The young man sat unmoving; the glow of the fire had caught his face, so that a spirit seemed clinging round his lips, gleaming out of his eyes. Suddenly he said:
“Do you believe that, Mrs. Noel?”
For answer Audrey Noel smiled, then rose and went over to the window.
“Look at my dear toad! It comes here every evening!” On a flagstone of the verandah, in the centre of the stream of lamplight, sat a little golden toad. As Miltoun came to look, it waddled to one side, and vanished.
“How peaceful your garden is!” he said; then taking her hand, he very gently raised it to his lips, and followed his opponent out into the darkness.
Truly peace brooded over that garden. The Night seemed listening—all lights out, all hearts at rest. It watched, with a little white star for every tree, and roof, and slumbering tired flower, as a mother watches her sleeping child, leaning above him and counting with her love every hair of his head, and all his tiny tremors.
Argument seemed child’s babble indeed under the smile of Night. And the face of the woman, left alone at her window, was a little like the face of this warm, sweet night. It was sensitive, harmonious; and its harmony was not, as in some faces, cold—but seemed to tremble and glow and flutter, as though it were a spirit which had found its place of resting.
In her garden,—all velvety grey, with black shadows beneath the yew-trees, the white flowers alone seemed to be awake, and to look at her wistfully. The trees stood dark and still. Not even the night birds stirred. Alone, the little stream down in the bottom raised its voice, privileged when day voices were hushed.
It was not in Audrey Noel to deny herself to any spirit that was abroad; to repel was an art she did not practise. But this night, though the Spirit of Peace hovered so near, she did not seem to know it. Her hands trembled, her cheeks were burning; her breast heaved, and sighs fluttered from her lips, just parted.
Eustace Cardoc, Viscount Miltoun, had lived a very lonely life, since he first began to understand the peculiarities of existence. With the exception of Clifton, his grandmother’s ‘majordomo,’ he made, as a small child, no intimate friend. His nurses, governesses, tutors, by their own confession did not understand him, finding that he took himself with unnecessary seriousness; a little afraid, too, of one whom they discovered to be capable of pushing things to the point of enduring pain in silence. Much of that early time was passed at Ravensham, for he had always been Lady Casterley’s favourite grandchild. She recognized in him the purposeful austerity which had somehow been omitted from the composition of her daughter. But only to Clifton, then a man of fifty with a great gravity and long black whiskers, did Eustace relieve his soul. “I tell you this, Clifton,” he would say, sitting on the sideboard, or the arm of the big chair in Clifton’s room, or wandering amongst the raspberries, “because you are my friend.”