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numerous parcels she carried on the ground at her feet, rested, her arms supported on the topmost bar, and her face and the upper portion of her tall figure traced clearly against the gray, gloomy sky. Some linnets fluttered out of the hedge beside her, one or two silent lárks sprang up from the turf of the downland sloping away from the gate, and some rooks sailed cawing overhead. All else was still with the weird, dreamy stillness that hangs over the earth on a day of chill east-wind haze.
There is a brooding expectancy about such a day that works strongly on the imagination, and suggests the dark possibilities of irresistible Fate. There is an austere poetry in the purply gray, breathless earth, and the dark, unchanging sky, and a mute pathos in the quiet hush of weary Nature, thus folding her bands for rest, which has an unutterable charm for some temperaments, and touches far deeper chords than those vibrated by the brilliance and joyous tumult of life and song in the pleasant June-time. There is something of the infinite in the very monotony of the coloring; the breathless quiet, the vagueness of outline, and dimness of the allinfolding mist are full of mystery, and invest the most commonplace objects with interest.
The sense of infinity was deepened in this case by the vast sweep of the horizon which bounded our pedestrian's gaze. The gray fallows and wan stubble-fields sloped swiftly away from the gate to a bottom of verdant pastures dotted with trees and homesteads; beyond them were more dim fields, and then a wide belt of forest, principally of firs. To the right the valley, in which nestled the now unseen tower of Chalkburne, widened out, bounded by gentle hills, till the stream indicating its direction became a river, on the banks of which stood the mist-veiled town of Oldport, the tall tower of whose church rose light, white, and graceful against the irongray sky, emulating in the glory of its maiden youth-for it had seen but two lusters-the hoary grandeur of its Norman parent at Chalkburne. Beyond the town, the river rolled on, barge-laden, to the sea, the faint blue line of which was blurred by a maze of masts where the estuary formed a harbor.
To the left of the tired gazer stretched a wide chanipaign, rich in woodland, and bounded in the far distance by two chalky summits, at whose steep bases surged the unseen sea, quiet to-day on the surface, but sullen with the heavy roar of the ground-swell beDeath. Here and there, in the breaks of wood and forest on the horizon, Alma's accustomed eyes saw some faint gray touches which in bright summer. were tiny bays of sapphire sea.
Alma Lee herself made a bright point of interest in the afternoon grayness, as she leaned wearily, and not ungracefully, on the gate, her face and figure outlined clearly against the dark sky. Her dress was a bright blue, and her scarlet plaid shawl, fastened tightly about her shoulders, revealed and suggested, as only a shawl can, a full, supple form, indicative of youth and health. Her dark, thick hair was crowned by a small velvet hat, adorned with a bright bird's wing; and her dark eyes and well-formed features, reposeful and indifferent as they were at the moment, suggested latent vehemence and passion. Her hands and feet were large, the former bare and wrapped in the gay shawl for warmth.
Alma was not thinking of the mystery and infinite possibility suggested by the gray landscape before her; still less was she dreaming of the tragic shades Fate was casting even now upon her commonplace path. Unsuspecting and innocent she stood, lost in idle thought, deaf to the steps of approaching doom, and knowing nothing of the lives that were to be so tragically entangled in the mazes of her own. Could she but have had one glimpse of the swift-coming future, with what horror would the simple country girl have started back and struggled against the first suspicion of disaster!
The silence was presently broken by four mellow, slowly falling strokes from the gray belfry of Chalkburne; then all was still again, and Alma began to pick up her parcels. Suddenly she heard the sound of hoofs and wheels, and, dropping her packages, turned once more to the gate, and appeared a very statue of contemplation by the time a dog-cart, drawn by a high-stepping chestnut, and driven by a spick-and-span groom, fair-haired and well-featured, drew up beside her, and the groom sprang lightly to the ground.
“Come, Alma," he said, approaching the pensive figure, which appeared unconscious of him, " you won't say no now? You look dog-tired."
“I shall say exactly what I please, Mr. Judkins," she replied.
“ Then, say yes, and jump up. Chestnut is going like a bird, and will have you at Swaynestone in no timo. Do say yes, do ce now."
“Thank you, I intend to walk."
" Just think what a way it is to walk to Swaynestone, and you so tired."
“I am not tired."
" Lord! the view! There's a deal more view to be seen from the seat of this here cart, and it's pleasant flying along like a bird. Come, now, Alma, let me help you up."
“Mr. Judkins, will you have the kindness to drive on? I said in Oldport that I intended to walk. It's very hard a person mayn't do as she pleases without all this worry," replied Alma, impatiently.
“ Willful woman mun have her way,” murmured the young fellow, ruefully. “Well, let me carry them parcels home, at least."
“I intend to carry them myself, thank you. Good afternoon "; and Alma turned her back upon the mortified youth, and appeared lost in the charms of landscape.
"Well, darn it! if you won't come, you won't; that's flat!" the young man exclaimed, angrily. “This is your nasty pride, Miss Alina ; but, mind you, pride goes before a fall,” he added, springing to his perch, and sending the high stepper flying along the level down road like the wind, with many expressions of anger and disappointment, and sundry backward glances at Alma, who gazed with unruffled steadiness on the fields.
“I wonder,” she mused, “why a person always hates a person who makes love to them I liked Charlie Judkins well enough before he took on with this love nonsense."
And she did not know that by declining that brief drive she had refused the one chance of escaping all the subsequent tragedy, and that her fate was even now approaching in the growing gloom.
But what is this fairy music ascending from the direction of Chalkburne, and growing clearer and louder every moment? Sweet, melodious, drowsily cheery, ring out five tiny merry peals of bells, each peal accurately matched with the other, and consisting of five tones. The music comes tumbling down in sweet confusion, peal upon peal, chime breaking into chime, in a sort of mirthful strife of melody, through all which a certain irregular rhythm is preserved, which keeps the blending harmonies from degenerating into dis
With a sweep and a clash and a mingling of sleepy rapture, the elfin music filled all the quiet hazy air around Alma, and inspired her with vague pleasure as she turned her head listening in the direction of the dulcct sounds, and discerned their origin in the nodding head of a large, silk-coated cart-horse looming through the haze.
He was a handsome, powerful fellow, stepping firmly up the hill with the happy consciousness of doing good service which seems to animate all willing, well-behaved horses, and emerging into full view at the head of four gallant comrades, each nodding and stepping as cheerily as himself, with a ponderous wagon behind them. Each horse wore his mane in love-locks, combed over his eyes, the hair on the massive neck being tied here and there with bows of bright woolen ribbon. Each tail was carefully plaited at its spring from the powerful haunches for a few inches; then it was tied with another bright knot, beneath which the remainder of the tail swept in untrammeled abundance almost down to the pasterns, the latter hidden by long fringes coming to the ground. The ponderous harness shone brightly on the broad, shining brown bodies, and, as each horse carried a leading-rein, thickly studded with brass bosses and fastened to the girth, and there was much polished brass about headstall, saddle, and collar, they presented a very glittering appear
But the crowning pride of every horse, and the source of all the music which was then witching the wintry air, was the lofty erection springing on two branching wires from every collar, and towering far above the pricked ears of the proud steeds. These wires bore a long, narrow canopy placed at right angles to the horse's length, and concealing beneath a deep fringe of bright scarlet worsted the little peal of nicely graduated bells. Balls of the same bright worsted studded the roof of the little canopy, and finished the gay trappings of the sturdy rustics, who bore these accumulated honors with a sort of meek rapture.
The wagon these stout fellows drew needed all their bone and sinew to bring it up and down the steep, hilly roads. Its hind wheels were as high as Alma's head; their massive felloes, shod with double tires, were a foot broad; the naves were like moderatesized casks. High over the great hind wheels arched the wagon's - ledge in a grand sweep, descending with a boat-like curve to the smaller front wheels, whence it rose again, ending high over the wheeler's baunches, like the prow of some old ship over the sea. A massive thing of solid timber it was, with blue wheels and red body, slightly toned by weather. On the front, in red letters on a yellow ground, was painted, “Richard Long, Malbourne, 1860.”
Two human beings, who interrupted the fairy music with strange gutturals and wild ejaculations to the steeds, mingled with sharp whip-cracks, accompanied this imposing equipage. One was a tall, straight-limbed man in fustian jacket and trousers, a coat slung hussar-wise from his left shoulder, and a cap worn slightly to one side, with a pink chrysanthemum stuck in it. His sunburned face was almost the hue of his yellow-brown curls and short beard ; his eyes were blue; and his strong, labored gait resembled that of his horses. The other was a beardless lad, his satellite, similarly arrayed, minus the flower. Sparks flew from the road when the iron hoofs and heavy iron boots struck an occasional flint. When the great wagon was fairly landed on the brow of the hill, the horses were broughtto by means of sundry strange sounds and violent gestures on the part of the men, and with creaking and groaning and hallooing the great land-ship came to anchor, the elfin chimes dropped into silence, interrupted by little bursts of melody at every movement of the horses, and the lad seized a great wooden mallet and thrust beneath the hind wheel. The carter leaned placidly against the ponderous shaft with his face to Alma, and struck a match to kindle bis replenished pipe.
“Coldish," he observed, glancing with surly indifference toward her.
“ It is cold,” returned Alma, drawing her shawl cozily round her graceful shoulders; while the wheeler, stimulated into curiosity by his master's voice, turned round to look at Alma, and shook out a little peal of bells, which roused the emulation of his four brothers, who each shook out a little chime on his own account; while the wagoner glanced slowly round the vast horizon, and, after some contemplation, said in a low, bucolic drawl:
"Gwine to hrain, I 'lows."
The wagoner again interrogated the horizon for inspiration, and, after some thought, answered with a jerk, “Neuce the same."
“I hope she will soon be about again," said Alma; and the leader emphasized her words by shaking a little music from his canopy, and thus stimulated his brothers to do likewise. home lighter than you set out,” she added, looking at the nearly empty wagon, which she had seen pass in the morning filled with straw.
William turned slowly round and gazed inquiringly at the wagon,
46 You come