The Shadow of the East (Chapter 5, page 2 of 21)


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Chapter 5

Rain lashed the window panes. Yet even when storm-tossed the scene had its own peculiar charm. At all seasons it was lovely.

Miss Craven looked at the massive trees, beautiful in their clean nakedness, and wondered how often she would see them bud again. Frowning, she smothered a rising sigh and pressing closer to the window peered out more attentively. Eastward and westward stretched long avenues that curved and receded soon from sight. The gravelled space before the house was wide; from it two shorter avenues encircling a large oval paddock led to the stables, built at some distance facing the house, but hidden by a belt of firs.

For some time Miss Craven watched, but only a game-keeper passed, a drenched setter at his heels, and with a little shiver she turned back to the room. She moved about restlessly, lifting books to lay them down immediately, ransacking the cabinets for prints that at a second glance failed to interest, and examining the bronzes that she had known from childhood with lengthy intentness as if she saw them now for the first time.

A footman came and silently replenished the fire. Her thoughts, interrupted, swung into a new channel. She sat down at the writing table and drawing toward her a sheet of paper slowly wrote the date. Beyond that she did not get. The ink dried on the pen as she stared at the blank sheet, unable to express as she wished the letter she had intended to write.

She laid the silver holder down at last with a hopeless gesture and her eyes turned to a bronze figure that served as a paper weight. It was a piece of her own work and she handled it lovingly with a curiously sad smile until a second hard sob broke from her and pushing it away she covered her face with her hands.

"Not for myself, God knows it's not for myself," she whispered, as if in extenuation. And mastering herself with an effort she made a second attempt to write but at the end of half a dozen words rose impatiently, crumpled the paper in her hand and walking to the fireplace threw it among the blazing logs.

She watched it curl and discolour, the writing blackly distinct, and crumble into ashes. Then from force of habit she searched for a cigarette in a box on the mantelpiece, but as she lit it a sudden thought arrested her and after a moment's hesitation the cigarette followed the half--written letter into the fire.

With an impatient shrug she went back to an arm chair and again tried to read, but though her eyes mechanically followed the words on the printed page she did not notice what she was reading and laying the book down she gave up all further endeavour to distract her wandering thoughts. They were not pleasant and when, a little later, the door opened she turned her head expectantly with a sigh of relief. Peters came in briskly.

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