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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 232, 3 January 1881
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A WOMAN ALONE. ■0 [cdtNTINUED.j “Going across to-morrow, or going make a stay here ? /go across tomorrow,” he added, by way of an extra inducement for me to continue my journey. This last remark’ decided my course of action. “ I shall remain here a few days,” I replied. * “ If you make it a few weeks I shall be back again. My name-is -Sounders.” aS+ * I did not reciprocate his confidence. I was tirqd of the man’s obtrusiveness, and anxious to get from him. I did not think that he would trouble me presently, and be one'of the links of a chain that was being forged already for me. I only knew that here was a specimen of the English bagman unnaturally developed, and that every word he said jarred upon me unpleasantly. 1 got up to withdraw. The dinner was over, and I cared not to linger over bad wine and an indifferent dessert.
“ I’ll give you one tip before you
he said, touching my arm and §“Hnng at me. “ Don’t try to talk to the i n grey. She don’t care to speak h\anybody, and can shut you up with JBy George! it is a scorcher ofiHpok, pretty as she is. I shan’t forget hevj na hurry, I wouldn’t have sat here if T.j iac j known she was coming this jf y OU are going to have a cigar Bill Saunders is your man, you know.” \
Thank you , I shall Lo engaged this evening.” *'“£>h, no offence ; just as ymKjike. I’m never hard up for a pal.” \" I had thought this was the end of Saunders, and that Ire was not likely to cross my path again. I had not met a man whom I had so quickly disliked as he. This was the Englishman of the farce, more like'the beings my countrymen depicted than any I had encountered yet. I went out to tht: high-road, and the parade upon the Keas, walking past the few holiday folk left, and the band that was _ braying for their amusement; walking on as far as Sandgate, and descending the cliffs to the lower road, where I found there was a return route nearer to the sea. The evenings were “ drawing in ” at that periodit was the middle of October, when the night falls early, and the breeze from the sea is keen and cold after sundown. I walked back towards my hotel at a rapid rate. Half way towards Folkstone I came upon the lady in grey, walking as rapidly in the opposite direction. I was sure it was she. There was a grace and manner distinctive enough to be-
troy her even in the darkness. To my surprise she advanced toward me, and I slopped and raised my hat. She did not recognize me, it seemed. “ (.'an you tell me how far it is to Hylbe, sir, by this road ?” she inquired. “ No, madam ; I am a stranger here.” “ I think it’s near Sandgate, but I am not sure. Thank you,’ she said. Then she passed me, and went on swhdy again into the shadows, where she was lost. I was bewildered. The lady in grey kad a mission to fulfil, and there was a mystery in it and her isolated life. . was not my business to interf" e it, and it was wholly unh’ 1 — me become impressed so Thickly by other people’s tnovem-'di’j but I was inierested in h cl —3}’, and drawn toward her. I saw no more of her the following day ; she was not at the table d’/ioU in the evening, as I had exnenmt mo
spoke of her, to my surprise, at the dinner table, with a freedom which I—perfect stranger to her though I was—felt disposed to answer.
“ Miss Grey is on the wing again,” a red-faced, white-moustached man said, with a short laugh. “ Quite a romance, this flitting,” answered the lady to whom he spoke. “ I should be glad to know her history.” “ You may depend upon it you never will,” answered the first speaker. “ She is very young, and so very quiet, too, or I should have thought—” And then the lady stopped, not knowing what she thought, or not caring to confess it. “ I declare I would not come here at all, or bring my innocent daughters here, if Monsieur de Lorme ” —this was the proprietor of the hotel—“ had not assured me that she came to him with the highest credentials from abroad.” “ Oh, these Frenchmen will say anything !” “ I can’t help thinking she’s an actress.” “ Or an adventuress,” said another voice, too —“or worse. . I have no confidence in ladies with a mystery — the mystery is always worthless and discreditable.”
“ Not always, but very often, certainly,” said one, more charitably disposed. She was at the hotel the following day, and I seemed waiting for her. I knew that she had arrived last night—a chance enquiry of an inquisitive visitor at the breakfast table had given me the news. I saw her in the morning reading on the beach—sitting apart from the few visitors that were there, and deeply interested in her book. I do not believe she looked up from her volume once—even to regard the sea, foaming and lashing against the shingle furiously that day. I sat at a distance,' watching this mysterious lady, and hardly conscious I was watching her. At the dinner table we were together once more. Strangely enough, I had chosen the seat next her again. As she came down the room I felt my heart beating faster than its wont, lest she should pass the chair vacant on my left. For a moment she paused, and even hesitated, and then took the seat and looked for an instant at me. Before I could remember the commercial traveller’s story of her austere reserve, or think even of my own, by an impulse for which I could hardly account, save that it was natural to be courteous to one whose face had grown familiar as a guest’s, I bowed low, and murmured a good evening. She returned my salutation promptly, and with a faint smile. There was no vexation at being addressed, as I had almost anticipated and feared the traveller’s legend of ago. “ Good-evening,” she replied. SKe seemed less thoughtful, and more observant. The number had thinned at the hotel ; the gentleman with the white moustache had gone to London ; Saunders, of the firm of Toats and Twirl, had not returned from Paris; one or two new faces, pale with the voyage across, were at the dinner table ; several of the old were missing. I was wondering if I dared speak to her again, when she addressed me so suddenly that I started and colored strangely. “Do you intend a long stay here ?” she inquired.
_ “ I—l hardly know, madam. I iim not pressed tor time.” “ It is,not a place where much amusement is to be found at this time of the year—the nights are long, and,,,the air is cold.” “ I am travelling for my health, unfortunately—not for amusement.” “ Indeed !” she said, with some interest in her tone of voice. “ I should not have thought you were an invalid.” “ I dispute the assertion myself at home, but there are friends in France avho will not take ray word.” “ You are French ?” “ Oh yes.” “ You speak English excellently ; it’s only your appearance which is French.” I hardly admired this remark—it might be taken either way; and yet it was scarcely likely that this yotfhg girl would attempt to satirize me thus early in our acquaintance ; for we had Jbecorae acquainted. It was all very strange ; I could see some wondering looks across the table at us, but it was a„pleasant thought to me. She was particularly observant, for suddenly a musical laugh escaped her, and she said, in a - “ Our good friends opposite are takingfit for granted that we have met before. It is so seldom that 1 care to speak to any one, at this place—certainly not to any .Englishman. ’* -» “ You are French, then, also?” “ My father is French, my mother is an English woman.” It was on the tip of my tongue to 1 ask * her where her father was living, and why she' was always' travelling alone. In my eager curiosity the question had nearly escaped me. But I was silent, and to my great surprise ’she appeared to reply to my thoughts, as though it had been easy to read them for herself “ A father vejy much engaged compels me to. rely upon nfy own resources a. great deal, I am fond of travelling . about and studying human" nature. . It is my profession, in fact.” “You write?”*
“ A little for a living. And you.” .she.added, regarding me very steadily, “ unless I am greatly mistaken, are one of the'grand army of letters also ? ” “ No, madam, I do not write.” Ah, you are modest, and conce*f the truth,” she said, smiling. “ I am only a dreamer, they ted me at home,” I answered. “ and' come to England to dream on. I have no wish to join the liteidti, .even if I had the ability to turn pty pen to profit. I am neither novelist, d^ tmat * s,: J nor. poet.” “ Nor poet,” she repeated to herself. (To h-continued.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 232, 3 January 1881
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