Edward Chrighton was not amongst the billiard-players; he was pacing the drawing-room to and fro from end to end, with an air that was at once moody and restless.
'Thank heaven, the frost has broken up at last!' he exclaimed, stopping in front of the window where I sat.
He had spoken to himself, quite unaware of my close neighbourhood. Unpromising as his aspect was just then, I ventured to accost him.
'What bad taste, to prefer such weather as this to frost and snow!' I answered. 'The park looked enchanting yesterday-a real scene from fairyland. And only look at it today!'
'O yes, of course, from an artistic point of view, the snow was better. The place does look something like the great dismal swamp today; but I am thinking of hunting, and that confounded frost made a day's sport impossible. We are in for a spell of mild weather now, I think.'
'But you are not going to hunt, are you, Edward?'
'Indeed I am, my gentle cousin, in spite of that frightened look in your amiable countenance.
'I thought there were no hounds hereabouts.'
'Nor are there; but there is as fine a pack as any in the country - the Daleborough hounds-five-and-twenty miles away.'
'And you are going five-and-twenty miles for the sake of a day's run?'
'I would travel forty, fifty, a hundred miles for that same diversion. But I am not going for a single day this time; I am going over to Sir Francis Wycherly's place-young Frank Wycherly and I were sworn chums at Christchurch-for three or four days. I am due today, but I scarcely cared to travel by cross-country roads in such rain as this. However, if the floodgates of the sky are loosened for a new deluge, I must go tomorrow.'
'What a headstrong young man!' I exclaimed. 'And what will Miss Tremaine say to this desertion?' I asked in a lower voice.
'Miss Tremaine can say whatever she pleases. She had it in her power to make me forget the pleasures of the chase, if she had chosen, though we had been in the heart of the shires, and the welkin ringing with the baying of hounds.'
'O, I begin to understand. This hunting engagement is not of long standing.'
'No; I began to find myself bored here a few days ago, and wrote to Frank to offer myself for two or three days at Wycherly. I received a most cordial answer by return, and am booked till the end of this week.'
'You have not forgotten the ball on the first?'
'O, no; to do that would be to vex my mother, and to offer a slight to our guests. I shall be here for the first, come what may.'
Come what may! so lightly spoken. The time came when I had bitter occasion to remember those words.
'I'm afraid you will vex your mother by going at all,' I said. 'You know what a horror both she and your father have of hunting.'
'A most un-country-gentleman-like aversion on my father's part. But he is a dear old book-worm, seldom happy out of his library. Yes, I admit they both have a dislike to hunting in the abstract; but they know I am a pretty good rider, and that it would need a bigger country than I shall find about Wycherly to floor me. You need not feel nervous, my dear Sarah; I am not going to give papa and mamma the smallest ground for uneasiness.'
'You will take your own horses, I suppose?'
'That goes without saying. No man who has cattle of his own cares to mount another man's horses. I shall take Pepperbox and the Druid.'
'Pepperbox has a queer temper, I have heard your sisters say.'
'My sisters expect a horse to be a kind of overgrown baa-lamb. Everything splendid in horseflesh and womankind is prone to that slight defect, an ugly temper. There is Miss Tremaine, for instance.'
'I shall take Miss Tremaine's part. I believe it is you who are in the wrong in the matter of this estrangement, Edward.'
'Do you? Well, wrong or right, my cousin, until the fair Julia comes to me with sweet looks and gentle words, we can never be what we have been.'
'You will return from your hunting expedition in a softer mood,' I answered; 'that is to say, if you persist in going. But I hope and believe you will change your mind.'
'Such a change is not within the limits of possibility, Sarah. I am fixed as Fate.'