Page images



MISS RAYMOND, wrapped up in her furs, tried to peer out of the first-class carriage she had to herself; but all was darkness and gloom without, and it was also intensely cold, and with a little shiver she resigned herself to the situation. Just such a Christmas Eve as one would enjoy in a welllighted house, with warm fires blazing in every hearth, and the sound of cheerful voices surging up in whatever room you might enter. Rather a contrast flying through the air in such bitter weather, the silence unbroken except by the rush of the wheels; and these at last seemed to revolve more quietly, while the pace slackened perceptibly,

discern in a momentary inspection of another's physiognomy? And only for a moment could any one, had he been so privileged, have had the opportunity of arriving at conclusions; for with a hasty gesture the girl drew her mantle almost up to her eyes, and audibly giving vent to her impatience, murmured to herself, "How slow we are going, and what a night it is! However, we must be near Draycombe now."

The train was an express, and for over half an hour had stopped nowhere. It was considerably

past its time, but now the station was approached, and the pace was sensibly moderating. Miss Raymond started up, oblivious of the cold, and busied herself in getting her things together; and as there was a sudden stoppage, she let down the window.

Further up

The young lady ensconced in the further end of the carriage drew her furs closer round her as she did so tilting up her hat, and for the moment uncovering her It was snowing hard, and the face, showing fair golden hair storm had evidently been going swept back from a low white fore- on for some time, for on either head, and eyes brown and full of side of the rails there was one esprit,-in truth, a very sweet great white expanse. true woman's face, graced also the line some conversation was with a mouth that, in its delicate going on, and leaning out of the curves, would have entranced any window, she caught sight of the modern Greuze who might be in station not a hundred yards away. search of female loveliness. And From what was said, she gathered the eyes too, told, if a hasty glance that the line was hereabouts so at them could declare anything, of blocked by a drift that there would a sweet, frank, kindly nature, with be delay till the snow could be just such a mere touch of coquetry cleared; and thanking her good forthat would never venture over the tune that had brought her so close bare boundary of flirtation. It to the end of her journey, she refastened the window and patiently waited. After a short interval the train dragged slowly on to the station, where descending, she quickly collected her belongings, and asked the porter whether any carriage

was the face of one to whom the little ones would fly for comfort and consolation; and, if it told its story truly, of one who, if she put her trust at all, would do so with all her heart. But what can you

was in waiting from the Hall-Mr Beaufort's.

"No, miss, nothing have come yet; perhaps it's been delayed by the snow."

"Has the snow been falling long ?" she inquired, as she moved into the cheerless little waitingroom, where there was a miserable fire trying to keep alight.

"Well, miss, it's been goin' on for the last two hours, and it don't look as if it were a-goin' to stop.❞

"Can I get a fly here?" "Indeed, Miss, I fear you can't; but I'll see the station-master."

This official, who presently came up, was, however, not able to help her in any way. It appeared no conveyance of any kind plied to and from the station, nor was there anything but a farmer's cart in the village, and that lay a mile and a half distant.

"No, miss, I think you had better stay here. Mr Beaufort's carriage is sure to come; it's just been delayed a bit."

He then made her an offer to come into his own quarters, and wait there till the carriage might appear; but Miss Raymond, thank ing him much, said she would do very well in the waiting-room, and she retired thereto and placing her smaller belongings on the table, closed the door, and drawing a chair up to the fire, sat there enjoying the blaze which a vigorous application of the poker had drawn forth.


"This is truly cheerful," she remarked. "I suppose I ought not to blame the Beauforts, but it's an unpleasant position; and if this trap of theirs does not turn up, what on earth I am to do I don't know."

Her reflections were here broken in upon by the opening of the door.

The new-comer, swathed up to his mouth in a heavy overcoat heavily topped with snow, started back when he found a lady in possession, and made a movement as if to retreat; but as Miss Raymond did not look very fierce or hard-hearted, and indeed was clearly a very pretty girl, and it seemed like a case of beauty in distress, he took his courage in both hands and advanced into the room.

"Pardon me for coming in so suddenly. I trust I am not intruding.'


Now Miss Raymond was what every right-minded and properly educated girl is self-possessed. Before her stood a good-looking, soldierly figure, the face mented solely by a heavy moustache-the coat thrown back, setting forth the lines of a powerful form which, garbed in its then fashion, seemed even taller than it really was.

"No, I assure you not."

"I fear," he hesitatingly said, "that you have been disappointed in getting away?"

"Yes," she responded, "that is just my case. Perhaps you are going to the same house? Mrs Beaufort promised to send for me."

"No; it is not my good fortune to have to go there to-night. But I know the Beauforts very well. They are great friends of mine. cannot understand why their carriage has not come."

"Probably the snow


[blocks in formation]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

"Yes. But, Captain Woolcombe, to return to what you were saying, please tell me what I am to do," and here, unwittingly, she held out her pretty little hands, as if to give emphasis to the question; for, indeed, the poor child was not taking her enforced stay with anything like the equanimity of her companion. "Suppose this wretched storm goes on, and no carriage comes! I've tried to get a conveyance from the village, which they say is a mile and a-half off."

"Really," said Woolcombe, quite distressed," I feel for you awfully," and he did indeed look very sympa

[blocks in formation]

"You encamp here. I'll rig up things all around the windows, and I'll bivouac outside."

"On such a night! I could not dream of it. No, really," as he persisted. "The station - master offered me an asylum, and if the worst comes to the worst, I'll go to him, and leave you in possession here.'

Just then the door was opened, and the porter appearing, announced that he saw a trap coming up the road, but it was as yet, a long way off.

The two fellow-passengers went outside. The snow had now ceased, and a dull moon was shining, showing one vast area of white as far as the eye could reach. Some distance up the road two lights were seen advancing slowly.

"I'm sorry to say, Miss Raymond," said Wolcombe, "that that is the wrong direction for the Beaufort's carriage, and I am afraid it is my cart; and he was right, for presently the man driving came up to Captain Woolcombe, and, touching his hat, explained that he had had the greatest difficulty in forcing his way on at all, and had almost given up the idea of making further progress, when the snow stopped falling, and the moon coming out, gave him hope, he might be able to push along.

And now, what was to become of the lady?

Miss Raymond, of course, could only resign herself to the situation,

and return to her asylum in the station, and there she was found by Woolcombe.

[ocr errors]

"I suppose, she said rising and extending to him her hand, "we must now say good night. I hope you will speedily reach your home."

"Pray, do not think I take a great liberty," he rejoined; "but you just now said you would take any conveyance from the village. Why not take mine? I am quite sure something must have happened to the Beauforts' carriage. Mine, you see, is a light dog-cart, and so would travel easily."

"But I certainly am not going to take your cart and leave you here."

[blocks in formation]


[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

'Well, about a mile, or a little less. Curious," he went on, "our both travelling and being belated on Christmas eve. It's like those stories in the Christmas books."

"The real truth is," said Miss Raymond, "I ought to have been at the Beauforts' yesterday, but just when starting from home I was detained.”

"That is my case. I had half promised Cicely, that is my sister, to be with her on the Tuesday."

"Then she has been expecting


"Oh, Cicely and I understand each other. My younger brother Trevor is to be at the Beauforts' soon, and so you'll know him. He is in the Rifle Brigade," continued

he, growing communicative, "and a dear good fellow, though I say it that shouldn't. I hope Cicely will soon know you."

"It will be a great pleasure to me," began Miss Raymond.

"Every one likes Cicely. But as to her expecting me, you see I was staying down in Surrey, and could not be sure of the day. I had made a half promise to try and be back by Christmas Eve. Holloa! it's begun to snow again." And this was the case. It is true the flakes were few and far between as yet, but it was clearly expedient to lose no time on the road.

"I tell you what' Ill do, Miss Raymond. When we get to the Beauforts', and we are already well up their avenue-you ought to see the lights of the house from here -I'll ask them to put me up for the night."

"Yes; I think you had better." "I'll go no farther to-night. Well, here we are. Why, the house is shut up!"

They had now come close to a great structure, but no signs of life were to be seen anywhere.

"This is most strange!" said Woolcombe. "Not very polite, either, to ask you to their house and leave no one to welcome you when you come."

with the Beauforts, and curtly informed the pair at the door that she couldn't stay with the Beaufort's 'cos why? 'cos they wasn't there." They managed to drag out of him that three days ago there had been something very wrong with the drains, and the entire household had decamped to the Manor House, the Hall being now entirely in the hands of the builders, the speaker having been left in charge as caretaker.

"But is there no room where this young lady can stay for the night?" demanded Woolcombe.

"No," he shortly replied, there was no room. The whole house was upside down.

"And how far off is the Manor House?" inquired Miss Raymond. "It's a good four mile at least."

"What is to be done?" asked the girl, in great perplexity. "Could not this old man get me something to take me there?"

"No, Miss Raymond. It's hopeless to expect anything of the sort. You must still place yourself under my guidance. We will see how soon we can get there."

"Oh, Captain Woolcombe! I am so distressed. I never meant to make myself such a burden, but what can I do?"

"Believe me, Miss Raymond, it will be a real pleasure to me, and

"But are you sure this is the indeed it is my positive duty to house?" see you safely home. Pray, say no more. Now, James, turn the mare's head."

"There's no doubt about that. James, ring the bell, will you."

The servant rang and rang, and at last, after what seemed an interminable delay, a faint noise was heard, and finally, after various chains and bolts had been withdrawn, the door was opened by an old man, who was in an extremely bad temper, and was very hard of hearing. He was quite unmoved by the information that the lady in the dog-cart had come to stay

"I beg your pardon, sir. The four-mile road goes by Shelvers Dip, and with this fall and the wind there has been, the snow must have drifted fifteen feet there."

"And the longer road-I forget the distance?"

"It's eight miles, sir, and I doubt if that's much better."

"A nice look-out, certainly. Well, we can't encamp for the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »