And Vera went slowly up the lane alone towards the Hall. She did not know what she was going to say to Maurice; she hardly knew, indeed, what it was she had been commissioned to ask of him; nor in what words her request was to be made. She thought no longer of her wedding-day, nor of the lover who had just parted with her. Only before her eyes there came again the little wintry copse of birch-trees; the horses standing by, the bare fields stretching around, and back into her heart there flashed the memory of those quick, hot kisses pressed upon her outstretched hand; the one short—and alas! all too perilous—glimpse that had been revealed to her of the inner life and soul of the man whose lightest touch she had learnt that day to fear as she feared no other living thing.
Alas! how easily things go wrong,
A word too much, or a sigh too long;
And there comes a mist and a driving rain,
And life is never the same again.
The library at Kynaston was the room which Sir John had used as his only sitting-room since he had come down to stay in his own house. When his wedding with Miss Nevill had been definitely fixed, there had come down from town a whole army of decorators and painters and upholsterers, who had set to work to renovate and adorn the rest of the house for the advent of the bride, who was so soon to be brought home to it.
They had altered things in various ways, they had improved a few, and they had spoiled a good many more; they had, at all events, introduced a wholesome and thorough system of cleansing and cleaning throughout the house, that had been very welcome to the soul of Mrs. Eccles; but into the library they had not penetrated. The old bookshelves remained untouched; the old books, in their musty brown calf bindings, were undesecrated by profaning hands. All sorts of quaint chairs and bureaus, gathered together out of every other room in the house, had congregated here. The space over the mantelpiece was adorned by a splendid portrait by Vandyke, flanked irreverently on either side by a series of old sporting prints, representing the whole beginning, continuation, and end of a steeple-chase course, and which, it is melancholy to state, were far more highly appreciated by Sir John than the beautiful and valuable picture which they surrounded. Below these, and on the mantelpiece itself, were gathered together a heterogeneous collection of pipes, spurs, horse-shoes, bits, and other implements, which the superintending hands of any lady would have straightway relegated to the stables.
In this library Sir John and his brother fed, smoked, wrote and read, and lived, in fact, entirely in full and disorderly enjoyment of their bachelorhood and its privileges. The room, consequently, was in a condition of untidiness and confusion, which was the despair of Mrs. Eccles and the delight of the two men themselves, who had even forbidden the entrance of any housemaid into it upon pain of instant dismissal. Mrs. Eccles submitted herself with resignation to the inevitable, and comforted herself with the reflection that the time of unchecked masculine dominion was well-nigh over, and that the days were very near at hand when “Miss Vera” was coming to alter all this.