the memory of which he had been strenuously trying to put away from him, the beautiful, the worldly, the joyous. As he rose slowly to his feet, he looked half despairingly around. It was a stern religion which they loved, this handful of weatherbeaten farmers and their underlings. Their womenkind were made as unlovely as possible, with flat hair, sombre and ill-made clothes. Their surroundings were whitewashed and text-hung walls, and in their hearts was the love for narrow ways. He gave out his text slowly and with heavy heart. Then he paused, and, glancing once more round the little building, met again the soft, languid fire of those full dark eyes. This time he did not look away. He saw a faint interest, a slight pity, a background of nonchalance. His cheeks flushed, and the fire of revolt leaped through his veins. He shut up the Bible and abandoned his carefully prepared discourse, in which was a mention of hellfire and many gloomy warnings, which would have brought joy to the heart of Gideon Strong, and to each of which he would slowly and approvingly have nodded his head. He delivered instead, with many pauses, but in picturesque and even vivid language, a long and close account of the miracle with which his text was concerned. In the midst of it there came from outside the tinkling of many bicycle bells—the rest of the party had returned in search of their host and his companion. The Earl looked up with alacrity. He was nicely rested now, and wanted a cigarette.
“Shall we go?” he whispered.
She nodded and rose. At the door she turned for a moment and looked backwards. The preacher was in the midst of an elaborate and painstaking sifting of evidence as to the season of the year during which this particular miracle might be supposed to have taken place. Again their eyes met for a moment, and she went out into the sunlight with a faint smile upon her lips, for she was a woman who loved to feel herself an influence, and she was swift to understand. To her it was an episode of the morning’s ride, almost forgotten at dinner-time. To him it marked the boundary line between the old things and the new.
A STRANGE BETROTHAL
The room had all the chilly discomfort of the farmhouse parlour, unused, save on state occasions—a funereal gloom which no sunlight could pierce, a mustiness which savoured almost of the grave. One by one they obeyed the stern forefinger of Gideon Strong, and took their seats on comfortless chairs and the horse-hair sofa. First came John Magee, factor and agent to the Earl of Cumberland, a great man in the district, deacon of the chapel, slow and ponderous in his movements. A man of few words but much