16. The Events Of One Week
1. MARCH THE SIXTH
The next morning the opening move of the game was made. Cytherea, under
cover of a thick veil, hired a conveyance and drove to within a mile or so of
Carriford. It was with a renewed sense of depression that she saw again the
objects which had become familiar to her eye during her sojourn under Miss
Aldclyffe's roof--the outline of the hills, the meadow streams, the old park trees.
She hastened by a lonely path to the rectory-house, and asked if Mr. Raunham
was at home.
Now the rector, though a solitary bachelor, was as gallant and courteous to
womankind as an ancient Iberian; and, moreover, he was Cytherea's friend in
particular, to an extent far greater than she had ever surmised. Rarely visiting his
relative, Miss Aldclyffe, except on parish matters, more rarely still being called
upon by Miss Aldclyffe, Cytherea had learnt very little of him whilst she lived at
Knapwater. The relationship was on the impecunious paternal side, and for this
branch of her family the lady of the estate had never evinced much sympathy. In
looking back upon our line of descent it is an instinct with us to feel that all our
vitality was drawn from the richer party to any unequal marriage in the chain.
Since the death of the old captain, the rector's bearing in Knapwater House had
been almost that of a stranger, a circumstance which he himself was the last
man in the world to regret. This polite indifference was so frigid on both sides that
the rector did not concern himself to preach at her, which was a great deal in a
rector; and she did not take the trouble to think his sermons poor stuff, which in a
cynical woman was a great deal more.
Though barely fifty years of age, his hair was as white as snow, contrasting
strangely with the redness of his skin, which was as fresh and healthy as a lad's.
Cytherea's bright eyes, mutely and demurely glancing up at him Sunday after
Sunday, had been the means of driving away many of the saturnine humours
that creep into an empty heart during the hours of a solitary life; in this case,
however, to supplant them, when she left his parish, by those others of a more
aching nature which accompany an over-full one. In short, he had been on the
verge of feeling towards her that passion to which his dignified self-respect would
not give its true name, even in the privacy of his own thought.
He received her kindly; but she was not disposed to be frank with him. He saw
her wish to be reserved, and with genuine good taste and good nature made no
comment whatever upon her request to be allowed to see the Chronicle for the
year before the last. He placed the papers before her on his study table, with a
timidity as great as her own, and then left her entirely to herself.
She turned them over till she came to the first heading connected with the
subject of her search--'Disastrous Fire and Loss of Life at Carriford.'
The sight, and its calamitous bearing upon her own life, made her so dizzy that
she could, for a while, hardly decipher the letters. Stifling recollection by an effort
she nerved herself to her work, and carefully read the column. The account
reminded her of no other fact than was remembered already.