19. A Summer Night
The hour was now that of dusk. A clear air favoured the kindling of the stars.
'There will be just light enough to show me the way home,' said Miss Keeldar, as
she prepared to take leave of Caroline at the Rectory garden-door.
'You must not go alone, Shirley. Fanny shall accompany you.'
'That she shall not. Of what need I be afraid in my own parish? I would walk from
Fieldhead to the church any fine midsummer night, three hours later than this, for
the mere pleasure of seeing the stars, and the chance of meeting a fairy.'
'But just wait till the crowd is cleared away.'
'Agreed. There are the five Misses Armitage streaming by. Here comes Mrs.
Sykes's phaeton, Mr. Wynne's close carriage, Mrs. Birtwhistle's car: I don't wish
to go through the ceremony of bidding them all good-bye, so we will step into the
garden and take shelter amongst the laburnums for an instant.'
The rectors, their curates and their churchwardens, now issued from the church-
porch. There was a great confabulation, shaking of hands, congratulation on
speeches, recommendation to be careful of the night air, etc. By degrees the
throng dispersed; the carriages drove off. Miss Keeldar was just emerging from
her flowery refuge, when Mr. Helstone entered the garden and met her.
'Oh! I want you!' he said: 'I was afraid you were already gone. Caroline, come
Caroline came, expecting, as Shirley did, a lecture on not having been visible at
church. Other subjects, however, occupied the Rector's mind.
'I shall not sleep at home to-night,' he continued. 'I have just met with an old
friend, and promised to accompany him. I shall return probably about noon to-
morrow. Thomas, the clerk, is engaged, and I cannot get him to sleep in the
house, as I usually do when I am absent for a night; now ----'
'Now,' interrupted Shirley, 'you want me as a gentleman - the first gentleman in
Briarfield, in short, to supply your place, be master of the Rectory, and guardian
of your niece and maids while you are away?'
'Exactly, Captain: I thought the post would suit you. Will you favour Caroline so
far as to be her guest for one night? Will you stay here instead of going back to
'And what will Mrs. Pryor do? She expects me home.'
'I will send her word. Come, make up your mind to stay. It grows late; the dew
falls heavily: you and Caroline will enjoy each other's society, I doubt not.'
'I promise you then to stay with Caroline,' replied Shirley. 'As you say, we shall
enjoy each other's society: we will not be separated to-night. Now, rejoin your old
friend, and fear nothing for us.'
'If there should chance to be any disturbance in the night, Captain - if you should
hear the picking of a lock, the cutting out of a pane of glass, a stealthy tread of
steps about the house (and I need not fear to tell you, who bear a well-tempered,
mettlesome heart under your girl's ribbon-sash, that such little incidents are very
possible in the present time), what would you do?'